People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
It is hard for us to imagine why the original disciples tried to prevent people from bringing children to Jesus. What was their problem? Were they too busy to be bogged down with something (or someone) that seemed so insignificant? Were they afraid of wasting their valuable time playing games? Or did they simply conclude that children didn’t have anything to offer them?
Whatever they were thinking, it seems that they were too caught up in what they thought was important to recognize what really mattered. They had a lot of responsibilities; from scheduling to crowd control. With so many tasks to perform, and so many people coming to them, it would have been easy for them to lose sight of the fact that Jesus came not to create the perfect institution, but to share God’s perfect love. What the original disciples saw as an irritation was actually the whole purpose of their mission; to touch the lives of all God’s chil- dren and offer them the hope of new life.
September 10 is Rally Day at First UM Church. Sunday School will resume with classes and activities for all ages. It is also a time for all of us, the young and not quite so young, to ac- cept Jesus’ invitation to return from the busyness of sum-
mer and receive the kingdom of God with a child-like pres-
ence. Through worship, fellowship, service and the oppor- tunity to grow together, we come in the assurance that God’s grace is available for us all.
We hope you can join us as we celebrate together the ac- cepting and renewing presence of God’s unconditional love.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ;
It is with great joy that Cal and I look forward to being a part of the First Church family and your ministry to the neighbors in the Lakes Region and the world. Let me take a moment to share a little bit about my faith journey.
My journey began growing up at East Parish United Methodist Church in Salisbury, Mass., a small vacation community just over the border from Seabrook. (Although just outside the state boundaries, the congregation was a part of the former New Hampshire Annual Confer- ence,) The nurturing faith of Sunday School teachers and pastors gave me a understanding of the caring love of Jesus. Also, the youth group gave me my first exposure to ministry beyond the church walls; including English tutoring in Lawrence and a service project to the Laconia State School.
It was at this point in my life where I first started hearing God’s call to ministry. However, it would take a while for me to truly understand what that call would mean. This understand- ing became more clear during my years at West Virginia Wesleyan College and United Theo- logical Seminary in Dayton, Ohio; not only through excellent education, but by allowing me to experience ministry in a variety of circumstances and cultures.
This variety has continued in my life as a pastor. I have served communities from the White Mountains, to the Canadian border in Maine, to the inner-city of Springfield, Mass. While each community has been unique, with their own circumstances and needs, there is a com- mon need among us all to know that there is a God who loves and strengthens us and to ex- perience that caring through the witness of those who follow Jesus.
This, I believe, is what defines ministry in the 21st century. It goes without saying that the world around us has changed considerably since many of us began our journeys of faith. Sometimes it is hard for us to keep up. However, while the circumstances in which we serve Jesus have changed, the need for those around us to experience the love of God in relevant and vibrant ways is as real as ever. Celebrating that love and sharing it with our neighbors is at the core of who we are called to be as the “people called Methodists”. Cal and I are ex- cited to continuing on that journey with each of you.
Peace, Pastor Jim
Dear Friends, ‘
Since I will be sending out a special Easter message in a special mailing, I want to focus this pastoral letter on the recent announcement that I have accepted an appointment to the New Covenant United Methodist Church in East Hartford, CT., effective July 1. Many of you are already aware of this announcement, but no doubt there are others who are hearing about it for the first time here in this newsletter. In either case, I wanted to share a few thoughts about my impending transfer.
Here is the primary thing that I want my beloved church family to understand. This de- cision is in no way prompted by anything that has happened to me or my family during our time here at FUMC, or by any concerns I might have about FUMC’s future, or by any sense that FUMC is anything but a great church with a great future ahead of it. You all have been no less than loving and supportive of me and my family from the moment we arrived here nearly four years ago. This church is gifted with many committed followers of Jesus, and many leaders who give so much of themselves. It is involved in vital and important ministry in our region. The presence of so many retired clergy in the congregation is a wonderful resource that any intelligent pastor would give his or her eye teeth to have at their disposal. In many ways, it has been a dream church to serve.
