Week of January 19-25 – Learning to conquer the “wobble”
Paul, the neighbor’s six-year-old boy, was learning to ride his bike without training wheels. His short practice runs were precarious at best as he struggled to keep his balance. “I need a new bike,” he said to his dad after one of his short practice jaunts down the block.
Since the bike was just a few years old and still in good shape, the surprised father asked, “Why’s that? I thought you liked your bike.” “Oh, I do,” he said, “but I need one that doesn’t wobble so much.” Sometimes our spiritual walk is like learning to get the wobbles out. In the early stages we think the bike is the problem, when really all we need to do is get a little more balance. With a little more time, with a little practice, with a little more patience and understanding, our slow “wobbles” begin to straighten out as we move our eyes from our front tires, to the road ahead, to God. (John D. Schroeder, Dear Lord, They want Me to Give the Devotion Again, page115)
In the Bible, Jesus has some direct, loving, and strong words from Jesus about life. Some people build a “wobbly” faith because they try to be “spiritual” without seeking God’s truth in the Bible. Some folks “wobble” when it comes to love because love must define by personal feelings. Some folks “wobble” to being the light the Gospel invites us to be because dark is so tempting. We are invited to be the salt of the earth and to bring flavor to life yet we “wobble” because we want 51 flavors…and after all, salt really isn’t good for us today. We are advised not to worry nor to be anxious, yet we “wobble” because we know worrying helps us reason why things happen. The Bible is our guide to faith! It is the book through which we get to “know” God. And in faith just as in life…..”it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The Bible helps us draw closer to God.
So, we come to church, and through music, prayers, preaching, and singing we build our faith…one that stands rather than one that “wobbles.” This year I want us to focus on “The Year of Touching Lives.” I know that “touching” is not in the cards right now with the Pandemic and all of its protocols. However, the church can “touch” people in many ways. The telephone comes to mind. A call here or there can do wonders for people. Staying in touch with others is a beautiful way to communicate the love of God. Waving to one another in church communicates the Peace of Christ being shared. Conversations while six feet apart can still be moments that are sacred. Coming to church allows us to be touched by God. Being together matters! I find the church essential. Let’s build our fellowship in love and mutual respect for one another and intentionally embrace the Gospel in our souls. Modeling the love of Christ is the best thing a church can do. Be great representatives of God’s love all around Charleston.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of his children being judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. This is the week we remember such words and hopefully realize how his many of words do align with the church’s teachings. One particular speech he gave spoke some important words for all people. He said, “One generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.” The worse thing a church can do is to be a church that does nothing except feed fears and apathy. That is one way a church can wobble.
Spend time talking about the church…your church. Invite people to look in or visit and see what is happening here. I get invited many times while standing in a grocery store line to come to someone’s church on Sunday if I don’t have my own church. I tell them I cannot come because I’m a little busy with my church on Sundays. I am always impressed by people who talk about their church. Conversation is better than silence. The Church did not find its life through the silence of those who witnessed the love of God in Christ. Spend some time talking about your church and promoting the Kingdom of God. One suggestion: As a visible demonstration of who we are and where we experience God’s love, why not purchase from our youth one of the J-Dub T-shirts. Not only does it speak to people about who we are and where we are…it helps provide what is needed to help youth ministry here. The shirt really tells people that we are the church and have our eyes on God…“wobbling will be at a minimum.”
Week of January 12-18 – Adjusting to changes and planning for the future
A clock repair shop displayed this sign in the window: “If your grandfather needs oiling and adjusting, we still make house calls.” How many times have you and I been like the “grandfather” as we need “oiling and adjusting?” I read these words, created by The Reverend Howard Olds (deceased) and was reminded how the church is in a state of constant change. It is a good thing to be in such a state! Jesus did not declare that he came “to help all things to stay the same.” Jesus said that he came to “make all things new.” There are times the church enjoys its routine so much that the church doesn’t alter it. One of the things I love about John Wesley UMC is the willing spirit of this church to embrace new things.
