The Scribe

"The Scribe" is the monthly newsletter of the Punxsutawney Lutheran Parish.  The following articles are the monthly Pastor's Notes, which comprise the first page of each newsletter.

Pastor's Notes

posted Nov 24, 2020, 1:39 PM by Mary Margaret Barnoff   [ updated Nov 24, 2020, 1:40 PM ]

As you know, the leadership groups of all three congregations have been discerning how best to move forward in light of the financial pressures and reduced attendance that all three congregations have been facing in recent years. As part of that discernment, the parish council recommended this fall that the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish should be dissolved, and at congregation meetings on October 18, October 25, and November 1, each of the three congregations ratified that decision, and have begun looking at how it will shape their ministries and lives together in the future.

The dissolution of the parish is going to bring a lot of changes for all three congregations. Some of them we know and have already begun to plan for: changing worship times, a renewed shared ministry agreement between Mount Zion, Airport Road and First English, and other adjustments. There are other changes that have yet to be seen, and that we’ll have to continue to adapt to in the future. One of the biggest changes to come out of the dissolution of the parish agreement is that my call as pastor of the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish will be ending when the parish dissolves. My last day as pastor of the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish will be December 31, and my last Sunday will be Sunday, December 27.

This isn’t an unexpected thing: the portion of our budget for the salary and benefits for the pastor is one of the largest portions, and with the congregations no longer financially liable for the costs included with a full-time pastor, the financial pressures each congregation is facing will be somewhat reduced. As of the time of this writing, I’m not sure where my family and I will be going after December 31. We’ve been looking at a few different options, but at least right now, things are still up in the air. In the coming months, as we discern our future, I ask that you would hold us in prayer.

There are a lot of things that I want to say – far more than I have space for in this letter. The first, and most important, is to remember: the church is still the church whether it has a called pastor or not, and no matter whether it meets in the same building or is spread across three congregations and two counties, no matter what time or place it meets. The church is that group of believers gathered around God’s Word and sharing God’s love with the world, and God’s love and that call to share that love aren’t going to change, no matter what else happens.

The other thing that I most want to say is, thank you. Thank you for calling me to be a part of these congregations for the time we’ve been able to share, thank you for letting me be a part of this community, thank you for your prayers and your encouragement, for your support and care and love. It’s been a joy and a privilege to be your pastor these last two and a half years. You are all in my prayers, as individuals and as the three congregations of Mount Zion, First English, and Mount Zion.

Notes from the Pastor

posted Jul 1, 2020, 6:37 AM by Mary Margaret Barnoff   [ updated Jul 1, 2020, 6:39 AM ]

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


It’s been quite an interesting time recently.  The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about some radical changes to the ways in which we live, work, gather, and worship. As we’ve recently moved into the “green” phase of the economic reopening plan, and as our congregations have begun to resume worship, we’ve done so with some changes in place, which will probably have to remain in place for some time.

Even before the pandemic had hit, though, the leadership of the three congregations in the parish had been discerning the best way forward for the parish in light of the changed situations in which we found ourselves. The arrangement of worship times for the parish with Mount Zion, Trade City at 8:30 AM, Mount Zion, Airport Road at 10:00 AM, and First English at 11:15 AM, is not working well, which has contributed to decreased attendance throughout the parish. The congregations’ councils are working to determine how best to respond to these changes, and how we might be able to restructure the parish to best accommodate you and your families.

On Sunday, March 1, the Joint Council of the parish met to address our current situations. Among the options we discussed included changing worship times; meeting for worship on a different day; and having overlapping worship times with some services being led by lay Eucharistic ministers. Another option which was discussed was ending the parish arrangement and having the three congregations go their separate ways. 

Because we know that we don’t have all the answers, we'd like to hear from you. We realize that worship times may not be the only factor which can impact worship attendance; if you have any feedback, whether negative or positive, about the Sunday worship schedule or about other factors which have impacted your life as part of these congregations, please let either me or one of the congregation council members know. The Joint Council will be meeting again on Sunday, August 30 to go over the feedback from members of the congregations.  In order to be able to make sure that the councils have enough time to go over everyone’s feedback before that meeting, we’ll need to have your feedback on or before Friday, August 21.

As we go forward with this process, I can't guarantee that we'll be able to craft a Sunday morning schedule which will fit everyone's wishes and needs, but we'll do our best to let everyone's voices be heard.

