Holy Week – March 28 – April 3 – God gives the good things but we must search for them
When my Cooper was just a little boy, I took him to see Disney’s The Shaggy Dog. We got our drinks, popcorn, and treats, and followed directions to the auditorium. It became an afternoon of pure enjoyment! Not only was the movie a lot of fun and laughs, but the chance to bring a smile to the face of my child was quite satisfying. As we sat together and ate popcorn and laughed, I could not help but think how God grants us the good things in life.
1. God gives us the inclination to smile and laugh and to enjoy life rather than to view it as a drudge.
2. God gives us energy and wisdom and strength to get up each day and make the most of it.
3. God grants us a song within our soul because his love breeds joy.
4. God grants us the peace that comes when we spend moments in communion with him.
5. God speaks back to hearts that speak to him.
6. God’s hands hold and sustain us no matter what life inflicts.
7. God knows our names and invites us daily to spend time in his hand.
8. God helps us to know that we are never alone.
God grants us the good things of life, but we are responsible to do the searching.
Holy Week invites us to search for truth found in Jesus Christ. No one and nothing can offer us what the Lord brings. As this Holy Week unfolds, I invite you to seek Him and to do so through reading the stories of His life in the Bible. Listen as he speaks about what “the kingdom of God” is like. Join with Him in an Upper Room for a sacred meal that will help us “remember him.” Pray with him for one hour as he encouraged his disciples to do. Hear his cries in the garden as he declares: “Not my will, but thine.” Stand with Jesus in the farce of a trial that makes a Godly man a vile offender in the eyes of his peers. Realize how much he was hated by those who conspired against him. Hatred makes strange bedfellows as Jewish leaders conspired with their enemies, the Romans, to get a death sentence placed upon the Lord’s shoulders. Listen as Peter, his friend and disciple, denies knowing him. Listen to the sounds of cruelty as he is tortured and scourged (a cat of nine tails is the weapon and a whip with a bone chip on the end of it). Most criminals didn’t survive the scourging. Raise your voice to choose Jesus as the crowds shout “Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!” Walk the Via Dolorosa to Calvary. See people spit on him as he carried the patibulum (the crossbar for the cross). Hear the whips crack as he is given forty lashes before he is nailed to the cross. Shiver as the loud sound of hammering pierces the air as will his shouts of pain when he is nailed to the tree. He is hung on the cross naked before the world as a final act of humiliation. Listen as he cries out, “It is finished!”
That signals a beginning for us. We move to the glory of Easter, but must go through the suffering and death on the cross for this to happen. We cannot skip over the pain and agony or the cross and just move to a happy ending. The cross and the resurrection go together. The question for Easter Sunday will be, “What do I do with all I know?”
For Your Consideration…
There will be people present Sunday who are new faces among us. There will be large families attending. Our hope is that no one will be “turned away” due to space. It’s why we are offering 3 identical services Sunday and no Sunday School. Our space is limited to 175 at each service. By offering 3 services, there will be time to take pictures at the floral living cross. We make this request of our members. If you regularly attend the 8:30 or 11:00 a.m. service, please consider making your Easter worship experience at the 9:45 service. So many people think of the two traditional times. Because there will be no sign-up genius let the church office know this week if you are willing to worship at the 9:45 service. This will not be a signing up…we simply need an idea of how many families will consider worship at 9:45.
People will want to come to church because it was not possible last year. Easter, thought, recorded, and presented, was missed by the worshipping congregation. We do not want to turn anyone away. We will sit chairs in the hallways to accommodate. Yet, if some will move and attend the middle service it will be a help. Thank you for your understanding and willingness to help.
Week of March 8-15 – After CoVid, the Church Will Be Stronger Than Ever
The Great Divide used to be a clearly drawn line between what is right and what is wrong. That Great Divide is now between what is necessary and what is needful. Questions abound in this season of the Pandemic. There’s an overflow of information when Covid is mentioned. The governments across this nation have a plethora of methods to “deal” with this virus. Scientists implore us to listen to those who currently study the virus, and ask us to “follow the science” they reveal. Individuals have a variety of thoughts and ideas about what should be and what shouldn’t be. Churches formulate plans for their congregations and some choose to open for limited in-person worship opportunities and some remain closed choosing instead to livestream worship. Some people want the world to honor precautions and protocols and others want the world to reject them as intrusions into personal freedoms. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
John Wesley UMC has chosen to carefully open while observing protocols for safety and cleanliness. We are no different than any other place in the world. Whatever decision we make will be praised by some and strongly questioned by others. Our course has been to respect the choices our members make about attendance and participation. That will not change. Our words that “urge” people to connect to the church and return to the church are specifically “aimed” at those who do not restrict their going to a multitude of places. I believe, if people go to many, many places…that the church should be on the list. The safety of our members is our highest priority. For those who do not go many places and have health concerns or compromised immune systems…we respect your decisions to stay home.
