Pastor's Corner

January 2024
I may have mentioned it before, but if not, it bears repeating…I don’t like surprises. I want time to
process what is happening in my world and I want to at least imagine that I have some semblance of
control. Over the years many people have mentioned situations where a small element of surprise
enhances the moment, but I prefer to head into things eyes wide open and as prepared as possible.
Needless to say, the beginning of a whole new year is very intimidating to me. The symbolism of
another 12 month period of surprises and twists and turns leaves me feeling a lot like the pig in the
cartoon. All the animals are so proud to speak about their future gifts to the Christ child. Everyone, it
seems, knows what to expect in their future and it is good…except for pig. Would he have been better
off not knowing how things turn out for him? Probably. Will his “gift” be useful and important even
though it was not pleasant? Definitely.
I think a bit of reframing is necessary for both the pig’s story and my own. Although I can say with
strong certainty that my experience of 2024 will not, most likely, involve demon possession and cliff
diving with no water, it will include difficult moments, twists that no one saw coming, and situations
for which I could never prepare. In other words, surprises. (Eek!) But, even so, my plan is to blunder
boldly into the new year and face what comes with three things; the gifts that God has given me, an
attitude of humility, and a lot of reminding from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (who, by the way is
the patron saint of ecology and animals):
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where
there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is
darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that
we are born to eternal life. Amen.
And to quote a beloved children’s movie “Babe” from 1995:
Narrator: And though every single human in the stands or in the commentary boxes was
at a complete loss for words, the man who in his life had uttered fewer words than any
of them knew exactly what to say.
Farmer Hoggett: That'll do, pig. That'll do.

February 2023

February is usually greeted with mixed emotions. Winter is still fully upon us. Spring seems an impossible distance away. The calendar shows a short 28 days, but the days themselves often drag on. We have to search really hard to find something to kindle our hearts, minds, and spirits into enthusiasm. In my family, our excitement in February comes from the fact that there are several birthdays, a wedding anniversary, and even the anniversary of a baptism. It’s this anniversary of a baptism that I am thinking about as we enter February 2023. 

 I was blessed to be allowed to baptize my niece, Ashley, on a February 21st many years ago. She was young and does not remember this event, but I certainly do. In that ritual and in that water the newest of the next generation of our family was brought into the family of faith and a life with God. This February, we will be given the opportunity to start our faith journeys again in a very comparable way. February 22, 2023 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This Lent we will embark on a journey of seeking. Our theme is “seeking: honest questions for deeper faith.” As we prepare ourselves, I wanted to start our journey with the following blessing from Rev. Sarah (Are) Speed. I hope you will join us on this journey.  

A Blessing for the Seekers 
Blessed are you who turn your face up to the sky, who open your arms to feel the wind, who notice all the things that we should notice. Blessed are you who are fluent in wonder and familiar with awe. 
Blessed are you who, even now, dream dreams, who have not lost hope, 
who swear the glass is still half-full. 
Blessed are you who plant trees
 and sing the harmony, 
who tell the children how this world can be magic. Blessed are you who 
walk and seek 
and turn over every stone, 
pointing out all the corners and colors 
that God lives in. 
Blessed are you. 
Rev. Sarah (Are) Speed

 Lent 2023 

 “This Lenten season, we will read many stories of Jesus encountering people who are seeking: a new beginning, a different life, a deeper faith. In these interactions, an unveiling often occurs – assumptions are disrupted, a new perspective is revealed, mystery grows. 

 Like the characters in our Lenten scriptures, we are also seeking many things: clarity connection, wonder, justice, balance. We are seeking our calling, the sacred, and how to live as a disciple.” [seeking: honest questions for deeper faith – A Sanctified Art] 

 This Lent, we will engage in the spiritual practice of seeking – by asking questions, and by staying curious, open, and nimble. It is hoped that we will soften our assumptions and expand our perspectives. May these questions create a safe space to explore – to be drawn more deeply into the fullness of life, into the heart of God. 

 An overview of our Lenten theme and weekly focus (beginning February 22nd):

 Ash Wednesday (2/22/23) seeking: Is this the fast that I choose? Isaiah 58:1-12 

Lent 1 (2/26/23) seeking: Who will you listen to? Matthew 4:1-11/Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 
Lent 2 (3/5/23) seeking: How do we begin again? John 3:1-17/Genesis 12:1-4a Lent 3 (3/12/23) seeking: Will you give me a drink? John 4:5-42/Exodus 17:1-7 Lent 4 (3/19/23) seeking: Who sinned? John 9:8-41 
Lent 5 (3/26/23) seeking: Can these bones live? John 11:1-45/Ezekiel 37:1-14 
Lent 6 (4/2/23) (Palm/Passion Sunday) seeking: Where are you headed? Matthew 21:1-11 

Maundy Thursday (4/6/23) seeking: Will you wash my feet? John 13:1-17, 31b-35 Good Friday (4/7/23) seeking: Why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:27-50

Easter (4/9/23) seeking: Who are you looking for? John 20:1-18 

January 2023

 Many of us have a desire to enter into the new year with some kind of intentionality. We like the illusion that we have control over everything and that we can make anything happen. One post I have been seeing a lot on a popular website is this: “Nobody claim 2023 as ‘your year’. We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. Don’t touch anything.” Now, while this is really good advice to follow if we are entering a museum, it doesn’t seem like such a practical plan for life with its messiness of relationships and responsibilities. 

