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Batavia First Presbyterian Church

September 20, 2022 - 8:10am

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Death is not exactly a sexy topic. In fact, it’s right up there with public speaking as a top fear for many people.

Yet, it’s an inescapable phenomenon, as everyone eventually dies. However, the dying have been shown to have end-of-life healing moments, which are contrary to the medical field, where death has been viewed as “a kind of medical problem to solve,” Dr. Christopher Kerr says.

“So you don't get to step off and see the more humanistic view of it. You're looking at it through medicine, and dying is obviously more than organ failure; it’s closing of life. I think where I'm at after all these years, is a more hopeful interpretation that on the one side, the actual experience of dying is less fear and pain-evoking than people anticipate,” Kerr said during an interview with The Batavian. “So the actual dying process is not defined by the suffering one would imagine, necessarily, and in terms of what people experience at the end of their life, I think there's a more hopeful story, that there's a better version than the one that I had previously, which was there was a finality to it.”

Kerr, author of “Death is But a Dream,” public speaker, researcher and medical doctor, will be talking this week about his book and a related study conducted with 1,500 people at the end stages of life. Hosted by First Presbyterian Church and Crossroads House, the event is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the church, 300 East Main St., Batavia.

Have you ever wondered what happens at the end of life? For years, Kerr had avoided the topic and had no interest in digging around to find such answers. Perhaps it was the death of his father when he was just a child or his medical training that focused so much on the mechanical functions of one’s being that pushed Kerr another way.

In fact, he petitioned to get out of the hospice rotation of his training at the University of Rochester, homing in on a career in cardiology.

“I think I was going through a lot of what young doctors go through, which is that you're so enamored by technical medicine, what can be done with intervention diagnosis, that you lose sight of the other side, which is sometimes your role isn't to cure, but to comfort,” he said. “And so I was too busy on a steep learning curve, enamored by everything in so much to learn, and it was such a rich, enjoyable part of life. But what gets lost in that equation is what the patients actually need you for. And sometimes they just need you not to do things to them, but to be present for them.”

He ended up dropping out of cardiology and his path took him to the exact spot he originally had no interest in: as a hospice doctor. As his book jacket states, Kerr has cared for thousands of people who, “in the face of death, speak of love and grace.” It’s seemingly an oxymoron — a peaceful end-stage patient — however, Kerr believes he witnessed the unseen process of death that involved life-like dreams and visions that provided a spiritual balm for the dying.

He noted how patients would often get visits from late loved ones in their dreams, but not from others who had caused harm or hurt in the past. Patients would describe their experiences as more than dreams, and with a resounding reality. Themes of love and forgiveness emerged, providing a journey from distress to comfort and acceptance, he said.

His talk will include actual videos of study participants, all of whom had tested to be lucid, and how they describe their experiences. The Batavian asked if it was possible they were susceptible to suggestion by being part of the research, and he said there was a bias in that everyone was in hospice. But as for them being influenced by the study, it was the other way around, he said: participants were referred to him because they were already having dreams or visions, he said.

Although these dreams connected patients with loved ones from their past, they didn’t contain much in the way of religious symbols, Kerr said. There was a heaven in some descriptions, but no hell, and not many visions of God or Jesus. These episodes were not “a dry run,” as is the case with people who have died and come back to life. Those people seem to return to life with a renewed mission to learn and become a better person, whereas hospice patients — those who know their end is imminent — make healing connections.

“Somebody wrote that our first and last classroom is our family. And that's what people tend to focus on,” he said. “And that's where we learn the messages of faith, of love, and forgiveness. And that's where they return at the end.”

Not so surprising to animal lovers, pets were a recurring theme as well. These studies — which include interviews and surveys of 750 family members — aren’t just for the dying.

“Their death is also the end of a relationship. So it's often in consideration for their family or their loved one. How you view someone dying absolutely affects how you remember them. And so it's really for both,” Kerr said. “I think people are advocating in this generation and really wanting to say that they don't necessarily want the doctor’s version, (for a patient to be) medicalized or hospitalized. So that's what it's for.

“I like to think that we created room for more discussion to step off of their traditional medical role and viewed as more on the whole. The people who tend to get this are people who are truly at the bedside involved in care, so nurses, nurse’s aides, social workers, and chaplains. This doesn't just pertain to the purview of the physician. This belongs to everybody,” he said. “So I hope we're looking at it differently. I don't think you have to understand where it's coming from, or what the cause is, but you at least have some reverence for it. And I think that's what we find; people who've had personal experiences are pretty moved.”

I think the most important thing is to give people permission. And allowing them to share is often very therapeutic. So I think any time you're unburdening somebody, you're helping them in their journey.

