You will find a flyer in this edition of the Branch concerning an unusual Lenten activity we are calling Paint. Pray. Love. For those who are familiar with the “Paint Nite” events that are quite the rage these days, this will be a “private party” version of such an event (and in fact we are contracting with the Paint Nite company for the materials and art instruction) — but we are adding a purposeful twist. During the breaks (when participants are waiting for a layer of paint to dry) I will be leading a brief meditation on “listening to God,” our worship and study focus for Lent. I will also be sharing a vision for developing a new spiritual community called Way of Life — an effort to connect people around the idea of engaging in compassion as a spiritual discipline.
The event is limited to 30 participants, and we are committed to Paint Nite for a minimum of 20. The cost is $45 per person, payable to WCUMC. If you are interested, I strongly encourage you to sign up ASAP. I also want to encourage you to invite a friend — particularly a friend who is “spiritual but not religious,” perhaps a neighbor or relative who doesn’t currently attend a church, but who might be open to engaging in a spiritual community in a new way — and who enjoys creative expression!
I also invite your prayers for this endeavor.
Pastor Laurie McHugh
And the results are in …
Many thanks to all of you who responded to the worship time survey. The “participation rate” was quite excellent; we heard from a high percentage of people representing worshipers at both celebrations. We thoroughly digested the survey information, and also conducted an analysis of the attendance statistics and trends, not only over the four-month “experiment” period, but over the past two years.
I don’t want to belabor the details – which have been shared with leadership, and which are available for the asking. At our January 25 meeting, the Leadership Board accepted the Worship Committee’s recommendation to extend the two-worship service schedule experiment at least through the spring. We will continue to offer worship at 9:30 and 11:00 am on Sundays.
In “Phase Two” of this experiment, we will move toward making the character of these two celebrations more distinctly different from one another. Rob will be our music leader for 11:00, and the music selections will tend toward the “traditional,” with more familiar hymns. At 9:30, I will be developing a team of musicians and we will be learning more piano-based “contemporary” and new hymnody together. If you sing or play a musical instrument (or are willing to learn), and would like to be a part of this forming team, please let me know!
The survey and conversations around worship reveal a deep desire to stay connected as a family of faith, and they reveal grief over the recognition that many of our older (and not-so-old) members are becoming more frail and homebound. As you are able, we strongly encourage you to pick up the phone, make a lunch date or pay a visit to a friend you have been missing. On months when there is a fifth Sunday, we will plan to hold a single joint worship celebration followed by a potluck. We hope that you will make every effort to attend on these Sundays – and that your connections with one another extend beyond weekly worship.
One of the trickier aspects of a two-celebration Sunday schedule has been coffee fellowship between celebrations. We will continue to have a sign-up list available for those who would like to mark special occasions by hosting morning snacks. Cindy, our capable Administrative Assistant, will set up the coffee pot at the end of her work week, so that someone on the 9:30 team can easily “flip the switch” to get things going. We’ll also keep a stock of cookies on hand for easy refreshments on weeks when no one is signed up to host. During the month of February, Kimberly LaSalle will be selling Girl Scout cookies from 10:30 to 11:00, and we’ll have samples out for the “coffee hour!”
An article I read this week included the following wise words: “It takes extraordinary spiritual maturity for people to change something they don’t see as broken.” I am grateful for all of you for bravely stepping forward on this journey to create new places for new people on Sunday mornings – and I covet your prayers as we continue this adventure together. I have really enjoyed spending all morning among “my people,” and the increased opportunity this schedule has provided for me to connect pastorally with a greater number of our church family. I had not anticipated that the work would be so much fun, so thank you!
Your sister in faith,
The cold weather of December brought another round of viruses and people wisely “staying in” to guard their health. Please know that it is okay to greet others with a wave or “blowing a kiss” instead of shaking hands!
At a recent Bible study gathering, I suggested that it would be a healthy thing for our congregation if the central “check in point” would not be the pastor, but the group; that is, that we each make a concerted effort to take care of each other by making regular phone calls to those we’re concerned about, and reporting back when there’s a special need for prayer. Each of the class members pledged to make contact with one person at least once a week, and they felt honored to be so asked.
The root of the word gossip, which has come to take on a negative connotation, is actually an old English term, God sib, meaning “godly talk about our siblings.” God sib originally denoted something that was not mean-spirited, and was not a matter of “filling in the blanks” with speculation in the absence of verifiable information. It was a demonstration of care for one another, the perpetuation of a positive spirit in which people were known, respected and cherished.
It is my hope that we might nurture an environment of God sib, looking out for each other, praying for each other, and offering hands-on help when that is welcome. Two recent examples come to my mind: our youth group caroling for our shut-ins (during our visit to the Meyers, Margaret Ann took Cheryl LaSalle’s hand and watched her intently, responding enthusiastically to the music), and Wayne Craven, who offered rides to San Francisco for Glenn Dollarhide for critical medical appointments.
