Welcome to Grace Notes! You can find an archive of my preaching and writing here. I welcome your comments and questions, as I always enjoy conversations about faith.
Grace notes are actually tiny notations in classical music that indicate a quick note decorating the melody. Grace notes always lead to the main thing. In my spiritual walk, the main thing is the grace of God in Jesus. This grace is God’s unequivocal gift of acceptance and love for you and me. That’s what fuels me, and that’s what I write about.
I look forward to sharing with you and hearing from you in this blog – and I hope you find the words and ideas here to truly be Grace Notes, filled with God’s grace. – PJ
Pastor Julie is a student of yoga and a lover of singing, a low maintenance housekeeper and a potluck foodie, a wife and proud mother of two young adults, and a passionate voice for connecting faith, daily life, and scripture. Born and raised in Columbus, she studied religion and music at Oberlin College and Conservatory, and received her MDiv from Yale Divinity School. Pastor Julie served four parishes in Connecticut before returning to her Ohio roots to become Epiphany’s senior pastor. 

Walk and Not Faint

I lived in the town of Manchester, CT for 14 years in my early ministry. Every year, I walked the two blocks from the church to Main Street to watch the Manchester Road Race. I was not much of a runner—I had been told at an early age by a gym teacher that I wasn’t much of an athlete. I cheered on friends and parishioners and even my 70-year-old dad.

But the year I turned 40, I decided to try running it for myself. I started training in the summertime, jogging alongside the kids on their bikes as we headed toward the park. By the early fall I had worked up a 2½ mile loop. The end of this run was a great downhill through the park. I would just pick up my feet and let gravity take me. “I


Embracing Uncertainty

Mark 1:14-20

When I was nine years old, my parents cashed in their retirement fund, packed up our family’s life into eight suitcases, and traveled to the other side of the world. My dad took a sabbatical, working at two universities in Australia, and my mom, brother and I accompanied him on the yearlong odyssey that spanned from Hawaii to Perth WA, across the continent, to Brisbane on the East coast, and to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan on the way home. It was a leap into the unknown and an amazing journey.

As an adult, I have often thought it was kind of a crazy decision. It is, in fact, the kind of decision that the James and John, Simon and Andrew make in our gospel lesson today.

In this first chapter of Mark,


The Water of Change

Mark 1    

I’ve been washed by the water, I’ve been cleansed by the sea / I’ve been touched by the river of eternity / Though I don’t understand it I have never been the same / I can’t turn back the water, the water of change.

For five years when my children were small, I was like you: I sat out in the congregation. I was on leave from my official duties of ministry, and I did a lot of volunteer work in the neighborhood. One of the people I met was Gene. He was the guy who ran the barbeque every Friday at the HIV network next door. I was worshipping next to Gene when we sang this song, “The Water of Change,” by Dakota Road.

I wonder aloud where in the


By Another Road

Matthew 2:1-12

When I was a child, my mother used to let me play with the nativity scene. We set it up on the lid of the piano and added figures as the story unfolded—a bare stable in Advent, with Mary and Joseph traveling across the room to ‘Bethlehem’ day by day, adding the baby Jesus at Christmas. Then we’d move the Wise Men closer during the 12 days of Christmas until finally on January 6, the festival of the Epiphany, the Wise Men arrive in the stable with the other figurines.

We spent a lot of time and attention getting the wise men TO the manger, but after Epiphany, we quickly boxed up the nativity scene with the other decorations and unceremoniously put them back downstairs.

It’s kind of the way many of us have thought of the story of the Wise Men. We sing “Star of


Modern Day Bethlehems

It’s Christmas Eve, and we’ve got all the makings for a most incredible night. Stars in the sky. Celestial choirs. Good tidings of great joy for the whole world.

But I want to talk about things less lofty, things more earthly than holy. I am caught by Luke’s description of Jesus’ birth. In just three verses practically the whole Christmas story—Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of Jesus, and where they stayed while they were in Bethlehem. What usually takes the majority of a Christmas pageant was done here in the economy of 3 sentences.

I don’t know about you, but I would have thought Luke would have written more. After all, we’ve imagined it a thousand times over. In story books, in carols and song, in the contemplation of our prayer life.


Mary’s Yes

Luke 1:26-56
Did you ever say a Yes that changed your life? I remember Jonathan, the guy in the horn section who was really a piano major, asking me over for a lunch of homemade spaghetti. I liked home cooked food, so I said yes. The sauce was so good, I thought, I have to figure out how to get more of this marinara. Little did I know I would marry the guy.

Or my friend Lynn, teaching English in Japan, who, on a lark, said yes to interviewing for an anchor position with NHK, the prestigious Japanese public broadcast network. She’d never been in the news business and was unexpectedly offered the job. She didn’t end up taking the position, but it planted a seed for what became her career as a TV news reporter and anchor.

Saying Yes can change your life, and it seems to me, that often we say yes without realizing all


Advent Plays the Blues

They call it stormy Monday/but Tuesday’s just as bad
Wednesday is worse/and Thursday’s oh so sad.

I am a dabbler in popular music genres, but something has always grabbed me about the blues. The Blues emerge from the Black experience of oppression and discrimination. But the repetition, the expressive “blue” notes, the story telling are popular because they communicate something fundamental about the human experience. Blues music contrasts the world as it is, and the world as it should be. It expresses the pain at how far the two are apart, and the longing for something better.

It seems to me that the blues are particularly well suited to the spirituality of Advent. Advent is not, after all, pre-Christmas;


Trust in the Slow Work of God

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go… That song always made the holiday trek to family seem so quaint. The reality in my family, however, was different. The eight-hour car rides to western NY state were long for my brother and I. We read and sang songs; we drew an imaginary line down the middle of the car and argued about who crossed it; we played endless rounds of the alphabet game. And about every 20 minutes we would ask, “Are we there yet?”

“Are we there yet?” was the question in Peter’s community, too. This is one of the latest letters of the New Testament, probably written by a follower of Peter, around the year 100. Jesus had promised that he would return to usher in God’s reign of righteousness.
Sure, he had warned that there


The Baker’s Dozen

“The Baker’s Dozen” – Advent 1

This is a picture of the original St Nicholas, whose feast day is this week.  The Santa Claus we know of today comes from this real-life saint who was born in Greece in the 3rd century.  But he doesn’t look like Santa Claus, does he?  But some people remember Santa this way, including the Dutch. I am going to share with you an old story from when the Dutch came to America two centuries ago, and how they kept the traditions of St Nicholas alive.  (Read The Baker’s Dozen, a Dutch folktale, retold by Aaron Shepard.)

“Why not give more?” The question, inspired by the generosity of St Nicholas, echoes in my heart each time I read this book. And it fits the legends of St Nicholas. The story goes that Nicholas was born to a wealthy family, but both of his parents