I was overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness and expressions of love these past two Sundays. The hand-crafted pottery will have a special and prominent place in our new home. The framed picture collages will be hanging in my office so I can see them every day. The gift cards will come in very handy during this big transition time in our family. The cards and emails have meant so much to me as well.
Great things will be happening at Allen-Lee and I look forward to hearing about them. If anyone comes to or through Monticello, call me! I'll give you a tour and treat you to some good food (don't worry - not my cooking!). Thank you, Chad, for coming to serve Allen-Lee. And thank you, Allen-Lee, for accepting my colleague in the ministry. God's blessings to you all.
Love, Grace, and Peace forever more,
On this last Sunday together with me as your pastor and you as my congregation, my heart is full of love and thanksgiving. You have had many pastors here since 1839, when a small group of people began meeting, praying and dreaming about becoming a full-fledged church. Smith Chapel became Prospect Methodist that grew into Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church.
Since those early days many pastors and lay people have worked together in the name of Christ to share the Gospel of love here in Lone Oak. Their commitment to minister as a global church was realized as they joined the United church committing to support it with their apportioned giving each year. You have continued to share this legacy as an important part of our identity as United Methodists. Young John Allen and the Lee family must be proud of the many ways you have honored their memories through the years by being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
With each stage of your growth as a congregation God has been readying you for the next step. Lives have been transformed, families have found homes here, the hungry have been fed, children have been clothed, the lonely have found companionship and Christ has been honored. These outward signs of God’s grace will continue as you remain faithful. Then, where else is God leading you? Who is “out there” yearning for a place to belong? What gifts do they have that are needed for the building of God’s household? What part of this body will be enhanced by them?
As you all lean into God’s future, remember that your fleeting dreams are not God’s dreams … they’re too small. As you hold on to your faith give away all your love. While you are good stewards of God’s resources (even if you label them as your own) make bold steps forward in trust and hope. God blesses steps that are made to minister to the invisible and voiceless folks of this community. How will God’s land be used to serve the needs of others? What are the dreams of the poorest folks around us?
Don’t forget that God speaks to us through our spiritual imaginations, not in black and white letters on the wall. Dream big for God! Dream God’s dreams for the sake of the world!
Love, Grace and Peace forever more,
Reprinted from a devotional by Richard L. Floyd
"Behold I make all things new!" - Revelation 21:5
Thirteen years ago my life changed forever in an instant when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my head. Like Humpty Dumpty I "couldn't be put back together again." The name for my new situation is traumatic brain injury (TBI), the injury so many of our troops return with from war. Everyone's TBI is different, but all share the family traits of neurological deficits and behavioral changes that are challenging for both the one who has them and for the loved ones who must deal with them.
As I was trying to stay afloat in these new uncharted waters, my thoughtful neuropsychologist, Sarah, threw me a lifeline with the term "new normal." She said, "Don't compare how you are today with how you were before the accident. Compare how you are today with how you were after the accident. That's your new normal."
One of my disabilities is an impaired "executive function," the part of the brain that allows one to multi-task. Sarah told me, "Before your accident you could probably cook dinner, talk to your wife, and listen to NPR all at the same time. Now pick one." So I have learned how to do one thing at a time. Sometimes I get very frustrated by this, especially if I compare myself to before my injury, but measured by my new normal, I can see improvement.
This idea of new normal has been so helpful to me that I have begun to think about it as a metaphor for the life of faith. Since my injury I have been paying attention to the word "new" wherever I come across it in our faith. Scripture is full of it: the Revelation passage above is just one of countless verses where "God is doing a new thing."
And our hymnody is also full of allusions to the new: "morning by morning new mercies I see" and "new every morning is the love." These phrases carry so much emotional power for me.
They remind me that ours is a God of new starts, second chances, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And you don't have to have a disability to benefit from thinking about your "new normal." The everyday bumps and shocks of life set us all back at times, and the aging process will in time diminish our capabilities. But this God of the new is never done with us, even in the face of death. So what's your new normal?
God of the Exodus and the Resurrection help us to see and know the new things you are doing in us and in the world around us. Keep us from discouragement about the things we can longer do, and let us be grateful for the things we can.
Words usually come fairly easy to me, as those of you know who have sat through some lengthy sermons through the years. However, during this part of our journey together, I'm finding it difficult to express my thoughts and feelings adequately.
To say that we've grown together during these six years is an understatement. I have often found myself feeling like a proud mama as I have watched you BE the church to one another and in this community. Remembering the faces of moms, dads, children, elderly folk, young people, no matter what their skin color, station in life, beliefs about God, feuds with others, ability to respond will always make me smile.
I've watched you give your time to plant seeds knowing that you wouldn't see the harvest. I've joined with you in being open to the gifts and graces of new people in our midst. I've wondered with you "Where is God leading us?" and then taking steps toward God's dream. I've struggled with you through difficult times when we each had to set aside our pride so that relationships would be spared or restored or ended.
