Weekly meditation from Rev. Ken Timmerman
Week of September 22-28 – Longing and patience – navigating the pandemic at church
I never dreamed in my lifetime there would be a year when the church couldn’t gather together for Easter worship services. But thanks to the Covid 19 pandemic, we were not able to hold Easter Sunday services. Likewise, I never dreamed that there would be a time when we could not have World Communion Sunday, but the pandemic has removed that from our calendar as well.
Holy Communion is important to all Christians and we are currently not able to provide it to our membership due to the precautions we must take. I, personally, do not want to offer Holy Communion in a manner that doesn’t adhere to the methodology we normally employ. The little individual pre-packaged communion that a person would receive, open, and partake doesn’t “fit” our tradition. While traditions are not holy the Body and Blood of Christ are holy and, I believe, must be shared in a sacred manner. My prayer is for a vaccine to soon be announced and the “all clear” given for church services and traditions.
There are other things I miss.
I miss singing in worship. The “science” says that we should not and to not sing is part of the precautions we have in place to protect people. Please be assured that this is a regular part of our conversations and it is our collective desire for singing to return when it is clear that it can be done safely. There is a difference between speaking words while wearing a mask and singing while wearing a mask. That is what the “science” tells us. There may be churches where singing has returned, but we feel it is important to not sing for now.
I also miss hugs and handshakes. Our fellowship is driven by caring and concerns and compassion. I feel blessed that we can have “in-person” worship, but it is not the same. I look forward to seeing John Wesley UMC at its normal with singing and choirs and passing the peace by being able to greet each other with handshakes and hugs.
Sunday School is now virtual and I miss being able to see classes gather and study the Word. This, too, is a regular part of our conversations as a staff and church leadership. We are studying this from every direction we can and considering what can be done. It is a complex issue so I invite you to pray about it. Social distancing precautions currently keep us from getting to back to our classrooms. The size of our classes works into this reality. I like that classes are being creative and trying to do some things outdoors.
A positive is that our numbers are growing at in-person worship. We currently have the one service. It is being considered that once we reach 125 average attendance in the one service that we would look to offer a second service. We have not forgotten the 10:50 service and that service is included in our planning for the future. It is good to be part of a church that has three worship services weekly when we are operating under normal times. I loved listening to the 10:50 band and singers share music outside September 20 (yesterday) following our 10:00 a.m. worship service.
One thing of which I am sure is this: Our planning cannot keep pace with the desires among us. There is a desire to return to normal. The Church Staff and members of the renew team understand the desires. The leadership and decisions rendered are done from a posture of prayer and listening to the realities of covid-19. Developments related to the pandemic have a role in our decision-making. Our determination is to be consistent in what we decide. We want to be forthright, transparent, and to communicate directly to the congregation. We will not change directions like the wind. When changes come, we will offer the rationale behind them and do our best to keep everyone informed.
The pandemic has changed many things, but it cannot change the story of Jesus and his love. The day is coming when we will return to a degree of normalcy. We will bring forth from this pandemic the things we have learned. Make no mistake…the church will move forward…to the glory of God. ~Ken Timmerman
Week of September 15-21 – The church response to the pandemic and being stuck
I try to read a great deal and recently while reading words offered by Max Lucado I discovered that he is thinking about how people can become stuck. He indicates that being stuck is not a good thing. For instance, he writes and says we “have been lodged between a rock and a hard place, unable to escape. Mired in the mud of resentment, bogged down in debt, trapped in a dead-end career, up to your waist in the swamp of unsolvable conflict. Stuck. Stuck with parents who won’t listen or employees who won’t change. Stuck with a harsh boss or a stubborn addiction. Stuck.” (Max Lucado, You Are Never Alone, Thomas Nelson Publisher, 2020, page 38)
I would add that getting stuck in a pandemic comes to mind. Stuck is a good word to describe what has been happening in our world. With the shut-downs, limiting availability of places for dining or entertainment, requiring isolation leads to us being stuck. Yes, lives can be saved by precautions. However, lives also become fragile and even damaged when we must do what we were not created to do. We were not created to be alone. My prayer is that we can work to not be stuck in pandemic fears.
That’s one reason we offer worship in-person on Sunday mornings as well as other chances to gather safely. Fellowship is the lifeblood of the church. We depend on each other and we need one another. Being the church is important and I find the church to be an essential place to be. I fully support our precautions and directives about masks and cleaning. I fully support persons who understand that they are “at risk” choose to stay home. I agree that some have grown comfortable with watching worship via livestream and can do so wearing pajamas with a cup of coffee. I hope that “coming back to Church” will be on your agenda as the pandemic weakens and numbers of new cases make a downward trend.
