Area pastors offer messages of hope for new year

Making a choice to write letters in the new year, such as a love letter to yourself, an apology or something else imbued within the heart, are good ways to heal.”


ew Year’s Day is the first blank page in a 365-page book.
While many begin the New Year by resolving to lose ten pounds, by March, the diet books are sitting on the shelf unread and 10 extra pounds have found their way to the hips.
Some resolve to exercise more, yet the new stair stepper and elliptical become expensive clothes racks.
Others resolve to climb out of debt, yet by June, the credit cards are gathering more interest due to the purchase of diet books and expensive exercise equipment in January.
Rather than working on the exterior, area pastors, such as Rev. Robert Weighner, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in Pleasant Prairie encourages work on the interior, and to make spiritual and lasting changes that will lead us to heaven.

“In conversation recently with a man from our parish, he commented, ‘I’m beginning to understand that you can’t change your friends, but—you can change your friends.’ To my mind, this phrase captures the sentiment of the New Year, which is to respond more honestly to the voice of the conscience, and to make the changes that will make us better people. This striving to be better is written into our hearts by the Creator. We strive to be better, ever restless and dissatisfied, so that one day we will be strong enough, with God’s help, to attain to everlasting life,” he said. “So, for this New Year: What are the things that I have to stop doing? What are the things that I have to start doing? If you ask God, the Holy Spirit will come to you as light and strength, moving you to take up again the arduous trek.”

Relationship with God
Rev. Kerry Bauman, senior pastor of River Ridge Church in Wilmot explained that while many resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking and exercise are worthy goals, the most important resolution is in developing a relationship with God.
“There is nothing more important than our relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” he said. “As you consider New Year’s resolutions, we would encourage you to think about making a commitment to take that next step in your relationship with God. Whether you are a seeker, new believer, or mature Christian, there is always a next step to take. Your spiritual resolution may be to read the Word daily or to volunteer to serve or to commit to sharing your faith more often or to share the love of Christ with neighbors or friends in very tangible ways by serving them. Whatever it is, we know that growing your relationship with God will also mean growing your relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Have a Blessed New Year and make this the year that you make a firm commitment to take that next step in your relationship with our Lord and Savior.

Observe the Shabbat
Those of the Jewish faith celebrate their New Year each year during the two-day celebration of Rosh Hashanah. However, Rabbi Dena Feingold of Beth Hillel Temple advises any Jewish person wanting to make a new year resolution or change at any time during the year would be to observe more closely the Shabbat (Sabbath).

“To observe it as a day of rest, holiness and joy can be an antidote to many of the stresses and strains in life. To take off one full 24-hour period in a week, as we are commanded as Jews to do from Friday night at sunset to Saturday night at sunset, is a way to separate ourselves from many of the stressors that plague us the rest of the week,” she said.

“To take a day off from work, chores, errands, the news cycle, and our devices is a healthy choice. Such a choice can also give us time to reconnect with our loved ones, friends, and nature, to pursue the things we love most in life, and. above all, have time just to ‘be.’ For any person, Jewish or not, making a vow to create this kind of space in our lives would be a wonderful New Year resolution.”

Grow closer to others
At Bradford Community Church, Unitarian Universalist, interim minister, Denise Cawley suggests returning to more personal communication to grow closer with others in the new year. Rather than texting or emailing, sending a hand-written letter is not only a cherished means to communicate personal thoughts, but a great source of history.

“There is a romance to a hand-written letter. In this time of electronic communication, a card or hand-written note, holds even more meaning,” she said. “This year for New Year’s, we (will) start with a dramatization of letter reading from Kenosha’s famous residents and guests of over 100 years ago. Watch history unfold in the correspondence of Reverends Florence Buck, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Marion Murdoch and Olympia Brown. Find out how their words matter 120 years later.”

Making a choice to write letters in the new year, such as a love letter to yourself, an apology or something else imbued within the heart, are good ways to heal. Cawley researched the life of Rev. Doctor Florence Buck, Kenosha resident from 1901-1910.

“It is in her letters throughout her life, and in those of her contemporaries, we learn about the real issues they celebrated and struggled with,” she explained. “Like us, they had social justice issues that they were passionate about from women’s rights to racism, how to pay their bills, how to engage in meaningful work and how to stay connected to their friends. They balanced relationships with people they admired and sometimes said the wrong thing in passionate exchanges. Through it all, the letters they wrote were a constant barometer of their hearts”

The gifts Jesus brings
Rev. Kevin Taylor, pastor of Journey Church encourages the focus on the word GIFT at Christmastime and in the New Year. But rather than focusing on gifts to purchase and receive, he encourages the focus on the gift of the baby Jesus.