Not only have you allowed me to be your pastor, you have ministered to me and accepted me as a fellow human being on the road.
We have much to thank God for as we close this chapter in the life of Allen-Lee Memorial UMC. We have been blessed and honored with the very presence of Christ among us and in us as we have worshiped, studied, prayed, met, owrked, ministered, and loved for his sake.
My life and heart will
From The North Georgia Conference:
"I know you are seeing and hearing news reports about the devastation and want to assist. … Do not self-deploy. Best practices in times of crises call for a collaborative response, so people who can help are directed to where that help and those skills are most needed and will be most effective,” wrote the Rev. Richard Norman, disaster response coordinator for the Oklahoma Conference.
The Oklahoma Conference Disaster Response Team sent this message outlining how best to help.
How to Give
Donations may be made through your local church by putting a check in the offering plate made out to the church with a note for "2013 May Tornado Relief" on the memo line. Donations may be made directly to the Conference Treasurer's Office by mail to:
Conference Treasurer's Office
PO Box 102417
Atlanta, GA 30368-2417
Note Fund number #4085 for May 2013 Tornado Relief
How to Help
At this time we can best help by offering prayers, beginning to collect and assemble UMCOR kits, and taking stock of the skills and gifts our Conference can offer if volunteer support is needed in Oklahoma, Texas and other U.S. states. As communities reel from the devastation of tornadoes, remember that The United Methodist Church has a system in place for responding. We emphasize that no volunteers are needed at this time.
How to Stay Informed
Here are a few of the places to check for information on United Methodist relief efforts:
How to Make Our Collaborative Effort Possible
Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) in Oklahoma has alerted us that many unsolicited volunteers are showing up at the Incident Command Center in Moore. Please instruct all volunteers associated with your church or other individual volunteers or groups you may come in contact with to NOT self-deploy. Best practices include a collaborative response, so people are directed when needed and where needed so their help and skills will be most effective.
We have a little over five weeks left together as congregation and pastor. Since I will be gone May 24-28 for my nephew's wedding in Nashville, we have four Sundays to share with one another. Winston will be preaching on the 26th in my absence.
I want to invite you to use this time to remember and let go. There is a lot to be thankful to God for: six years of getting to know each other, many shared tasks that brought us closer together as a church, numerous opportunities to reach out into the community and world in Christ's name, working through situations that were difficult, being together in grief as we lost some incredible saints.
You've put up with me and for that I will always be so thankful. I've grown as a disciple and human being because of your patience, partnership and prayers. Many of you will be counted among my dearest friends when we begin a different kind of relationship in a few weeks.
Your new pastor will be your PASTOR. I will be your former pastor. Let's not forget the problems caused when these new boundaries are violated. I will be ethical and respectful in helping your new pastor make the transition in this new role.
If there is an emergency, illness, death or other crisis, call your pastor first. If I am called first, I will defer to him/her. This does not mean that I will never come or respond. It does mean that I won't do it without your pastor being asked first. I will want to know when someone gets sick, has good news, bad news or dies. Leaving does not mean that I will stop caring about you. You will always be in my heart and prayers. If I am invited by your pastor, I will return for visits and/or special Sundays.
Allen-Lee will always bring a smile to my face ... because your faces will come to mind. God still has so many great adventures for you to enjoy ... so, go on!
“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
By Dr. Gary Whetstone, superintendent of the Athens-Elberton District
That’s what I heard from the small covey of Christians standing in a yard across the road from Oconee Street United Methodist Church in Athens, Georgia. Their church building was on fire. The roof had collapsed and firefighters were hacking at the steeple, exposing hot spots upon which showers of hosed water fell. The building, constructed in 1902 from the very boards of their previous facility, was giving way to the ravages of fire. And the people groaned, as has our nation and in particular those in Boston: One due to accidental fire, the other due to the fires of malice unleashed in flying shrapnel.
Our “present” day is filled with suffering. We all suffer in varied ways and at varied levels because Creation is broken. And yet, in the midst of swirling emotions with some so powerful words shrivel with inadequacy before them, enters this word: Hope. “I believe” in a “coming glory,” Paul writes. What is will not always be.
Is that enough for Boston and those of Oconee Street? No, if we are talking about Idealism. Yes, if we remain open to the teaching of Paul. Paul teaches that because of what God has already accomplished at the cross and tomb, our groaning is not just about suffering. It is about birth.
For instance, terrorists try to terrorize. And yet, what do we find giving birth from the rubble? Courage. Service. Strengthened love. Resolve. Newly found faith. The very things that make life better. What about fires that end histories and long-standing traditions?