Every time I hear of such small acts of compassion and kindness, it warms my heart. I know many of you don’t “toot your own horn,” but please know that these things are appreciated. I pray that you will discern what part you are called to play, what you can contribute, at this stage in your life, in 2018, to maintain the sense of community and connection that is so vital to congregational life. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative — but if you need information, ideas, or discernment, feel free to reach out.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Laurie McHugh
We have been offering two Sunday morning worship celebrations for three months now. The experiment has both yielded some positive results and presented some challenges. The adjustment of the starting time for the earlier service is one example of a modification which has been readily embraced; other changes have not been so easy.
While change — even positive change — is difficult for most individuals and communities, its necessity for sustainability and growth is often the reality we face. Sometimes it takes more time than we wish to measure the impact of intentional actions to effect positive changes. We all wish we could feel better after just a few days of dieting or exercise, for example; and while we might see some good signs of renewed health under such circumstances, the long-term impact of such measures on our health might not appear until after several months or years of discipline.
Near the end of December or in early January, you will be receiving a survey on worship at WCUMC in your mailbox. I hope you will take the time to prayerfully reflect and complete this survey and return it to the church office as soon as you can. We will be compiling the feedback and presenting findings and recommendations at the January 25 Leadership Board meeting; as with every meeting of this governing and visioning group, all are welcome to attend.
In the meantime, I hope you will make every effort to attend worship, at the time which is convenient for your family schedule, during the month of December. Advent provides a time for quiet reflection and joyful gratitude in the midst of the hectic rush of the holidays. It is my favorite season, a time when I am especially attuned to my choice, as a person of faith, to deliberately be “out of step” with the consumerist drive. May you be richly blessed, and may you be a blessing.
Yours in faith,
As our community recovers from the devastating fires of last month, and we witness the heart-warming generosity of so many in Sonoma County and beyond, it falls to us to discern what we, as a faith community, are uniquely gifted to do — how our passions line up with the needs of our neighbors.
In the weeks leading up to the fire, our Leadership Board made the decision to partner with the Council on Aging (CoA) to host a federally-funded Congregate Meal Program for seniors in Windsor. This would be the only such program in town, and it is something that has been long desired in our community. A “trial run” for such a program took place a few months ago at the Windsor Senior Center, but it was determined that the kitchen there could not handle it, so, while it was quite well received, the idea was shelved — that is, until we approached the Town, wondering if our commercial-grade kitchen could be put to good use. A series of meetings ensued, a vote was taken, and we are now in the process of filing the appropriate paperwork, anticipating inspections and taking other steps with our friends at the CoA. Our Leadership Board is very excited about this development, as am I.
Should everything go through, the program will run Monday through Friday, with lunch served from 11:30 am to 1 pm. A coordinator (hired by the CoA) will oversee a team of 5-6 volunteers, all of whom will be recruited, background screened, and trained through CoA. They will do all the set up, clean up, cooking and administration; we just provide the space. The program is called “Bistro” which means there will be four made-to-order menu choices daily, including a vegetarian selection. For diners age 60 and above, the suggested donation for the three-course meal is $4, but if a diner cannot afford that cost, they may dine for free. Diners under age 60 are welcome to come and eat for $6.50. You can learn more about the program by reading the minutes from the September Leadership Board meeting (p.7), or contacting me.
Seniors who feel isolated must have felt even more so during the recent crisis, some wondering, “What if it had been me? What if I’d been told to evacuate? Where would I have gone? To whom could I have turned? Who would look out for me?” The building of relationships, which the Bistro program aims to accomplish, is a key component in addressing isolation and the fear brought on by this trauma, along with other fears associated with aging. The food will not only be nutritious for the body, but for the spirit. And I have to tell you, the idea of our building seeing an additional 40 or 50 seniors every day — people who are looking for kindness, compassion, and new friends — just plain tickles me!
I hope you will join me in concerted prayer for this new venture — and that you’ll come check it out once the program launches. You are most welcome to come over for lunch!
Your sister in Christ,
But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NRSV)
This past month has been full of a variety of activities for me that fall into the category of “manageable and stimulating” when taken in isolation, but which do not usually all come onto my calendar at the same time. Ministry is like this, with an ebb and flow, seasons of relative calm followed by seasons of feverish activity, at times influenced by the Church Year or the administrative tasks required by the Annual Conference, other times by the number of church families in crisis or other factors entirely. It is not always predictable, and it often presents both challenges and opportunities. And it is seldom boring!
It strikes me as interesting that many of the ministry activities I enjoy the most generally go unnoticed by many, since they involve small numbers of people who frequent church on Sundays. The web of relationships is quite broad, representing young and old, “churched” and “unchurched,” well-educated and not so much — and the list of contrasts goes on.
I imagine that many of you experience a similar reality: busy and less-busy seasons, a variety of interactions with a diversity of people. What holds it all together, for me, is cultivating an awareness that God is present in the midst of all of it, that God is able to use me as a “sower of grace” in so many different places and in so many different relationships, if only I will yield and focus my attention.
It helps that I maintain a practice of regular journaling, ending most entries, most days, with a jotting down of three good things that happened that day. It helps that there are people who care about me who are praying for me, and there are people who “check in” from time to time and hold me accountable for attending to my physical and spiritual health. I am grateful for these practices and partners in grace, which are the lifeblood of faithful community.