We will not employ guilt or shame to get people to come to worship, Sunday School, youth, or children’s ministry. If parents have concerns about social distancing among children at church…we encourage those parents to be present at events and help your child practice social distancing. The church can speak about it, but we must also have adults helping young children to observe it. Wearing masks will not be lifted because the City of Charleston has not lifted its mask ordinance. Even folks who have been vaccinated are still required to wear a mask when gathering in church. The virus seems to be losing some of its spreading power, but safety protocols remain for now.
Every move we make as a church is steeped in prayer and covered by considerations of what will be safe. The Governor of our State recently lifted prohibitions on the numbers of people who can gather. The new number is 250. Our Administrative Council met on Monday evening to determine the number of persons we can invite to attend in person worship services. The decision is to move from 125 in each service to 175. We will continue using the sign-up genius for seating through the end of March. In Sunday School classes the space and current numbers remain the same. Our numbers for Sunday School spaces were computed earlier using the size of each room, and we presented that information so classes could make choices about attendance. With vaccinations present, the numbers in each class can carefully climb as determined by the class. With the weather getting warmer there could be a return to some outdoor classes and larger numbers.
We yearn for the day when everyone can return safely. Even when that day comes, there will be some concerns still among us. No one is going to ring a bell and say, “All clear!” We are on our own when it comes to making specific determinations. What the CDC provides is called “guideline.” Churches do not operate at the same speed as governments. Governments will give us important information, but they alone cannot make the choices we have to make. Governments provide relief and advise us. Government’s job is to lead…they do not rule. Our Democracy functions with leadership as its method. Government provides leadership to “help” our people and nation to have what we need to survive and to flourish. The Government respects the freedom we enjoy as individuals, and it is their mission not to “trample” on those freedoms.
Scientists study the virus and are very slow in doing so to ensure they are correct in their discoveries. In their studies, we must be reminded that they ask questions and create hypotheses. Questions will provide some answers, but questions will always generate more questions. Their questions and studies have provided us a vaccine in record time. These vaccinations will give people greater confidence to move forward and about day by day. We must thank government leaders for voting to fund creation of these vaccines, and thank the scientists for creating and distributing them to the American people. Do your best to find the right place and sign up for a vaccine.
The church lives by faith and by good sense. We do not believe that the Lord provides extra special protection to the Christian Church. The church doesn’t ignore the “science.” We cannot ignore safety and appropriate protocols…and we will not. However, it is important that we live by faith instead of fear. That said…we will make choices and decisions guided by “what we know” and “what we believe.” Jesus said a number of times, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” In those days, he spoke to the conditions surrounding people and calmed everything. Jesus pointed to faith in God as the means to security in the face of our frailty.
I am not afraid of the virus. It is a deplorable thing. I want science to study it less and work to destroy it more. Living in the face of a pandemic, I do all I can to be safe and to point people to good choices. I love what Psalm 27 declares:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
I believe I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your hearts take courage:
Wait for the Lord!
I said in a recent sermon that I believe that the Lord is delivering us from this pandemic. We are in a better place than we have been before. As almost a year has passed, we know so much more, and have less fear and uncertainty.
The church will never be the same some say, and I think they are right. The church will not decline or be permanently weakened by this “season of Covid.” The church will be stronger than ever. We will come back to the times we miss and enjoy our normalcy once more. Friends will be able to greet friends and pass the peace of Christ the old fashion way. Our God has declared that the Church…the body of Christ…will be preserved to the end of time to do its work, preach its mission, transform lives, and to grow in the number of those being saved. One thing the pandemic has not stolen from us is the ability to keep the “main thing the main thing.” Our mission is to lift up Christ, point people to Jesus and salvation, and to build the Kingdom of God on earth.
I am happy to be a part of a Church doing that.
Week of March 1-7 — Keep going
The late Reverend Dr. Howard Olds served the United Methodist Church faithfully until cancer ended his journey while serving as Senior Pastor of Brentwood UMC in Brentwood, Tennessee. Dr. Olds preached a Festival of Faith at First UMC in Myrtle Beach years ago while I was pastor, and was appreciated for his preaching style. His booming voice is not easily forgotten. In a collection of devotions written by him I found the following:
While I was enduring an extended stay in the hospital for cancer treatment, a friend sent me this quote from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” The sharp statement became my motto through the long days of recovery. Life does not promise us a rose garden. Sometimes the road is hard and downright difficult. People who know pain know what I am talking about. It feels like hell!