If you'd like to sit down with me and talk about the Sunday schedule, or any other matter, I'd be glad to sit with you and listen.  Either send me an email (, or give me a call or text me (814-299-5369) and we can set up a time. All of the council members are also available to receive your comments, or you can send them to us in writing.  All that we ask is that your feedback be submitted with your name attached.

Thank you in advance for your help as we discern how best to continue our lives together as the Church and as the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish.

In Christ,
Pastor Russ

Notes from the Pastor

posted Apr 24, 2020, 7:42 AM by Mary Margaret Barnoff

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


What a month it’s been.  Shelter-in-place orders, online worship, financial and political disruption – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! March and April have been very different, as the normal rhythms of our lives have been disrupted by the threat of the COVID-19 Coronavirus.  Some of those differences have been very challenging, as schools and businesses have closed and we’ve all had to adjust to new ways of living and going about our business while maintaining social distancing.  Other changes that the coronavirus has brought about have been good ones, as the changing world has drawn people closer together in new ways.


At the time I’m writing this, the stay-at-home order for Pennsylvania has been extended to at least May 8. It’s still possible that the orders could be extended even further, or that after the shutdown orders have been lifted, there might still be a prohibition on large gatherings of people. Although it looks like the measures that have been taken so far have been effective, it will probably be some time after that before we can return completely to normal. While I’m looking forward to the day when we can return to worship and to seeing one another in person, I also won’t cause anyone to risk their health or safety unnecessarily. Once we’re able to safely gather in person, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in person again.


While we’ve been in isolation, a couple of things have become clearer. I want to lift up a few of those lessons from this time.

·The church isn’t the building; it’s the people of God. We’ve continued to gather for worship, we’ve continued to pray together and study Scripture together, we’ve continued to serve others and love and serve our neighbors, even when we’ve not been able to gather in our church buildings. That’s not to say that our buildings aren’t important or valuable, of course, but our community and the people in that community are more so.
·Connection with each other is important. One of the harder parts of this isolation has been not being able to see each other in person. Videoconferencing and phone calls have helped to close that gap a little bit, and they’ve served to strengthen and deepen some of those relationships. Once we’re able to gather in person, it’s going to be important to not let those new relationships lapse.
·We are all in this together. Whether it’s been members of the congregations calling each other to stay in touch, people helping with parts of the online worship services, folks sewing face masks for people who need to go outside, people creating and sharing coloring pages with others to brighten their day, or just everyone staying home as much as possible to help minimize the potential spread of the virus, everyone has been working together to help to serve our neighbors. I talk a lot about sharing the love of God in word and deed, and all those things and many more are ways that we’ve all been doing just that.


I know that these last few weeks have been hard, and that there are going to be more challenges ahead of us, but with God’s help, we’ve been able to come together as a parish to face those challenges, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to continue to meet them until we’re able to gather in person again.

In Christ,

Notes from the Pastor

posted Feb 14, 2020, 7:48 AM by Mary Margaret Barnoff

How do you keep Lent?

The season of Lent is a complicated one for a lot of Christians.  It’s bookended at the beginning by Ash Wednesday, whose liturgy focuses on our mortality, and ends with Holy Week, where we hear the story of Jesus’ passion, suffering, and death. In between, we often gather for additional worship services during the week, and we often also take on fasting or other spiritual disciplines. That fasting and discipline, and the focus on death and mortality, are things that we don’t typically encounter in our lives the rest of the year. It’s a weird time for a lot of people, but it’s an important time in the life of the church, and of our lives as Christians.

One part of many people’s Lenten observances is some form of fasting. Fasting doesn’t have to just be from food, nor does it have to be a total fast. The tradition of “giving up something for Lent” is a form of fasting. In the past, I’ve fasted from social media, from chocolate, and probably from some other things during previous Lents.  One part of my Lenten fast every year is to fast from caffeine. (The first year that I did that, I was working in an office where my desk was about twenty feet from the coffee maker, and I had built up quite a coffee habit. It was not a fun first week of Lent!) Part of the purpose of fasting is to draw focus away from our own wants, and to instead bring it towards God.  Because of that, instead of fasting (or in addition to it), some people will take on an additional discipline during Lent, whether that’s additional devotional reading, or more-intentional prayer, or spending time volunteering with a social-services group, or any number of other things.  Fasting during Lent – whether it’s from food or from something else, and whether it’s accompanied by another Lenten discipline or not – can be a very powerful way to draw closer to God in this season.

