The Garage Sale Engagement Ring

One of the things to which I subscribe on Facebook is a site advertised as a local garage sale. Once you’ve gotten it set up, it lets you know when new items are posted. Recently, I saw something I never guessed I’d see there—an engagement ring.ring

There were pictures of it, and it looked like a pretty good one. I wasn’t sure whether to chuckle or be sad. How does an engagement ring end up in a garage sale? I suppose, once that kind of relationship is over, you have to get rid of the ring somehow.

“We could have done things a tad differently.”

It’s just another reminder of how things don’t always work out like we thought they would. I’m sure it’s no secret to any of you that life is full of adventures that sometimes go awry. With the derailed ventures, we often collect collateral damages—broken relationships, nicks and scars, and bruised egos. That’s just how life works.

Sometimes we look back  and think we could have done things a tad differently. We could have made better decisions or treated people a little more nicely. Maybe we should have avoided an option that was a bit too easy or a move that was obviously way too self-serving.

On the other hand, many times we just couldn’t see it coming (whatever it may have been). We go over and over things in our minds and don’t see anything we could (or would) have done any differently. Things just don’t always go our way. “The best-laid plans,” and all that…

“I know the plans I have for you…”

If you’re a Christian, at least you’ve got a fallback plan. It’s not your plan or a “Plan B.” It’s the one the Lord has for you. He won’t let you down, and his plan is always the best for you (like it or not).jeremiah_29_11

There’s a famous passage in Jeremiah that says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

“You are a living testimony…”

Even broken engagements, broken relationships, and broken lives can be mended in God’s plan and in his impeccable timing. There’s always hope, and tomorrow’s always a new day. These, of course, are old cliché’s; but they have survived for a reason. That reason is they’re true.

I suspect many of you are a living testimony to these truths. You’ve survived something you thought would destroy your life. You’ve come through on the other side—not always unscathed, but mostly for the better.

Jeremiah discovered hundreds of years ago that if we sought God out and called on him, his plan for our future could be realized. It’s good to know that hasn’t changed.

It makes me wonder if anyone picked up that ring at the garage sale…

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

The Human Experience: On a Collision Course with God

chardin During the early part of the last century, there was a French Jesuit priest by the name of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was the philosopher who said, “We are not human beings trying to have a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings trying to have a human experience.” Bless his heart.

It’s a really cool saying, but I’m not totally sure it means anything. The fact is we’re both. We’re spiritual beings, and we’re human beings. We exist as humans, so we will have the human experience. We’re also spiritual, so we’ll have spiritual experiences as well.

“We are consumed with the physical.”

It seems to me, however, that we are usually consumed with the physical experience. We taste, feel, and satisfy as many human desires as we can. This normally comes immediately after we’ve satisfied any human needs we have.

If we are really sensitive to our spirituality, we go after the spiritual side of things. From my perspective, however, that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. Being one of those odd creatures called the Christian Pastor, I am (of course) biased. Still, I don’t think I’m alone on this. Many people outside of the realm of the clergy seek to satisfy the spiritual longings within themselves. What a lot of us probably don’t realize is how naturally (or should I say supernaturally) much of this happens. Day-to-day experiences and circumstances can lead us into the spiritual life depending on our responses to them.

maryjoseph

Take Mary and Joseph for example. They were two, run-of-the-mill, Jewish folks living out the final months of their betrothal. An angel visits one of them—the other has a dream about an angel. Their responses changed everything.

Think of their circumstances: in betrothal about to be married, she discovers she’s pregnant (while a virgin), she has to tell Joseph, he decides to forego the (then legal) stoning and divorce her. Things were turning sour quite quickly.

An angel tells Mary the baby is from God’s Holy Spirit. Joseph doesn’t believe her until he has a dream in which another angel tells him it’s okay to marry her. Just name the baby Jesus (meaning God saves) because he’s going to save the world.

“I might chalk it up to the pizza.”

Now it’s their turn. They can believe God (and the angels), or they can listen to their own human experience. That experience tells them this whole scenario is going to be a very bad scene. They could avoid all the unpleasantries they were about to endure, or they could do it God’s way and enhance their spiritual lives. Tough choice.pizza-spirit-animal

Apparently, they made the right one and chose to marry and carry Jesus to full term. They suffered for it, but they became the earthly parents of God Almighty.

Frankly, if an angel spoke to me in a dream, I think I might chalk it up to the pizza I ate before I went to bed. I’m glad Joseph was a bit more in tune with the spiritual than me for all our sakes.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

A Blog by Any Other Name…

Shortly following the presidential election, I wrote a blog, which stemmed from the violence that ensued the announcement about who had won. I won’t get into the main topic of said blog. If you’d like, you can read it for yourself. The title of the posting was, “Fifty More Shades of Gray.”

