Welcome to the Pastor’s Blog

This is where Pastor Tracy Barnowe shares her thoughts on our church life together. Think of it as a sort of on-line coffee hour. If you want to add a comment or ask a question, just click “read more” then scroll down to the comment box below the post and start typing.

Love Is . . .

Earlier this month I had the privilege of spending a weekend at Walker Creek Ranch. On Sunday morning I was walking with my cup of tea toward the next activity and caught sight of a mule deer standing in the tall grass on a hill behind one of the buildings. The deer heard me before I saw her, and she startled but did not run. Several moments passed as we regarded each other. While deer are likely used to human activity on the ranch, she still had to assess whether or not I was a threat. I don’t know how to make a steaming mug of tea look small and non-threatening while still sipping on it, but I did my best.

two deerAfter a few minutes she bent her head and continued eating. It was a peaceful scene. Golden rolling hills, the rising sun glistening off the dew of the grass and trees, mist rising off the ground, and a single deer munching quietly on a hillside. It was also a rare scene. In our busyness and preoccupation we humans rarely have the time or the awareness to notice or enjoy such things.

After a moment, I saw a second deer stand that had been there all along, sitting hidden in the tall grass. By this time I had beckoned over other passers-by to see the deer, and a small group of us stood watching them. Finally, a third came bounding through the grass to join the other two, jumping and trying to play. This seemed to break their thrall, and they all ran together through the camp, disappearing into the trees on the other side. If I had followed my initial feelings—my desire to get closer and pet the deer—I would have scared her away and missed seeing the other two. Also, the moment would not have lasted long enough for other people to enjoy. Worse still, I probably would have spilled my tea.

The theme of the weekend was Love, and I thought of how during wedding homilies I remind the couple that in the Bible, Love is a verb, an action. It is how we behave toward one another, regardless of what emotions may come, and goes as quickly as flighty deer. It is a conscious choice to be still, to be non-threatening, to give space, to serve, to listen, to give, regardless of how you may be feeling in the moment.

This past month at FCC San Rafael I have sat in many meetings with different ministry teams and learned about all of the different ways our church serves its community, how many lives it touches. (Read more . . .)

Lizard Power

My daughter Faye is a lizard whisperer. For as long as I can remember, whenever we have gone camping, Faye has caught lizards. One year, she caught 12 lizards in five days (though technically one of those she caught three times in a row – that one wasn’t very bright). The first time that my daughters visited FCC San Rafael, Faye’s first question was, “Are there lizards around here?!” She and Rosemary fell in love with the natural beauty surrounding the church and were excited to explore the grounds, climb the trees, and hunt for local fauna. Yet in all of their searching since then, they have not found any lizards.

The Actual Lizard

The Actual Lizard

This past Wednesday, I was sitting in the office by myself and something small wiggled across the floor. It startled me, but I took a closer look and discovered a small baby lizard dashing to-and-fro across the carpet. You can imagine the ensuing scene as I tried to chase this small (and very fast!) creature down in my heels with the limited tools at hand. After much lunging and pouncing, I finally captured the skittery critter under a coffee mug that Hilary Spaulding had brought in on Monday. A moment later, David Knopf arrived and escorted it outside while I tried to catch my breath.

When the mug was finally lifted near a tree in the courtyard, the lizard sat petrified just long enough for me to snap a picture of it before it launched itself toward the nearest tree. It ran so fast off the lip of concrete that it managed to flip itself over onto its back as it skidded higgledy-piggledy in the dirt. It lay there, wriggling with its white belly to the sky for a long moment before it was able to roll over and then disappear into the leaves. (Read more . . .)

Celebrating “Small” Churches

This was a blog entry in March,  2013 by Rev. Ken Barnes, who was serving as our Interim Pastor at that time. It was written at a time when we were re-examining what we believe are our special gifts as a church prior to launching the search for a new settled pastor. (A process that was completed in August 2014, when we called Rev. Tracy Barnowe.) In the time since it first appeared, several members have mentioned that it embodies some of our most important beliefs about FCCSR.

As I have come to know you, I am impressed with the diversity I am discovering here. Also I am also impressed by your inclusive attitude. You know that all are important and essential to your spiritual health and institutional vitality.

When I read this article on the history of small churches (the emphasis is on ‘rural’ churches but it also includes us!) I wanted to pass it on. Do you see yourselves in this article?



The Small Church
by Steve Willis

Quite often I drive by the Peaks Presbyterian Church on my way to hike through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The little white clapboard church sits in a beautiful setting, looking up to Sharp Top and Flat Top Mountains of the Peaks of Otter, among the highest elevations in Virginia. This congregation has always been a small country church since it was founded in 1761. It has survived the Revolutionary War, the trauma of our nation’s Civil War, the Great War to end all wars, the Second World War, Vietnam, the culture wars of the sixties, and now continues its ministry today. The Peaks Church’s beginnings hearken back to a time that had a quite different understanding of church and pastoral leadership.

Peaks Church exterior

Peaks Presbyterian Church

During the period when the Peaks Church came into existence, stability was the norm for ministers, who most often pastored the same church their entire ministerial life. A study of Congregationalist ministers who graduated from Yale College during this era shows the difference between then and now. Robert W. Lynn and James W. Fraser, church analysts, who in 1977 contributed to one of the first books written specifically about the small church, summarize the differences:

“The eighteenth-century New England Congregationalists did not view the successful pastor as one who changed churches. That 7 percent with more than two pastorates consisted of the “ne’er to do wells.” (Read more . . .)

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