Being stuck can sneak up on our lives. Like the paralytic in the Bible waited to get to the water that could heal him…we wait for help for what ails us. Jesus asked that man a question. “Do you want to be well?” Max Lucado says he finds that to be a strange question. As a pastor who visits in hospitals he says he has never asked anyone in the hospital that question. “Do you want to be well?” Jesus was telling the man by the pool that he had to make some effort. Ask someone for help getting to the pool. Roll a few inches toward the pool. The paralyzed man was stuck. Stuck was becoming a permanent condition.
Jesus told him, “Stand up…pick up your mat…walk.” He responded to the Lord by doing what he did not think he could do even at the Lord’s budding. The Lord intervened in this man being stuck. But the getting up and the walking had to be done by this man who had not walked in 38 years.
Amazing things happen when God extends His hand to us and we respond by putting our hands in God’s own hand. Covid-19 is not a permanent condition. The world will get well again. I don’t know when, but I do know that the ways we deal with it will help. John Wesley UMC is moving forward slowly. We offer in-person worship on Sundays, fellowship opportunities on Wednesdays, youth gatherings times, a reopened Daycare School, a staff that comes to work every day, repairs orchestrated by the Trustees to our Steeple and roof that have needed it for years, specific Saturdays when we offer people food, blessings boxes filled, Confirmation for youth, children’s time for little ones, Bible Study for small groups of people, baptisms and weddings take place, as well as tithes and offerings being given for the good of our mission and purpose.
What John Wesley UMC will be in the future, I do not know. But in this present moment we will not be stuck.
Week of September 8-14 — Reflections on Confirmation Sunday and the starting point for discipleship
If there is one thing I know to be absolutely true it is that the Gospel kindles and awakens faith in people. The message of God’s love and the power of the cross and the resurrection impacts the creation and growth of faith in individuals. The Truth of the Bible read and studied grants us the power to live as God wants His people to live. John Wesley often spoke about the primacy of Scripture for believers and disciples. In the days of the first century when Christianity had its beginnings the Bible shares that “daily was added the number of those being saved.”
We continue this “adding” as we share in a Sunday for Confirmation. Our confirmands stand ready to profess their faith publicly in worship. This is not a processing of Christians into the Church. Each has been on a journey of discernment and discovery. In the faith, there is no such thing as the “secret service.” God calls every person to acknowledge their baptism and enter into the place of being a professing Christian. This week we have the opportunity to share in this meaningful profession of faith in the life of our Confirmation Class.
We will have to be prepared to have more people in church. The confirmands and their family members will comprise one side of the church. With our raised number we may have to move beyond 100 as we have 82 persons connected to the confirmands signed up. Things will be tighter than they have been. The balcony will certainly need to have extra usage. It is my hope to put out some chairs in spaces we can where social distancing can be observed. It is a great challenge that we can meet.
We will need thirteen pews to accommodate our confirmands and their families. We will be allowed 125 in worship for this Sunday. I plan for us to utilize chairs in appropriate spaces to undergird our congregation wanting to celebrate this high and holy moment in the lives of our confirmands. Standing and stating “I believe” is very important. It is a starting place for each person. From that starting point we will spend our lives moving into discipleship and following Jesus wherever He leads.
Bring your enthusiasm and your best patience to church this Sunday. We will be adding to the church’s number those who believe in and follow the Lord.
Week of September 1-7 — Listening to God’s call
When I first felt God calling me to ministry I did not jump up and down with joy. I knew me too well! I knew that there were other people more qualified and gifted to do it. I knew that the thought of ordained ministry didn’t thrill me nor did the idea of moving from church to church and standing up week after week to preach. I was eighteen years old and the process began. God’s call would not go away! It was not a day by day “nagging” kind of calling. To the contrary, his call came periodically. God’s voice spoke through circumstances and situations. Many times, it was during a Sunday School class or during worship. God’s voice became very loud when our pastor (I suspect he knew I was being called) invited me to preach at times when he was on vacation. Bit by bit, piece by piece, I came to a place of surrendering to God’s calling.
That’s the way it works! God calls and people answer. Like me, some think of their qualifications upon being called. But it really is true:
“God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called.”
Every pastor I know has a story of their calling. I am now in my 38th year as an ordained pastor. God has walked every step of the way just as God promised. God has grown his love in my heart just as he promised. Life has not been problem free because following God does not promise that. I have come to understand the place faith must hold in my being. And God will help us be calm during the challenging times. No one is alone in this venture of ministry.
