New episodes of "Nourish" and "Encounter" from the "Along the Road" podcast series look at the bright path of faith through times of darkness and the ways Advent can encourage us to reflect on the past while also tarrying in the present.

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(left to right) Michelle Thomas-Bush, Alex Evangelista, and Tricia Dykers-Koenig

From left to right are: the Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, and the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II 

There are two recent Nourish episodes to feast your ears on this holiday season. The fourth in the series for ruling elders and deacons features a discussion about Hebrews 11 with the Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick, Executive at the Synod of the Covenant. In the fifth episode host Martha Miller talks about the liturgical seasons surrounding Christ’s birth with Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, Regional Liaison for the Caribbean with Presbyterian World Mission and Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly.

Nourish: Reflection on Hebrews 11 (17 minutes)

Hardwick, whose synod serves presbyteries in Michigan and Ohio, talks about the way Hebrews 11 (“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”) deals with the mystery of belief, especially the winding direction faith journeys take.

“It’s hard to capture what faith is,” Hardwick says, “but helpful to look at what faith does.”

He encourages church leaders to think of faith as a group journey and compares it during these days of pandemic to the one that lights up in the video of “Billy Jean.” “We make the path as we go along. We trust that our moves are lit by the holy spirit.”

Hardwick shares stories of recent moments that inspired his faith, including a person traveling to Eastern Ohio from China to be baptized by a church leader they met through online Bible study, and a Detroit pastor whose TikTok ministry has given LGBTQIA+ Presbyterians an online place of fellowship many lack close to home. He also mentions a church in Mackinaw Presbytery that serves meals to road workers and sends church leaders to small community events. “They’re not thinking about these things as church growth activities, but to live out their faith.”

Nourish: Advent to Epiphany (18 minutes)

Cintrón-Olivieri brings her perspective as a ruling elder and native of Puerto Rico to this conversation about the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, which in Puerto Rico can be “a form of resistance to other traditions that have been imposed through the years.”

“Advent is a time of expectant hope of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Cintrón-Olivieri says before mentioning John the Baptist preparing for the coming of Christ in Luke 3:1-6. “For deacons and ruling elders this is a time for collective reflection and to make time for family,” she says. Advent is also when Christians can “evaluate what has been done and what we can improve on.”

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Miller and Cintrón-Olivieri compare the beginning of the church year to the end of the calendar year, with Cintrón-Olivieri describing Three Kings Day (or the Feast of the Epiphany) traditions in Puerto Rico, including the January 6 Epiphany celebration, family gatherings and holiday songs. She urges listeners wherever they are to be present to friendships during this time of year, to de-emphasize material concerns in favor of giving time to others and to remember the importance of Epiphany, which “celebrates God’s manifestation in this world in the form of all nations represented in the magi.” 

Near the end of the episode Cintrón-Olivieri shares an Advent prayer from the Formation, Theology and Evangelism resources of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Encounter: Advent Reflections with the Stated Clerk (56 minutes)

Host the Rev. Manuel Silva-Esterrich starts the fourth Encounter episode reminding listeners that during Advent “we celebrate the wait for the birth of the promised one.” He then joins Stated Clerk of the General Assembly the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, in sharing personal Advent reflections.

“Advent is about walking into unknown, unchartered spaces,” Nelson says. “It is also a time when we pause for a minute and recognize that life is a cycle and we have to deal with that cycle.”

“The recognition that we have a savior is a big part of this joyous time,” he adds before acknowledging that Christmas isn't always a joyous time for people. “We live in this dichotomy, with good things coming out of tragic things. Faith is all about making sense of that, realizing there is something greater than ourselves.” Rev. Silva-Esterrich talks about the opportunities for growth in even difficult seasons, reflecting on how pandemic-era conversations have given the national church new insights into serving mid councils and other worshiping communities, including the mid council leaders the Encounter podcasts aim to reach.

Nelson tells a story about caroling as a child, and finding out that his church group was visiting a jailhouse. “There was a guy who was a local football hero, and here he was in jail. ... Watching him break down and cry while we were singing is something I’ll never forget” — a memory that later inspired Nelson to go into ministry.

Silva-Esterrich asks about the importance of rest at the end of the year. “Advent calls for us to recalibrate the life we are living,”  Nelson says. “To reflect. That’s the beauty of Christmas … Getting a chance to sit back and look at life differently.”

Silva-Esterrich talks about end-of-year resolutions, and how any goal not accomplished in one year is possible the year after. Being present to the moment, as Hardwick, Cintrón-Olivieri and the Rev. Michelle Thomas-Bush all discussed in recent Nourish episodes, is another gift of the season.

Nelson talks about instances where Jesus tarried in the Bible, even when that meant being late for a future obligation. Those instances of scripture, “help me deal with the urgency we live in. ... Sometimes we have to tarry in places we weren’t intending to stay.”

After a closing prayer by Nelson, Silva-Esterrich ends the episode talking about a public art project by West Side Elementary School in Healdsburg, California where you can call a phone number and listen to kindergarteners share stories of what brings them joy; he recently called the number and was brought to tears by what he heard. Silva-Esterrich shares the phone number (707-873-7862) so that Along the Road listeners might also have the gift of that listening experience.