I am looking forward to seeing what sprouts from the seeds that that are being sown in all these relationships and activities. Some things may never bear fruit, and others may take so much time I may never witness a harvest; but some will be my delight to share, just around the corner. In the meantime, I trust that God is good, all the time, and I pray that God may be able to dwell among us as we make space for the Spirit to work. In this season of harvest — and of planting — may we be ever faithful and alert to God’s presence and power, and may our hearts and lips be full of thanksgiving.
Your sister in Christ,
Pastor Laurie McHugh
We are embarking on a season in the life of this congregation which requires bravery and fierce rootedness in the power and presence of God in our midst.
It may have struck me more because of travel this summer and the resulting need to “catch up” with people, but we seem to have a significant number of people needing care. I have been doing a lot of visitation and making a lot of phone calls to people who are in crisis, coping with hospitals, and/or becoming homebound. This work is a blessing and a privilege, and I very much feel called to it, but it takes a lot out of a person, as you can well imagine.
Shortly after I came to Windsor, we organized a Visitation/Congregational Care Team of laypersons who carried out some of this work. Some made visits (alone, in pairs, or with me); some served communion to homebound parishioners; and others made friendly phone calls. The team met together from time to time to pray and to review the list of persons we had identified as folks who would welcome this ministry. Sadly, a number from that original team have passed away, or are no longer able to serve in the capacity they once were.
I know that many of you look out for each other. The friendships we form in church are deep and meaningful, and it’s a great blessing to have people we can depend on in difficult times, even if it does not involve face-to-face contact. Knowing people are praying for me is a great source of comfort and strength. I want to encourage you to keep reaching out to your friends in faith. Know that this is the Lord’s work.
I also want to encourage you to consider what new and courageous thing God might be calling you to in the present season. Perhaps you would be blessed by providing transportation to a church member who has slowed down. Perhaps you would be blessed by dropping in with a tasty treat and a prayer for someone going through a rough patch. Perhaps you are limiting your driving now, but you could pick up a phone, or write a note, or spend more concerted time in prayer. God is not finished with you yet! You still have something of great value to give. (I receive so much from our most frail “90-somethings,” who are incredibly perceptive and wise and a joy to visit!)
We are also engaged in some daring experiments and courageous conversations regarding our schedule, programming and the faithful use of our property. This month marks the one-year point in our offering of Messy Church, and the beginning of a two-worship Sunday morning schedule. At the time of this writing, the Leadership Board is set in a few days to discuss parameters and markers of success for these endeavors; more will be reported in the next issue of the Branch. I invite your continued prayers for our leadership and thank you for your support. (* see note below)
The past few weeks in the news have been marked by tremendous storms of the meteorological, social and political variety. We must not lose hope. We must cling to the God who calls “peace” in the midst of the storm, who commands the wind and waves. We are called to be beacons of light, reflecting God’s grace in a troubled world. Let us stand together, love one another, share of what God has given us so richly, and trust in our Navigator, knowing we are not alone.
Your sister in Christ,
Pastor Laurie McHugh
* Note: At the August 31 Leadership Board meeting, it was decided to continue the Messy Church experiment for at least another two months, with continuing assessment in light of the new two-service Sunday morning schedule. We will try the two-service schedule at least until the end of the year and, at that time, conduct an assessment of our learnings and meeting of markers we’ve identified, in order to determine whether an extension of this period of experimentation will be helpful to our discernment process.
I think my favorite week of the year is the week we do Vacation Bible School — and this year was no exception. I love hanging out with these energetic, open-hearted young people, and the young-at-heart adults who give so much of their gifts and talents to make the students feel comfortable and confident. I love to see what of faith and grace is absorbed in the magic of this intensive time together in play and song. A colleague told me a couple years ago that a week of of VBS is worth a year of Sunday School, and I have really seen that played out in the relationships that we are building with the young people who return year after year.
At our Friday night closing celebration (attended by nearly all of the “campers” and “youth helpers” — and each of them brought a parent!) I remarked to several people that we may have finally come to a place I have long dreamed of: a “critical mass” of students to develop a youth group. I received some encouragement from the students as well as parents — so I am asking for your prayers as I continue to put out feelers for this and take a look at calendaring. I am also asking for your discernment concerning how God might be calling you to support this effort. Youth ministry is not a “lone ranger” or “pied piper” project. It is most sustainable and effective when engaged by a team of caring adults. There is no such thing as a person who is “too old” to do youth ministry; in fact, many of the best youth ministers are grandparents, folks with wisdom, perspective and patience borne of maturity and experience. My favorite youth leaders, during my teen years, were such a couple. I still give thanks to God for Johann and Naola Thorsen, who saw two of their youth group (my friend Barb and I) become pastors — the first in that congregation’s history.
VBS always takes a tremendous act of faith. We never know what kids God will bring us, given vacation schedules, the other activities available in the community, and the small number of young families actively engaged in our congregation. It involves so many tasks that cannot be carried out by one person alone, so we need to build a team and trust each member to not only share their creative gifts, but to keep their eyes and ears open for the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout each day. I cannot thank you all enough for your support of this great endeavor.
