Recovery from Boonville Fire


Dear Friends,

All of us are still reeling from the news of this week’s tragic fire that destroyed historic buildings, caused the death of several pets, and left 29 people homeless in our beloved village.

Churches and community agencies have all been quick to respond to this disaster, but special praise goes to our friends and neighbors at the Boonville Methodist Church and the quick-minded leadership of their new minister, Rev. Robert Dean.  Since the early hours of the fire, Rev. Dean made the church available as a command and resource center for survivors.  Donations of clothes, supplies, and gift cards have been generously pouring in from the community.

Taking a much-needed rest after almost two days of working around the clock, Rev. Dean and his family attended our Good Friday service.  Immediately after that service ended, my first words to him were, “What do you need from us?”  His first word back to me was, “Manpower.”

The most pressing need at the moment is for able hands to sort out donated clothes for distribution.  Families are continuing to come by the church daily for aid.  Volunteers have been assisting as they are able.  If any of you have time in the coming days and weeks, please lend a hand to the recovery effort at Boonville Methodist Church.  The building opens most days at 9:30am and closes at 5pm.

The word on the street is that the Boonville Chamber of Commerce will be setting up a special bank account next week to receive monetary donations on behalf of fire victims.  The American Red Cross has also set up operations in the village for helping those in need.  Contributions to that organization are always welcome.

Rev. Dean and I have also recognized the need for crisis counseling to be made available to these residents.  Together, we are currently trying to organize a network of local clergy for on-site support and are seeking to enlist the more qualified assistance of professional crisis counselors from other community service agencies.

Moments like these are when we get to show the world what we are made of.  May the Light of Christ rise up in us this Easter and shine hope into the darkness of despair!  May it be so.  Amen.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Rev. J. Barrett Lee

Violence in Herkimer

The eyes of the nation have been on Central New York this week as Kurt Myers ripped through the villages of Mohawk and Herkimer (a half hour drive from my house) with a shotgun, killing four and wounding two, plus killing one police dog.  Lydia Dittrich, one of my newest congregants at Boonville Presbyterian, had this to say on Facebook:

I am probably going to be throwing gasoline on sparks here but I just have to say……

I am saddened and distraught at the loss of 4 lives today here in Central New York. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this, from the families left behind, to the parents anguishing over their children’s safety at school, to the law enforcement officers who wake up with a job to do praying today is not that day.

It is a difficult thing when tragedy hits you where you live. It makes fear surge to the front of all other emotions. Adrenaline surges and the defensive response of “I will do whatever it takes to protect what is mine” kicks into high gear. You want to do nothing more than hole up with your family and count each hair on their head until the storm passes. Next comes the wave of community reaction, outcry and grief at the loss of life in their back yard.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is the definitive work on Grieving. There are five stages that each of us will go through as we begin to process and absorb the events of today’s attack in Herkimer NY. Denial (I can’t believe this is happening where I live), Anger (that sonofabitch ought to burn in hell for this), Bargaining (If only we could get those beloved people back, If only we could have prevented this–I would do anything), Despair (there is nothing I can do, and we failed) and Acceptance (it is terrible that tragedy has found us, but we are a community and we will come back stronger from this than ever before).

We all have different views on how the government and our communities will respond to this tragedy politically. Another strong reason for every person that can vote SHOULD vote…every election, every time.

My only request to my Facebook friends and family is that we accept each others’ points of view with grace on this topic. We don’t have to agree on it (how boring would life be if we did?) but the real crime in this tragedy will be the resulting social schism this senseless violence leaves behind if we stoop to word wars and status updates blasting the NRA, the government, our nations mental health system, the VA or any other entity that might be involved. Be KIND TO EACH OTHER and remember that everyone will respond to this in their own way, in their own time. Simply because we may disagree politically, does NOT mean it is worth hurting a friend that is still here.

To borrow my pastor’s favorite closing (thank you J. Barrett Lee)
I love you all, God loves you all, and there is NOTHING you can do about it. Be blessed, and be a blessing.

This community is going to need it.

Lydia and her family will be formally joining our church on Easter.

How You Say It

Greetings all!

This has been an amazing few months in my life.  In May, the Presbyterian Church (USA) amended their constitution to allow for the ordination of LGBT deacons, elders, and pastors.  Then, last week, New York became the sixth US state to legalize same-sex marriage.  My wife and I participated in demonstrations both inside and outside our state capitol building.

I also had the opportunity to speak on the local news about the upcoming vote in the senate.

Here is the link to that conversation.

On the Sunday after the vote passed, the same news station surprised us by showing up with cameras in hand at our morning worship service.

Click here to watch the video of the segment they did on our church.

The responses have been myriad and diverse.  Here are some words I would use to describe the responses:

Reaching out

Look carefully at this list.  It would be a mistake to assume that all the “positive” adjectives refer to those who agree with me and all the “negative” adjectives apply to those who think differently.  As a matter of fact, the list is mixed for a reason.  I could use several of these words to describe people on both sides of “this issue” (although I am loathe to call it that).

What speaks the most about us in times like these is how we respond, and not just the content of our response.  I have felt such compassionate support from those who passionately disagree with me.  I have also cringed at the hard-hearted self-righteousness of those who hold views similar to my own.

I will continue to hold onto the views I express in these articles because I believe them to be good and true.  I honestly believe that I am following (however imperfectly) the lead of the Holy Spirit and the message of the Bible as I take the course I have chosen.  I know that not all of you will agree with me.  I won’t ask you to change your mind unless you want to.  I will not enter into a Bible-quoting argument with you unless you truly want to understand how someone can read the Bible differently than you do.

I encourage you all, wherever you stand, to look at the character of your response to others.  Is it in keeping with the Spirit of Christ?  In your words and deeds, are you loving your neighbor as yourself?

What you say does not say so much as how you say it.