At a prayer vigil held less than 24 hours following the Oconee Street fire, a young girl took the microphone. She said she was sad her church had burned. She explained it was there she had encountered the love of God and the love of a church family. “But I know you will still love me,” she said. So young, and still she detected what we hold to be true: Nothing can separate us from love, rooted in Christ Jesus. Suffering seeks to rob, but with the Spirit’s help, the very qualities of this hopeful, better-world-to-come can be here now.
What I have witnessed these past ten days gives me hope. May it be true for many more.
Prayer Focus for the Week
Caring Lord, grant us courage, lead us to service, strengthen our love, increase our resolve, and deepen our faith. Amen. –Bishop Watson
By Gwen Gustafson-Zook, minister of worship at Goshen College
Reprinted from Lenten Devotions
SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)
The first weekend of the semester on an unseasonably warm and sunny January afternoon, I stood in a circle with students at a student leaders retreat. We were engaged in an intense game of “Ninja,” a game involving quick, deliberate movements. When my turn came around I quickly took a big step toward the student on my left. Unfortunately, the deck we were standing on was a bit slippery and I landed on the ground as the classic “pop” from my hamstring immobilized me in pain. I became very dependent on the students around me and on the grace of colleagues in that moment and over the next days and weeks of gradual recovery. The incident slowed me down, making me significantly more aware of pain; pain that we live with daily and pain that is a part of being human; pain that is superficial and pain that burrows to the core of our beings; pain that is physical and pain that is profoundly emotional; pain that we bring on ourselves and pain that is the result of injustice; pain that is personal and pain that ripples far beyond the initial point of trauma to effect the whole of communities, of countries and, indeed, of the world.
The story that we proclaim and are invited to live into each Easter is a story that begins with very deep pain, very profound suffering, cosmic despair. It is a story that calls us, like the women who accompany Jesus through the final days of his suffering, to be present to the anguish, the fear, the pain; to tenderly pour the oil, to bake the bread, to lovingly accompany, to hold one another, to weep and, yes, to prepare the spices and ointment – to do the very hard work of suffering together. But the story doesn’t stop with the pain-filled suffering. The empty tomb, while confounding initially, leaves us all with a glimmer of hope. Could it be that the pain and despair and loss and injustice do NOT have the last word? The good news of Jesus Christ is that our lives (and indeed the lives of all with whom we share this existence), in all their struggle and pain and brokenness and frailty, are framed by this profound, persistent and perplexing hope. Therefore, we carry on, with eyes wide open to signs of life beyond the suffering and pain. Christ has risen! Hope endures! Alleluia!
By Ann Hostetler, English professor at Goshen College
Reprinted from Lenten Devotions
On this Saturday before Easter we remember that Jesus’s body lay in a tomb, subject to decay. Yet as we prepare for tomorrow, we know that when Jesus’s disciples and friends came to visit him in the tomb, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away. As we say farewell to our loved ones in this world, we may experience the holy moments when the body leaves the soul, as well as the grief of sitting with the body they have left behind. Yet we can also sense through grief the release and joy they must feel in their transition to a new state of being, because the scripture has given us these words: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
When I enter your room
for the last time, I see a shell--
broken—your head thrown back,
mouth open—as though something
has hatched and taken flight.
Just this morning I rubbed
your ankles with oil, but now
your legs are stiff to the touch,
purple stains pool under tissue paper skin
as capillary walls give way,
the process of return
beginning. At the hospital entrance,
I met the women weeping--
mother, sister, niece, pastor--
who tell me the story of your last
breath, which I imagine now--
my sister plays
her violin—Cast thy Burden
Upon the Lord—and after days
of uphill breathing your face reflects
a moment of sheer delight—Christ
We Do All Adore Thee. I carry
this story with me like a garment.
Each time I tell it the circle widens
as with the telling of another
story, an empty tomb,
the stone rolled away,
and nothing to fill
the empty space
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (NRSV)
By Natasha Weisenbeck, a junior at Goshen College
Reprinted from Lenten Devotions
I have been very anxious these past months as I have tried to figure out what to do with my summer. In addition, the fear of what to do after college began to creep into my skin as I fear being left jobless and worthless, possessing such a hodge-podge resume that nobody would want to hire me.
Too often I forget God wants me. If I want the plans he has for me, I must trust God in my deeds.
Jesus was scared too. In the garden, he asked for his responsibility to be eradicated. Was he afraid of death? A death which God planned to null and void in three days, a fact Jesus told his disciples frequently.
He knew the plan. He still had fear. But that fear was overcome.
Because God was with him. Because God has called us by name. Because he chooses no one based on their background or nation’s history, fear can be overcome.
Because God is with me and I choose to act in his ways, I need not fear.
Because God is with you today, I pray that you put down your anxieties. I pray you know your worth and your opportunity despite your position. I pray that you are able to do good with each day of your life.
Because God is with us.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 10:34-43 (NRSV)