Special thanks to…
- Cheryl LaSalle — “right hand woman,” super organizer, clear instructor, intuitive and strong
- Kimberly LaSalle — who truly came into her own as a leader at this camp, and whose budding technical skills added so much to our assemblies. I think the kids really remembered the Bible stories because she taught them!
- Jasmin Sharp — another whose gifts really came to the forefront, as she learned the ropes at the sound/computer board.
- Marilyn Bolman and Lynn Markus — who took on the snacks not just as “feeding the kids” but as a hands-on, team-building activity in itself, which really delighted the campers (and resulted in them trying new things and eating slowly!)
- Dick Bolman, Kirk Harris, and Albert Bayen — our “Mr. Gadget” guys who really engaged the kids in super-cool science demonstrations and activities.
- Tavia Hayes, Marijane Monaghan and Gloria LaFleur — who patiently worked with the craft projects which are always a highlight for VBS kids, providing one-on-one assistance as necessary, and who cheerfully helped out wherever else they were needed.
- Shirley Holman and Mary Payne — who stepped in nearly at the last minute to make a wildly successful first day sewing project happen!
- Ashlyn Nappi, Brianna and Crystal Williams — our “Solid Gold dancers” and “Crew Leaders.” You couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of teen helpers.
- Demetrius Hayes — a surprise helper on our first day who helped our young boys feel that church is not just for girls!
- Samantha Scott — a newcomer no more, she jumped right in and got to know everyone on the first day. We hope to see much more of you around here!
- The enthusiastic kids who expressed such openness to God this week, especially evident in their “God sightings,” teamwork and laughter…
- … and to the parents and grandparents who
shared their children with us. Our space is
made more sacred by the children’s presence.
THANK YOU ALL!
Your sister in Christ,
In worship on Father’s Day, I asked: How many of you, when you were a child, were brought to church by a parent or grandparent? How many were brought by a neighbor? In cases where one parent, or maybe both parents, were not the ones to bring their children to worship or Sunday school, I think there was a time when people probably used to believe that someone taking their child to a church would do no harm, and might do some good. I am wondering, though, if attitudes have changed about that. Is there an attitude or belief, these days, that bringing little ones to church will do more harm than good? I am kind of getting that impression from the reactions I sometimes get when people hear the word “Christian.” I wonder why that is, and what has changed. I wonder if there is a collective memory, perhaps among a certain generation, of church being somehow oppressive?
I believe it is our sacred task, in this day and age, to offer hospitality and kindness first and foremost, to teach a new generation that the community of faith is a safe place where all are welcomed without condition. To that end, the summer brings a number of opportunities for reaching out in a loving spirit to children in our neighborhood and in our families — and we are counting on your help to make these connections. Vacation Bible School, City Kids North County, and Messy Church all seek your time, talents, financial support, and prayers — and I hope you’ll read the related announcements in this newsletter and prayerfully discern where you can give of your support.
The summer is a special time for kids, when they are particularly open to new experiences. I hope you’ll make an effort to notice and celebrate the children around you this summer. Say hello, smile, thank God for them, and, where appropriate, invite them into your spiritual life.
Your sister in Christ,
After our highly successful experiment with holding two worship celebrations on Easter Sunday, our Leadership Board and Worship Committee started discussions about whether offering an “early” and “late” Sunday morning choice on a regular basis might not be an effective way to reach a larger number of visitors, as well as providing a convenient choice for busy church families who might prefer to sleep in a little later on Sundays, or to come earlier so they can get to other activities. A two-celebration schedule could also provide the opportunity for a short-term class and/or an extended coffee hour in between (thus not conflicting with the age-old tradition, for some folks, of going out to lunch together after worship).
We are looking into the possibility of giving this a trial run in the fall, and we are eagerly seeking your ideas and offers to help make this endeavor as successful as Easter Sunday was.
Having two Sunday morning celebrations opens up many additional opportunities for service, particularly in the areas of worship support, music, and hospitality. Leadership for a short-term study topic of your choice would also be welcome. Our thinking at present is to offer two celebrations that are basically the same in style (with a common bulletin), but there is room for conversation about that, especially if other musicians might like to share their gifts. As we engage in this discernment, we’d also like to hear if you would be inclined to worship at 9 or 11; would one of these hours tend to be more convenient for you? Whom might you be able to invite if the worship hour is earlier or later than it is at present? How might we approach Messy Church Sundays? If you are a regular servant in worship, would you be willing to serve at two celebrations, alternate between the two, or serve exclusively at one hour or the other?
As you see, we have lots of questions — that’s why we’ll take the entire summer to engage in this conversation.
I covet your prayers as I will be leading the worship music team for the Annual Conference Session June 21-24. I consider it a great honor and I’m looking forward to serving with a diverse and talented bunch.
Your sister in Christ,
Included in the latest edition of the Branch is a letter from our Bishop, Minerva Carcaño, concerning current challenges facing our denomination. I invite your earnest prayers for discernment, clarity, listening across political, theological, and cultural lines, kindness, compassion, justice, and commitment to mission.
