February 27, 2010
Here is David’s recent analysis of who we are as disciples at First United Methodist Church. It grew out of discussion at the charge conference; he repeated it in last week’s sermon. We’re posting it here for easy access and reference.
Disciples of Jesus Christ here at First UMC are welcoming and inclusive – we work to keep barriers from getting in the way of community here – barriers of age, race, background, orientation. Disciples of Jesus Christ here are committed to growth – we see life as a journey. Disciples of Jesus Christ here want to bring out the best in each other, affirm our gifts. Disciples of Jesus Christ here ask questions – we want a faith that appeals to head, heart and hands, one that is open to mystery and complexity. Disciples of Jesus Christ here really want to make a difference in the world.
February 4, 2010
January 9, 2010
How odd to be typing the year “2010.” Time flies. It is also difficult to believe that I am in the middle of my fifth year as pastor here at First UMC.
As I look back at 2009, I find much to celebrate about our congregation and its ministry. We continue to engage in exceptional work with Lake Superior Elementary School. Our generosity as a congregation was evident in our help for a family this past Christmas. It was also evident in our weekly giving. In a difficult financial year, we were able to keep our situation pretty stable. We will finish the year with all our bills paid, including our commitment to giving to the world-wide mission of The United Methodist Church. We give a monthly gift to CHUM and continue to support the CHUM Gabriel Project which aids families throughout the year. We again hosted the Have a Heart Help a Neighbor fundraising event for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. Our church sponsored three blood drives in 2009. This summer a number of congregation members traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to help with on-going flood relief efforts. Our congregation actively supports the Opening Our Doors conference, a welcoming and learning event focused on GLBT inclusion. In 2010, we are the host congregation and we are providing tremendous leadership in the planning process. In December we hosted a community Blue Christmas service. We provide a safe place for children to learn about God’s love and to grow in their ability to live that love, and this includes children from Northwood Children’s home. This past summer youth from our church joined other local United Methodist youth in a trip to New York to learn more about hunger. Our music program involves many people and provides wonderful leadership for our worship. A host of small groups of church members meets regularly for learning and fellowship. Our church building is used extensively by the community for meetings, civic events, immunizations, and for noncustodial parental visitations coordinated by LSS and St. Louis County.
We have so much to celebrate, and the list above does not even include all the ways our members serve others through a variety of community organizations.
Personally, I would like to thank the congregation for their kindness in supporting my family as we experienced the death of my father in March. Your support meant so much to me and it was so meaningful to have had his memorial service at the church. I am also grateful for the responses received to the Pastor Feedback form the SPRC and I sent out this fall. I appreciate all that I heard through that process. The affirmations were wonderful and the constructive suggestions thoughtful. Thank you.
As we look to the future, there are a number of areas where we are making changes that I hope help position us for a strong future and areas where we will want to explore doing other new things.
Worship: The decision to move to a single worship service this fall has been affirmed by many, though not all. People generally like the renewed energy and greater sense of community that are being experienced. Average worship attendance has been about what it was last year with two worship services. This decision was not made simply for the benefit of those who are already a part of the congregation, however. It was also made so that we could put our best foot forward when people visit us. Our energy is contagious and its absence in worship unattractive to newcomers. We will continue the current Sunday schedule through the summer and it will be interesting to see how a somewhat earlier worship time affects summer worship attendance. All that said, worship is an area that we will continually need to explore as we move to the future. Our attendance appears stable, but I would like to see it grow. For a church with close to 600 members, I think we can do better than average 200 in worship. We will want to entertain ideas for alternative worship services, and will want to consider holding worship at times other than Sunday morning, in addition to Sunday worship.
Communications: Our world continues to develop new communication media at a rapid pace. As a church we are trying to use a variety of means for getting our message out. This year we are moving to a monthly newsletter and will make more use of our web site. We hope in the future to move to a primarily e-newsletter, with some print copies available and sent. Our church blog is up and running with information about the coming Sunday service posted early in the week. I have been posting my weekly sermons on a blog for quite some time now. We have yet to utilize fully our multi-media capacities during worship.
Social Ministry: We are a church deeply concerned about our community and our world. We are also not as strong as we could be in offering hands-on opportunities for our members to engage in a variety of ministries of care, compassion and justice. Lay pastors and communion servers do a wonderful job in caring for our shut-ins. We may be able to offer more when congregation families are in need, e.g. coordinate meals if needed in the face of an illness. I hope we might commit ourselves to a goal over the next couple of years of organizing and carrying out three hands-on ministry events per year in our community – things such as serving a meal at Damiano, CHUM, Union Gospel; packing food at Second Harvest; highway clean-up.
Doing and Being: I have often tried to make the case that Christian faith involves both inner work and outer work, a focus on our interior life and on working to transform the world. Anyone remember the mobius strip? Many congregations find one part of this more comfortable and congenial than the other. My sense is that we find the doing part more comfortable, even when doing is providing important and needed financial support for crucial ministries. I hope we continue to struggle with that inner/outer polarity, and provide more opportunities for exploration of the disciplines of the inner life: prayer, Scripture, small groups which combine inner work and outer work.
Planning: The Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church is asking every congregation to formulate a ministry plan. I hope we can take advantage of this request by engaging together in some deep reflection about who we are, what kind of disciples of Jesus Christ we want to form here, and how we can best serve the community and the world. There is always more good to be done in the community and world than we can do. How do we choose what fits us? What Christian values are most important to us as a church and how do we want to help people live out those values? A small planning team has begun discussing these issues and wider discussions will follow, including one during this church conference.