Typically, spring cleaning in the churchyard is for the faithful few. No different as any other year; the remnant picked up trash, raked leaves, and pulled weeds. Those clearing brush leaning heavily on a side wall were spooked when a fawn leaped up trying desperately to stabilize herself on wobbly legs before making a getaway.
Recently born, she was now alone, vulnerable, and at risk. What was to happen to her? Was she abandoned? Apparently not, for the mother deer was not far keeping a covert eye on her young. We never imagined our churchyard offered this kind of sanctuary.
We face many challenges, struggles, and threats, often on a daily basis. Even as a church we face challenges not thought of before as the pandemic has brought them to us. Many smaller churches were not ready for the technology demanded by online worship. Spooked, we flee on wobbly legs as we attempted to find our footing.
At Suamico United Methodist Church, a beautiful worship space has been provided, with
technology and volunteer help that allows us to do a great job. Each Sunday, the remnant gathers to offer praise and thanksgiving, to hear God’s word read and explained, and for prayers to be offered as we seek God’s help. After all, there has to be a service to live stream so worship can be meaningful.
Our worship space offers sanctuary where we may be embraced in God’s love. But be ever so sure that the sanctuary, God’s dwelling place, is less a place, a location, and far more a relationship, which must be cultivated. We find safety in relation to God, as we trust, rely upon, and take refuge in God. Many of the psalms express the soul’s longing for God, for sanctuary in God’s love.
Worship in the sanctuary also allows us to gather with the faithful trusting that God’s presence is among us. Obviously, online streaming has facilitated our worship, and while we encourage our members to engage in in-person worship as they feel safe, we must guard against feeling it is less convenient as we prefer to worship in our pajamas, comfy in our lounge chair.
By all means, do whatever is safe and healthy for you but try to get back to in-person worship as soon as you are able. Our community needs your presence more than you imagine.
Graham N. West, pastor
Happy New Year!
Growing up in South Africa, I was always impressed that Africans celebrated with dance and song. As a communal people, they sure know how to celebrate. They also know how to move in rhythm and to sing with joy. As they do, you will hear long, wavering, high-pitched trilling as the tongue moves rapidly back and forth. The howl is as much a lament at funerals as it is a shrill at weddings.
Ready to get his feet wet in public ministry, Jesus stepped forward and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. As he came out dripping wet, the heavens trilled as the Spirit of God came upon him. Then a voice said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Heaven was ululating in celebration of God’s Son. A thrilling acclimation of Jesus filled his heart with affirmation, love, and joy that would carry him through days of challenge and opposition, of disappointment, betrayal, and denial. This ululating also championed him and nerved his will with robust, rigorous faith while not diminishing the tenderness and mercy of God’s love in him.
As those baptized, we step forward to engage daily life with its love, goodness, and blessings while also facing challenges, struggles, and conflicts, questioning whether we have what it takes to be faithful followers of Christ.
The new year will present many opportunities for you to show your commitment and faithfulness to Christ. Some are sure to bless you and enrich your spirit. Others will stretch and challenge you even causing you to bow low. As always, we can only prayerfully do the best we can, assured that God looks upon us with love, forgiving our shortcomings and strengthening our attempts to be the best we can be for God.
Step out into this new year listening to the ululating, the thrill that celebrates you as a daughter/son ever sure that God’s presence is with you, God’s Spirit empowers you, and that Christ infuses you with his love.
Best wishes, Graham N. West, pastor
Lighted trees, colorful greetings and familiar carols let it be known that Christmas will soon be with us. Let’s be sure that something wonderful is about to happen.
Christmas is predicated on many promises yet we come at it each year wondering what’s different to the year before. Our world gets darker, even scarier. Life’s perplexities are as confusing. People are just as impatient and self-centered. Where is the Prince of Peace? Where is the One born Savior of the world? Is God really with us?
As always, we are challenged by God’s gift of freewill. God sets these promises in motion yet we have the freedom to accept them or not. Like Mary, those who choose to do life God’s way discover they have immense capacity to make a world of difference.
Mary is known as the God-bearer. Those who take up Christ’s way, who allow him to be born in them, also become God-bearers. Do others see Christ in you? Do they come to know God because your life reveals divine love? Does your witness make for a world of difference? I imagine that Mary had no aspirations of being the God-bearer but her simple yes to the invitation enabled her to make an impact for God. Your yes to God enables you to make a world of difference through your faithfulness, activism for Christ and by serving the cause of peace with justice.
Let me thank you for your faithfulness to your church community. The pandemic has made it more challenging than most imagine but with your generosity of spirit, we continue to love and serve. Take a chance on us, and come for Christmas. A special music Sunday is planned for December 19 with candlelight services on Christmas Eve. A warm, heartfelt welcome awaits.
Christmas is also a season of generosity. Thank you for your financial gifts throughout the year. It would be helpful to your church if you reviewed your giving and considered a year-end gift to ensure we come out on the right side. Keep in mind that the pandemic has led to fewer services this year with the significant loss of offerings. Closing the gap would be highly appreciated by your church.
Christmas blessings, Graham N. West, pastor