Florida Vacation 2015


JoAnne and Kelvin walked on the white sand beach at sunset each evening
JoAnne and I enjoyed sunset walks

Must be we made ourselves useful and didn’t cause too much trouble in 2014 because our daughter Keely and her husband Mark invited us to go with them on their annual spring Florida vacation again this year.    Yeah!   Of course, it is such a trial (wink, wink) for us to be with our two wonderful grandchildren, not to mention our daughter and son-in-law for a whole week!

We flew down and they rented a beach condo on the Gulf coast on Gasparillo Island in Southern Florida for a whole week (in the units behind my hat) (such severe hardships, I know).     Thank you so much, Mark and Keely!

Annabelle and Sam love our attention (another tough break I know).    Of course we thoroughly enjoy spoiling them a little too.  Annabelle started learning to crawl on our vacation.   We tried to allow Keely a little more rest as Annabelle is not much of a sleeper.   JoAnne greatly enjoyed the pool, doing laps early every morning before others were awake.   In the evening, she and I walked on the beach at sunset while Keely and Mark were putting the children to bed.

It is always a pleasure for me to watch birds in a different location.  The only time while there that I took time away to specifically bird watch, I saw jungle but no birds.   Yet, for example, while pushing Sam in the swing at the Community Center, I notched two new birds as they flew over.    And as we walked on the beach, there were lots of shore birds to glass.

The attached gallery is a collection of pictures from vacation, some are taken with JoAnne’s camera and some with my phone.


Christmas Trains for 2014

How it started

One of my hobbies is model trains, specifically, O-gauge trains running around my Christmas tree. Yes we had a Lionel train which we three Jones brothers shared when I was a boy. But what really started me back in this hobby was the gift of a Lionel train much like the one we had which I received from Bill Quick while I was serving as Pastor at Kirkville Community Wesleyan Church.   I promptly ran it around the tree the next Christmas and I’ve been running trains every Christmas since on increasingly more complex set-ups.

The first evolution

One big evolution happened when I moved the trainsets upstairs to the remodeled living room at Kirkville.   I was already running two trains. I decided to build a second layer and started collecting ceramic buildings, little figures and antique car models. I had two long bridges too. Then I started inviting children from church over to see the trains.   I let them run them too.   Of course, they would wreck them occasionally, but I have only had to make major repairs on two cars in all the many years that I have been doing this.

Children in CT love it too

When I moved to Connecticut, God blessed us with a large parsonage living room and my set got even bigger.  In the gallery you can see the first two steps in building the multilayer setup. I found my first Dept. 56 buildings (the Cadillac of ceramic Christmas buildings) on a yard sale in our own neighborhood.  Again, I invited children from church to come and run the trains. They have so much fun and it is a joy to work with them.  This set has only one bridge but it has more room for vignettes.   In the gallery are pictures of Shannon and Sam playing with the trains. The Mandirola boys, Schantz family and the Griffin’s also stopped by to check it out but I didn’t have my camera going.

Sam went for hands on

My grandson, Sam, was much more interested in the train set this year too. But he had his own way of investigating it.   He wanted to get right in it and touch things. I learned from the preschool teachers that this is a preschooler’s tactile way of learning so I tried to facilitate it as much as possible. It was great fun.

New this year

This year I purchased my first engine specifically decorated for Christmas, a Lionel Santa Flyer. I also added a city block of stores that I made from Ameri-town parts. I started it years ago but this year a change in configuration of the upper track made room for it for the first time. In addition, I purchased new track for the inner lower loop.   Last year that loop was hardly operable. This year is was a star. The fastest engine did not derail on it even though it was the tighter loop. It was Lionel Fast Track. If it holds up to the wear and tear of being assembled and disassembled for a couple years I will be a fan for sure. Also new this year, and something I have been watching for, was a ceramic building train station.  At last I have a train station for the upper level too.

A New Granddaughter!

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Someone is way overdue for a Grandpa post.   I am so much enjoying being a grandparent. And on November 17, 2014, our second grandchild was born, a little girl, Annabelle Jocelyn Stater, 6 lbs. 11 oz. One of the special moments over Christmas was being left in the Stater dining room holding Annabelle. I rocked her in my arm, looked at the tree and Sammie’s new oversize Melissa and Doug creation while listening to Christmas music playing from the iPhone on the table.

