December 2020 Horizons

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…” Titus 2:11

Christ was born into our world in a time when darkness hung over the land. It was wintertime and the longed-for Messiah seemed to tarry…

God had other plans, promised to us of old! A star lit the sky. A baby was born. The shepherds rejoiced. The angels sang. The grace of God appeared in human flesh and everything was made new. And all the earth was glad as healing and salvation came to all.

This is where new life starts, for our weary world and for each and every one of us. We reset our spiritual clocks and make time for new dreams, daring, even in the midst of the pandemic, to envision new possibilities for deliverance and wholeness. We open our broken hearts to the healing grace of God, who opens the way to peace. God’s peace comes to us as a healing balm, a reassuring promise and presence. Embraced in this healing love, we open our hearts, our lives, our souls, with anticipation and with hope. This is where new life starts.

I invite you to celebrate the season, inviting new life to be born in you in this time in which we need it most. It is the gift of God’s grace, bringing salvation to all.

My Christmas prayer for each of you is that you will find in this season a renewed sense of God’s love and healing presence in your life, new life bringing light and joy to you and yours. For in the Christ Child is born the fullness of life, joy, and peace for all. This is where new life starts.

November 2020 Horizons

Many of us remember the children’s song that goes: “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world. Yes, we’re the church together! The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people. I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together!”

How the events of these past months have borne this out. Yes—our steeple stands tall, a beacon of hope in our community. And have we not learned anew, painful as it can sometimes be, that the church really is a people—a people of love, commitment, resilience, service, prayer, and hope.

November brings occasions for remembrance, accountability, celebration, and renewed commitment as we call to mind and gather (virtually of course!)—still and always the church together. Our annual All Saints Commemoration will poignantly offer moments in worship to give thanks for our saints who have died since the pandemic began, those for whom a memorial service has not been possible. Our ZOOM Charge Conference on November 15 will again bring us together to celebrate the amazing ministry and mission of First UMC as we hold ourselves accountable for the year just past and all that lies ahead as our 146th year begins. Our annual Stewardship Campaign provides an opportunity to consider in prayer our financial commitments and priorities, stepping up as we are able to undergird the work of the church. We will consecrate our gifts and pledges on November 22, which is also Thanksgiving Sunday.

Yes! We are the church TOGETHER! We take our place amidst the saints of past, present, and future, and we will not rest. We will choose to continue to follow Jesus, joining with others all around the world, who commit to be a people of love, a people of service, a people of hope!

October 2020 Horizons

Look forward to a fun month of celebrations at church! Don’t we all need some things to lift our spirits?

October 3-4 will be a Celebration Weekend to include a drive thru Blessing of the Animals Saturday morning combined with the opportunity come by and pick up individually packaged communion elements (wafer and small cup of juice) to share in our World Communion Sunday worship the following day. Bring your PET(S) to Sunday ZOOM Coffee Hour to be blessed!

On October 11, we will celebrate the 145th Anniversary of First UMC Santa Monica!
We have persevered through many challenges over the years and through it all continue to praise God and serve God’s people near and far. Plan to participate in another “Town Hall” discussion with me during Coffee Hour.

Our wonderful Lay Leadership Team (Sherry (Leigh) Erlandson, Todd Erlandson, Jocelyn Hicks-Garner, and Mike Olsson) has prepared and will lead worship on October 18, that includes both familiar elements and an interactive sermon/
reflection time.

AND on Sunday, October 25, we will award 4th Grade Bibles and celebrate our wonderful Sunday School Teachers. You are also invited to WEAR YOUR HALLOWEEN COSTUME to ZOOM Coffee Hour! What could be more fun than that?!?

Read through this issue of the Sentinel for more fun and engaging opportunities.
The Spirit moves through the life of the church to revive our souls and bring smiles to
our lips and hearts.

September Horizons – 2020

These weeks, now months, of worshipping online, of gathering church groups and committees on ZOOM, invite us into a season of reflection. For many of us, “church” was deeply experienced in coming together for worship and fellowship. Now, without the hugs and the hymns, without the donuts and casual conversation, we ask ourselves in new ways what it means to “be the church” and to “do church.”

Virtual hugs and donuts don’t really cut it, do they? Better than nothing, but still leaving a lot to be desired. Yet, while I very much miss all of that and all of you, I do believe that God is calling us to grow and go deeper.

How do we grow in love of God in these pandemic times? How do we grow closer to God? Prayer, reflection, Scripture reading, worshipping together online, nature, quiet, music, journaling, more family time?

How do we grow in love of neighbor? Checking in on neighbors, quick chats over the fence, reaching out to friends and church family through calls and notes, sharing laughter and tears, connecting to cross gaps of isolation and loneliness…volunteering to meet the needs of others in our church family and community…creating new ways to continue traditions such as the Blessing of the Backpacks…giving generously to support the ministries of the church and missional needs in the community…

As has been noted—the church has left the building but we are still the church! Might we find new ways to witness and to share our deepest values?

I’d love to hear back from you in notes, calls or emails, if you’re willing to share the journey of your spirit in these times.

As John Wesley said on his death bed: “The best of all—God is with us!”

Be the hope, dear church,

Horizons – August 2020

In a recent HORIZONS column, I wrote of the sentinel’s role in looking to the horizon to catch a glimpse of the future. As it turns out, daily updates on the coronavirus only seem to cloud our vision of the future. It goes in and out of focus and we wonder what the next news report will reveal.

In the meantime, we can take a clear look at the present moment. One thing we can see very clearly—the church has not stopped being church! Remember the three rules of Wesley: do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. We’re on it!

Do no harm—continuing online worship and modeling safe practices of social distancing and wearing masks whenever we’re out and about. Our Re-Gathering Task Force is hard at work making plans for the day when safe and faithful in-person worship will again be possible.

Do good—supporting Upward Bound House, the Haiti Mission, Westside Food Bank, and our front-line health care and service providers; generous giving to the church; reaching out to congregation and neighbors with messages of love and care; resourcing our stressed-out families through in-home Sunday School, youth ministry, and the distribution of 100 Vacation Bible School resource kits.

Stay in love with God—through worship and music and Messy Church at home; Bible Study and spiritual growth groups; ZOOM fellowship in Coffee Hour, Men’s Breakfast Bible Study, Prayer Quilt Ministry, Shareringers, and church committees; unceasing prayer for one another and for greater justice in our world.

The church has not stopped being church! We’re inspired to new forms of innovation, creativity and outreach—all to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Thanks be to God for the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit in and through it all!