The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
- Psalm 28:7
Dear Sisters and Brothers;
I have to admit that I have always found November to be a curious month. On one hand, it is rather stark. The trees have shed the brilliant colors of October and now stand bare with their remains littered upon the ground. The day is shorter, the temperature is colder and, as New Englanders, we realize that this is merely a transition to an even darker and more frigid season to come.
And yet, November is when our country has chosen to celebrate our thankfulness to God. Why not during the blooming of May or the warmth of July? Granted, November is the month when the Pilgrims and Wampanoags held their feast to give thanks for a successful corn harvest. But still, there are plenty of other, more joyful seasons for us to feel thankful.
Perhaps, though, that is the point. Perhaps it is too easy to give thanks when the days are warm and sunny, and our lives seem carefree. So easy, in fact, that we even forget about giv- ing thanks or our need to live grateful lives.
Perhaps it is more appropriate to offer our thanks to God during those other times; times when our lives, as well as the world around us, seem dark and gloomy. As hard as we may try, we can’t always remain in those warm, sunny places. Things happen – sometimes very unpleasant things. And when they do, we are reminded that, as followers of Jesus, we have a strength that is beyond us to help us through any circumstance we may face with the confi- dence and hope that we are not alone. The God who loves us is there to walk the path with us; each and every step of the way.
So, no matter what the circumstances of your life may be this Thanksgiving; if it will be a great celebration with family and friends, or a more personal time when we may wonder what the coming season has in store for us, we can trust in the assurance that, no matter what we face, we do not face it alone. The One who created us in that perfect image of love is always with us to transform our lives – and the world through us.
May this season, and all the seasons you face, be one of hope and possibility.
For just as the body of Christ is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body; so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we are all baptized in to one body...and we are all made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12.12-13
Have you noticed that the world seems rather fragmented lately? There seems to be so much more that divides us than unites us. Our identity is often defined by how we perceive ourselves to be different from and, many times, better than others. Mirroring this phenome- non, government has often digressed from polarization to hostility with various sides attempting, with limited success, to advance its own agenda; instead resorting to merely “stopping the other guys.”
We would like to think that the church, which the Apostle Paul described as the Body of Christ, is the exception to this division. However, we do not need to look far to see that even the church has separated along a variety of issues, from worship styles, to how to interpret the Bible, to who is invited to worship. Even how we remember the Last Supper, which Jesus shared with the original disciples before he was crucified, has become a source of division as we have developed a variety of traditions, and have associated different meanings to the words spoken and even to the elements themselves.
And yet, churches around the world have designated the first Sunday in
October as World Communion Sunday, a time when we celebrate our
unity as the Body of Christ. It is a reminder that, even with all that can
distinguish us from one another, there is so much more that brings us
together. We are followers of Jesus Christ, the one God sent to redeem
us and call us to the presence of love and hope. We celebrate the fact
that we are invited to the table, not because of what we deserve, but
simply because of God’s unconditional love for us; the same caring that motivates us to invite our neighbors to experience the presence of God in their lives.
In a world that may seem hopelessly divided in so many ways, it is important for us to re- member what it is that connects us to one another. We are each uniquely and wonderfully created in the loving image of God. We are each blessed with gifts and abilities that make us who we are and, combined with the gifts of our sisters and brothers, can reach out to our neighbors to offer acceptance and reconciliation.
As we gather as the Body of Christ, let us remember the power of the Holy Spirit that unites us with one another and calls us to bring hope to the world.
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
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.
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.