I was privileged to spend time with Bishop Carcaño last month at the Bishop’s Confirmation Retreat, to see her “in action” relating with young people aged 12-18 who represented a variety of backgrounds. She was fantastic, so warm and accessible, open in sharing her personal story and her passion for the marginalized of our society. The youth were spellbound. I was to encouraged being among them, considering the future of our church and their commitment to it.
I also had the experience of a lifetime, leading worship at a three-day gathering of my colleagues at a lovely retreat center in Chico. The keynote presenter was Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, a lovely, softspoken man who is passionate about continuing the nonviolent teachings of his grandfather. A key insight I gained from our time together was the impact of “passive violence,” and the need to practice rigorous self-examination of my personal practices and habits, as well as those of my faith tradition, in perpetuating such harm toward others.
As we journey through the 50 days of Easter, I pray that we might claim the power of resurrection and love for our community, our church, and our world — and that that power might be translated into bold advocacy, generous action and humble witness.
Your sister in Christ,
As we draw near to Holy Week and Easter, I am awed by the rapid pace of changes in my life these days, the growing pains and brave new possibilities that seem to present themselves every week. Anyone following the news has also witnessed rapid changes and roller coaster rides. We are seeing both courage and fear, power and powerlessness. We are seeing polarization and people coming together, rudeness and human decency and compassion — all of it in big doses. And against the headlines and the dramas of my own life, I reflect upon the dramatic events of Jesus’ last week on earth, the fickleness of the crowd, that shouted both “Hosanna!” and “Crucify!” I think of the extremes of flood and drought and the mood swings of a teenager. It feels like a turning over of the soil, this movement; and I pray for a new planting of hope and kindness, and justice and grace and compassion, in the hearts of human beings, as we enter the season of Easter and of spring.
Your sister in Christ,
Pastor Laurie McHugh
A couple weeks ago I was blessed to attend a weekend transformative coaching seminar called the Landmark Forum. It was really intense, and really worth the time, and I am very grateful to the SPRC and the congregation for supporting my attendance (and especially to Jim Markus for preaching in my stead). I expect that you will be hearing “Landmark reflections” in many of my conversations over the coming weeks and beyond. I will be attending a ten-session evening seminar between now and early June to further practice and reinforce the concepts I’ve learned and to invent some new possibilities for myself, and I’m really excited about it.
One insight I gained from the Forum experience is that not only have I been playing it safe and living my life “too small,” but that I have encouraged the same “small playing” in this congregation — and it’s high time we “put some skin in the game,” cast fear aside, and take some risks. For a host of reasons, we shy away from inviting others to engage in this great venture that is the Mission to which God has called us. We don’t want to offend; we don’t want to look silly or pushy; we fear being rejected. We might have past experiences of being embarrassed or rebuffed that play and replay in our heads. The list of excuses helps us avoid responsibility, shifting blame to others or to forces “beyond our control.” The value of this precious gift of grace, however, is just too great to keep to ourselves, and it will be a tragedy, indeed, if it remains a hoarded secret, locked away from so many who are hungering for good news in these fearful and often hopeless-seeming times.
Our community of faith has some wonderful gifts to offer, many of which are greatly underutilized, mostly for lack of a personal invitation. Back in the fall I challenged you to commit to making three invitations this year and to make three new friends; many of you accepted that challenge. How are you progressing on that? Are there tools we might provide that could help with your invitation? Are you praying for your neighbors? Are you praying to shed your fear and go start a conversation?
Know that I am stepping up my game, too, and that I am praying for you.
As the old Bob Dylan song goes, “the times they are a changin’.”
More than ever, your Church needs you.
And, I believe, you need the Church.
I recognize, from observation and from personal experience, that people go through different seasons in life. For some, it means times when they become less active in pursuits that once meant a great deal to them. Something falls away as a new interest takes hold. And sometimes religious activities are among those things that wax and wane in a person’s life. For others, church remains the one constant as other things — diet, exercise, hobbies, relationships — come and go. I don’t think it is helpful to cast judgment on the choices people make in these many arenas. But I do think these choices matter — that making choices matters. To simply let “life” make the choices leaves one in a position of powerlessness in the face of change. I believe that the abundant life to which Jesus calls us is all about recognizing our power to choose, recognizing that we are not helpless.
Our world is in a time of change. It always is, but recent events have caused more people than usual to notice this. This is the case, for many of us, not just with regard to events which have captured the attention of news outlets, but in our personal lives. Not all of these changes need be interpreted as “bad,” though many pose challenges.
If changes have triggered a re-evaluation for you, perhaps the activities of your faith community would be a good place to start. Below is a response form I would love to receive from you.
Grace and peace to you, Pastor Laurie
The New Year ahead is full of the promise of many changes. As in all such times, we are called to be people of prayer and hope. We are called to trust in the God who holds all times, all people, and all the world in a great and loving hand. We are called both to be peacemakers and justice seekers. We are called to raise our voices on behalf of the marginalized, and to open our hearts, minds and hands. Changes like those that are before us present a unique opportunity to be the church, to show the true face of Christ to all our neighbors. The degree to which we live out the teachings of Jesus, demonstrating compassion and kindness and welcome to the stranger, will directly determine the willingness of others to listen to Christ’s message of hope and healing. As we embark on this New Year together, know that I am holding you and our shared ministry in my heart.