 

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After some of the dust had settled, one of my readers voiced her dismay over the title I had chosen. She felt that it was a not-so-veiled reference to a less than appropriate movie. She was, of course, correct…well sort of.

It was actually a not-so-veiled reference to the book. Frankly, I had forgotten all about the movie that had been made from the book, Fifty Shades of Gray. Who could forget the uproar and splash made by that publication a few years ago? People still talk about it.

“I never saw anyone study so intently.”

During the height of its popularity, I was sitting on a plane next to a young lady who was reading what was obviously the very definition of a page-turner. I never saw anyone study so intently. I couldn’t see what she was scanning, so when we landed, I took the liberty of asking her what it was.

She apologetically told me it was Fifty Shades of Gray. She then proceeded to tell me she just wanted to find out what the big stink was all about. All her friends were reading it, and she just had to investigate. Investigate she did. She must have devoured half the book on the flight from Chicago to DC.

"Blog" buttonAnyway, back to the reader of my blog post. I responded to her and told her I certainly understood her concern over my choice of titles. I further explained, however, that to get people to read a blog floating along in cyberspace, the title had to grab people’s attention. Otherwise, it tends to get lost in the shuffle—regardless of how good (or bad) the content might be. I have been accused over the years of being a prude, so I guess the choice of that title may have been a big leap for me.

“My readership tripled in size…”

To drive home the point, I checked my readership totals for that blog after it had gone public. Sure enough, more people read that particular one than usual. In fact, my readership tripled in size with its posting. Let that be a lesson to all you bloggers out there.

I’ve been blogging for fifteen and a half months and have noticed a pattern. Readership dramatically increases when my titles hint at two things—death and sex. As a preacher, I try to stay away from sexual topics—that’s not where my expertise lies. But a veiled reference to it in the title definitely attracts attention. My blogs with titles like “Going Topless” and “Spiritual Nudity (or X-Rated Marks the Spot)” were reader magnets.

So, with apologies to my fellow prudes, I can’t write about death every day. Creating titles is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

King Solomon & the Vanishing Facebook Posts

facebookI have my Facebook page set to shoot me an e-mail when a friend posts on my wall (or whatever you call that thingy that pops up initially). It saves me the trouble of actually having to go to Facebook to check these things out. I suppose that sounds a bit lazy, but time is money (as the wise ones say).

Because of that practice, I’ve discovered an interesting phenomenon that would have otherwise gone unnoticed (by me, at least). Occasionally, I’ll wake up in the morning to an e-mail telling me that Jack Doe (names have been changed to protect the innocent) has posted on my page. Eager to know what Jack has said to, about, or for me, I click on the handy-dandy link and head over to the ever-popular Facebook.

The Vanishing Post

This works like a charm. On rare occasions, however, by the time I land on the spot of the post, it has magically disappeared. At first, this was not only befuddling to me; it drove me crazy trying to find the delinquent missive. Then one day it dawned on me. The post had been deleted.

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King Solomon

It often takes me a while to actually understand these things (especially when they involve technology). But I figured it out in part because I’ve done the same thing. I’ve posted what I think is a clever, funny, or wisdom-filled message only to regret what I’ve said ten seconds later. At that point, I’ve gone back in and deleted the post. By that time, of course, the e-mail has been dispatched, and I’ve been outed. My post is not seen, but my lurking has been disclosed.

Having experienced this myself, I’m now assuming this is what happens to my vanishing Facebook posts. Though it may be assigned to some weird, computer glitch, I’d rather stick with the deleted post theory. I do so because it’s very Biblically sound. Allow me to explain.

“I now find it comforting to discover a deleted text.”

King Solomon is credited with amassing all sorts of wisdom from around the known world of his time. One of the axioms he collected was, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28) He included many other such proverbs that dealt with remaining silent such as, “The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.” (Proverbs 18:7) Proverbs 12:23 and 20:3 also come to mind.

abraham-lincolnWith this Biblical wisdom in tow, I now find it comforting to discover a deleted text. It means (at least in my own mind) that someone thought enough of me to avoid the offensive word (albeit at the last second). They were also wise enough to avoid looking like a fool in the eyes of the Facebook world.

It has also informed my own postings. I hate sounding foolish and certainly don’t mean to offend. As Honest Abe once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

She Never Hears “No!”