But back to the story. We were awakened in the wee hours on Nov. 17 by a call from Keely and Mark that they were going to the hospital.   We left quickly. But Annabelle did not wait. She barely waited for the doctor to arrive. Mark accidentally dialed JoAnne as we were walking out of the hospital parking garage. JoAnne answered and heard the baby’s first cries. Keely and Annabelle were released from the hospital the next day.

JoAnne and I will also remember it for the very busy week that it was.   I officiated at one funeral later that same day and met with two different families about funerals that I had yet to do. Besides that I ended up making at least three trips to the hospital in the first two days to visit and or pick up JoAnne. In addition, our choir was gearing up that week for a special presentation on the Sunday before Thanksgiving the next Sunday.

But we certainly had some very special blessing for which to give thanks the following week on Thanksgiving.   The attached pictures are all from Annabelle’s first days.



Thinking of others around the world with John Lyon

I’m posting part of an email letter from my friend John Lyon, President of World Hope International.   It reminds us all to keep in mind those in our world who have so little this Christmas season.   I have taught for years that every American Christian should have a regular donor relationship with a charity that helps people in the third world.  Our church here at Copper Hill United Methodist sends some gifts through UMCOR.  My wife and I had already sent our annual Christmas gift to World Hope as a part of our Christmas gift giving.   I have traveled just a little in third world countries — but enough to understand first-hand how we in our comfy North American culture take totally for granted what we enjoy every day, starting with simple amenities like drinkable running water in our houses. 

Here’s the quote from John’s letter.

“This Christmas was my 8-month old son’s first. It was a joy watching his eyes light up with the tree, his thrill at opening presents, and his curious mind taking in all the action. But as I celebrated our Savior’s birth with my son, my wife and our families, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different our Christmas looked than many others. We had a roof over our head, a warm house to sleep in and food flowing from the kitchen (with leftovers for weeks!) We had clean water to drink, wash our dishes and take showers with. Had my son been sick, we could have taken him to our neighborhood doctor’s office without a second thought. We exchanged gifts – a privilege foreign to many.

As we celebrated, my mind kept returning to a pastor’s home I visited on my last trip to Sierra Leone. The floors were dirt, there was no electricity, and children took daily trips to the nearby stream for water. Their Christmas, I’m sure, looked much different than ours.
It’s not often we stop to recognize how blessed we truly are. Not just because we have a Christmas tree – but because we have electricity. Not just because we have a Christmas dinner – but because we have food at all.”
Here is a link through which you can make a Christmas contribution to help others around the world through World Hope.

Features I am enjoying about living in Connecticut

If you ask me the proverbial question, “Is the glass half empty or half-full?”  I’m the kind of guy who always answers, “Half-full of course!”  Count your blessings.  So, while I could talk about things we miss from New York, my mind tends to focus instead on what I am finding delightful about living in Connecticut.   Here’s a partial list. 

  1. Number one is spending so much more time with our daughter, son-in-law and wonderful little grandson Sam.   He loves holding my hand and walking around the house at this stage.  I better enjoy it while it lasts.  He is so huggable.   Now I see him about three times per week on the average.   JoAnne watches him two days per week and loves it.  She is a great Grandma, and a very creative care-giver for Sam.   
  2. The church God has given us to serve in our semi-retirement, Copper Hill UMC, is a joy.  I love country churches with history.  This one was organized in 1816 and we have already met many delightful new friends who are receiving our ministry with joy too. 
  3. I wear jeans and T shirts a lot more.  While I was working full-time, I only wore such relaxed apparel for an occasional gardening stint or when on vacation in the Adirondacks.  Now I get to wear it multiple times per week.  It feels good.
  4. There is more sunshine.   After all, Syracuse is tied with Portland, OR for most number of cloudy days so I should have expected it.  But this year, even the folks from CT are saying the weather has been great so I think it has been unusually nice.  We are loving it.  
  5. I am walking more.   The parsonage is about 15 minutes’ walk from a forest preserve with a great uphill trail that has been providing good exercise.  So far I’ve only lost about 5 pounds but I’m in much better shape.  We have lots of good conversations with people we meet along the way too.
  6. Since I am a history buff, I’m loving living where the timeline of local history commonly stretches back another 100 years to 150 years compared to Western NY.   This area of Connecticut began to be settled in the late 1600’s.   For a history buff, it’s like adding one-third more stuff to the pages.  Instead of 2 centuries of local history, there are three.   
  7. The area of CT where our parsonage is located is very rocky.  Our lawn has rock ledges and walls.  Our cellar is a rock foundation.   Walking in the forest preserve, we see huge rock outcroppings.  It reminds us some of the Adirondacks where we often vacationed when we lived in Syracuse.   I had a rock collection as a kid too.  
  8. God has blessed us with a parsonage that fits us very well.  JoAnne and I both have separate roomy offices in it, something we probably could not have afforded if we had purchased a home.  It has lawn and garden spots, a garage, and bedroom space for guests too.   It has also provided more than enough DIY projects to keep me happy. 