Below are a few new things coming our way:
- Meetings of Finance, Trustees, SPRC, and Administrative Council will meet quarterly beginning in 2021. The schedule for meeting is included in this eblast newsletter. The challenge will be to think ahead. With meetings not happening monthly it is imperative that we think forward when making plans. Our meetings will consist of planning forward and not just talking about what has been accomplished. The meetings of the Council will not be for planning, but for voting on matters brought before the Council. Items that are decided by the council will be reported in print to the congregation regularly. This will help us with our communication to one another. Also, meeting should be kept to one hour as we strive to be good stewards of time.
- Stewardship is a year-round commitment. We must consider how we are loyal to the church all the time. Do we pray, attend, give, serve, and witness? The church desires to care for each person’s spiritual needs and ultimately for every person’s soul. We do so by pointing each person to Christ and reminding everyone that commitment to the Kingdom is more than words and promises. Promises made are good, but promises kept are better. Membership is defined by our relationship with God. In terms of stewardship we ask of all members: How often do you think about God in a week? How often do you speak to God and listen for God’s voice speaking to you? Do you count blessings and respond in faith to those blessings? Are you building a bridge between yourself and God or allowing the world to build a wall between you and the Lord?
- I invite you to be in prayer and support of all the ministry we do for children and youth. This is some of our most important work. The seeds of faithfulness planted in young hearts and minds during the Children’s time and then developed during Youth Group meetings and studies is an important part of transforming lives and making disciples for Jesus Christ. When we return to the Sanctuary, I plan to add an additional time of conversation with children that are older than the Children’s Time. This will include children of elementary school age and youth (who I hope are will to come and spend a moment with this Senior Pastor). It will be called Life Lessons for Young People. I will speak about life and faith matters in a brief time together during worship. Hope Murphy and her volunteers do a marvelous job with Children’s Time. What I will be doing will be in addition to what they are doing. It’s a new idea. I hope our people will participate. I’ve been known to call some adults to come forward and join in too because we are all children of God no matter our age.
- I’m asking Margaret to utilize an alternate tune for the Doxology. The hymn tune is LASST UNS ERFREUEN, and once we use hymnals it can be found on page 94 of the United Methodist Hymnal. Come prepared for something to be new! We will also use some unison Confession Prayers in the new year as well as using the Psalter with Choral responses once we can return to hymnal usage.
- I like hymn sing moments in worship. I plan to also implement the use of hymn sings periodically. Seasonally, these moments can be good for our time together. I want to also applaud the work that Margaret does for this church. She is an excellent musician and director of all things music. I love that she can be counted on! Every time we gather for worship, the music lifts us upward. The special music is very good and I appreciate her hard, faithful work during this pandemic as she continues to ensure that our worship is infused with wonderful music and singing.
- We will continue to have blended worship music while in the LMR. The music provided in our services during this time is excellent. The 10:50 band is a group of highly gifted persons who love the Lord, and their music reflects that love and their commitment to lead people in worship. We are fortunate to have such a band as a part of John Wesley Church. I’m thankful that we can offer both styles of worship (contemporary and traditional) for those seeking worship opportunities on Sunday mornings.
- The mark of a great church is its warmth and friendliness. When we are able to move about and greet people at worship, I’m going to ask all our people to keep an eye out for new faces and when you see them to go and greet them. Some folks are afraid to do this because when you have multiple services no one wants to greet someone who is already a member. That’s why many don’t greet a new face. To help with that I suggest that you approach a face that is new to you and say, “Hi, I’m thus and so. How are you today? Your face is new to me.” Better to risk greeting someone who is already a member than to have someone new go forth from our place of worship and say, “No one spoke to me at church.” It is true that such a person will tell at least 9 other people this news. And each of those 9 in turn will tell at least 9 others. The lack of church warmth and greeting spread exponentially.Howard Olds said, “The Master Designer of the Universe still makes house calls.” In this House…God is here.
Week of January – First week of January – Happenings at John Wesley in the New Year
The current state of the church, I believe, is one of hope and anticipation for the New Year. All of us hope for better times in 2021 minus a pandemic that has brought more than its fair share of changes to our way of living and even in being the church. Yet, we have persevered and are continuing to serve the Lord and do ministry in His name. Some of the things coming our way in January 2021 are below:
- First week of January – the renovations to the Sanctuary begin. Our time to be out of the Sanctuary has been increased and rather than Easter as a return date…it looks like it will be Mother’s Day before we get back in. The refurbishing of the pews is going to take longer than originally projected and thus we will be out of the Sanctuary for a longer period of time. While the renovations are taking place, we will worship in the LMR. The services will be at 8:30 and 11:00 each Sunday. The music will be a blend of traditional and contemporary. Margaret Downs will offer good music as she always prepares. The 10:50 band will provide good, contemporary music for our worship time. Due to social distancing protocols we will need to continue using the sign-up genius weekly for these services.