Your sister in Christ,
Gratitude rises up in my heart when I think about the spirit of teamwork and kindness that is fostered in this congregation. It has deeply pervaded the events of this past month in particular — a striking contrast to much of what I see in the news and on social media. The Fall Festival, Community Thanksgiving Dinner, Charge Conference, Messy Church, Bible study groups — all have been gatherings of warmth and blessing, support and care for one another and for the vulnerable in our community and beyond. It’s a great “launching pad” for the holiday season, and represents an important witness we have to share with our neighbors in these troubled times.
Many, many thanks to all who have stepped up to the challenge, serving, welcoming, and putting in time and talent “behind the scenes.” Not all have been physically well enough to serve as they could in the past, but they are sending positive thoughts and prayers our way — and I believe that has “supernaturally charged” the hands-on work of others. As a result, things have continued to hum along, almost seamlessly! God has provided just what we have needed — sometimes with physical or management resources, and sometimes in the form of unexpected volunteers or great ideas. It’s really been a marvel to behold.
I trust that, if we keep our hearts solidly connected to Jesus and doing his work, and keep loving each other and our neighbors, God will be able to accomplish more than we can imagine. Let’s keep proclaiming hope in all that we do!
A blessed Advent and Christmas to you all.
It has been delightful to see kids and kids-at-heart coming to worship on Messy Church Sundays. It’s also a little chaotic. We are learning as we go, and I surely hope we can apply our learnings so that we do not lose the initial energy and enthusiasm for this new way of “doing church.” Here is some of what I am learning and where the help and support of others could go a long way toward making this new thing sustainable and enjoyable for everyone:
Because it is something new, there’s a heightened level of anxiety for those who’ve never come on a “Messy Church” Sunday — both among “regular” church attendees and first-time worshippers. Our Hospitality Team (AKA greeters) thus have additional duties on “Messy Church” Sundays, to be on the alert for signs of confusion or discomfort, to explain what’s happening, and to help these folks find a comfortable place to sit. We could use at least two seasoned “Messy Church” folk to serve as additional greeters — preferably people with an ability to “roam.”
Also because of this “heightened anxiety” phenomenon, it’s really important that the craft table hosts already be well acquainted with their craft assignment and their materials before they arrive on Sunday morning. If you have signed up as a table host, please “check in” the week before your Messy Church Sunday to get any questions answered. Likewise, if you have craft materials to donate, please bring them in at least a week ahead so they can be organized and to allow time for coordinators to obtain needed items.
Please don’t wait until the week before to sign up as a table host. Several will be needed every time, and the “more hands make light work” principle certainly applies.
If you have enjoyed Messy Church thus far, perhaps God is calling you to join the new MESSY CHURCH TEAM. We have roles for supplies/logistics, volunteer coordinators, food, hospitality, publicity/communications and more. If you’re discerning this and you’d like to learn more, please contact me.
Believe me, this process will develop into the “well-oiled machine” that I frequently see roll into motion when we have an after-worship potluck or other event that we’ve done many times together. This one is admittedly a bit messier than some (as befits the name), but if we stay committed to being “in the grace business,” we will get there, and our children will be the beneficiaries.
Grace and peace to you,
I have experienced a series of remarkable encounters with people outside the walls of our church over the past several weeks — people who have expressed appreciation for the things we are doing to help and to connect with folks in our broader community. These conversations have happened at the Windsor Kids Festival, Brookdale, Bell Manor, and Wal-Mart (in that instance, a parent of two kids who attended our Vacation Bible School).
It may be the blessing of having “settled in” that comes at this point in a pastoral appointment, but I believe it is also a factor of the support this congregation has given to trying new things. Not every experiment brings an immediate “reward” or sense of “success,” and many efforts will not result in newcomers filling seats on Sunday mornings, but God’s love and grace is still being proclaimed and shared in tangible ways — and people are taking notice. That’s nothing to sneeze at!
Jesus said: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.” (Matthew 5:13, The Message)
And again: “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33, MSG)
These teachings speak to the subtle, slow and “hidden” ways at faithfulness makes an impact in and brings transformation to the world around us.
Please continue your earnest prayer for our community and for our ministry together.
Grace and peace to you,
While away on vacation I started reading a novel about a young girl growing up in a small town in Germany in the 1920s. I was struck by the protagonist’s description of various religious rituals and the simplistic way religion was explained to her and to her peers. The girl’s observations concerning the relationships among her neighbors, who were Catholics, Protestants and Jews, and the tensions between them, which evolved as the book’s pages led into the 1930s, was fascinating to read (I have not yet finished the book as of this writing, but I note from the chapter titles that the story will continue to unfold through the 40s and early 50s).
