As I write, I am about to head north to the coast of Maine for vacation at my brother’s beach house. Until a month ago, he and his wife were living in a cottage on the dunes, at a four-foot elevation above the high tide mark. For some years now, the locals have noted that the high tide mark keeps getting higher. But now Bill and Molly have built a new house on an elevated spit of land nearby. It overlooks a sea marsh and the beach and beach houses and a small river which enters the sea there. It is 37 feet above sea level.

I am glad for this. Two or three years ago I attended a presentation on global warming by Dr. Stephen Mulkey, formerly an environmental science professor at UF and head of the Florida legislature’s climate change study group. In short, Professor Mulkey’s team had found that, Yes, the creeks are rising and God is willing to let it happen. My brother, or at least his grandchildren, are going to need that extra 33 feet of elevation.

Dr. Mulkey was, by the time of the presentation, the new president of environmentally focused Unity College in Maine. He reported that ecosystems are moving north (in our hemisphere) at 200 miles each 25 years. (Can you say “Paynes Prairie pythons” fast five times without getting your tongue twisted?) I asked him where he’d recommend my children move to. He said, “Maine. But inland, to farm. The temperature and chemical quality of the ocean’s water is changing fast and so fishing will be gone in the next generation.” When his group reported back to the Florida legislature about the impact of rising seas on Florida, the chair of the responsible legislative committee cut them off mid-way, saying the legislature wasn’t interested in hearing anymore.

Nonetheless, the wisest student I knew at UF was getting graduate degrees in both environmental engineering and marine engineering. He expected that the dike and levy construction business was in for a boom in his lifetime in Florida. Or maybe the wisest person was the student who had gotten a combined masters in environment and religion. She’s following Mother Jones’ dictum: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

A number of church denominations have declared the month of September to be the “Season of Creation.” They are devoting each September, the beginning of the church year, to establishing spiritual communion with the earth and its creatures. They begin on Labor Day (for Genesis 2 says “serve and tend the earth”) and study and preach and pray about the land and waters and critters up to October 4, the Feast of St Francis, patron saint of animals. You can go to www.SeasonOfCreation.org to see and reflect on some of the studies and liturgies and sermons that different denominations have produced so far.

The temperatures, the seas, and the climate zones are all rising to new levels. Salvation also consists of two levels. Level one: as the being of Christ demonstrates, we are good and worthy at our core (that’s justification). Level two: as the work of Christ demonstrates, we can do good and bless the life of the world (that’s sanctification). Grace, or the divine power for life, makes it possible. May we use September’s Season of Creation to learn more about how we can rise to new levels of justification and sanctification to save God’s fertile world.

Blessings, Pastor Jack


Our Program Committee (Meaghan, chair) has received positive feedback on our First Sunday Congregational Explorations, so they will continue. Soon, the committee will reinitiate Wednesday evening potlucks and studies. Stay tuned.

Our Communications Committee (Susan, chair) reports we can now contribute to Highlands by credit card on our webpage – see the Donate button. Also, renters can now download our facilities use agreement form and guidelines from the webpage. Lastly, the HPC vision/mission statement is being reviewed.

Our Facilities Committee (Beth, chair) is leading our First Saturday workdays. The combined workday with Heart Pine School yielded beautiful grounds. Piano tuning is in the offing. The importance of mold control is being studied, along with other maintenance issues.

Our Session (church board) reports that a Congregational Meeting will be held on 9/21 after the church service to update the congregation on our facilities use agreement with Heart Pine School, our newly adopted Abuse Prevention Policy, and our pastoral search.

MEMBER NEWS (Please contact Susan at smickelb@att.com with news we should know.)

We will celebrate Jerry Ransom’s 90th birthday at church Sunday, Sept. 14. Please join in celebrating Highlands’ last founding member. Jerry’s daughter Brenda is bringing cake!


2015 Pledge Cards are now being mailed. Please remember that if you have planned to give a special donation to Highlands at some point in your life, this is the time. It is the surest way we can afford a fair salary for a pastor to continue our renewal as an important spiritual center for our community.