The pandemic has not allowed us all to get to know each other. I long for that. I am trying to give the church a glimpse into who I am and how I do things. While what I write to you is not filled with specifics…I hope the general sense of what I bring to the church will be felt. I believe that Methodist preachers should teach Sunday School from time to time. I am open to invitations to come to a class and offer a lesson on Sundays once we are all back together. I look forward to the “Get to Know the Pastors” session we will have in September. I am happy to answer questions. I hope to have such a session with our youth at some point in time. I have been asked if I would be supportive of trying to get the Prime Timers going again once the pandemic has passed and I would like to help that happen. I will do regular visitation of those hospitalized and shut in. Pastor Steve will lead us in matters of pastoral care, but I will be involved too. I will participate each month in the 10:50 service. I like to provide a children’s sermon when called upon to do so and I also like to gather older children and youth together for a time for “Life Lessons for Young Learners.”
I like reverence in worship, but I believe that laughter has a place too. Being joyful and joy-filled is important for worship services. I practice having an open door. I know that everything I do will not be met by applause, but that is okay. I like people and try to love people…even when there is disagreement. The transition team is not meeting now because I have decided that I want those meetings to take place when we can meet face to face. These meetings are designed as a dialogue for us to get to know each other. I look forward to the time when they can take place. I don’t think ZOOM would be a good way for these meetings to take place. It’s great to be called and even greater to be sent to serve God people and to share in the ministry.
The thing that Steve and I share is God’s calling to ordained ministry. We live as servants of God. The thing we, as Christians, share is “the priesthood of all believers.” The call isn’t always to ordained ministry. Yet, our life’s journey is a calling to honor God and to serve God’s purposes. I wonder what church would begin to look like if we all came weekly remembering that our worship is part of a sacred calling. We belong to God. And we all are called to love and to serve God.
Maybe there are some hearts among us that God is “touching” with the call to ordained ministry. Perhaps it’s you. The church needs new hearts to help “tell the old story of Jesus and His love.” Perhaps the Lord is nudging you to a ministry as part of the “priesthood of all believers.” Together, we strive to all serve the Lord and work to fulfill his mission regardless of our age. That’s one reason why I employ Lay Witness testimonies periodically in worship. People with whom we live and work and worship can say a word about “what God is doing in their life.” I have found this to be a blessing. I love for the Youth to have Youth Sundays, but I also like them to serve as lay readers in worship throughout the year.
The church combines all together into a “priesthood of believers.” I look forward to this journey as we grow the Body of Christ.
Week of August 24-30 – My thoughts about the church, worship and some ways we might change
Ken Blanchard is a man who trains leaders on issues of leadership. For 10 years he taught on the college level and spent time in trouble with other faculty members because he gave out the final exam questions on the first day of class so he could spend the semester teaching those answers so everyone would get an “A.” His teaching was part of a three-part system.
1. Performance: setting goals and objectives
2. Day-to-day Coaching: On-going feedback is given
3. Performance evaluation: When performance is determined
In business and in life communicating performance objectives…giving people the final exam questions ahead of time…is the perfect way to have everyone working on the same sheet of music and headed in the right direction. (Ken Blanchard, The Heart of a Leader, Honor Books, page 35)
John Wesley is a good church and we have much work to accomplish. To do so I want us to use the three-point formula Ken Blanchard recommends.
Our staff is currently considering goals and objectives for the next year ahead of us. I have asked each staff member to add one new thing per year to what they are currently doing. It is a way to keep us fresh.
I am asking the leadership of the church to embrace a new meeting schedule. Rather than a monthly meeting I will ask us to work in a quarterly planning schedule. This will help us as we seek volunteer leaders. Twelve meetings per year is a lot of meeting. We will also work to keep meetings to one hour.
Worship is important for everyone. Children and youth as well as adults have a place in worship. I hope youth will step up and serve as lay readers and even think about singing and serving in meaningful ways. I would love to have some youth assist in serving communion when we return to having it. While children learn about communion during Children’s Church…I offer communion on our specific Sundays early in the service so that children get to partake of holy communion prior to departing the Sanctuary.
I grew up having communion quarterly and I have not been a pastor to offer it the first Sunday of each month. Because of its importance in people’s lives and because many want it with more frequency, I do offer the sacrament monthly between the services in the Sanctuary. Following conclusion of the 8:30 service and prior to Sunday School, I offer an abbreviated ritual from the hymnal and invite people to partake. We can make our plans in the worship committee meetings as we do our work together concerning the Sacrament. I do not utilize the complete ritual in the hymnal for baptisms. Rather, I offer an introductory word, direct the questions, baptize, and have a closing statement for the congregation to share (from the ritual in the hymnal).
