Doug is coming today. He will stay about a week. His peeps are going on a trip. I erected a temporary gate so he doesn’t stray off the deck. He is so people-friendly that he would go with anyone who pets him. He loves it when you stroke his belly.
A mix between a border collie and a retriever, he is our grand-dog. He is not so much a herder, frankly, he couldn’t care about other dogs. Placid in personality, they bark at him, especially the smaller yappers, but he is unperturbed. A rabbit or squirrel may get him riled up as he wants to go after it.
The temporary gate is more a deterrent than anything else. I have erected it more than once. It’s a bit of a balancing act as it doesn’t cover the stairwell, and I have to bolster it with wooden blocks. Tighten the bolts on one side, the blocks fall off the other. Want to hear a pastor utter colorful language?
Doug likes to be in the cool of the deck. His long-haired black coat is often too warm for him, so lying on the deck is a comfortable compromise. Occasionally, he will lift his head, sniff the breeze, and settle in a comfortable position again.
What gates do you have that act as deterrents to you or to your faith? I often hear about gates that keep us fenced in: “I did that when my kids were younger; now they are grown.” “My age keeps me from getting up early for worship.” “Those younger parents should teach at Faith Finders; I’ve had my turn.” “I helped build this church and its faith community; others must step up.”
Sometimes the gates we erect are about bad feelings: “I miss the old sanctuary.” “I don’t like the new building.” “Live streaming causes copyright issues.” “Why can’t we sing our favorite hymns?” “So and so hurt my feelings: who does she think she is?” “I can’t understand the pastor.” “Must I sing so many verses of the hymn?” “I don’t want to do that!”
The pandemic sure erected gates and fences: wash your hands, keep your distance, or don’t cough openly. It kept us in a lockdown position; gradually these restrictions have been eased but some haven’t come back to worship. Others prefer the convenience of watching online where pajamas are the new norm. I don’t have to sing the hymns and prefer just to watch rather than worship.
The trouble with gates is that they imply fences, those barriers we erect to keep us safe, disengaged, and consoled.
I am waiting for the day when Doug realizes that the gate is just a deterrent, a pushover if he leans heavily on it. I am praying that whatever gate or fence you have erected, you will push over so you can be free. Climb the fence and roam free.
Spring blessings, Graham N. West, pastor
It is traditional to sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” (UMH 302) on Easter Sunday. In some congregations, it is accompanied by trumpets and fanfare. The joy of our Easter celebration should ring out and shake the heavens. But how can we rejoice this year when the Ukrainian people are suffering at the hand of Russian invaders? I feel more akin to singing “When we are called to sing your praise with hearts so filled with pain” (FWS 2216).
Who would have thought that our world would be in this predicament as an empire invades a neighbor? The unrelenting bombing has caused widespread destruction as buildings have been demolished and reduced to rubble and debris. It’s unimaginable to me that a building sheltering refugees, mothers and their children, could be targeted, not to mention local schools, hospitals, businesses and gathering places. Imagine turning to look over your shoulder at your home to see it as rubble and debris. What must this shelling do to the people? What trauma must it instill? What paralyzing fear must settle on the children?
How can we celebrate Easter with hearts so filled with pain?
Unsettling grief also stalked that first Easter as the womenfolk made their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. It was only days before that they stood at the cross witnessing his tragic death, gruesomely, cruelly executed to crush the movement of God in our world. Now those women stand at the entrance of the empty tomb wondering what happened to their Lord and Savior.
So we stand with the people of Central Europe wondering whether God hears our cries, listens to our prayers, and pays attention to our pleadings.
Christians throughout the ages have found themselves in similar predicaments when persecution was unleashed, and cruelty meted out, as faithful followers confessed that God will save them, and even if God didn’t save them, they would not bow the knee to ungodly rulers. They stood firm in faith and pushed back against the rulers, authorities, the forces of darkness as they trusted themselves to God.
We stand with the people of Ukraine as we share their pain at such cruel suffering.
How shall we push back? Since the beginning, Christians have pushed back by offering praise to God. Singing our praise declares that our trust is in God, and our hope is in the victory that Christ enacted on the cross. Even though our hearts are filled with pain yet we will rejoice in the Lord.
So it will soon be Easter. Despite the sadness and the pain, we will sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” for indeed he is our assurance, our hope, and our victory. Whatever may happen in Ukraine, we declare to the principalities and powers that our God reigns, and we have every hope in what is yet to come. As Wesley said, the best is yet to be!
Easter blessings, Graham N. West, pastor
Avoid 10:30 am in Greenville - that’s when they head out.
Within a short distance behind us, is an Amazon Distribution Center, or Fulfillment Center. It is strategically located allowing its vans to head out daily on a network of highways that take them in every direction.
I have tried on various occasions to count the number of vans in the parking lot, or should I say lots as they have commandeered adjoining lots for parking. I have to count quickly as they are moving to load up and get going, say 150 vans, maybe 200.
The vans head out about 10:30 am, a long line like ants, first picking up their cargo for the day at the center, and then hitting the highways. When they return at the end of the day, mostly after dark, they first gas up at local service stations, then return to the center, and eventually to the parking lot, filling the spots to capacity.
I tell you this because that’s what the church is meant to be. Typically, we gather for worship on Sundays, then after the benediction, we scatter into the community, heading in various directions, wherever our daily activities take us.
It was always intended that our scattering was the way the gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ would be shared in the communities where we live. Faithful followers of Christ would carry the message of God’s love to the localities where they lived, worked, served, socialized, and hung out.
If the gospel is good news, and the people of our communities are in need of God’s love, then we should share it with them. Tell them about God’s love and its impact on your life, about Jesus Christ and his forgiveness, redemption, and healing.
Just tell them! Invite them! Host them!
We all have family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, people who daily cross our path in need of the love and grace of Christ more desperately than we imagine. So why hold back? Is it awkwardness, embarrassment, or clumsiness with our words?
Here’s an approach that may be helpful: Identify someone you would like to share with, or invite to church. Pray to ask for God’s help in doing so. Look for an opportunity to share or invite that person. Tell your story in simple terms: what God has done in your life. Invite them to church. Bring them or meet them, and host them during their visit. Then thank God for using you to share Christ’s love.
If every worshiper invited just one person, we could double the size of our congregation.
Every blessing, Graham N. West, pastor
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