Some people have driven personalities. When they get something in their minds, they go for it. They don’t let anything get in the way, and they don’t take no for an answer.

winston-churchillWhen you have some influence or sway with a person like that, you need to understand the hearing problem they have. You can say, “No,” all you want. They will never hear it. They’ll only hear, “Yes, maybe, or not right now.”

I know this to be true because I married one of these people. My lovely bride never hears “No!” We’ve been united in holy matrimony for nineteen years now, and I seldom use that two-letter word anymore. It’s fruitless and a waste of breath to do so.

“These individuals are great to have around.”

The great thing about these kinds of folks is their tenacity. They never give up. They are persistent and determined. They are doggedly tireless and resolute in every quest that means anything to them.

These individuals are great to have around. When everyone else is throwing in the towel, they are just beginning to plot, scheme, and connive their way to glory. It’s rather uncanny to watch. Everyone needs one of these guys or gals on their side. Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” He was another who never heard, “No!”

Jesus once told his disciples that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) His disciples were beside themselves and asked if anyone could be saved. His answer was, “with God all things are possible.”

I’m convinced that many of us give up all too easily. That’s particularly true when we’re fighting a spiritual battle or seeking a spiritual answer. We succumb all too quickly to a simple “no” from the enemy.

“Giving up is not a good option.”

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul tell us, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) The “him” is the Lord—the Holy Spirit of God. Passages like this should help us get beyond “no” to the answers and victories we seek in life.

We are not destined to be spiritual failures. We are not called to be losers. Jesus gained the victory for all of us. Following in his footsteps ensures our victory as well. Giving up is not a good option.no-limits-road-sign-featured

That’s not to say we’ll never make a wrong decision and land in some dead end. It does mean, however, that mistakes can be corrected and correct paths chosen. In Christ, we are overcomers. So (as we used to say in the old days), keep on keepin’ on. No is a small word in comparison to the God of the impossible.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

Techno Gods of the Twenty-First Century

technogod I kind of like technology. It can be fun, and certainly can be quite useful. It’s definitely great for communication. This blog is cyberspace evidence of that.

It doesn’t have its drawbacks, however. I suspect you’ve heard various people bemoan the negatives (and you’ve probably done that yourself on occasion). I’ve heard some call it downright evil.

I’m not really techno-savvy myself. I know enough to get by. I probably know just about enough to be dangerous.

I’m an Addict

I saw a meme once (or twice) that said, “Come on over to my place tonight. Some of us are getting together to stare at our cell phones.” It happens.

I resisted getting a cell phone for many years. I didn’t see the need to be constantly connected. I figured if someone really needed me, they could find me somehow. We did it for years.

Then one day, my boss told me they were getting me one. He said the company should be able to contact me whenever they needed me. At that point, I had to relent. Shortly thereafter, I was hooked (like everyone else).

1535384_733673183312216_821496201_nNow I can’t go anywhere without it. Everything is on that phone (including a GPS app to get me where I’m going in the shortest amount of time). I’m even getting telemarketer calls on that baby now. I guess I’ve arrived.

There’s an interesting aspect to being connected all the time. Though we’re connected to the outside world, we often end up on an island of our own. We’ve got our phones out and we’re checking our email, reading posts on Facebook, or playing some addictive game. Being connected ends up cutting us off from those nearest to us.

We already live in a society where most of us don’t even know our next-door neighbors. Technology tends to wall us off even further. It seems like most of us are beginning to worship at the altar of the techno gods. These gods consume us to the point where we almost become human sacrifices. Our time is unquestionably surrendered to them. They are billed as “time-saving devices,” and yet they suck our free moments away.

“Let’s put these down and talk.”

There have been more than a few evenings when my lovely bride and I have caught ourselves with the TV on, a cell phone in my hand, and an electronic tablet in hers. We’ve both submerged ourselves into our own little worlds and have to fight to come up for air. It’s all we can do to say to each other, “That’s it! new-arrivalsLet’s put these down and talk.” More times than not, we end up back on some device before the evening is over. It’s pathetic.

I seldom read a paper Bible anymore. I have umpteen translations on my computer. It’s faster, easier, and more efficient.

That same Bible (both paper and electronic) teaches us to fast and pray. I’m starting to think we need to fast from electronics sometimes. There’s one big problem, though. It might be harder than actually fasting from food.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Final Election Thoughts From a Beleaguered Preacher

All the votes are in, most of them have been tabulated, and the results are pretty well documented. We are now well into the post-election, smoothing-out period—NOT. It seems like things have gotten even viler than they were in the months leading up to the big day. Now, instead of the candidates attacking each other, the citizenry have picked up the sword.

