It has been my honor and privilege to serve as your pastor over these past 14 months. For most of these first months, I have been primarily in what I would call "listen, observe, and learn" mode as I have sought to get a "handle" on the unique characteristics of FUMC and the surrounding community.
What have I learned? I have learned that we have a wonderful church full of committed follow- ers of Jesus, many of whom are engaged in vital, life-changing ministry both within our church and out in the community. I have learned that we are a church full of gifted, talented folks with all sorts of wisdom and experience. I have also learned that we face some challenges as we look to the present and future of our church, and that those challenges must be faced if we are going to continue to be a vital presence for Christ in our community.
As time has gone by, some ideas that I believe can offer our church a map for our future have be- gun to gel in my heart and mind. Over the past few months, I have shared some of these ideas with our Administrative Council, and with their encouragement (along with some helpful questions and feed- back), am now prepared to share them with the congregation as a whole.
For that reason, I will be conducting a series of congregational meetings in order to share my pro- posals for our church's overall direction. The times of these meetings are as follows:
After worship on Sunday October 12 7:00 on Wednesday, October 22 2:00 on Thursday, October 23
7:00 on Thursday October 23
After worship on Sunday, October 26
The reason for holding multiple meetings is two fold. First, it is hoped that by offering several meetings at various times and dates, that everyone who wishes to will be able to attend a meeting. Sec- ond, assuming that these meetings will be somewhat evenly attended, multiple meetings will allow a small enough group of folks to enable time for questions, responses, and lively conversation. Each meet- ing will present the same information in more or less the same format, so there is no need for you to at- tend any more than one meeting, although you are welcome to do so if you wish.
There may well be additional steps taken to get this information out to the congregation as a whole and provide forums for further exploration, discussion, and refinements. My hope and expecta- tion is that this unfolding process will lead us to a vote on a concrete proposal at our annual church con- ference, which is taking place on November 30, and about which you will be hearing more in the weeks to come. Needless to say, these information meetings are very important to the future of our church, and I hope all of our members and friends will make every effort to attend whichever one is most con- venient for you.
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
With the fall comes the usual bustle of church activities, many of which you will be able to read about in this month's Traveler. Please allow me to use my space to promote two learning opportunities I hope you will be able to take advantage of.
Starting this month, I will be offering two studies that I am very excited about. The first of these studies is called Confronting the Controversies. As the title implies, this study will help us explore some of the tough issues facing our world, our nation, and our church. This seven session group study is based on the book of the same name by noted UM pastor Adam Hamilton, and utilizes a video segment featur-ing Rev. Hamilton as part of each session. The seven sessions are:
1 – The Separation of Church and State
2 – Creation and Evolution in the Public Schools
3 – The Death Penalty
4 – Euthanasia
5 – Prayer in Public Schools
6 – Abortion
7 – Homosexuality
In the words of Lovett Weems, "Adam Hamilton faces difficult issues forthrightly, presents oppos-ing positions understandingly, and offers his own opinions with compassion and humility. Class sessions will take place from 9:00 until 10:30 on Saturday mornings, starting September 13. While there is no cost for participating in the group, we are asking those who are able to make a $10 donation to defray the cost of study materials.
The second learning opportunity that starts this month is part of our ongoing "Exploring the Bible" classes, "Introduction to the New Testament." We have had a great response to the previous two classes, "What is the Bible, " and "Introduction to the Old Testament." The written materials for the class are written by Anne Robertson, a United Methodist clergywoman who served local churches in Flor-ida, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts before becoming the Executive Director of the historic Massa-chusetts Bible Society in 2007. Previous participants have expressed their appreciation for Anne's witty, accessible, and thought-provoking writing style. The materials and topics do not assume any prior knowledge of the Bible, so this is a great opportunity for those who have not studied the New Testament previously.
As we have done with the previous sessions of the Exploring the Bible series, we will again be of-fering two groups for "Introduction to the New Testament," one on Tuesday evenings from 7:00-8:30, beginning on September 23, and one on Wednesday afternoons from 1:00-2:30, starting on September 24. Each group will meet weekly for six weeks. We are asking those who are able to make a $15 dona-tion to help pay for materials.
If you are interested in participating in either or both of these study groups, please sign up in fel-lowship hall or call the church office at 524-3289.
I hope to see many of you in class!