Organizers invite you to “join us as we explore such questions through a presentation” by Kerr that will highlight and validate the powerful dreams and visions often experienced at the end of life. Seating is limited and admission is free. Register HERE

Dr. Christopher Kerr, author of "Death is but a dream," along with Carine Mardorossian, was part of a research team at Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo that spent years researching the impact of end-of-life experiences on hospice patients and their families. His next project is about caregivers. Photo by Joanne Beck.

April 9, 2022 - 4:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia First Presbyterian Church, batavia, news, Easter.

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Brielle, 3, and Everly, 5, with their Easter Egg finds at today's hunt at Batavia First Presbyterian Church.

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December 19, 2021 - 3:00pm


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December 8, 2021 - 9:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in H.E. Turner, Batavia First Presbyterian Church, batavia, news.

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Dozens of area families who lost loved ones over the past year gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Batavia this evening for a service of prayer and remembrance.

This is the 25th year that H.E. Turner & Co., Bohm-Calarco-Smith, and Burdett & Sanford Funeral Homes brought the service to the community.

Those who suffered the loss of a loved one were able to light a candle and have it on display during the service.

The ecumenical service combined music, prayer, Scripture reading, reading of the names of loved ones and the tolling of the bell in remembrance, and a message of hope by Reverend Dr. Roula Alkhouri.

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June 6, 2021 - 3:40pm

Press release:

The Little Free Pantry will be hosting a FREE Make-and-Take Baby Sunflower Station and sidewalk chalk art as part of the Pride Game Night and Royal Court Crowning at Batavia First Presbyterian Church, 300 E. Main St., Batavia, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, June 11.

Make and take your own baby sunflower -- soil, seed and containers provided.

A Plant Sale by donation will also be offered. It features an assortment of potted plants and garden vegetable plants (tomatoes, peppers, cukes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)

Express your Pride with sidewalk chalk art, supplies will be provided to decorate the sidewalk in front of the church on Main Street.

The Presbyterian church is having a fun evening of ice cream (Ice Cream and Chill Truck), outdoor games, board games and a Royal Court Competition to celebrate Pride Month. The Royal Court Competition begins at 7:30 p.m. and is open to all genders and ages. The competition is judged and the best costume and dance moves, the theme is DISCO.

For more information: https://www.lfpbatavia.org

April 20, 2021 - 4:04pm

From Pastor Roula Alkhouri of the Batavia First Presbyterian Church:

"We are so grateful for the caring efforts of H.E. Turner & Co. Funeral Home as they took care of the funeral arrangements for the burial of our beloved friend in Christ, Emerson Campbell.

"This was a difficult situation as Emerson had no family in the area. When we reached out to Turner's, they felt our pain and stepped into action immediately. Within a week, they made the arrangements and we were able to hold a funeral service for Emerson in the church.

"Then Steve Johnson, the funeral director who was taking the lead on this, drove Emerson's body all the way to Wisconsin so that Emerson could be buried with his parents. Steve also arranged for a Presbyterian minister to have a proper graveside service for Emerson in Wisconsin.

We can never thank Steve Johnson and all who work at H.E. Turner & Co. Funeral Home enough for what they did and how they did it. The spirit of compassion, care, and generosity they shared with us brought healing to a very sad situation.

"They have even donated their services. We are truly blessed to have the people of H.E. Turner in our community. May God continue to bless them and all the work they do to comfort and help families and friends during the hardest time of their lives!"

-- The Grateful Congregation of Batavia First Presbyterian Church

April 3, 2021 - 6:42pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Easter, news, batavia, Batavia First Presbyterian Church.

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The First Presbyterian Church of Batavia held its first-ever Easter Egg Hunt today.

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December 11, 2020 - 3:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia First Presbyterian Church, batavia, news.

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Some much-needed stained glass window work is being completed today at Batavia First Presbyterian Church on East Main Street.

Pastor Roula Alkhouri said, "We have been waiting for this repair for over two years. The windows needed repair and so did the sills. In fact, the sills were rotting and needed to be replaced. Every few years, we have to do maintenance repairs on these stained glass windows and there are only a few places that specialize in such work.

"It is a combination of art and maintenance as the repairs need to keep in mind the beauty of the windows. The studio we work with is Pike Stained Glass Studio. They do excellent work."

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November 29, 2020 - 4:19pm

The people who attend Batavia First Presbyterian Church would like your help to nab the person (or persons) who keeps knocking down their lawn sign during the night that bears the benign message: "GOD LOVES EVERYONE NO EXCEPTIONS." Or at least help the congregants keep the sign upright.

Perhaps it is the rainbow colors used for the word EVERYONE that irks them, or maybe it's just the overall magnanimity communicated that the vandal(s) can't abide, even though this is the national Holiday Season.

At any rate, Rev. Roula Alkhouri, Ph.D., would like this to stop.