As one of those nondescript beings the press calls “independent voters,” I look with chagrin at what is going down around me. As one of those lowly creatures the church calls “preachers,” I am horrified. I knew the political class would never really relent, but I always thought the voters would quickly bury the hatchet. I guess that shows my naiveté.

The unlikely knight in shining armor…

When I was a kid, John Kennedy won a razor-thin election when his father reportedly spread just enough money around to tilt a few precincts his way. For whatever reason, Richard Nixon (his opponent) never contested the election. For one shining moment, this man (who would later become one of the most reviled political figures in our history) became a knight in shining armor. I can’t imagine that happening today.knight-in-shining-armour

I used to be a political junkie. It was a hobby of sorts. I found it entertaining and even amusing at times. Watching and listening to all the pundits trying to spin their views to actually make sense was great fun.

It’s not fun anymore. It’s downright tragic. I can’t even watch the TV news these days because the actual news is never reported. What we get is someone’s opinion about what the news means (or a debate from two extremists who forgot what objectivity is all about).

We like to say this is all “just politics as usual.” But I think it’s gone far beyond that now. People are getting trampled, friends are becoming enemies, and common sense and decency are going by the wayside. Tolerance has come to mean, “I’ll tolerate you as long as you agree with me.”

“…no one is allowed to win…”

As a pastor, my biggest gripe is that people are getting hurt. I thought I was above the fray, but even I seem to have become a casualty of this war of words. No, I’m not playing the “victim card” here. As the wounded Black Knight in the movie, “In Search of the Holy Grail,” so famously said, “I’ve ‘ad worse!” I’m a big boy, and I can take it. Watching the innocent bystanders get rolled under is what makes my heart ache.

blackknightIn a society where no one is allowed to win or lose, I guess this was inevitable. It’s inevitable because there really are winners and losers. Raising our kids to believe they (and everyone around them) are always wonderful is dishonest and ultimately frightening.

Years ago, Noel Paul Stookey wrote and recorded a song entitled The Winner. In it, he said, “There’s one thing brings us together…invite the Winner into your heart.” Jesus is the real winner. Without him, we’re all losers.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Only the Strong Survive: Well, Maybe Not Always

A few days ago, Comedian Amy Schumer stepped out of her funny woman role long enough to make a few pronouncements about the state of our country. She was lamenting the fact that her candidate of choice failed in the recent presidential election. That, of course, is nothing new. We all sing the blues when our fervent selection is denied. Schumer went a bit further, however.

She called those who firmly resided in her camp, smart, and those who voted the opposite way, weak. I’m not sure how she would react if pressed on these overgeneralizations, but I hope she would at least back off a tad.

“18% of us are smart…”

The most recent tabulations find that there are slightly over sixty million weaklings in the USA. Fortunately, over sixty million smart people balance them out. As we examine these results, we can see that Schumer has set up the classic Brains v. Brawn argument (or in this case, Brains v. Lack-of-Brawn). Upon further review, however, I suspect that Amy was referring to weak as in weak-minded.

Currently, there are about 325 million people in these United States. It’s comforting to know that at least 18% of us are smart enough to keep us afloat. Some would ask how I know that 18% is enough. I’m glad they asked.

In Genesis, the Lord visited Abraham. God told him he was about to destroy the city of Sodom. Old Abe was distraught by this development and pled the case for the not-so-fine folks of that burg. He finally asked if ten good people were enough to prevent the destruction of this municipality. The Lord finally relented and said, sure. If we can find that many, we’ll spare the joint.

The intelligentsia numbers over sixty million.”

Unfortunately, in that case, ten couldn’t be found. In our case, however, we’ve got over sixty million who number among the intelligentsia. We will undoubtedly be spared from the wiles of the weak. Hooray for the smart people, Amy!

On the other hand, the Apostle Paul told us that God uses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to confound the strong. If that’s true, to which of these groups are we to turn? Who actually holds the key to our salvation?albert-einstein

Well, let me tell you. There’s good news in all of this. Our salvation does not lie in the wiles of the weak or the cunning of the wise ones. It lies within no ordinary human begin (wise or otherwise). Our salvation lies in Jesus. Calling each other names is just not going to help. Working together for solutions to our problems might actually be a viable alternative.

On a side note, I’m not sure how Amy views the 600,000 who voted for third party candidates (not to mention the scores of millions who didn’t even bother to vote). It seems they are the actual smart ones since they’re the only ones not being called names and being labeled for good or ill (at least by Amy).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Fifty More Shades of Gray

trumpShortly after Donald Trump became the President Elect, people took to the streets. Usually, when we gather in the streets after a stunning victory like his, it’s to celebrate—especially in the good old USA. This time, not so much…

The people in the streets were demonstrators—in some cases, rioters. Fires were set using rubbish, images of Trump, and American flags as fuel. Chants of “not my president” and “f— Trump” were shouted into the night air. Streets and highways were blocked, causing traffic jams. Train delays were instigated. At least one person was hit by a car.

