Some years ago, I was privileged to participate in a three day clergy gather- ing led by the great Baptist preacher, Tony Campolo. Among the many things that I remember Tony sharing with us during this gathering was this bit of wisdom; he shared that there was at least one thing that conservative Christians needed from to learn from more liberal Christians, and at least one thing that liberals needed to learn from conservatives. Liberals needed to learn from conservatives that there were some lines that should never be crossed. On the other hand, conservatives needed to learn from liberals that there are some lines that should never have been drawn in the first place.
I believe that Tony is right, although figuring out which lines are which is the tricky part. I see some of the same spirit at work in the life of Jesus, who on the one hand said that he had come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and on the other hand seemed to have no problem flaunting behavior that did not fulfill the expectations of the Pharisees in terms of what they expected from any observant Jew, let alone someone who was purported to be the Messiah.
And so it is in the church today. Over time, many churches have relaxed some of their standards in terms of what would be deemed acceptable behavior and what is deemed unacceptable, believ- ing those standards to be invalid. And even when we have continued to uphold certain behavioral standards, we have changed the way we respond to those who violate those standards, so that, for example, it is rare to see a church shun any of its members, or impose any other sort of church disci- pline upon them.
But surely there must be some middle ground between the punitive, rigid ways of shaming and shunning that were often practiced in the past and the laissez faire approach most churches cur- rently take when someone in their community is engaging in harmful and destructive behavior. That, it seems to me, is the two-fold task of Christian communities in this day and age---to discern the behavioral standards that still must be maintained and the standards that we can safely leave behind, and to do the hard and holy work of holding one another accountable when someone does cross those boundaries that must continue to be held inviolate in a way that results in healing and reconciliation.
Surely the vast majority of us would agree that even as we reconsider some of the church's long- held attitudes about morality around issues like divorce and homosexuality, there is such a thing as behavior that is clearly destructive and therefore clearly wrong. Scripture and tradition, experience and reason, can guide us as we seek to discern the difference between good and bad, and how we should respond in the context of the Christian community.
As we continue our life together here at the First UMC of Gilford, I hope that we will more and more become a genuine community in the fullest sense of that word—
including becoming more adept at the difficult but important work of discern-
ing God's will for us here and now, along with the work of caring enough for
each other that we lovingly and mercifully confront those who are harming themselves and others within the community.
In evergreen love, Pastor Tom
July/August Pastors Letter
One of the most beautiful sights that presents itself to us in this beautiful region in which we live are the many evergreen trees that populate our mountains, hillsides, and forests. Other types of trees have their cycles of blooming and dropping, and the sight of bare tree limbs in the late fall, winter, and early spring can sometimes appear to be more than a little gloomy and grey, so much so that many of us long for springtime when the leaves begin to sprout and the green re-appears on the branches of the oaks, maples, elms, and other deciduous trees. Evergreens, on the other hand, provide a feast for the eyes (as well as other senses) all year round. In fact, in some ways, evergreens are more beautiful in winter than in summer, especially when their branches are covered with a fresh coat of snow.
The ongoing vitality of the evergreen trees is the guiding metaphor in our church's new vision statement, adopted at our recent special church conference held on May 20. This statement reads, "As followers of Jesus Christ, The First United Methodist Church of Gilford, NH will be an evergreen faith community where people will be invited to experience spiritual, emotional, and physical vitality in all stages of life."
A vision statement is intended to provide a description of what an organi-zation would like to achieve or accomplish. It paints a picture of what that or-ganization will look like when it reaches the goals outlined in the statement. For us as a church, our vision statement calls us to be a community of faith that in-vites people to become like evergreens, experiencing new growth, vitality, and the abundant life Jesus promises whether they are in the spring or winter of their lives.
You will be hearing more about this vision statement as time goes by, but for now, I want to encourage our members and friends to familiarize themselves with our new vision statement, and begin to internalize it. Learn it. Pray over it. Memorize it, or at least memorize the words, "evergreen faith community" and "vitality" and "all stages of life." And pray that we will be faithful to this vision.
See you in church!
Letter from the Pastor May 2015
For many years, our nation has observed a National Day of Prayer. The tradi-tion of national days of prayer for the United States has been around since the earliest days of our nation, and was preceded by days of communal fasting and prayer that were common in colonial times. However, it was not until 1952 that a law formalizing an annual observance was passed, and in 1988 the law was amended so that the Day of Prayer would be held on the first Thursday of May. Each year since then, the president has signed a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.