Highlands Rummage Sale on October 11. Please start collecting items for our Fall Jumble Sale in conjunction with Heart Pine School. We hope to include Enduring Faith as well as anyone who wants to set up a sale table Flea Market style. Need Volunteers: to stand with the Highlands items, receive money, set up tables/items, and clean up after the sale. Last year, we had a great time talking with people about our community. Beth Hartwell will be the contact person. if you have questions/suggestions, call Beth, 727-512-2258.

Fall Presbytery Meeting, Saturday, October 7. The Session will be sending at least one representative to the Fall Presbytery meeting at Camp Montgomery.


Medical and social research over the last decade make clear that belonging to a religious community of inclusive thoughtful caring people greatly enhances our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. The research of U of Penn neurologists D’Quilli and Newberg particularly endorses meditative and contemplative practices that “silence the conscious mind and free the mind’s awareness from the limiting grip of the ego… (which is) shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression significantly, boost self-esteem, improve the quality of interpersonal relationships, and generate a more positive outlook on life.” The world’s most fundamental effective practice: sit in quiet and follow your breathing for ten to sixty minutes.

More Blessings, Pastor Jack & Susan M, editor




What is Shakespeare’s most famous saying? Right (I think)—“To be or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet speaks this line in the midst of chaos—chaos in his own mind and in the kingdom. Is suicide the way out of chaos, his melancholy spirit asks.

What is God’s most famous saying? Stumped? I think it is simply, “Be.” That is the Word. In the Hebrew Bible it is the first word of God—Ye or Ya, “Be,” as in Yehovah, Being of beings. Be! Be light! Be sky and water and land! Be vegetation! Be sun and moon! Be living creature! Be human! Be!

Interesting to note that God says “Be” in response to universal chaos, which could rightly be defined as Non-being. So far, that Word has worked. There is more and more being, more and more consciousness, more and more joy – at least potentially.

The divine call to the Church, I’d say, is, “ Help Be.” Help the world BE more alive, more conscious, more joyful. This would have been Hamlet’s better choice.

The month of August itself seems to present Hamlet’s choice: How many choices of great consequence can you think of that you and I and all humankind are in process of making this month? Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, Climate Change, Ebola, World Cup Poverty, Child Immigrants, Hunger and Homelessness. Do we still think God said, “Subdue Creation” or has humankind badly misunderstood the Word, “Be” and “Let be?”

By odd coincidence, both the Transfiguration of Christ (on the Roman Catholic calendar) and the Transfiguration of Hiroshima are commemorated on the same day in August, the 6th. At Hiroshima, the light of the atomic bomb showed that what Dr. Oppenheimer feared could be humankind’s dark epitaph—“I am become Death, destroyer of worlds”—could prove true. And yet, at his Transfiguration, the light of Christ declared that we can be the light of life.

These days of August are bringing much to ponder and decide. With all the life power of God in you, will you create God Days or Dog Days with your August life? To counter the chaos, God says, be a constant blessing. I am thankful to Highlands’ congregation for serving so well as comforter, renewer, and inspirer. Whatever we do as individuals this month— wander, work, or wonder—this is my prayer: Be well, be thankful, be helpful, Be!

Blessings, Pastor Jack

P.S. Thanks to our Session and to our Committee chairs for partnering in many administrative matters that I had been handling before. And blessings on email for making it lots easier for me to continue helping. The one thing I haven’t worked out well yet is visiting those who aren’t able to be at church. My plan for the coming weeks will be to cut short Sunday office hours to have time to visit at Emeritus, Woodlands, and Sterling House.

P.P.S. And by the way, Meaghan and Susan note that we need bookkeeping help in the office—an hour or so per week. Is anybody able to help?


Our Program Committee (Meaghan, chair) will facilitate our 8/3 First Sunday Congregational Reflections on our experiences of being renewed by wild spaces.

The Program Committee is also coordinating several services while Jack is away on vacation—with guest preachers Rev. Cheryl Gans (a Presbyterian chaplain in Ocala) on 8/17, RD on 8/24, Meaghan on 8/31. Come hear a lovely array of voices!
And before church on 8/10, we will continue our discussion of PCUSA General Assembly actions—specifically, approval of pastors to perform same-gender marriages.