Grace and peace,
I wanted to use my little space to share a couple of things with you all. First, start- ing on May 11, I will be starting a new sermon series that I trust will be of interest to all of us. The series is called, "Post-Easter Christians in a Pre-Christian World." In this series, I will be trying to do two things; first, I will be exploring what might be called "the community that Easter created." The post-Easter Christian community had a number of winsome characteristics that allowed them to begin spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that are still reverberating throughout our world. Second, I will be trying to draw some similarities between the pagan world that the post-Easter community began to encounter and influence and the essentially pa- gan culture we find ourselves in today. In the end, I hope we will learn from the early church both in terms of how this post-Easter community lives out its faith, and how it connected with the pre-Christian world around it.
Second, on the heels of the wonderful success of our "What is the Bible" classes, we will be offering the next segment of the "Exploring the Bible" series of which "What is the Bible" is the first segment. The next segment is called "Introducing the Old Testament," and as the title implies, it is a six-week long class that will help participants reach a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. We will be offering both a Tuesday evening (7:00-8:30) and a Wednesday day-time (1:00-2:30) session for those who wish to participate. Please be aware that you do not have to have taken the "What is the Bible" class to participate in this class.
There is no cost for taking the class, but a $15 donation to cover the cost of materi- als is requested of those who can afford to give it. A sign up sheet will soon be available in the fellowship hall, or you can register by calling the church office at 524-3289.
I hope that you will have an opportunity to benefit from both of these offerings for spiritual growth and learning.
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
June has traditionally been the month for graduations. And of course, with graduation comes the big question of "What next?" We pepper our graduates with all sorts of questions: "What will you be doing next fall?" "Have you got a job lined up?" "Where do you go from here?"
But it isn't just graduates that need to answer those sorts of questions. I want to invite you to take some time to ask yourself "What next?" "What is the next step in my spiritual journey that God is inviting me to take?" Like our graduates, those of us who are on a spiritual journey (and really, aren't we all, even if we are not aware of it?) are meant to take all that we have learned and experienced and make a life with it. We are supposed to be going somewhere, deeper and deeper into a life of committed discipleship and service to Christ and the world. Yet I have en- countered folks who, even thought they have been going to church their whole lives are still in first grade spiritually, or so it seems.
Of course, in the Christian life, what is important is not where we are, but where we are going. So, then, back to the questions: "What is the next step in my spiritual journey that God is invit- ing me to take?" "From what and to what am I supposed to be graduating in my commitment to follow Jesus?" Each step along the journey, there are new opportunities and challenges. You may find that the next step for you is to really work at forgiving someone that you have been un- able to forgive until now. Or it may be that you need to step out in faith and make that voca- tional change that you have been longing to make, but that you have been too afraid to risk do- ing so until now. Or, for some, the question may be, "now that I am retired, what do I want to do with some of my freed-up time that truly expresses my love for Christ and for the world?"
Followers of Jesus, it is time to graduate, and to move out of our comfort zone into new, exciting, and challenging levels of discipleship. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, "this one thing I do: forget- ting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
Grace and peace,
Office Hours: Pastor Tom is normally in his office from 10:00—12:00 Tuesday through Thurs- day. Please feel free to drop in during those times if there is anything you would like to talk with him about. He is also available by appointment, which can be arranged by calling him at 769-0770.
Imagine a person who never waited to read the end of a book. Imagine a per-
son who never watched the beginning of a movie, but instead fast- forwarded to the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Or imagine a person who always waited until the last few minutes of a big game before tuning in to see the closing moments.
I suspect that we would think of such a person as strange. So, then, why is it that so many of us followers of Jesus do that exact thing with Holy Week and Easter? Sure, we think we know the story, and, of course, we know how it's going to end. But even so, why the rush to get to the end of the story without going through all the twists and turns that got us to that end?
We Christians have an incredibly powerful story, from beginning to end. That is what the Christian year is all about—we meet Jesus at the beginning of that year, as a tiny and vulnerable baby. We journey with him through the beginnings of his ministry, stopping along the way to wonder at his wisdom, to marvel at his healing power, to find ourselves frustrated at the disciples when they just don't get it, or at the religious leaders who just seem so blind to the beauty of Jesus' way and teach- ings. Then, finally during Holy Week we walk with Jesus and the disciples through his final days—days full of tension and fear, of heartbreak and betrayal, of unimag- inable injustice and pain, but with Jesus rising to the occasion to offer forgiveness even to those who are putting him to death, and then, finally, literally rising to the occasion to defeat all the forces of darkness, even death.
That is why I hope that all of our members and friends will do everything they can to be present for all of the Holy Week services being offered this year, or, barring that, that each of us will do everything we can to observe the events of Holy Week on our own, beginning with Palm Sunday, April 13, and continuing through Easter Sunday, April 20. You will find announcements and descriptions of all our Holy Week offerings in this edition of the Traveler.
I look forward to sharing in this profound journey with you, and to joyously celebrating Easter with you as well.
Grace and peace,