In accordance with this call to prayer, I have been working with a group of folks here in the Lakes Region to organize what we are calling the First Annual In-terfaith Prayer Breakfast to be held at the St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall at 31 Gil-ford Avenue in Laconia on Thursday, May 7, from 6:30 until 8:59 AM. In addi-tion to a delicious breakfast, there will be music, prayer (of course), and a key-note address presented by a featured speaker.
I am proud to be part of this event not only because I believe in the power of prayer, but also because this will be a truly interfaith event, with representatives and attendees from a wide variety of faith communities. This is important to me, because while there has been a concerted effort on the part of some that have tried to turn the National Day of Prayer into a strictly Christian event, and have even excluded those they deemed to be non-Christian from providing leadership in local Day of Prayer observances, our local event seeks to honor the intent of the 1952 law, which empathized the National Day of Prayer as an observance open to all Americans, regardless of their religious background.
Given that we live in an increasingly multi-cultural society, the necessity of learning to live and work together is more important than ever. I believe that we followers of Jesus have a responsibility to be part of this effort, and that, in fact, it is in keeping with our Christian faith to seek to work alongside people of other faiths in the cause of peace and justice. My prayer is that this event will be one small step in the ongoing journey towards mutual respect, understanding and co-operation.
I hope that some of our members and friends will plan to attend what I hope will become an annual event. I have tickets available for sale at $12.00 each, so please feel free to let me know that you are planning to attend.
Grace and peace,
Pastors Letter June 2015
June is a month for transitions. As the school year ends and summer vacation begins, lots of young people graduate and are propelled, ready or not, into the next phase of their lives. We parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, often spend a good portion of the month attending a series of graduation ceremonies and parties, and celebrations as we proudly mark these significant moments in the lives of our beloved young ones.
I suppose I am thinking about this more these days as my own children inch closer to milestones in their lives. Emily has one year of college left, while Danny will be a junior in high school this fall, and is already receiving mail from colleges we have never heard of. They are facing major transitions, but so are their parents—and it is, for us, more than a little bittersweet. We are inclined to throw sharp el-bows at one another a little more often than before, almost as if to soften the blow of separation we all know is coming. At the same time, there is anticipatory joy as we think of all the opportunities and experiences awaiting our children as they make their way into a bigger world.
Change is a constant. And as a wise person once pointed out to me, change is never all gain. Not so hidden within the triumphs and milestones of our lives, there is always some sort of loss, some sort of struggle. Independence means separation, challenge means discomfort, opportunity means risk, em-bracing the new requires some sort of letting go of the old, the tried, the known. No wonder we some-times shrink before the changes, even the ones it seems like we should be able to embrace.
As I ponder this reality, the words from the prophet Isaiah come to my mind-
"But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
When we pass through the river that is the boundary separating the past from the future, the known from the unknown, when we walk through the fire that burns away the past and forges a new future, we do not need to be overwhelmed or consumed. God, who knows us, who calls us by name, to whom we belong, will be our companion in the journey. There is only one constant more dependable than change--and that is the loving and sustaining presence of God. As good old Ferris Bueller put it, “Life comes at you pretty fast." Thank God that we always have God's hand to hold on to ours when everything else is in transition.
With evergreen love, Pastor Tom
From the Pastor March 2015
Since this past summer, I have recommitted myself to regular exercise. Initially I experienced some immediate benefits, including some initial weight loss. But as the months have worn on, the pounds don't drop off as easily, and sometimes it has taken everything I have to keep going. I have found that simply getting myself off the couch and over to the exercise room doesn't mean that the battle is over. Once I have begun exercising on a given day, I still have to battle the temptation to quit early, to give up at the first or second or third signs of tiredness or struggle. Sometimes it almost feels like I have to make a decision to keep going with every stride. It takes constant and ongoing discipline, and I am thankful to God for giving me the strength I need to keep com-mitted so far.
It is this same sort of commitment that we need in many areas of our lives—in our relationships with our spouses and our families, our work, our community involvements, and our ongoing growth as followers of Jesus. But in Lent, this commitment is most sorely tested, because as we continue along our Lenten journey with Jesus, we know that every step brings us closer to the cross—a place where we, if left to our own devices, would no doubt never choose to go. To follow Jesus means that we open ourselves to feeling his pain, and to experiencing our own pain as we deepen our commitment to go into places of pain and sorrow and self-giving as we serve the world around us, just as Jesus did.
My prayer for myself and for all of us is that we would be given the strength to stay on this journey, not only during Lent, but throughout our lives. May we be given the faith and hope that enables us to trust that the way of Jesus, al-though difficult, is an abundant and joyful life that is worth staying on, and that we would continue "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame." (Hebrews 12:2, NRSV)