Our Communications Committee (Susan, chair) reports that our webpage now has a “Donate” button, allowing you to contribute to the life of our church by credit card or Paypal. Check the Web page: www.highlandsgainesville.org.

Our Facilities Committee (Beth, chair) invites you to a workday with Heart Pine School (HPS) on Saturday 8/ 9, 9am-ish to 3pm-ish. Tasks: Clearing up the grounds and classrooms in preparation for Fall. Come help HPC & HPS reform our facilities so as to be decent and in order for Fall!

Our Session (church board) reports that:

1) The Session’s ad hoc Pastor Search Committee continues its search and has had a helpful meeting with our presbytery’s Executive Presbyter when he visited Highlands on 7/13. Please keep the committee in your prayers of hope and appreciation.

2) The Session is calling us all this month to request a special two-year boost in annual contributions so the church can afford an adequate half-time salary for a new pastor.

3) Highlands and Heart Pine School are extending our facilities use agreement for two more years. HPS will use a total of six classrooms. To bring the additional spaces up to code, with Heart Pine’s help, we will be installing new windows in the northside classrooms.


(Please contact Susan at smickelb@att.com with news we should know.)

We will celebrate Jerry Ransom’s 90th birthday at church on Sunday, Sept. 14. Please join in celebrating Highlands’ last founding member. Jerry’s daughter Brenda is bringing cake!

Warmest of Welcomes to Another New Member! Miranda Monkhorst-Prenger became a member of Highlands on July 20th. The words she shared were a lovely reminder of the importance of our spiritual journeys and our church as a thoughtful and caring community.


Sunday Morning 9:45 Religious Discussions: Come explore faith, hope, and loving kindness.

The Local Resilience Transition Network that Highlands initiated two years ago has taken on new life with the Transition Group meeting at Highlands on third Mondays, 7pm. Come join!

More Blessings, Pastor Jack & Susan M, editor



THE MONTHLY PASTORAL —“Highlands, Presbyterianism, and Independence”

If you notice in the Gospels, Jesus did not wave the flag for Freedom to do what you want. His view was that there is only one Way to follow—caring for all, unconditionally. If you follow it, then you will be free and your soul will magnify God. If not, your soul shrinks.

Jesus also had a mixed (covenantal) message on Independence. He helped people become independent—overcoming blindness, paralysis, mental illness, hunger, thirst, oppression. But it was an independence intended to enable contribution to the health and wealth of the community. As with Zaccheus the tax collector, that’s when salvation comes to your house.

Do you agree with Jesus? This month of July (with so much being written about freedom and independence of our people) is a good time to reflect on whether you agree. You might also appropriately ponder whether American culture is being shaped to grace the freedom and independence of all corners of Creation. If people anywhere on the planet are paying a big price for the freedoms of other people, what would Jesus say?

That reminds me once again, that the Declaration of Independence is really a document about the justice necessary to be a free people—that equality of soul requires justice in society, lest God’s will can’t be done on earth. If King George had accorded every citizen with the same fundamental rights, what would have happened?

Our American formulation of freedom and justice has ancient roots—Israel, Greece, Geneva, Scotland, England, Native America. And we know from the struggles of many peoples, this formulation has its seed in the human soul. The American founders were intent that the tragedies of religious conflict be avoided in America. They were also intent that the values of their Reform Church polities would shape our Declaration’s stand for equality, justice, the rule of law, and democracy in all matters from levying war to establishing commerce.

This July month of Independence is a good time to ponder how close the Founders got to Jesus’ way. Good also to ponder our freedom in light of the Supreme Court regarding women’s health care versus corporate personhood, the White House regarding use of secret military force overseas, and the Congress regarding priorities for the public purse.

And it’s a good month to ponder and study representative democracy at work in last week’s PCUSA General Assembly. The GA approved: 1) an “Educate a Child, Transform the World” campaign against poverty; 2) divestment of stock in corporations selling equipment used in Israeli takeovers of Palestinian territories, 3) openness to world faiths, 4) prevention of gun violence, 5) encouragement for Presbyterians to “live missionally” to transform social injustices, 6) allowing PCUSA pastors to perform same-sex marriages where legal; 7) adding the South African Reform Church Confession of Belhar to the PCUSA Book of Confessions.