A Personal Testimony

While I usually file my sermons in the sermon section, I decided to include this one here for two reasons.  First, because it is my first sermon at Copper Hill UMC.   Second, because it is very informative about me personally and will be a great addition to the Who Am I section of my blog.

First sermon at Copper Hill UMC


As I thought about how to begin this morning, I decided that there was not a better way than to introduce myself by giving my testimony—the story of my own Christian journey.  

Telling the story of God’s action in our lives is a Biblically recommended practice anyway, isn’t it.   In the passage Judy read, the servant of Abraham tells of God’s activity in helping him to be successful in finding a wife for Isaac.   In a sense, much of Holy Scripture is the inspired testimony of God’s action among his people, recorded for us to read and profit from later.  In the book of Revelation, in the verses that I read, John tells us that one of the weapons of the Christian church – one of the means that it can use to overcome the enemy of our souls is testimony – reciting to one another the work of God in our lives.  Testimony has several benefits.  Telling others what God has done has a way of confirming it for us too.   Testimony encourages and inspires others as well.  When one person testifies, it helps us to understand how God works and what he can do in our own lives too.  

My prayer is that this abbreviated story of my Christian journey will not only help you get to know me but also inspire and encourage your own Christian walk. 

A Christian beginning

Object: a family farm needlework or picture of my extended family

A Christian home

My journey began in on a family farm in rural Western NY.  I had the privilege of being born into a Christian family.  On Sundays, not only both my parents, but all four of my grandparents would be at our church.  I was told that I first accepted Jesus into my heart at age 6 kneeling in the living room next to my mom.  


Hospitality to God’s Word at six

Key verse:  “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Jn. 1:11-12 ESV

It was an important beginning of giving hospitality to God’s word, God’s work and God’s Spirit in my life.  The Bible teaches us that each of us has an opportunity to do that.  The bible is using a hospitality metaphor.   As when someone comes to the door of our home, we can either let them in our shut the door, so it is with God’s teaching in our lives.   The Bible teaches that God I as one standing at the door of our hearts and knocking.  If we will give Him entrance he will come in (Rev. 3:20).  

Growing in faith in a small church like this one

Object: Haskinville plate

Childhood Sunday school

The church I grew up in was a lot like this one.  Continue reading “A Personal Testimony”

Moving Day part two

Our new house in the country
Our new house in the country


Monday July 1 was long anticipated.  We arrived at our new parsonage at 7:50 am to await the moving truck’s arrival.   We had been told they would come between 8 and 10 am.   That was the same window we were given when they packed us out and they had arrived about 9:30 am.   But this time, we had no sooner gotten out of our car than the big orange cab of the Allied truck crept slowly into view.   We were just in time.  

Organizing helps

JoAnne’s organization proved extremely helpful.  She had made sure all packers labeled every box with a big letter and a number.  The letter designated the room of the new parsonage where the movers could deposit it.  The number was used to keep track of contents which were also written in brief on the box and on a list.   The rooms all had big letters posted to identify them.  This organization greatly speeded up the unloading process.  It has also enabled us to find things we needed without unpacking everything.  JoAnne also tried color-coding the boxes with markers but that proved not so useful.   JoAnne and I mostly served as traffic directors to guide the larger pieces to their intended spots.  We had made drawings ahead so we each knew what the plan was and we also had it posted on the wall. 

Humor and hospitality

Humor helps so much when packing and unpacking household goods.  We joked with both crews all day.   They are hard pressed to get things done this time of year and it is very hard and physical work.   We bought subs at Subway for the crew that unpacked us.  It took them until about 6 pm.    By then the rooms were piled with boxes and the garage door would hardly close.   