Another part of Lent is often additional times to gather together in worship and prayer.  We’ll be offering Wednesday evening services as a parish during Lent.  Those services will be based on the Evening Prayer service in our hymnals, but we’re going to try a different setting of Evening Prayer set to familiar hymn tunes.  The readings, hymns, and preaching this Lent are going to focus on the “Christ hymn” that St. Paul quotes in Philippians 2:5-12. Each week we’ll look at a different part of the hymn in depth, using readings from other parts of the Bible to highlight those themes. I’m looking forward to it.

However you keep Lent, in whatever ways you mark this season, my prayer is that each of us can draw closer to God, and can grow in love for God and for our neighbors.

In Christ,

Pastor Russ


posted Nov 27, 2019, 9:02 AM by Mary Margaret Barnoff   [ updated Nov 27, 2019, 9:07 AM ]

Notes from the Pastor

posted Nov 27, 2019, 8:52 AM by Mary Margaret Barnoff

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Advent is upon us! Advent is my favorite season of the church year, for a lot of reasons.  It’s the start of a new year, with fresh promise and new hopes; it’s full of anticipation of things to come; and to my mind, some of the most beautiful hymns in the Church year are Advent hymns. 

Part of why I love Advent is how many different layers to its celebration there are.  Advent is about preparing for Christmas, and for getting ready to celebrate Christ’s coming to us as one of us, but it’s also about preparing for Christ’s coming and recognizing His coming to us in a couple of other ways as well, as He comes to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, as “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Much of the time, even when we focus on one or another aspect of Advent, all three are still there and still evident.  It’s an example of how the Church joins together past, present, and future; in Advent, we celebrate Christ having come, we receive Christ as He comes in and with and under the bread and wine, and we look forward to when He will come again. 

One of the other reasons that I love Advent is that it offers a bit of respite from the Christmas-shopping-and-decorating madness which has already started by mid-November when I’m writing this article.  Before I went back to college and then to seminary, I spent quite a few years working in various retail establishments.  The Christmas-shopping season wore on me greatly during my time as a cashier.  I’ve mellowed quite a bit since, but one of the things that I appreciate about gathering for worship during Advent is the opportunity to take time, slow down, breathe, and let it be Advent and not Christmas yet. 

Our midweek worship during Advent is going to lift up both of those themes this year.  The services aren’t going to be the typical Vespers service from the hymnal.  They’re going to be a bit slower-paced, and more contemplative.  They’ll use music drawn from the Taizé community; Taizé music takes the form of short, simple choruses which are repeated over and over again until they become meditative.  And each week’s service will focus on a different aspect of Christ’s coming – in history, in Mystery, and in majesty. Because those services are by design meditative and contemplative, there won’t be any preaching at them; instead, there will be time in the midst of the craziness of pre-Christmas to gather, to worship, to pray and sing, and to be in the presence of God.

I’m very much looking forward to Advent, and I hope that you’ll join us for worship on December 4, December 11, and December 18 as we gather to worship God and to pray together around the ways that Christ has come into our midst.

With gratitude,

Pastor Russ

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (September 2019)

posted Sep 3, 2019, 8:41 AM by Mary Margaret Barnoff

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It’s been an exciting time in the ELCA while I’ve been away on parental leave!  The ELCA met for its Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI from August 5 to August 10.  Churchwide Assembly is a bit like each synod’s Synod Assembly but on a larger scale, and only once every three years.  927 voting members representing each of the ELCA’s 65 synods gathered together to conduct the business of the church, to hear reports from the churchwide bodies, and to gather together for worship.

Some of the bigger things that happened at the Churchwide assembly included: The Assembly conducted an election for Presiding Bishop, where Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was re-elected to a second term as Presiding Bishop; they recognized the fiftieth anniversary of the ELCA recognizing the ordination of women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament; they voted to change the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service (known as deacons) from “consecration” to “ordination,” which helps to reinforce that ministers of Word and Service serve the church in an office that’s equal to, though distinct from, ministers of Word and Sacrament; and they approved a resolution declaring the ELCA a “sanctuary church body.”

That last one – the sanctuary church body thing – made the national news when a panel on Fox and Friends discussed the resolution, and several other media outlets picked up the story.  I read the resolution from the Churchwide assembly, and I watched the Fox News panel, and it seems to me like the panelists may have been a little bit misinformed about the resolution. Each of them mentioned the rule of law, or law and order, in what they said, and they implied that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly was calling on congregations and individuals to break the law through this resolution.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The ELCA’s Memorials Committee, in their report on the resolution, explicitly says that “none of the recommended actions by the Memorials Committee breaks U.S. law in any form.”