- Beginning January 10, we will start Camp Meeting Sundays. I have spoken with Regi Thackston about the beginning of Camp Meetings a number of years ago. In its original arrangement the pastors preached in addition to testimonies given and we will employ that plan again. Because we cannot handle hymnbooks, we cannot have the calling out of hymns to sing in the services. Therefore, we have selected hymns from the Cokesbury hymnal for the hymn sing. An individual will share a testimony talking about their connection to God. These individuals have been instructed to share whatever the Lord puts on their heart. It will be an exciting time. The pastors will not robe and the order of service will be less formal in structure. The preaching from me during the camp Meeting Sundays will focus on a “return to basics of the faith.” I will be speaking about “Salvation by Faith,” “Grace: God’s Amazing Grace,” and “Assurance: What God gives can be counted on!” It will give us all a chance to consider those truths from God that establishes our faith and keeps us secure in our faith. God never fails us!
- The Church committees will meet in January on their respective Mondays as we begin our new quarterly meetings. I’m sure there will be some questions as we live into this new approach. Be patient. It works! It also helps with nominating people to serve when we can share that there are not twelve meetings a year. The Trustees at their first meeting will be required to elect a new Chair. They are the only committee per the Discipline that elects their own Chair. The Chairs of other committees comes through the Lay Leadership Committee. I think it is important for each individual committee to select a Vice-Chair for their committee.
- The Finance Committee meets January 18. They have been at work “creating” a manageable budget for our congregation. It’s important to note that the budget of the church is not “money.” It is a guide or a plan for the ministry we can do with faithful giving. The church has no product to sell and cannot project revenue based upon profit or loss. Our budget is detailed and is a plan. If the giving supports the church in the way we hope then our plan can be implemented. If not, the plan will need adjusting. This is why I have asked for 100% participation in the “Step Onto the Water” cards. It is a way for every member to say, “Count on me!”
We understand that what a person gives is between that person and God, but we ask if you are comfortable to let us in on it. The church never releases the information given to us. Your pastors do not look at the record of giving because it is a sacred matter between you and God. I do not wish to know what a person gives. It’s private. Yet, what John Wesley Church can do and cannot do is determined by giving. With the uncertainty of what the pandemic will do and how long it will last…2021 could begin just as 2020 ended.
Our spending may well be less because the church will continue to work on a “revamped style of ministry.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan and be ready for the time when the pandemic ends. Ministry areas and Program areas have made conservative requests for the new year. The cost of keeping the church open will probably continue to be down early into 2021 because there will be less going on as we have already experienced. Trying to budget into the face of a pandemic is like “playing darts in the fog.” I appreciate the work of the Finance Committee is putting together a good plan for John Wesley.
- Later in 2021, we will begin conversation about a Capital Campaign. The renovations being done are being supported by a $500,000 line of credit secured. This was arranged prior to my arrival, but it is a good thing because the work being done needs to be done as quickly as possible to refurbish our building with its many needs. No Charge Conference was called to get this line of credit because the Discipline indicates that when what you are seeking is less than 25% of the total value of the buildings…no Charge Conference must be called nor does the District Buildings and Location Committee need to be consulted. Roughly, our buildings’ value is above six million and the $500,000 falls well below the 25% number the Discipline addresses. An older building must have care. Thank goodness that our leadership wants to address those needs. It is money well spent. It helps secure a positive future for John Wesley.
God’s Spirit is alive and well here in our church. The best days of John Wesley are ahead of us…not behind us. Keep people in prayer as Covid continues to impact people and their lives. Pray for the church as we continue moving slowly to recover the “normal” we all covet. That day is coming. The pandemic will end. And all of us will be stronger because we stood together hand in hand with the Lord to withstand this virus and what it is trying to do to our world.