 Another conversation I read suggested a unique way to make decisions about the year:
 “According to People magazine, this is going to be a year of all work and no play.” “Oh yeah? People magazine? Sounds like a solid source to set your expectations for the future.” “I think so. I did answer five questions to get that prophecy, so it’s pretty reliable. One wrong answer and I could have been doomed for a year of adventure or soothing self discovery.”
                                                                      Beautiful Mistake Vi Keeland 

Yikes! Five whole questions? I often ask myself more questions than that just to convince myself to get out of bed in the morning. 

 A humorous, but slightly more realistic idea I saw: “Before I agree to 2023 I want to read the terms and conditions.” Ah, if only we could have the gift of foresight and know the “terms and conditions” that the new year was going to require of us. Let’s be honest, most of us wouldn’t stop long enough to actually read these, though, right? 

 My personal choice for a suggestion for the new year came from a classic, Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness – and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!” As Christians we are invited to see the world as God wills it and to love that world into being. 

 From these various sources and suggestions I have compiled my own list for entering into 2023. I’ve also included the place in the original “terms and conditions” where such advice can be found: 

1) Enter boldly (Joshua 1:9), 
2) Do good (1 Thess. 5:13-15), 
3) Speak up (Ephesians 5:11), 
4) Always be respectful (1 Timothy 5:12), 
5) Touch every life you encounter (Matthew 25:35-40), 
6) Ask many questions (, 
7) Follow the terms and conditions (Micah 6:8), and 
8) See life as it should be (Matthew 6:10). 

Whatever you choose, Blessings and God be with you in 2023, Pastor Melissa
December 2022

When I was seeking an Advent Series that we could immerse ourselves in for 2022, I discovered this resource from A Sanctified Art (a digital resource that integrates art, music, poetry, and prose). When I read the following description from Rev. Sarah Speed, Founding Creative Partner, I knew this is how I wanted us to worship and be together this season: 

 “I can vividly remember a conversation between my 13-year-old adolescent self and my mother on the way to church one wintry morning. I asked her, “Mom, what if I don’t want to be a Christian?” (a protest undoubtedly influenced by my teenage desire to sleep in). My mother didn’t take the bait. Instead, she told me how this story of God has changed her life. She told me how she couldn’t imagine her world without the church. She told me how she so deeply believed in a better day, and how she felt called to help be a part of that. From the back seat of the car, I could tell that she was serious. Her joy, her hope, her conviction—they were so pure and so authentic that they left a lasting impression on me. It was a generation to generation moment. The Christmas story, of a love that came here, that walked among us, that was born in a humble manger to uncertain parents with shepherds nearby, is a story that we pass from generation to generation, because without fail, it continues to change us. It reframes the way we hope. It centers the way we love. It shapes the way we live. So this Advent, may we tell this story that has spread like wildfire from generation to generation. Let us remember the generations from Abraham to Jacob who waited for that promised day. And let our generation be so influenced in joy and love that future generations can’t help but pay attention. This Advent, let us tell the story of good news—from generation to generation.” 
 Rev. Sarah Speed, Founding Creative Partner 

From Generation to Generation... reminds us of the ways our lives, histories, actions, and stories are interconnected and woven together. In the midst of narratives, policies, and rhetoric designed to divide us, what does it look like to practice belonging to one another? The work of God is always unfolding— in and through us. This Advent season, how will we carry it forth? 

 *In addition to weekly worship and special worship, there is also a daily devotional for our Advent theme. Printed copies will be available at the Bible studies on Wednesdays and Thursdays and in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. (Copies are in the back window of the sanctuary.) There is also a digital format available. In order to receive the digital format, please email Pastor Melissa Warren 

*The devotionals from the series will also be used for Bible Studies: Wednesdays 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 7:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. in the East Room of 1st UMC. 

 *There also is an interactive Advent Calendar. It is a great resource for anyone (families or individuals) who want a more specific focus as they prepare for Christmas. Some examples of suggested activities include: 1. Matthew 1 lists 46 relatives of Jesus! How many family member can you name? 2. Ask an older relative to share a memory from when they were your age. 3. Volunteer with your family, or make a donation to those in need. 4. Create or set up a stable for your nativity scene. 

November 2022
Greetings and blessings in this oncoming month of November! 

6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work…11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity. which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 11-12 

A couple of years ago I attended a training event where the speaker talked about how to present your message and gain people's attention most effectively. One of the main points I remember her emphasizing was "Avoid the block quote. People won't read them. They will see a block quote in print and skip right over it to the next thing you have to say. 

She was right, wasn't she? Everyone who is reading this article skipped straight over the scripture passage above to get to the “meat" of the message and to figure out what this article was really going to say. Don't worry, we all do it most of the time. 

I think the same is true of the month of November and the way we live our lives in the latter part of the year. We know that we are headed for winter. We know that we are headed for shorter days and longer nights. We know that despite ourselves we will soon scurry away to our homes and start dreaming about the holidays and sort of “skip over” the regular days, the "block quote of the month.” 

I want to invite us to not skip over the "block quote" that is the month of November, or even December for that matter. Let’s wade through the thick and heavy together and maybe discover something really great about what we have to offer to the world and what God has to offer to us. 

OK, go back and read the block quote. I know you were feeling a bit guilty about skipping it in the first place. It’s ok, I’ll wait… 

Yes, the quote calls us to be generous. It calls us to give and share. It calls us to be thankful. Not just on Thanksgiving, not just on Christmas, but every day. After all, what are holidays? They are days we set aside as "holy" and every day the “holy” can be seen. 

In that spirit, I invite you to begin your Thanksgiving in earnest right now. Start preparing for how you will spend the months of November and December living into the "every day is a holiday" spirit. Start living without skipping the block quote.