Lastly, a Meditation for the Month: Breathe in Interdependence; breathe out Independence.

Blessings, Pastor Jack


Our Program Committee (Meaghan, chair) facilitated our First Sunday Reflections on 6/1. We explored what we are building at Highlands, and what we are building on. Jesus was building The Way, with Peter and the apostles. Likewise, we have a caring community, and we are building it together. If you have special ideas for programs, Sunday or otherwise, check in with Meaghan.

Our Communications Committee (Susan, chair) asks that we refer others to our www.HighlandsGainesville.org Web page or HighlandsCommunityChurchPCUSA on Facebook.

Our Facilities Committee (Beth, chair) used the monthly work day to repair & replace non-functioning Sanctuary lights–a huge job, beautifully done on high, thanks to Kathy B, Kathy’s niece Bethany, RD and Dave R., & to a scissor lift funded by an anonymous donation for maintenance (Thank you, Anonymous!)! As part of this, Dave R. repaired a worn spot on the Sanctuary ceiling & discovered a leak—and McDavid Roofing came, discovered three leaks, and repaired all for a total charge of $1.00 (Yes, that’s one dollar—Thank you, Chip McDavid!). Chip says our roof is good for now and will reassess in two years. Thanks to Ellen, our handicap bathrooms are beautiful and clean, as is the Fellowship Hall. Other work is in process under Beth’s direction—including new slip covers for our chairs (so needed)!

Our Session (church board) continues to oversee the plans & proposals of our committees, including our New Pastor Search Committee. Decisions by the Session at the 6/1/14 meeting were: 1) Purchase a new sound mixing board; gracious funding from an anonymous donor; 2) Plan to check on those unseen at church for a couple of Sundays; 3) HPC Web site to have church calendar to help with rentals; 4) Web site to have a Paypal button (because some members say it is easier to donate by credit card; 5) Highlands will be identified as Highlands Presbyterian Community Church on church signage to be more invitational; 6) The Session will now start contacting Highlanders for the “Funds for Highlands Future” campaign (please welcome their call!); 7) Approved a Sexual Misconduct Policy (training to be provided soon);


(Please contact Susan at smickelb@att.com with news we should know.)

Deepest thanks to three Session members whose terms recently expired: Ed Jones, Donna Mitchell, & Dee Dee Teel. You all made the work of the Session so enjoyable and rich.

Warmest of Welcomes to New and Renewing Members: Ellen Cunningham, Paula Hornung, Miranda Monkhorst-Prenger, Mike Springer, Dave Waldrup! How wonderful to have you as part of our caring church!

Jerry Ransom and Betty Edwards are both living at Emeritus Retirement Community. Visit or write them at 1001 SW 62nd Blvd, Gvl 32607. Phone: Betty at 376-0128; Jerry at 336-1252.

Best wishes to Chuck and Faye Womelfdorf, a beloved part of Highlands, now in Lake City.

Condolences to the Reames family at the passing of family patriarch, Earl Reames. Earl and his family had been long time members at Highlands.


Sunday Morning 9:45 Religious Discussions: Come explore faith, hope, and loving kindness.

More Blessings, Pastor Jack & Susan M, editor



THE MONTHLY PASTORAL —““What Highlands is All About”

As you all know by now, Alisun and I now have a place in St Petersburg where I am spending most of the week to help with day care for our two grandkids and to be of support to aging parents. For the time being, I am commuting to Highlands for church activities, especially Sunday mornings. In the meantime, the Session has appointed a fine committee (Meaghan, Mary, & Susan) to search for a new pastor.

Over the past six years, the face of Highlands has changed a lot. Numerous old friends are gone. About an equal number of new friends have come. We have maintained a lovely vitality. We continue as a truly caring community in the best Christian tradition.

I don’t doubt that this is our great role – to be a welcoming caring community – to be a center where all kinds of people can find a variety of helpful companions on life’s journey and receive support to grow in wisdom and in spirit.