When life dumps us in some hellish spot like that, it is important to realize that it cannot last. No problem enjoys eternal life. Every difficulty has a life span. This, too, shall pass. The best thing we can do for the time being is endure the present in the sure and certain hope of a better future.
So, if you are going through hell, remember to keep going. Hell is no place to stop, give up, or throw in the towel. We are not meant to dwell in hell. There will be a better day. There will be a brighter tomorrow. The loving hand of the Almighty will lead you to a finer habitat. He will see you through. (J. Howard Olds, Faith Breaks, page 103)
These words could easily become our mantra. All of us face difficult times and hard choices. Every person struggles. Sometimes people let the struggles get the upper hand, and when that happens our spirits begin to live in negative ways. We become guided by pessimism rather than optimism. Optimism gets “kicked around” a lot because it is viewed as blind positive views. To the contrary, optimism is actually a viewpoint that seeks to be positive in the face of pain and to believe that God has the final word in all of our circumstances. Though “hell” strikes at the fiber of our Christian faith, we keep going. We place our hands into God’s hand, and ask that the Lord lead us to the conclusion of our trials, tribulations, troubles, or journey. This pandemic is a prime example of how we can “trust God to see us through.” My heart hurts over the loss of people! My heart is encouraged by the “discoveries” made and the advances “science” is harvesting to combat this virus. Even though the realities have been bad…the future is filled with hope. We will make it through this hell and life will be free of this one day, I believe.
When we walk with God and are alive in Christ, we see pain and hurt and frustrations as “momentary intrusions.” As we read the Bible, we discover a multitude of stories that teach us how to “keep the faith” and to “remain connected to God.” When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he shared some important words about being alive in Christ.
Christ is your hope.
Live your lives in Jesus.
Be rooted and built up in him.
Like you were taught.
Without hope, we would be truly devastated when tough times come. But God has promised to walk with us through all times and circumstances. Though moments that are hard and challenging come…God’s promise to remain with us wins the day. That’s not optimism…that is hope. The author of hope walked to the cross and faced some very “hellish” moments. But Jesus knew God was walking with him. Jesus kept his eyes on the Father as he walked to the cross.
Where are our eyes focused? Do we view the pain and focus on it, or do we see God walking with us all along the way and accept the hope God provides? Even when the circumstances bring hard realities…our Hope is in the name of the Lord. Don’t quit! Keep going!
Week of February 2-8 — The Purpose of Prayer
Former CBS anchor Dan rather found himself unprepared for a television interview with Mother Teresa several years ago. Ron Mehl described the newsman’s encounter this way:
Somehow, all of his standard approaches and formula questions were inadequate for the task, and the little nun from Calcutta, sitting beside him so sweetly and tranquilly, didn’t seem inclined to make his task easier.
“When you pray,” asked Rather, “What do you say to God?”
“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.”
Rather tried another track. “Well, okay…when God speaks to you, then, what does he say?”
“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”
Rather looked bewildered. For an instant, he didn’t know what to say.
“And if you don’t understand that,” Mother Teresa added, “I can’t explain it to you.”
(Charles Swindoll, So, You Want to be like Christ, pages 61-62)
There’s a great deal that we do not understand about prayer. The purpose of prayer is to draw us closer to God. Prayer is a yielding exercise. It is not a list of things we want God to do. It is a time to talk about real struggles and circumstances that cause us to question our faith. It is a time to confess our shortcomings and to admit that being “spiritual” and “faithful” are not the same thing. We can believe in God and still hold God at arm’s length. Acknowledging God is not actually “plugging into” God’s power.
The function of prayer is:
John Wesley and his friends gave us a prayer to use:
Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy Holy Name; through Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Prayer is so important. That is why I want to invite our congregation to begin a specific time of praying each day. The earlier in the day you can, the better it will be. There are few meetings or schedules in the early, early mornings to conflict with prayer time. John Wesley advised the people called Methodists to rise by 5:00 a.m. and spend an hour in prayer. While I don’t think many adhere to those today, I call on you to use early mornings for prayer. There are some specific matters about which to pray.
First, spend some time reconciling with God. All of us fall short of God’s glory and need to repent and seek to heal our broken state with God. God’s love can help a multitude of things.
Second, pray for the work being done in the Sanctuary. It is a huge undertaking and the work is going well. Let’s pray that all can stay on schedule and we can return to the Sanctuary by Mother’s Day. Also, thank God for the attention the Trustees have given to this project and the time they have spent on it. Kristen Colvin is the outgoing chair and will remain connected until the project is completed. Gordon Morgan is our new chair of trustees.