"We keep putting it back up," Alkhouri says. "We called the police and they are patrolling in the evenings. We are hoping that people who are driving or walking by could help us to keep the sign up. Michael Vacanti was fortifying the sign today (above photo). We are praying for whoever feels so threatened by this sign to know God’s love."

The church is located at 300 E. Main St. in the City of Batavia.

Photo courtesy of Rev. Roula Alkhouri.

July 8, 2020 - 1:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, news, Batavia First Presbyterian Church, photos.

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James Spiecher, of Rochester, was in Batavia today for a funeral and he and his grandson Jaxon took a short walk down East Main Street and stopped in front of a sign at Batavia First Presbyterian Church that reads "God Loves Everyone No Exceptions."

Spiecher said he spoke with Jaxon about the sign and Jaxon said, "It’s really nice. It sounds really loving."

May 24, 2020 - 11:09am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia First Presbyterian Church, religion, church, batavia.

Message from Pastor Roula Alkhouri, Batavia First Presbyterian Church.

May 22, 2020 - 6:38pm

The pastor of the Batavia First Presbyterian Church said that while she understands the president’s call for the immediate reopening of places of worship, she said it is best that “we decide for ourselves” on how to move forward in the face of COVID-19.

President Trump earlier today issued a strong statement on the status of religious services, practically ordering governors to “do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now – for this weekend.”

In a 2 minute, 20 second address, after which he took no questions from the media, Trump said that churches, synagogues and mosques are “essential places that provide essential services,” and if state governors do not permit reopening, he will “override” them.

Rev. Roula Alkhouri, Ph.D., said that the congregation at First Presbyterian should be able to “decide for ourselves, making sure that it is safe for our neighbors and following the guidelines (set forth by New York State and the local health department).”

While believing that government does not have any authority over the church, Alkhouri said her church is under the authority of the Presbytery and adheres to a “collective wisdom” approach.

She also said she believes strongly in the separation of church and state, but she hasn’t felt oppressed by any of the rules stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

“The guidelines are there to protect us,” she said. “If we chose to meet, we probably could, but is it ethical, does it show the love of Christ toward others? I don’t think so.”

Alkhouri said COVID-19 has hit close to home as a cousin died due to the virus and a sister, who lives in Dubai, just recovered after a 25-day battle.

“(Reopening the building) is not a simple decision; it’s very complex,” she said. “Yes, it is essential that we gather together to worship, but it also is essential that we don’t endanger anyone either.”

Rev. Martin Macdonald, pastor of City Church in Batavia, said he applauds the president’s assertion, but also supports the local officials who are monitoring the situation here.

“I appreciate and respect the president, but we still have to lend our ear to what’s happening in our own community,” he said, referring to the county and city managers, police chiefs and sheriff and health department director. “The president is giving the green light – saying you can reopen – but is it the right time yet? I’ll wait to hear what local authorities have to say.”

He said that he doesn’t think anyone is intentionally trying to keep churches closed, adding that “no one can stop the Gospel from being spread throughout the world.”

“Everyone knows how much I believe in the local church and love people to come together to worship … but I’ve found that our reach is greater than ever before through Facebook and social media outlets,” he said.

Macdonald said he looks to Scripture as his guide.

“The Bible says all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial,” he said, paraphrasing I Cor. 10:23.

In New York, just yesterday Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that religious gatherings will be permitted under strict social guidelines, including no more than 10 people at a time with all participants having to wear masks.

Drive-in and parking lot services also will be allowed.

The governor also said he is forming an interfaith advisory council to formulate guidelines to open up services to a greater degree.

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President Trump’s complete statement:

“At my direction, the CDC is issuing guidance for communities of faith … today I’m identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services. Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right.

"So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential. I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now. If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call. These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church, their synagogue and go to their mosque.

"Many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life. The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders will make sure that their congregations are safe as they gather and pray. I know them well. They love their congregations, they love their people, they don’t want anything bad to happen to them or anyone else.

"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now – for this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less."

April 26, 2020 - 1:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia First Presbyterian Church, batavia, news, religion, COVID-19.

Message from Pastor Roula Alkhouri, Batavia First Presbyterian Church: April 26th -- "What is Saving Your Life Right Now?"

April 12, 2020 - 6:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia First Presbyterian Church, Easter, COVID-19.

Video: Easter message from Rev. Dr. Roula Alkhouri, Batavia First Presbyterian Church

April 5, 2020 - 12:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in COVID-19, Batavia First Presbyterian Church, religion, batavia, news.

Video: Palm Sunday message from Pastor Roula Alkhouri, Batavia First Presbyterian Church.

March 29, 2020 - 4:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia First Presbyterian Church, religion, batavia.

Video: Sunday message from Pastor Roula Alkhouri, Batavia First Presbyterian Church.

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