As I reflect on an example (even in the realm of fiction) of the failure of religious teaching to nurture compassion, tolerance and maturity, my thoughts turn to what kind of religious instruction marked my own growing up, and what kind of messages young people are receiving today when it comes to matters of faith. I wonder how much is still simplistic, how much contains tiny seeds of hatred, how challenging it is to communicate a more nuanced, more tolerant, more peace-making worldview, and what level of maturity is needed to even grasp such matters. And I think about how few young people receive enough opportunities to make the progression from the simplest “ABC” level of knowledge, how many adults today have an “elementary level” faith — if they have any at all. Many seem to form their opinions — about how to cope with challenges and problems in their lives and in the world, about how to regard people who are different, and about whether a life of faith is worth pursuing — based on so little information and so little experience. The kinds of objections that grown, intelligent people raise about Christianity are often based on such simplistic levels of understanding that I am often floored in conversation.
How do we overcome this? Where do we start?
Next month, we will be launching an experiment called Messy Church. In my mind, it is an effort to start from the ground up to develop a new, young community of mature, thoughtful and compassionate faith. Rather than segregating people by age, this approach involves all ages learning and connecting meaningfully together. As the name implies, it will be messy — as much of life is.
My hope is that Messy Church will look a lot like the best elements of a Vacation Bible School experience, with children, parents and grandparents engaging in hands-on learning and connecting with God and with each other. If there are young people whom you care about living nearby, I hope you will bring them. Come prepared to get messy and not to merely observe. Come ready to have fun and to make new friends.
Messy Church will launch on Sunday morning, September 18 from 10:30 to noon and will continue on the second Sunday of the month thereafter. If you would like to help in any way (e.g. preparing food, hosting a craft table, or earnestly praying for the endeavor), I’d love to have you as part of the team.
Grace and peace to you,
If you are unable to attend worship as regularly as you once did, did you know that our church website is a great way to keep up with what’s happening? Manuscripts (and sometimes links to referenced videos) for all Sunday sermons can be found in “Sermons” under the “Welcome” menu. You can also find devotional videos that I have created called “Desktop Meditations,” including some I recently made for the Annual Conference Session (inspired by writings and prayers of John Wesley).
You’ll also find descriptions of our hands-on ministries, small groups, and special events, along with the current month’s calendar, and some other goodies. It’s worth poking around. For those who have such devices, our website is also beautiful when viewed on a smartphone or tablet.
If you’re on Facebook, we maintain a presence there in two places: a public Facebook page and a private Facebook group. On the Facebook page, we regularly post the upcoming Sunday’s “Connection Question” and the previous Sunday’s “Activate Your Faith Challenge,” as well as announcements about upcoming events — and photos showing progress in our community garden and more. The Facebook group is where we periodically share prayer requests and news updates just for members.
Public FB: http://www.facebook.com/windsorcomumc
Our Branch and Sunday bulletin are the methods used by most church members to keep up on church news, but our online presence is not only meant to reach out to those beyond our walls; it is sometimes a way to share news that “didn’t meet the deadline.”
Grace and peace to you,
Our most recent Leadership Board meeting included conversation about some very bold new initiatives intended to help us better get to know, and to serve, some neighbors who are different from ourselves.
We were excited by what we learned about the Jubilee Initiative from Jeff Holder’s presentation (see Lisa Hillman’s article in this issue) and would love to move forward, with the first step being the formation of a three-person lending team. This group would review applications for Jubilee loans and maintain regular contact with participants, and possibly offer financial counseling, to support their progress in repaying the loan. If you are good at managing your own finances, you might be a perfect fit for this ministry!
This summer, we will be offering both a Vacation Bible School and a special program for kids over 10 called Summer of Service. These are opportunities for us to engage with children in our neighborhood — some who are already connected to us. And we’ll be connecting them with the chance to serve and help others. See more information on page 5 of this Branch.
In the fall, near Grandparents Day, we’re going to try something new on a Sunday morning. It’s called Messy Church, and will be modeled after a highly successful experiment in the UK. Plan to bring a child you love to church on September 11 — and get ready for some fun!
If you’d like to help with any of these efforts, I would love to engage in conversation with you.
Yours in Faith,
As you may know, our General Conference, the once-every-four-years gathering comprised of lay and clergy representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, and which is the “official voice” of the United Methodist Church, will be meeting May 10-20 in Portland. As with every General Conference, the 864 delegates will worship together and consider a whole heap of legislative proposals. They will celebrate the accomplishments of the Imagine No Malaria effort, and will remember both difficult moments and exceptional contributors in our denomination’s history. There will in all likelihood be much debate on issues such as human sexuality and how best to organize as a global church in this day and age. I invite your earnest prayer in the coming days for our Bishops and brothers and sisters in faith around the world.