Pray about the beginning of Lent. This begins a journey to the cross as we follow the life and teachings of Jesus and revisit his death for us. We will have a specific mission emphasis for Lent that will be forthcoming.
Pray about giving. One of the realities of this covid pandemic time is that giving becomes a bit more of a challenge. We normally give into the offering plates on Sunday, but with covid protocols, we do not pass the plates. They are stationed at the exits for giving when we depart from worship. We also have online giving opportunities and we thank those who do this. The postal service is our other means for receiving offerings. The church is doing its best to live conservatively and be very responsible in its spending. Thank you for faithful giving. Giving is one thing that we can still accomplish in these changing times. Please be reminded that our giving is not to a budget, but to God. It is a result of our relationship with the Almighty, and it is one component that helps define our relationship with God.
At the recent Finance and Administrative Council meetings, a budget was approved for 2021. It is $1,192,187.25 and represents a 6.8% reduction ($87,925.91) of the 2020 budget. John Wesley Church also qualifies for the second round of PPP funds provided to help businesses continue at a level of quality that is important to the future.
We still need to hear from some who will commit to support the church in 2021. We don’t need amounts. We just need a “yes” or a “no.” Please respond to the Financial Office if you are willing to participate in our Stewardship efforts. We have heard from 133 thus far. Please pray about it and let us hear from you.
Week of January 26-Feb 1st — Traits of Church Leaders
Something that I say on occasion is that “some people have character and some people are characters.” During my recent study leave where I prepare a six-month preaching schedule and select preaching texts, hymns, and other aspects of worship, I found myself thinking about Christian Leadership. Some years ago, a friend of mine, The Reverend Dr. Bill Bouknight, gave me what he calls “The Marks of a Christian Leader” and I want to share his list with you. Here it is:
1. Have a personal testimony and look for opportunities to share it. (II Peter 3:15) A. How I came to know Jesus as Savior and Lord? B. What difference has Jesus Christ made in my life?
2. Have a daily, disciplined time with God, for Bible Study and Prayer. (Mark1:35) (Luke 18:1)
3. Attend worship each weekend unless prevented by illness or another commitment of very high priority. (Luke 4:16) (Acts 2:46) (Hebrews 10:25)
4. Be part of a small group, focused on Christian growth and fellowship. (Acts 2:42)
5. Identify at least one of your spiritual gifts and use it in a church-related ministry. (I Cor. 12:7) (Eph. 4:11-13)
6. Tithe (Malachi 3:8-10) (I Cor. 16:2) (Luke 11:42)
7. Put the church in your will (Luke 12:20) (I Timothy 6:17-19)
8. Conduct your personal and professional life so that if details were publicized, the church would not be embarrassed. (Eph. 5:15-18)
It’s a good list and it speaks to leadership in the church. The church grants influence to the world and actually empowers people to follow Christ. In creating Christian leaders, God does not seek to micro-manage our lives and make us puppets. The Lord seeks to empower leadership by inviting people to follow him. He imparts His spirit within our hearts and souls and sends us forth to do the work of ministering to this world. I find that the world has an absence of Godly character in it because we, as Christians, do not shine the light of Christ enough. People need to have faith modeled before them in order to see how important it is. Too often, we practice our faith inside the church, but do not get outside the church’s doors to make a difference in the world. I understand this because sometimes the world community acts as though it is allergic to expressions of faith. When athletes want to give glory to God for their ability to play and compete…some television interviewers work hard to immediately cut that off or change the subject. There seems to be a need for real Christian character to be on display. That is my belief.
Andy Stanley, in his book Louder Than Words declares this: We can all name various traits that a person with character demonstrates, but what is it? Everybody agrees that character is important. But without a clear working definition, a target to shoot, we are easily deceived into thinking that we are, in fact, men and women of character….and that it’s everybody else who has a problem. In some circles, people are considered to have character if their behavior is friendly or nice. Others define character as standing up for one’s beliefs. The rightness or wrongness of those beliefs is rarely questioned. The fact that a man or woman takes a stand is enough to brand him or her as an individual of character. Bottom line, in our culture character is a moving target. It is subject to personality, mood, background, economic status, religious affiliation…the list is endless. The Bible presents an entirely different picture of character. Good character is nothing less than a reflection of the character of God. (Andy Stanley, Louder Than Words, pages 27-28)
I agree with Andy. Anyone can be nice. Anyone can stand and render opinions until the Lord comes back. Anyone can be divisive. Anyone can be negative. The ability to do those things does not mean we are people of character. Reflecting God defines character. Standing for God’s truth, uniting rather than dividing, building up rather than tearing down, being loving rather than ugly are important to having character rather than being characters. Christian character depends on God. It is God who helps us lead our world to understanding that our mission is point to the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
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.