Dear Friends,

Do you remember the old church camp song that goes like this? I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…where?

Written by the Rev. George Willis Cooke, a Unitarian minister from Michigan who lived in the late 19th century, he thought joy was indispensable to Christianity. Cooke is right. Joy is absolutely central to the Christian life. Our psalms are chock full of them. And it’s not a coincidence that the apostle Paul places “joy” second in his nine-fold list of the fruit of the Spirit, immediately following “love” (Galatians 5:22). What is most distinctive about someone’s life who’s bearing the fruit of the Spirit? After love, it is joy.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and prolific author, wrote a book ten years ago with a catchy title: Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. He reminds us that God wants us to experience joy, that many biblical stories are laced with humor, including many of Jesus’ parables, and that holy people are always joyful people.

When it comes to Jesus, isn’t it ironic how in almost every artistic depiction of him down through the centuries his face is given a somber expression? None of the pictures show Jesus smiling or laughing! Even though he loved spending time with children and going to parties and telling stories. He surely laughed a lot and had a great sense of humor, and yet you’d never know it from our mental images of him.

Happiness is great. I like being happy. You like being happy. But happiness is not joy. Happiness is directly related to circumstances. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad. It’s usually about getting what we want when we want it. So, happiness is by nature fleeting – happiness is a good meal, watching a great play, acing the test, receiving a compliment from the boss, buying a new outfit or a new smartphone. It feels good, but it’s fleeting. It doesn’t last.

But joy is qualitatively different. Joy is not related to circumstances. Joy has an object and that object is God. We don’t control it. It happens to us. We are caught up by it.

First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette exists to help you and I and our neighbors experience joy together – in God, in ourselves, in one another and with all creation. Joy, as it turns out, is not a zero-sum game. You don’t have more of it if I have less, and vice versa. It’s infectious and abundant and eternal.

With all of this in mind, our Giving Team is excited to share that the stewardship theme for 2023 is “Together for Joy.” This theme invites us to experience joy in this tumultuous season of our personal and communal lives. We invite you to join us in giving thanks for all of the resources – spiritual, theological, physical and financial – that support this indispensable work.

To that end, I’m excited for all that 2023 will hold at our church. Opportunities to grow in connection with God and one another through worship, faith formation, mission and community engagement. The arrival of new full-time installed Associate Pastor. Ongoing discernment about how to serve the needs of our neighbors with the love of Christ – so they can flourish and experience joy.

Each year our church changes – beloved church members pass away and we gather for funerals, amazing babies are born and baptized, some of us move away, kids go off to college, and new families join us on faith journey. Taking all of that into account and pondering God’s call on our church in 2023, we invite you to prayerfully consider a 6% increase in your financial commitment over 2022, as our mission partners are in great need and our hope is to offer a cost-of-living adjustment to our staff in light of rising inflation.

We encourage you to either mail your pledge card to the church office or to pledge online through our church website. We’ve enclosed a pledge card with this letter for your prayerful consideration.

Here’s our challenge and invitation to you. You and I are here to be “together for joy” – to be present, to be grateful, to be of service, to embody love, to realize God’s kingdom of justice and joy, compassion and peace. This one “wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver) is a precious gift that we don’t want to waste.

We’re not asking you to do what you cannot, only what you can. When we all respond to God in gratitude for all God has given us, it will always be enough.

Thank you in advance for your commitment and generosity!

With gratitude and love in Christ,

Rev. Jeff Lehn, on behalf of the Giving Team (Amy McJoynt and Dan Johnson)