May 2021 Horizons

Our newsletter name, “Sentinel,” harkens back to the role of a lookout or person charged with keeping watch, patiently scanning the horizon to see what lies ahead. Aren’t we all “sentinels” these days, scanning the horizon, peering into the future to see what lies ahead? Is it more of the same-old, same-old in this pandemic time, or are we really seeing the dawn of a new future? Can we see a time when life in public is safer and healthier for all? Can we see a strong determination to overcome all obstacles to racial justice and equity? Can we see a commitment to the health and future of Planet Earth? Can we see a future with hope, as promised by God through the prophet Jeremiah? “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

At First UMC, as we peer into the future that God is creating, our core values continue to be to keep people healthy, to protect the vulnerable, to support vital community, to offer impactful worship online and later in-person, to embrace a blended ecology of congregational participation in-person and online, and to continue to adapt and innovate ministries. As we continue to move forward together, we will transition from the pandemic months in such a way that the health and safety of everyone is safeguarded, that all may experience the presence of God, that we continue as a renewed vital faith community, and witness and serve outside the walls of the church in the community and around God’s whole world.

In us and through us in this time, God is indeed “doing a new thing.” The work of a sentinel can be confounding, exhausting, and exciting all at once. We have to frequently take off our glasses and wash the lenses. As my Grandfather Ted, used to say: “Clean your glasses. You’ll see things you’ve never seen before.”

Stay tuned for exciting announcements of summer activities and outdoor worship opportunities. We will be working hard to be ready for new developments and new opportunities, becoming a “New Church” as God’s future comes into view.

April 2021 Horizons

March brought us an extra hour of daylight and the first day of Spring! What might April bring? Well, let’s see…how about some flickering light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel? How about the Confirmation of eight of our amazing youth? How about the first ever First UMC Easter “Hop By?” How about praying with our feet in this year’s virtual Home Run for Kids? How about a stone rolled away and an empty tomb? How about a Risen Savior?!

Wow! These are just some of the many things that will mark our Eastertide season this year as together we are “Living the Way of Love!” Our theme is based on Bishop Michael Curry’s book “Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times.” Bishop Curry is the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, the first African-American to lead the denomination. As he writes, you can almost hear him speaking and preaching. In one chapter, he quotes the preacher at his Aunt Callie’s funeral. The sermon was based on Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones. He kept calling out to Callie, Bishop Curry remembers, calling her to hear the Word of the Lord and rise up. He writes about that day: “We couldn’t see heaven, we couldn’t see resurrection, but we could feel its possibility. God had been factored into the equation of our experience and something in reality changed. That’s where and when hope happens—when reality is altered by a new possibility.”

So, church—let’s hear the Word of the Lord in these Eastertide days and rise up! Let’s live with joy into all the possibilities and potentialities that God’s resurrecting power is opening to us. Let’s Live the Way of Love!

March 2021 Horizons

March 15th marks the one-year anniversary of our new life during the pandemic. Remember how from one Sunday to the next we switched to online worship? Actually, online everything!

I’m really proud and grateful for how our staff and members have stepped up. We’re all learning new skills and new ways of doing things, improving week by week. Even as we all yearn to be back together in person, we will continue to keep safety and health as our top priorities. Please continue to mask up, keep a safe distance, wash your hands frequently—and reach out to the people you miss seeing. Those calls, emails, cards, texts keep us all connected and bring smiles to our faces. A care package dropped off on the front porch is a great idea!

In some ways, the pandemic has caused us all to withdraw and turn inward. It’s not just the masks and the distancing. It’s the uncertainty and anxiety about what’s happening and what’s going to happen, and about not knowing what the timeline will be for a new chapter to begin.

Our Lenten theme, “Opening Our Lives” is an invitation to take a deep breath and open our hearts to the presence of the Living God. It’s an invitation to open ourselves to the beauty, wonder, comfort and love of God’s kingdom that is all around us all the time.

This theme is taken from Opening Our Lives: Devotional Readings for Lent, written by Trystan Owain Hughes. It comes to us from the Bible Reading Fellowship in the U.K. and is the recommended book for Lent 2021 from the Archbishop of Wales.

Its opening prayer is found in the Introduction to our 2021 First UMC Lenten Devotional. May this be the prayer of our hearts this Lent:

“Loving God, in our sufferings and joys, in our relationships and daily lives, we ask that your kingdom come. Open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love, open our ways to your will, open our actions to your compassion, open our pain to your peace, and, in doing so, open our world to your hope. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

February 2021 Horizons

Lent 2021 – Opening Our Lives

Gracious God, open the eyes of our hearts, and let the light of your truth flood in. Shine your light on the hope you are calling us to embrace. Reveal to us the glorious riches you are preparing as our inheritance. Amen.
(prayer based on Ephesians 1:18)

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17. Our theme this year is “Opening Our Lives.”

So, let me ask: how are you doing? How are your coping skills holding up? It’s tough, isn’t it, to carry on. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned from a variety of articles and from my own reflection to help us open our lives to God.

Pray more and more often. Choose something—the sight of a bird, a memory, a frequent task—even washing dishes works—and whenever you see or remember or are doing that, pause, take a deep breath, stretch, and offer a prayer of gratitude or simply wait a moment in silence in the presence of God.

Take some time each day to get outside yourself. Call a family member, friend, or church member. Send a card or note. Listen to your favorite music. Read a book that takes you to another time or place. Resolve to focus your Lenten discipline this year around service, giving yourself to others. You’ll find a variety of suggestions in this Sentinel.

Get some fresh air and sunshine. Sit by a window. Mask up and walk around the block. Come on over and walk around the Courtyard here at church. From a safe distance, wave at those you meet and let your eyes smile.

Connect with others. Soak up their love and support. You’ll find a variety of opportunities in this Sentinel and on our church webpage.

I’d love to hear from you about what is and isn’t working for YOU! We’re in this together. And not only that—God is with us. May the Spirit of the Living God open our hearts and fill us with truth, light, and hope.

Peace be with you.

January 2021 Horizons

For New Year’s Eve, why don’t we all get noise-makers and little horns and stand outside and ring in the new with giddy enthusiasm and joy? We are more than ready, aren’t we? The gift of a New Year! Thanks be to God!

I know that for some months more, we know not how many, it will feel like “same-old, same-old” as we work together to beat back the virus. At the same time, we know different. We know a lot more about this virus than we did ten months ago. We know a lot more about ourselves, about our courage and resiliency. We know a lot more about the strength we draw from God and from one another. We know a lot more about how precious life is and how deeply we are knit together in one fabric of life and love.

We are dreaming now of new possibilities. We are dreaming of a world made new, of hope restored. We commit to loving more widely and deeply. We are determined to live into God’s new future with hope and joy.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” (Titus 2:11). The grace of God has appeared bringing healing, wholeness, safety, deliverance, assurance and restoration. Here’s to a New Year! Life made new. Community made whole. The future being born here and now.

Thanks be to God!