So why, then, did I accept an appointment to another church? The simplest answer is that as time has gone by, I have experienced a growing desire to get back to a more urban en- vironment. I recognize that for many people, living in the Lakes Region is like heaven and earth. To be sure, it has much to offer in terms of natural beauty and opportunities for enjoy- ing the great outdoors. But as a city guy, I found myself longing for a busier, more crowded, more diverse environment in which to live and to serve. As I neared my 60th birthday I began to see that if there was ever a time for me to respond to that longing, it needed to be now. And so I shared with my district superintendent that if a church in a more urban setting be- came available I would be open to hearing about it. When the opportunity to serve in East Hartford was presented to me, it felt right, and so, with no small amount of bittersweet feel- ings, I said yes to this new appointment.
And so, we are in transition—the church, yes, but also me and my family, as well as the pastor who will replace me and his family and the church he is serving. I invite you to join me in praying for all of us—pray that as we experience all the various feelings and uncertainties that come with this sort of transition, we would be open to the ways our unchanging God is present for us on the journey. We have these next few months together to share with each other, to say goodbye properly, to prepare to receive a pastor, and, lest we forget, to continue to be co-creators with God, as together we build an Evergreen community of faith, where people are invited to experience spiritual, emotional, and physical vitality in all stages of life.
Grace and peace,
This is my last pastoral letter that will appear in the Traveler, and it is one of many “lasts” that we are experiencing together during this time of pastoral transition. With each of these “lasts,” the reality that as of July 1, I will no longer be your pastor becomes more real. As you can imagine, there are many different emotions that make their way through my heart and mind. It seems to me that those feelings are best conveyed face to face, and so I will attempt to do so in the weeks that remain, whether in sermons, group presentations, or personal conversation.
By the time you receive this edition of The Traveler, Lent will almost be upon us. Lent begins, of course, on Ash Wednesday, which takes place this year on March 1. As an appropriate way of starting this holy season, our church will once again offer an Ash Wednesday ser- vice at 7:00 PM that evening, led by the Rev. Vickie Wood Parrish. I encourage you to make every effort to attend.
As far as other special Lenten offerings happening here at FUMC, one of the wonderful traditions that has taken hold at our church are the weekly Lenten Soup and Study gatherings. As we continue this tradition, this year we will be studying World Religions utilizing a wonder- ful resource put together by the Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, called Christianity and World Religions: Wrestling with Questions People Ask, starting on March 8 at 6:00 PM, and continuing for the next five weeks, ending on April 12. As we enjoy wonderful and warming bowls of soup, we will watch a 15 minute video presenta- tion in which Rev. Hamilton will share some of the basic beliefs of some of the world’s major religious traditions, and how those beliefs compare to our beliefs as Christians. Following the video, I will lead a conversation about the content presented in the video. For those wishing to delve a little deeper, copies of the book on which the video presentations are based will be available for purchase on March 8. The cost of the book will be $8.00. The book is also avail- able on amazon.com in Kindle format for those who prefer that option. While you can profita- bly participate in these sessions without reading the book, I can assure you that doing so will make these sessions even more enlightening and meaningful.
Why study the faiths of other people? There are two reasons. First, the world is be- coming increasingly smaller and more interrelated, making it more important than ever for us to have a better understanding of the faiths that shape the habits, customs, beliefs, and values of billions of people all over the world. And of course, it is increasingly true that those who practice these other faiths are not just living in countries far away from us, but are, in fact, our neighbors, co-workers, and in some cases, family members. Harmony and understanding, if not survival, have become dependent upon our willingness to learn about each other.
Second, learning about the faith of others helps us learn more about our own faith.
We often hear people saying that all religions are basically the same, but that is simply not the case. While there are certainly common threads that appear in many of the world’s major religious traditions, there are also stark differences between the various religions of the world that cannot entirely be reconciled. Learning about these differences causes us to look at our own faith in new and enriching ways. Speaking for myself, I would have to say that my study of the other major faith traditions has made me a stronger Christian, while at the same time enabling me to more meaningfully and respectfully participate in dialogue with people of other faiths.
For these reasons, as well as for the opportunity to share time and fellowship with folks from my church family, I am eager to encourage as many of you as possible to participate as often as possible in these Soup and Study gatherings, and look forward to sharing these times with many of you.
In Evergreen love, Pastor Tom