Get a Grip!

These occurrences were almost minor in comparison to what happened on the Internet. Announcements began to pop up for anti-Trump rallies from now through inauguration day. People took to Twitter to call for the assassination of Trump and Pence causing the Secret Service a few overtime hours.

“Getting a grip” does not seem to be a common practice these days. Almost 60 million people voted for Trump. A tad more than that voted for Clinton. Not counting third party candidates, we were roughly split down the middle. On election night, it felt like the seventh game of the World Series. Unfortunately, the aftermath didn’t resemble those emotions at all.

hillary102315I understand feeling bad when your candidate loses. I’m almost sixty-seven years old and have been through it many times. I have to say, however, I’ve never been tempted to call for someone’s head, threaten to leave my country, or destroy someone’s property. Where does this attitude come from?

I’m sure any meaningful response to that is extremely complicated. But the simple answer is this—for some reason, we now see everything in black and white (and I don’t mean skin color). We can’t seem to detect grayish hues anymore. Either you’re for me or against me–truly good or perfectly evil–positively right or all wrong–my true-blue friend or my mortal enemy.

“Many of us don’t care to know others…”

Years ago, when Ronald Reagan won his upset victory over Jimmy Carter, a flabbergasted reporter declared, “I don’t know anyone who voted for him!” That little statement speaks volumes.

Many of us don’t care to know others who differ from us. We surround ourselves with people who look, act and think like we do. We end up speaking into an echo chamber, and we never come to an understanding of why they’re different. The end result can be fear, hatred, and extreme mistrust.

uisg-get-to-know-us-campaignThose of us who are followers of Christ are called to be different than that. Jesus instructed us to get to know people and reach out to them. When you really know people, it’s not as easy to shove them into a stereotypical category. We no longer see their views and attitudes as black or white—they start to appear in varying shades of gray. We begin to see them as real people like us—not as extremists trying to do us in.

If we adopt that attitude, we may even love the new president.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Days of the Dead

day-of-the-dead-traditional-face-paint-wallpaper-1Last week I posted a blog entitled, “All Souls Day: Hallow-mas Revisited.” In it, I inadvertently conflated two separate days on the calendar of the Church. Folks who knew better graciously pointed out my error. I should have known better anyway.

Even as I wrote that piece, I had the passing thought that All Souls and All Saints are two different concepts. Alas, instead of researching that idea a bit, I hurriedly passed on by without a second thought. Mea culpa…

Days of the Dead

The history of these two days is quite interesting (if you like history—which I do). I won’t put forward all the details here, but I commend a little search engine investigation to you on the subject of All Souls v. All Saints. Distinctions between the two definitely exist.

Interestingly enough, they are not only tied together by their close proximity on the calendar but also by the general term “Days of the Dead.” The Days of the Dead apparently run from October 31 (Halloween) through November 2 (All Souls Day). All Saints Day is sandwiched in between. All things dead seem to be celebrated on these days by various cultures and cults as well as by the Catholic Church and Christians in general.

day-of-the-dead-googleThe Days of the Dead are big in various pagan rituals and celebrations dating back for centuries. The Aztecs were celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) three thousand years ago. Old habits die hard. It’s actually been declared a public holiday in Mexico.

On the Christian end of things, All Saints is generally a day to celebrate the dead in Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is considered a holy day of obligation. All Souls, on the other hand, is a day set aside by the Catholic Church to pray for the deceased who currently reside in purgatory. I find it a bit curious that this is not a holy day of obligation. It would seem to me, if you believe praying for the dead is efficacious, that would be more important than celebrating those who’ve already made it to Heaven. (Maybe my Catholic friends can straighten me out on that one.)

Good vs. Evil

Be that as it may, the Christian introduction of Halloween into all this is what has always fascinated me. Apparently, a thousand years ago or so, Christians would gather on the day prior to All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows Day) to ask for the Lord’s blessing and protection. Many on that night would dress as saints and/or demons and act out the war between good and evil. The play was usually performed at night around a bonfire. It became known as All Hallows Eve (or Halloween).  all-souls-day

In my research on the topic, I haven’t run across any article that reveals the eventual winner in these mock battles between the forces of the virtuous and the evil. From my perspective, I’m rooting for the good guys. A Zombie Apocalypse is not my idea of a decent ending.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]