“Second Corinthians 9:15 describes the gift of God’s love for us all by sending us Jesus. ‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.’ The writer of that passage chooses a term we don’t see used anywhere else in all Scripture—indescribable. Why is the gift indescribable? I mean—the gift was just a baby, right? The first thing Mary, Jesus’ mother, did when he was born was to do what we all do with our Christmas gifts. She wrapped him,” he explained. “’She wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger.’ (Luke 2) The Bible also tells us ‘When the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might buy back those who were under the law.’ (Galatians 4:4)”

Taylor explained that God sent us his gift of, Jesus, in the “fullness of time,” or at the exact right time. And at just the right time, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem as part of Caesar’s census.

“‘At just the right time’ it came about that while they were there Mary delivered the baby. ‘At just the right time,’ all the pieces of history fell together. The gift was silently delivered in a common stable and trough. His first cries heard by one man, one woman and a few no-account shepherds and animals—because it was to no-account people that Jesus came. Just folks who needed His grace, you, me, everyone,” he said. “This is how God put together His indescribable gift to us. Ultimately, this gift would pay the price for the sins of the whole world. The gift has arrived. We don’t need to anticipate another gift this Christmas. We have Jesus. He’s the indescribable gift. And the gift is for you.”
What God will do in the new year

As pastor of Second Baptist Church, Rev. Demetris Crum said that the New Year is an opportune time to reflect on what God did throughout the year and look forward with great expectation to what he will do in the future.

“In my own personal reflection and meditation, I have thought about the Psalmist words in Psalm 111:1-4. This particular passage of scripture reminds us that God’s work is great, honorable and glorious, wonderful and made to remember,” he said. “Like the Psalmist, I encourage each of us to take inventory of all of God’s work in our personal lives and those around us during 2019. Take the time to marvel on God’s lovingkindness and tender mercies. Praise him for His faithfulness, protection, and guidance. Worship him for opening the right doors for you to walk through and closing the doors that were outside of his will. Praise him for every blessing, every lesson learned, and every victory achieved. Saints of God, as you reflect on God’s work, you can approach 2020 with unwavering faith that God is ready and willing to do his ‘wonderful works’ for you in 2020. By faith, stand on Ephesians 3:20 ‘Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.’”

Be kind and compassionate

As the New Year approaches, Rev. Susan Patterson Sumwalt, pastor of First United Methodist Church looks to the wisdom from Christian tradition in showing kindness, being welcoming, growing in grace, more prayerful and living abundantly.
“Scripture tells us to be kind and compassionate—in this time when acceptable rhetoric is about tearing people apart, may we know this is not the way of people of faith. When we might be quick with our tongues, may we catch ourselves, pause, and ask if our words will help or hinder our relationships,” she said, adding, “The Hebrew scriptures remind us to look out for and provide for the stranger and alien who may come our way. The Southern Poverty Law Center tells us that hate crimes have increased exponentially over these last few years. In this new year, may we individually know and respect others who are different from ourselves.”

Because God has blessed us beyond measure, Patterson Sumwalt encourages us to love ourselves as God loves us, to continue when we’ve made mistakes and extend grace to others and ourselves.

“Prayer is the way in which we ground ourselves in God. Prayer is the way in which we can take in our suffering and the suffering of others and allow God to mold and transform it. Prayer is the way in which we grow in deeper awareness of life,” she explained. “God has promised an abundant life. May each day be experienced as a sacred gift. May there be contentment and joy for the day. These aspects are on my list for the new year. What is on your list?”

Lights in darkness

Rabbi Tzali Wilschanski of the Chabad of Kenosha notes Chanukah concludes the day before New Year’s. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days, by kindling a menorah of eight branches, each night adding one more candle.

“If you look at a menorah you will notice there are actually nine branches. Typically, the ninth branch, known as the Shamash, is taller than the rest,” Wilschanski said. “It is interesting as the Shamash is not actually commemorating any part of the miracle, it’s sole purpose is to serve the rest of the lamps, as the igniter.

“As we enter a new year and in this case a new decade, we must take this message to heart. We are living in fragmented times and there are strong opinions on all sides. It takes but one candle to dispel a room of darkness. We must all as individuals, serve as the Shames and be a source of light in our own surroundings.

“The Lubavich Rebbe once asked: ‘Why did God place the heart on the left side of the chest? You would think that the source of emotions and feelings should be on the right? ‘ The Rebbe explains that your heart is on your left so that when you were standing facing your fellow man, your heart will be on their right. This year let us all strive to be the shamash.”