Photographs by John Gessner

We’ve all had bad days. Occasionally it’s been a tough week. And some months are better than others — blistering heat in August and ice storms in February come to mind. But an entire year gone off the rails? Geez. There is little doubt that 2020 carved out a special spot in our psyches for wretchedness. Seemed as though if it could go wrong, it did. It’s been an alphabet soup of catastrophe and, as we all know, the letter C stands for COVID. But the end is in sight. The sun will come up tomorrow. And who better to remind us of the promise of that new day than the faith community that surrounds and embraces all of us?

Rev. Debra L. Gray

Pastor Blacknall Chapel
A.M.E. Zion Church

Attorney and author Bryan Stevenson, in his public appearance at Davidson College in 2019, declared proximity to be important in addressing the problem of inequity in our society. This is not natural, nor easy. Ethnic and socioeconomic divides disunify our nation. Yet the unforeseen challenges of this year have devastated the lives of all of us. It is in this place of pain and frustration that we have now begun to experience proximity. The images of the inexplicable deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and others are embedded in our minds, not to be forgotten. We have all been affected. We have all been hurt. We are all forced to accept the new norm of masks and social distancing. We understand others’ hurts because it is the same as ours.

I am reminded of the story of Moses. Scriptures tell us when Moses died, it was God who buried him. The Creator of all the Earth got close to the lifeless remains of this man to put him in the ground, where only God knows the place. Our God can still get close to our dead places. Welcome His proximity into your life as we walk this journey together.

Rev. John Jacobs

The Village Chapel

Yes, we’ve had a tough year, but that doesn’t have to define us. Circumstances beyond our control need not control us. Unsuccessful responses to crises need not defeat us. Abraham Lincoln called us the “almost chosen people,” in contrast to the Jews, as God’s chosen people. Well, are we? I believe we are.

Our hope in 2021, and the years to follow, must be in where it has been before: “In God We Trust.” Considering the fact there are many who will be grateful to see this past year retrospectively, hopeful that 2021 will bring welcome changes for the better; for many, reasons to cheer 2020 are nonexistent. Some might even find scant chance for redemption in the year to be remembered for racial unrest, lawless destruction in our cities, political polarization, and a pandemic virus leading to shutdowns affecting the economy, jobs, schools and churches. No one has been unaffected negatively by our responses to the pandemic.

And yet, the bleakest prospect would be to think that nothing can be learned and changed by these 2020 experiences. God help us if we ignore a redemption that can restore our faith in the Creator of this world — the God who has promised to make all things new; the God who can take our sins and mistakes and redeem them for good.  

In this country the rest of the world still calls “new” — and as God’s “almost” chosen people — therein lies our hope, in God’s redeeming grace, our only hope, that will take us from this crisis to the next, and from here to eternity.

F. Javier Castrejón

San Juan Diego Catholic Mission, Robbins

Les saludo con mucha alegría. Este año 2020 ha sido un año diferente como todos los demás, sólo que este año nos ha dejado tristezas en algunas familias y nos ha presentado retos difíciles. Pero al mismo tiempo, este año nos deja una gran enseñanza, que sólo unidos todos como verdaderos hermanos, sin distinción de raza, pueblo o nación, podremos vencer las dificultades, el egoísmo, el racismo, la indiferencia y la irresponsabilidad deben desaparecer de nuestras vidas en este 2021. Todos nosotros debemos ver este nuevo año como una nueva oportunidad para corregir nuestros errores pasados y saber que todo lo que yo haga en beneficio de los demás ayudará a que todos vivamos mejor y así cuidar nuestra casa común, que es este mundo en el cual vivimos. Nada malo podrá vencernos si nos mantenemos unidos. No olvides volver tus pasos a Dios y vivir su mandamiento de amarnos unos a otros como Él nos ha enseñado.

Mis mejores deseos para este 2021. Dios te bendiga.

I greet you with great joy. This year 2020 has been a different year like all the others, only this year has left us sadness in some families and has presented us with difficult challenges. But at the same time, this year leaves us a great lesson, that only united as true brothers, without distinction of race, people or nation, can we overcome difficulties, selfishness, racism, indifference and irresponsibility must disappear from our lives in 2021. All of us must see this new year as a new opportunity to correct our past mistakes and to know that everything I do for the benefit of others will help us all live better and thus take care of our common home, which is this world in which we live.  Nothing bad can defeat us if we stick together. Do not forget to turn your steps to God and live his command to love one another as He has taught us.

Best wishes for 2021. God bless you.

Rabbi Ken Brickman

Sandhills Jewish Congregation — Beth Shalom

Each week the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown with the lighting of two candles to remind us to bring light and hope into the world, just as day turns to night. In recent months, the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the illness itself and the grief of those who have lost loved ones to the virus have often made it seem as if the light of that hope has been diminished and a pall has been placed over the world. As we approach the holiday season, people of all faiths will celebrate by lighting lights, whether it is the candles on the Hanukkah menorah or the multicolored lights that adorn homes throughout our community.