So what does it mean that the ELCA has declared ourselves a “sanctuary church body?” In a lot of ways, it’s a way of recognizing and putting a name on something that we’ve been doing for a long time.  The resolution points to some of the work that the ELCA has already done to work with refugees and legal immigrants, especially in their “Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities” (AMMPARO) program, as well as the work of individual congregations and synods in the ELCA who have done, and who are continuing to do, the work of advocating for, supporting, and comforting others through the long and complicated process of coming to America.

Of course, care for our immigrant neighbors is nothing new for Lutherans.  As long as there have been Lutherans in America, we’ve been coming here from other places.  My own ancestors came to America from Germany a lot of generations ago, but they still came from elsewhere – and even though they came legally, they still probably faced some discrimination and persecution. I just finished reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton, and I was struck by some of the excerpts of Hamilton’s letters describing German-Americans in eastern Pennsylvania – in some of the places I grew up – as ignorant, and backwards, and  dangerous. Lutherans have even been looked askance at into the twentieth century in some places – First English and Mount Zion in Trade City were both founded as English-speaking congregations, but in a lot of places, German-descended Lutherans didn’t switch to English until the 1940s, in the face of public pressure and discrimination around World War II. Immigration, and public pressure and struggles around immigration, have been a part of the Lutheran experience in America for as long as there have been Lutherans in America.

To sum up, the “sanctuary church body” resolution doesn’t call on the ELCA or any of its congregations or members to do anything illegal, or to break the law in any way.  What it does do is remind us of God’s love and mercy and compassion for strangers; for outsiders; for people who face struggles and difficulties of all sorts; and it both highlights ways that we as individuals, congregations, synods, and the denomination have shared that love with others, and calls us – ever mindful of the rule of law in this nation - to explore and imagine other ways we might also be able to share that love and mercy, just as God has shared it with us.

I know that immigration, legal or otherwise, is a very thorny issue right now, and that there are people here who hold very widely differing opinions.  No matter what anyone’s opinions on the issues around immigration in this country are, I’m privileged to be your pastor, and I hope and pray that everyone in this parish and in the ELCA can come together to share God’s love in the world, even when we hold deep and significant disagreements.  If you’d like to share concerns or questions about the “sanctuary church body” resolution with me, I would be glad to sit down and have a deeper conversation about it with you. 

In Christ,
Pastor Russ

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (June & July 2018)

posted Jun 2, 2018, 8:43 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Summertime is almost here – the weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and school is almost out.  I’m looking forward to the warmer weather, and to getting to spend evenings around a fire or exploring the local walking trails with Pastor Sarah and Robbie.  There are several events that will be happening in our congregations this summer that I’m also very excited for, and that I’d like to take a moment to share with you.

The first event is my installation service, where I’ll be installed as the pastor of the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish by Bishop Jones of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod.  The installation service will be on Sunday, June 3, at 3:30 in the afternoon at First English, with a potluck meal to follow.  I know there will be a few other Lutheran pastors from the Indiana and Jefferson clusters who’ll be there, and I’m hoping that other pastors from other Punxsutawney churches will be able to attend as well.  It should be a really unique worship service, and I’m excited to be able to be a part of it.  Since it’s an afternoon service, there will be worship at all the normal times that Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

I’m also looking forward to the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod’s annual Synod Assembly.  Synod assembly is an annual event where members of congregations from across the synod gather to do some of the necessary business, but also to learn and study, and to worship as members of the NWPA Synod.  It’s a chance to gather and share in fellowship and worship with our fellow Lutherans from across the synod.  This year’s synod assembly is from June 14-16, and we’ll be sharing the assembly with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod.  I’m excited to be able to be a part of it, and to be able to share in that time with members of the church from all across western Pennsylvania.

I’m also excited for some opportunities for us to worship together as a parish throughout the year.  There are typically four months in the year with five Sundays.  This year, those months are April, July, September, and December.  I’m hoping that on those fifth Sundays, we might be able to have one combined worship service as a parish, which would rotate among the three congregations’ buildings.  I’m still trying to work out all of the details, especially for the July service, because it would conflict with the Punxsutawney Ministerium’s Church in the Park event, but I’m excited for the chance for us to come together for worship and fellowship as a whole parish.

I’m looking forward to all of those things, and I’m also excited to be a part of the parish and of each of the three congregations.  I hope that whatever your plans may be for this summer, that it can be a time of rest and refreshment.