While I am not a clock watcher, I do believe that it is my job to be a good steward of the time we have and remaining within the hour is an effort I put forth. I do not utilize three lessons from the Bible, but primarily read the homiletical lesson for the day. I do not preach the lectionary, but create my own lectionary of preaching texts and select hymns and psalters and such for our worship service. I go a week at a time and prepare this preaching schedule and when I return, I give that information to our Children’s Minister and Music Director so the music and themes for the children will be consistent with what the preaching of the day is to be.
I am a small groups person and I like for neighborhoods and other gatherings of people to happen. In those gatherings, I would like the conversations to answer the question: “What is God doing in your life?” Since Steve and I are new, we need continuity of leadership. I’m asking all those serving to continue with that service into and through 2021. This will not include those in classes on SPRC and Trustees. The Discipline requires those to change. Help John Wesley by extending your willingness to serve.
I also like for traditional worship to be a blend of music styles and worship items. I hope to employ some Lay witness testimonies in the New Year and to use many styles of music. I suggest that our church purchase the hymnal supplement “The Faith We Sing” so we can employ a variety of hymns including some of the more recent written hymns that are quite good. I like to use the Psalters with choral responses when we are back to singing in church. On occasion, I like to ask members to offer the Morning Prayer. Worship is our lifeblood. It binds us together in a love that comes from God. It teaches us through witness and proclamation that we are together to serve as One Body. Our work will unify us in mission and focus, I pray.
It is sad when many churches point to their best days and it is in the past. I believe our best days are ahead. We’ve not gotten there yet. As a congregation, we move forward to a future not yet determined. Unified in Christ we will grow in Spirit and in number. Our work will be beyond the doors of the church as we strengthen our relationships with one another and then to others we do not yet know. We will talk and discuss and help coach one another daily. Our performance will be determined by how well we implement and live out the plan God has for us. “To be a holy people, filled with the Holy Spirit, and inspired to serve God and neighbor in all we do.”
I believe it the only way to get an “A.” ~Ken Timmerman
August 18, 2020 – The Lesson from a String
John Ed Mathison of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Alabama tells a story about leadership and uses a string as the object of the lesson. To make his point, he places the string on a desktop and says, “The string identifies something important about leadership. PUSH the string and see what happens. It bunches together and really goes nowhere. PULL the string and see what happens. It will follow in all directions.”
As we are set for the beginning of a new school year I pray first for the teachers/leaders who will make a difference in the lives of children. I remember many teachers in my elementary and high school years. Some “pulled” me by their charisma to want to study, to learn, and to achieve.
Some of my very best teachers “pulled” from within the questions that provoke knowledge and they taught me to ask of situations and circumstances who, what, where, when, and the significance of it. Some of my best teachers taught me that people “do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Some of my great teachers took time to help develop my character and believed that some important lessons were learned through recreation and playtime. It’s amazing how I remember those teachers.
I cannot honestly say I remember some of the others whose approach to class was, “Come in, sit down, be quiet, listen up, do this work, and then go on to your next class.” There’s a profound difference that “pulling” and “pushing” makes in a person’s life. So, let us make a commitment to pray for our teachers and the students at the beginning of a new year. It has the potential for the creation of special relationships and the building of knowledge. There are many things for which we should all thank a teacher. Even when education has gone virtual for many a teacher, they can still make a difference in the life of a young person.
The same can be said of faith matters. Jesus spoke of “drawing” and “inviting” people to follow him and in following to “see” the Kingdom of Heaven and to “learn of” it’s teachings and truth. When we come to church on Sundays, we are helping “pull” others to the very best thing we know. It rarely works when we try to “push” people to the Kingdom. Those who are the best teachers in Kingdom are those who “draw, invite, and inspire” individuals to seek the highest knowledge available in creation.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to “draft” people or “shame” people into serving the Lord and Church. Pushing people rarely does anything positive. It may have a momentary impact, but the end results do not see “drafted” folks pressing on with service. Jesus was teaching us the value of invitation and encouragement as he walked and talked in our midst. Many people can quote Bible verses, but how many live the truth of Scripture? All of life is education. Education gives us power to make choices and decisions. Choices and decisions can be in harmony with the Gospel or not. Living in harmony with the Gospel helps us develop a life that is right with God.
I pray we will be a church that “pulls” rather than “pushes” people to discipleship in Christ.