I have heard that the opening worship for General Conference (which starts at 2 pm on May 10) will be livestreamed on our Conference website, www.cnumc.org. I suspect more of the event will be, as well. Additional information may be found at the denominational website, www.umc.org. A particularly good primer on General Conference can be read at http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2016/documents/gc2016-guide.pdf
In our regular meetings over the past several months, the United Methodist clergy in our Sonoma County circuit have been taking turns describing the “discipleship processes” that we have developed in our respective congregations. This exercise has given rise to some fruitful conversation, for pastors who are newer to parish ministry, for considering the changes that our congregations have been facing with the “greying” of membership and the impact of changes in society, and pondering a shared vision for ministry in our county. At our most recent meeting, my colleague Matthew Pearson shared with us a discipleship vision inspired by this graphic that comes from the Credo youth confirmation curriculum:
On top of this Matt had overlaid a grid dividing this circle into four quadrants, with the words “individual” and “corporate” running along the “y axis,” and “love God” and “love neighbor” along the “x axis.” My colleagues and I found ourselves really resonating with this picture representing a life of discipleship, nurtured both by individual spiritual practices and communal experiences that draw us closer to God and closer to our neighbors. I like the balance that is represented in this graphic depiction. It made me reflect on how I grow spiritually by working in all four quadrants, and how I try to lead congregations and mentor individuals into finding balance in these areas, as well.
I’d like to invite your response to this visual and to these ideas about what constitutes a life of faithfully following Jesus. Does this image capture it for you? Do the words stir you emotionally? Is it a description of the life you want to lead as a person of faith? Is there anything missing?
I know some people are more inclined to words and others to pictures, music or some other art form; some might prefer things more “nailed down” while others prefer a bit more mystery. A “word picture” like this might just be a jumping off point for visioning work, while for others this might be all that is needed. I welcome your comments and conversation.
I am pleased to share with you an exciting new opportunity for us to engage our neighbors in mission this spring. My hope is that, through this project, we can connect with the compassionate stirrings in the hearts of folks who may be “spiritual but not religious,” those who want to help others but aren’t sure where to start, or those who have become cynical about Christianity in the face of negative media coverage. I hope you can give of your time or your resources to help make this happen.
Over the next several weeks, we will be collecting and purchasing items to fill UMCOR health kits: gallon ziploc bags, new hand towels and washcloths, soap, nail clippers, bandaids, combs, toothbrushes and money for toothpaste. These kits provide basic necessities to people who have been forced to leave their homes because of human conflict or natural disaster. Health kits are also used as learning tools in personal hygiene, literacy, nutrition, and cooking classes. The health kits will be sent to the distribution center at UMCOR-West in Salt Lake City and from there will be sent wherever in the world that they are needed. We are seeking a REMM grant to match funds that we raise for this purpose and are confident that we will receive that support… but that’s not all!
Here’s the really exciting part: on Sunday, April 17, at the Windsor Earth Day Festival on the Town Green, we will invite the community to take part in a massive “packing party” to assemble these kits. This will provide a hands-on opportunity for people to learn about the work of UMCOR and the good things that the United Methodist Church is doing in the world. Our “pack a health kit” table will include educational materials about UMCOR and the connections between environmental issues, war and refugees. Participants will come away knowing they have done something good to help others — and they will know more about what we value as United Methodists. I can’t think of a better invitation to “Rethink Church.”
If you’d like to staff the table for part of the day, help purchase and/or organize the needed items, or assist with publicity for this event, let’s talk!
In the last issue of the Branch, I alluded to some congregational goals that the Leadership Board listed on the “Church Profile” form we completed for the Annual Conference office in December. These are not listed in any particular or prioritized order. They emerged from the process of filling out other parts of the form, which had us considering problems and trends that we see and foresee in our surrounding community, as well as trends we foresee in our congregation.
- Stay aware of what’s going on on our local community (including such issues as new housing developments, Lytton land, and increasing income disparity)
- Research homelessness issues to identify opportunities to respond
- Look into “Justice for Our Neighbors” resources and opportunities to serve refugees and immigrants
- Explore the possibility of a “Sister Church” relationship
- Discern a general direction to take as a congregation in light of the aging of current most active membership
If any of these goals intrigues you, and you would like to explore further, I am particularly interested in forming small groups for conversation, prayer, study, leadership and action on these topics. In some cases, teams of two or three will be effective, while other endeavors will require broader input and participation.
Even if you haven’t the energy or time to devote to joining a team, I hope you will commit to focused praying for at least one of these goals. As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
How would you like to be happier in this New Year?
One of the goals I listed in my end-of-year paperwork for the Annual Conference is doing further reflection on the “Science of Happiness” class that I completed in November. I got a lot out of the class and I’d really like to share it with others. I plan to distill the material down to a more manageable size for the average busy person, add some insights from the Bible, and offer “The Happiness Project” as a small group experience over the next couple of months. If you are interested in learning more, please let me know so you can be included in the scheduling process.
Another goal I’ve set is to find some “Reading Partners” to help hold me accountable for tackling a hefty list of interesting books which have come out recently from some of the most influential writers in the church today. I have more interests than I have the small groups to get through them, and I thought a one-on-one approach might be a neat way to get to know some of you who like to read but who perhaps don’t have the time to participate in a regular small group. We would both read a book, then meet for coffee to talk about what we learned and how I might apply the learning to my ministry. Again, if you are interested, please let me know. There’s quite a list of books and topics to choose from!
Our Leadership Board, at its December meeting, also discussed some congregational goals (for another piece of Conference paperwork). Stay tuned for more on these in the next issue of the Branch.
Grace and peace,