As the year ends, we hope and pray that these lights will rekindle the sense of hope for a new year in which we can resume our lives as they were when we celebrated the holidays last year. Ring in the New Year not with the usual resolutions, but with the commitment to bring light into our world by working to realize our shared vision of a just and more humane world.

Rev. Colette Bachand

Penick Village

When my children grew old enough to know who Santa was, their father and I had to make an important decision. Would the gifts under the Christmas tree be wrapped by Santa or unwrapped?

When their dad was little, Santa brought unwrapped gifts, but in my house as a child, Santa’s gifts were wrapped. There was a special feeling that came with discovering wrapped gifts. There was mystery, anticipation and most of all trust. Trust that something amazing lay beneath the colorful wrapping and bows. There was a moment when everything in the world felt possible. Underneath the wrappings could be a new bike, a record player, roller skates, or even better, the outfit guaranteed to impress the boys at school.

This is a year we need to believe that underneath the Christmas tree, anything and everything is possible. We need to hold on to anticipation because we’ve waited too long for things to feel normal. We need the guarantee that the outfit we wear when COVID is over will be our victory garment because we made it through with God by our side.

In the end, my girls got gifts wrapped by Santa. This year, I need a reminder of those wrapped gifts because they held within them the promise of things to come, even when we didn’t know what that was. The mystery of wrapped gifts is the promise that under the Christmas tree is everything we need. Under the tree is God, the God who wishes to dwell among us and because of that, we will be OK. For now, the mystery must be enough. In due time, we can unwrap the gift.

Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa

Congregational Church of Pinehurst

If we are Christian, we follow the God who is Love itself (I John:4).

After a year of physical distance, isolation and divisiveness, I think the path to unity requires that we each admit that we are not defective, but broken. There seems to be a desperation to deny our ongoing hurts, which prevents acknowledgement of our neighbors’ pains. The problem is, when we do that, the pain leaks out, and often gets taken out on others in resentment.

Recognizing others’ trauma does not diminish the significance of your own trauma, even if they are not equivalent. The God of Love has healing for us all. There is room at the table for each and every one. And we are called to make sure that our neighbors get to the proverbial feast as well.

We have work to do. The work of justice, the work of kin-dom building, is ongoing. Use the gifts God has given you to the best of your ability, and let your light shine. Recognize that others’ lights deserve to shine too. Hope lies in being the best disciples of Love we can be. And recognizing that if others are following their own paths of compassion, well, God loves them too.

Emily Whittle and John Bowman

Community of Mindful Living in the Pines

During this year our human family has been confronted with monumental challenges and suffering. Together we continue to face an expanding pandemic; a societal crisis in terms of racial injustice, poverty and class inequality; severe economic challenges; and climate crisis. Today we all have a role to play in the rising tide of collective awakening to racial injustice, systemic inequalities and climate justice.

As we honor our emotional experience at this moment and care for what is arising in us, we are invited to examine our lives and our community and help move our world toward a more inclusive and compassionate society.

One of the greatest challenges we face now is how to be calm and peaceful in these crises. Mindfulness practice and mediation can be a source of peace, healing and transformation, and it must go hand-in-hand with deeply looking into all aspects of our daily lives and its social structures to examine their ethical and moral foundations. When we act from a place of being, of stillness and peace, we can be moved into compassionate action. At this moment it is essential that we stand up and speak out against racism and for racial justice, just as it is for gender, class and climate justice. We must have the courage, patience and openness of mind to look deeply into the root causes of these injustices, and listen deeply to those who are suffering, and learn how we are each contributing, individually and collectively. This can be a source of peace, healing and transformation for the world and us.

May we all be filled with loving kindness, may we all be well, may we be calm and at ease, may we all be safe and happy.

Muhammad A. Lodhi

Masjid Al Madina

As believers, we trust that the prevailing pandemic and accompanying challenges faced by humanity cannot exist without the knowledge and permission of Almighty God. Every hardship is a test from our Lord as He says in the Holy Quran, “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits but give good tidings to the patient. Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to God, and indeed to Him we will return.’” COVID-19 is a test from God. A test to see whether we reflect, show patience, and thank Him or continue with our usual ways. There is no one who can remove adversity from us except God, who is known as Al Rahman and Al Raheem, the most merciful to His creation. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught us that God tests those people He loves. He further advised to recognize and acknowledge God in times of ease and prosperity, and He would remember us in times of adversity. We should turn to God and beg His forgiveness, show our allegiance, and spread goodness. May the Controller of affairs protect us all from any harm.

Pastor Nathaniel Jackson

Christ Way Deliverance Church

In these very different times

Dear God what can “I do” in these times

To make things better for someone

Although I am aging

Put me in places and mold me

To make someone’s day brighter and bring a smile

Although I am growing in years

Help me to help the young reach their goal

If not their lifetime goal

A goal that makes things better for the moment

Dear Lord

Help me cheer up someone’s day

That they are smiling as I walk away

Lord help me

Offer a hand up that will last

Not just a hand out

Bless this our country and our world

Keep us safe and free from all sickness

Help us find more love, peace and happiness

Not just at this Christmas season but all year long

Help us find salvation in Jesus Christ our savior

In Jesus’ holy name I pray

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