10246715061?profile=RESIZE_710xEaster lilies were displayed at First Presbyterian Church in Delray Beach last year. Photo provided

By Janis Fontaine

This year, Dr. Doug Hood, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach, will celebrate 10 years of leading his congregation through some hard times, but he never imagined the challenges a pandemic would bring to bear.
As he thinks about his Easter sermon, Hood is taking inventory of the losses congregants have sustained.
“We lost loved ones and friends, and there are empty seats at the table that will never be filled,” Hood says.
10246715695?profile=RESIZE_180x180But almost greater than those personal losses is the loss of a united community in churches and beyond. “We lost civility, humility and respect,” Hood says. “We focus on what we disagree about instead of focusing on where we agree: We love God and we love our nation.”
Hood says people must “lower the temperature of the room. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection, a reminder that we are one people celebrating God’s love.”
At First Presbyterian, a beautiful stained-glass window of the Last Supper has always troubled Hood because it depicts only 11 disciples. When he asked about it, Hood was told that the artist took “the liberty” of leaving Judas out of the depiction because he, the artist, didn’t think Judas deserved to be there.
Hood laughs as he thinks about it. “It reminds me of the rhetoric we hear so much: Who is in and who is out. But Jesus welcomed Judas to the table even though he knew who he was,” he says.
In a nutshell, man excludes, God includes.
“We have to stop throwing pejoratives, and welcome others to the table. We argue as if we are absolutely right. There’s no humility. We should be thinking, ‘I could be wrong. Maybe God has something to say to me through this person,’” Hood says.
Anger prevents the growth of fresh ideas, he says. When he encounters someone with whom he disagrees, he says, “Thank you for sharing that. I hadn’t really thought about it that way.”
After the 2020 election, a parishioner told Hood that since they had voted differently, he could no longer attend First Presbyterian. It felt like cancel culture at work, so the senior pastor asked the man to come by and talk.
They spent an hour or more talking about Christ and discussing the man’s feelings about all manner of things. When he left, the man recommitted himself to the church and doubled his annual donation.
Hood says it promotes positive dialogue if we begin where we agree. For a lot of people, that means looking outside themselves at the bigger picture. The quickest path to misery is by focusing on yourself. Another stumbling block on the path to inner peace is mistaking wants from needs, Hood says.
“How much is enough tends to be a moving needle,” Hood says. “The more we have, the more we worry about scarcity. We’re so focused on getting stuff that we forget that God loves a generous heart.”

Ukraine is an eye-opener
Hood says our riches come not from what we accumulate but from what we give away. When we look at the pictures of people fleeing Ukraine with just a suitcase or knapsack, we realize what we really need to survive is our families.
“We stopped thinking about COVID, which is thinking about ourselves, and started thinking about others in Ukraine,” he says. That’s a positive step.
The choir at First Presbyterian has two members from Ukraine, and they taught the choir a hymn which they all performed in Russian at a service in March. “It was tremendously moving,” Hood says.
Hood, who earned his master’s degree from Columbia Theological Seminary and his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, in 2018 published a book called Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ.
Spending just a few minutes refocusing on God helps, and prayer works better than worry. Hood says that walking with Christ isn’t easy, but it is comforting and fulfilling.
The true test of a Christian heart may be this: To love others, especially when loving them is difficult.
Easter Sunday services at First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach are at 7, 9 and 11 a.m. April 17. The church is at 33 Gleason St. Call 561-276-6338.


Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at fontaine423@outlook.com.

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