Horizons – November 2019

Church is a School of Love. It is a place and a people that teach us how to live a life of love. We learn the ways of Christ’s love in prayer, Scripture, and worship. We learn the ways of love in the smiles of children and the questions of youth. We learn the ways of love in shared tears and laughter. We learn love sharing meals and mission projects with one another. The church is a School of Love.

Love teaches us patience and endurance. It teaches us selflessness and living for others. Love teaches us joy and gratitude. Love invites us to give generously and joyfully. It teaches us to strive to make our giving reflect our deepest priorities. Love teaches us to live and give after the example of Christ Jesus.

Love shines strong through the people of God and through the ministries and mission of Santa Monica First UMC. In this season of Thanksgiving, as we remember our saints, celebrate our annual church/charge conference, and renew our pledge of our financial resources to the glory of God, we rejoice in this School of Love and are grateful for this place and people that grow us into the disciples Christ calls us to become.

Let the sound of God’s love be heard! (Psalm 66-CEB)

Horizons – October 2019

One eye on the past, one eye on the future. This is how a chameleon is described in proverb from Madagascar. It speaks of this amazing creature whose two eyes can turn independently, allowing a large field of vision embracing many directions at once.

As conversations swirl around at every level in the United Methodist Church these days, we’re keeping one eye on the past and one eye on the future. Here at First UMC, we started with a fresh look at the “Five Marks of a Methodist,” remembering John Wesley’s description of what makes a Methodist “methodist.” A Methodist loves God, rejoices in God, prays always, gives thanks, and loves others.

We’ve also revisited some of our foundational affirmations here at First UMC:
– Inspiring the world as passionate followers of Jesus Christ so all may experience God’s life-giving love. – Vision of the California-Pacific Conference
– We welcome you into our community of faith – to be transformed by God’s love through Jesus Christ. – Mission of First UMC 2003
– We pledge to fulfill our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ and as members of the United Methodist Church, commissioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit to transform the world for the sake of the Reign of God, by freely extending all the ministries of the church to all God’s children. We pledge to welcome and embrace all the members of our church families in God’s boundary-less love and grace and to welcome all those in our communities through the inclusive hospitality of the Holy Spirit. – First UMC Church Council 2012
– God is real. God is love.
Everyone matters. You matter.
Together we can change the world. – First UMC 2013

As we gather for lunch, prayer, and round table conversation after worship on October 20, we’ll have all these “eyes on the past” as our foundation and springboard. At the same time, we’ll cast an eye to the future. For indeed, our God is always doing a new thing, as the Scripture promises.

We’ll be asking ourselves and one another where we see evidence of God’s ‘new thing’ already coming to life here at First UMC and in the larger church. We’ll ask what new areas of ministry and mission God might be calling us to in our community, nation, and world. And we’ll be listening for God’s voice in our hearts calling you and me into new ministries of love and service.

Our moment is now, somewhere on the eternal continuum of past present/future. Who is God calling us to be and to become?

August/September 2019

Back-to-School time for me as a kid meant new shoes, new notebooks, a new teacher, and the new clothes my mother had made for me over the summer. It brought a sense of new beginnings and new possibilities. And because we didn’t move around, but lived in one house through my school years, it also brought a lot of reassurance in continuity—continuity of place, family, and holidays. There was newness built on a foundation of familiarity and love.

Our California-Pacific bishop, Bishop Hagiya, set “I See a New Church” as the theme of our annual conference session this past June. He is now inviting local churches to consider this same theme in our own setting this Fall. Our First UMC Lay Leadership Team will be creating some opportunities for us to come together to listen for the voice of God and to dream with God.

At First UMC, we have a strong and faithful heritage to build upon—in ministry, in mission, and in the character of our life together. We respect and love one another, despite what might be differently held opinions about a whole variety of things. We’ve embodied John Wesley’s maxim: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

Confident in our calling, we are free to imagine and to dream. Are there needs in our community that God’s Spirit is urging us to see? Are there new opportunities for mission and ministry percolating in our hearts? Is there something God might be calling you/me to undertake?

This is a season for the fresh winds of the Spirit to blow through us, opening our minds and hearts to God’s great scope and purpose. Let’s enjoy the adventure!

Summer 2019

Our summer season here at First UMC will kick off June 9th, Pentecost Sunday. That’s the day the church was born. Peoples of all languages and races and backgrounds and cultures and perspectives and opinions—all people were gathered together. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they were amazed to discover that they could all clearly understand one another. They could all recognize the presence of the living God in one another.

In times such as ours that seem so rancorous and conflict-filled, when people talk or shout past one another far more than listening, understanding, and respecting one another….

In such a time as this, may Summer bring moments for the fresh, life-giving winds of the Holy Spirit to refresh our hearts and minds, renewing our hope, and our trust in the awesome power of God.

Horizons – May 2019

“…as welcome as flowers in May” the old Irish song goes. Clearly a song for the northern climes. We in beautiful Southern California have been enjoying Spring flowers for many weeks already. And in the church, we’re living in the season of Eastertide, a 50-day celebration and the church’s most ancient and most joyful time. 50 days to sing alleluia, 50 days to take in the power of the Resurrection, 50 days to live as if God’s reign of justice and peace were fully with us.

As you’ve read in these pages, there’s a lot fermenting in the United Methodist Church these days as well. It’s the “United” part of our name that’s being tested, examined and explored. Sometimes if you type too fast, “united” comes out as “untied” which is a bit how many of us are feeling.

Our Lay Leadership Team and I will be hosting on-going opportunities to gather for discussion of these developments. It’s still too early to tell what a new iteration of the UMC is going to look like. It’s more a season of seeds germinating in the soil, not quite yet ready to burst forth in full and glorious bloom.

But burst forth they will in due season! I’m working with several groups in our annual conference, the Western Jurisdiction and across the larger church. And I can testify, as did those women who first discovered the empty tomb, that God is doing a new thing within and among us. A beautiful, diverse, inclusive church of love and grace will blossom.

One group I’m working with puts it this way: “We…commit ourselves to participate in the coming of God’s dream as we work for a transformed world and a more gracious expression of United Methodism where both fully reflect God’s love and calling in the lives of all people.”

Stay tuned. Pray fervently. Water the seeds. Be the Hope!