Pastor Russ

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (May 2018)

posted May 7, 2018, 7:25 AM by Russell D. Hampton   [ updated May 7, 2018, 7:26 AM ]

Quill Pen Notes from the Pastor

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Hello! I’m excited to be here as the called pastor of the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish.  It’s been an exciting few weeks already as my family and I have gotten through the unpacking process and have started to settle into our life here, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

As we begin this time together, I’d like to take a few moments to introduce myself and share a little bit more about myself and how I came to be here.

I grew up on the other side of Pennsylvania, in a suburb of Philadelphia called Souderton. After high school, I bounced around from college to college and job to job for a few years, not certain what I was supposed to be doing with my life, but steadily crossing off things that I was finding out that I wasn’t supposed to be doing.  One night in college, while I was taking a break from writing a paper, God made it abundantly clear to me that I was called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. After that, it wasn’t necessarily easy, but I knew what I was supposed to be doing.  I graduated college and went to seminary at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I met my wife, Pastor Sarah Aasheim, who was also a student at Trinity. When we graduated from Trinity, we were assigned to the Western Iowa Synod, where we each were called to churches and served as pastors.  When we started to feel that God was calling us to ministry in other parts of the church, we listed ourselves as open to call in a variety of synods.  Pastor Ben Austin, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Reynoldsville and Grace Lutheran Church in Brookville, is a friend of ours, and heard that we were thinking about moving. He suggested that I look at the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish, and after several interviews, a trial preaching session, and a lot of prayer and discernment, I’m pleased to have accepted the call to serve as the parish’s new pastor.

Our family also includes a cat named Skeena and our thirteen-month-old son, Robbie.

I’m excited to be here, and to be your pastor.  Working with the three congregations in the parish is a new experience for me; each of the congregations does things just a little bit differently from the others.  But all three congregations have a lot in common, starting with their long history of working to proclaim the Gospel and to serve God’s people in this part of the world.  I’m looking forward to discovering and celebrating both the differences and things that unite us, and I’m excited to continue to meet and to get to know everyone in the parish, and to learn more about your stories.

I’m excited to see where God is calling us, and I’m excited to be called together with all of you!


Pastor Russ

Pastor Russ

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (September 2016)

posted Aug 29, 2016, 7:57 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:4-7

It is with sorrow that this article will be my final one for the parish Scribe.  The past eight years have been a wonderful experience of learning and growth.  All of you have been my family (and I will consider you always my family) – providing nurture, love, and care.  As I said one evening, “I couldn’t have asked for a better first call!”  God has blessed me well during this time. 

May God’s blessings be upon you in the weeks and months ahead.  Trust that God in Christ will be with you.  Do not lose hope.  Love one another, as Christ loves you.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you.  Share God’s grace in all that you say and do! 

My final words of encouragement follow a pattern of three “P’s:”

1.      Patience – Have patience with the work of the Holy Spirit and with one another.  We are human; we want things to happen in our time.  Yet we live in God’s time.  God will be at work directing, guiding, and providing wisdom for your ministry.  God will open the door to reveal His divine plan.  When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done…,” we trust that God’s kingdom is coming and his will is being done, but we also pray it will come to us.  I encourage you to place your trust and faith in God’s work.  Then extend patience towards one another.  There may be times such as these that you may become frustrated or be filled with despair.  Maybe you will see these feelings in others.  Be patient with one another as you come to terms with your grief and find your place as you transition through leadership roles.  Always remember to forgive, to receive forgiveness, and to reconcile to one another.    

2.      Presence – Be present with one another.  If there is someone who is sick among you, reach out to them by sending a card, making a phone call, or asking if you can visit.  If there is a person or family who has been absent for some time, reach out to them.  And share your hospitality with one another.  Continue to find times to gather around meals and fellowship.  Extend invitations to persons who are a part of the parish and to those who are not.  Shine your presence into the community through your ministry and mission.  Bring the presence of Christ to all! 

3.      Prayer – Paul said it best, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Don’t forget to pray.  Pray on your own; pray when you are gathered together.  In your prayers, remember how God has blessed you already and continues to bless you each day.  Don’t be hesitant to take your requests to God and to share those petitions with one another. For prayer brings peace… peace leaves us open to the Holy Spirit… and the Holy Spirit keeps our hearts and minds grounded in Christ. 

Blessings and Love in Christ – Pastor Maureen

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