To me, that is the simple purpose of a church – to be a welcoming gathering of friends who help one another grow through life – to help one another to better access life’s divine energy and powers and to learn to use them well in communion with others.

To grow in faith, we gather to study the great questions of life and the great answers that we find in scripture and in each other’s life-reflections—and so we grow in understanding that becomes our well-tested faiths, even as each day adds new revelations to ponder.

To grow in spirit, we gather to learn and practice the disciplines that deepen our consciousness of God’s energy imbued in us and in all things—disciplines of prayer, meditation, spiritual friendship—any kind of regular reflection and opening that clears the way for God’s energy to be fully in us. In friendship we help one another magnify our access to God’s power and in friendship we learn to share it from the heart.

Thereafter, that energy, that grace, pours over into ever widening circles of community, and so we move closer to the kingdom of heaven on earth. As regards the wider community, our responsibility is to invite them, as Jesus put it, to come and see. And as Jesus reminded his friends and disciples, Fear not and be not anxious—heaven is within you and among you—seek it and find it and you will have everything.

That, I’d say, is Highlands’ great purpose—to bring us all into the kingdom of heaven. May we be devoted to it, remembering that each of us is needed and important to all the rest.

Blessings, Pastor Jack


Our Program Committee (Meaghan, chair) continues facilitating our congregational reflections during worship on each first Sunday. The committee is also organizing our musicians to provide a variety of music before our Sunday services. The committee also encourages us all to be in touch with those whom we haven’t seen for a couple of weeks and to let our wider community of friends and acquaintances know Highlands is here for them.

Our Communications Committee (Susan, chair) has our Webpage and Facebook page going, with plans for additions and improvements (Thanks, Priscilla Caplan!).
Web Page: HighlandsGainesville.org ; Facebook: Facebook.com/HighlandsCommunityChurchPCUSA .
Please refer others to them. The committee is also helping facilitate our “Funds for Highlands’ Future” campaign and is pondering Highlands vision and mission statement and how we use it (see words atop each Sunday bulletin).

Our Facilities Committee (Beth, chair) has been busy with 1st Saturday Morning workdays (with plans for fixing Sanctuary lights and cleaning front wall), upgrading and learning the sound system (Thanks, Kathy!), assessing our rental process to maximize stewardship, and facilitating our community gardening. Use of community service workers is being explored. Our space use is being streamlined to increase rental possibilities. A “Tasks List” is in the kitchen, and lawn mowing will be big on our summer list.

Our Session (church board) continues to oversee the plans and proposals of our committees. The Session has decided to continue holding Sunday services in the sanctuary this summer rather than in the fellowship hall, but asks everyone to dress coolly. The Session is negotiating with Heart Pine School to continue its leasing relationship at Highlands, with expansion of the number of classrooms expected for school year 2014-15.

MEMBER NEWS (Please contact Susan at smickelb@att.com with news we should know.)

Betty Edwards is now living at Emeritus Retirement Community. You can visit or write her at: 1001 SW 62nd Blvd., Gainesville 32607, or phone her at (352) 376-0128.


Special June Sundays: 6/1 Communion & Congregational Reflections on “Building Church;” 6/8 Pentecost; 6/15 my much admired friend Rev. Josh Braley will preach for Highlands.

Sunday Morning 9:45 Religious Discussions: “If you only know one faith, you don’t know any faith.” Wisely observed. So our discussions continue on Huston Smith’s classic, The World’s Religions. Currently we’re looking at the chapter on “Christianity” & its primary branches & doctrines. Key quotes are provided in case your reading time is short. Come learn about others’ experiences & perspectives & how they fit with your own.

Next Church Work Morning: Saturday June 1, nine to noon. Join the fun!

Meditation Thought for the Month: Jesus urged that we seek first the kingdom of heaven and he reminded us that we can find heaven within ourselves. Have you ever set yourself down in solitude and found heaven within? According to studies such as by neuroscientists D’Aquili & Newberg, practiced meditators do just that, and we all can. Sit in quiet and with each breath, keep the focus of your consciousness on joyful peace, as it is in heaven.

More Blessings, Pastor Jack & Susan M, editor