We have felt blessed by God

We have felt very blessed in this move.  God provided financially to help us move through gifts from both churches and the CNY Wesleyan district.  Very little was damaged in the move.  We have enjoyed the hospitality of our daughter and son-in-law for two weeks in the middle and played with our grandson everyday too.   Personally, God has impressed me with more than one special verse in the process of the move.  All this has helped us combat the emotional grief of leaving Kirkville after a 22 year stay.   Thank you all for your prayers. 

An interesting graphic about giving

The generous will themselves be blessed.  (Proverbs 22:9  NIV2011)

Are those who tithe better off financially?

How much people choose to give to charity is a very personal question.  Certainly no one should have to compare their giving to that of another.  And we also resist the idea that our giving could be guided by some universal standard.   But in biblical times there is little doubt that such a standard did exist.  It was the tithe, ten percent of the yield of field and flock (Lev. 27:30-32).  The concept shows up early in the Bible narrative when Abraham sets the example by giving a tithe of the plunder to the priest of Salem, Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20).   Later, it was standardized in the Levitical code.  Research says that few people today practice this Biblical idea.    Most probably feel that if they were to use such a rule in modern times it would impoverish them.  But according to the interesting study of tithers summarized in the graphic below, that is apparently not the case.  The chart is impressive.

Somehow, we should not be surprised

In the last book of the Old Testament God had promised, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  (Mal 3:10 NIV2011).  It is the only area of life where God ever invites us to test him.  In the New Testament we find a parallel truth.  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”  (Lk 6:38  NIV2011).   So the principle of God’s economy is this.  God honors generosity.    And his standard for giving raises the bar for us as to what generosity might look like.

Is it an investment scheme?

We’ve all heard of crass preachers who misused this principle by promising earthly financial rewards, sometimes even with percentage gains attached, for gifts to their ministry.   What charlatanry that is!   While God has promised to bless those who are faithful to Him, God’s blessings are often of different character than money.  And even when God’s rewards are financial, they sometimes do not coincide in timing or mode with the financial sacrifice made by the offerer.     For example, there was a time in our ministry as pastor and wife when we felt led to make a significant gift (for us) to a special project of the church.  It was a sacrificial gift that did draw down our finances.  Now God didn’t refill our coffers per se, but it just so happened that we “co-incidentally” during that time frame received several unexpected non-monetary gifts of things we needed to help us along the way.   One such blessing was a huge scholarship that our daughter received to go to graduate school.    But giving, like deeds of service, is definitely a future investment.  The Bible does say, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:20-21 NIV84).



Anniversary Visit to Syracuse E. M. Mills Rose Garden

E. M. Mills Rose Garden visit June 20, 2011

This last weekend was a big celebration weekend for me and for my wife too.   It was Father’s Day and I enjoyed appropriate attention and good food on account of that occasion.  It was also the weekend we could tell our friends at Community Wesleyan the good news—those who had not read my blog or heard by the grapevine—that our daughter and son-in-law are expecting so we are going to be grandparents for the first time!   That is cause for celebration!    I hear that grandkids are the greatest!

Then to put the celebration over the top, Monday, June 20, was our 41st anniversary.   We spent the bucks last year for the big four-O.  So this year was lower key.   We soaked up some sun amid the beauty of the Syracuse Rose Garden—delightful smells and eye-popping beauty.   Then it was out to dinner at Red Lobster—I highly recommend the maple glazed salmon and shrimp.  JoAnne says our wedding happened on a bright sunny but windy day a lot like this June 20! We consider each other a treasure and pray that God grants us many years of good health to enjoy together.

News! We are to be Grandparents!

JoAnne and I are on the proverbial cloud nine as we have recently learned that our daughter, Keely, and her husband Mark are expecting!  Early next year we are to become grandparents for the first time. What wonderful news!

The only hard part about it was that we were given the preliminary news a couple weeks earlier but were asked not to tell it for a couple weeks. This was really hard as people are always asking us whether there is any news about grandchildren yet.  It’s tough to keep good news in, especially for me.  Well now we can say, “Yes there is news!”

So if we seem to be a little distracted or have our head in the clouds, you’ll know the reason.