Tag Archives: United Methodist Church

The Boy in The White Hat: Where is He Now?

A few weeks ago, we celebrated my grandson turning four years old. It was the first time the four cousins had been together. This picture captures their joy, and perhaps you can imagine mine…

I love the way they are holding hands. I love their hats!

These are the children in my world: these are the ones I can influence for good; these are the ones I can be a good example to; these are the ones I can teach to love and respect all human beings so that they can do their part to bring love and light into this world of ours.

Then there’s this: Continue reading

Possibly the Two Greatest Things That Children Could Ever Learn… Taking Place in a United Methodist Church

It was early on Tuesday morning when my phone beeped with an unexpected blessing. It was a little message from a children’s ministry colleague in Ohio. Kathy and I have never actually met.

‘Hi Glenys’, the message read, ‘our congregation hosts a summer literacy program in July called Camp Read-A-Lot. Each week we give books to the children to take home and keep for their own, mostly donated gently used books. This year we received a donation in memory of a local high school librarian to purchase a special book for each child. I was so excited to be able to purchase Love Letters from God from Church Source and a price that enabled us to purchase 170 copies! … I’m writing to you as I am wondering if you would be willing to share a few words of encouragement with our Camp Read-A-Lot kids…’

Wow!  Would I be willing to share a few words of encouragement with the Camp Read-A-Lot kids? You bet! These children, gathered together in a United Methodist church in Ohio, are learning two of the most wonderful things in life: how to read, and how to know Jesus.

So I grabbed my phone, texted my bestie, and two hours later, we were sitting by a little lake in the sunshine, making this video… Continue reading

What Happened at Church This Morning…

A few days ago, a young man stepped into my husband’s office. It’s not unusual. Our church stands on the edge of a city. Many people approach him for help. But this young man didn’t ask for money. He asked to be baptized.

He’s going to be baptized this Sunday, my husband told me excitedly.

We were so excited. Of course we were! We love baptisms! We love it when babies get baptized, and my husband carries them through the congregation to meet their new church family.

But as beautiful and special and meaningful as infant baptism is, it’s the parents who request that for their babies. When a grown man walks in off the street and requests that for himself, you simply know that God is at work in powerful ways.

But would he actually show up? I wondered if he would be brave enough to come, early on Sunday morning. Continue reading

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. And the Children…

It’s the first time there’s been no room for me to sit on the steps with the children as they gather to hear me read.

I look around, at all those little ones peering up at me, and somehow, it feels totally appropriate to kneel, in front of them, under the cross and flame. You’d think, with all those children, I’d be in a huge United Methodist church, perhaps in the big city of Grand Rapids. But I’m not… Continue reading

The Church in the Middle of the Cornfield

It’s Sunday. l’m in the car early on this October morning. I leave the city and all the traffic behind and pretty soon I’m by myself on country roads, heading to this little church where I’ve been invited to share in a special Children’s Sunday. I’m happy to do it… children’s ministry is my passion.

I don’t really know what to expect when I get there, but I’m thinking that that this place won’t be packed. There probably won’t be many kids. But that’s okay, I remind myself. After all, some of Jesus’ most powerful conversations that would result in transformed lives were shared one on one, rather than in the crowd.

I keep driving, and driving, past peach farms and fruit trees, and nothing else, until I arrive at the railway tracks that have no lights. I obediently stop and as I do, I see a faithful little sign beyond, trying its best to stick up importantly out of the grass. It bears a cross and flame. I know that logo.

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Chapel Hill United Methodist Church 1/4 Mile that faithful sign announces, with a little arrow to guide me just in case I get lost. After all, the road I’m on does seem to stretch into nowhere.

But I’m on the right path. And exactly one-quarter of a mile down that road, I get my first glimpse of the church. It’s little. And cute. It looks welcoming. It’s in the middle of a cornfield.

As I pull into the parking lot, I note that there’s even parking spaces ‘reserved for visitors.’ I try not to think about just how many visitors might come here. But the point is, this church is prepared.

It’s just that I’m not… I’m not quite prepared for what I experience that morning…

because inside those doors, something is happening, fueled by the undeniable and inextinguishable presence of the Holy Spirit.

Every pew is full. And there are children… lots of them. The worship is high energy as we gather to celebrate the launch of the re-envisioned Kidz Konnection. And I have to admit this is just not what I was expecting.

So much work, and thought, and planning, and prayer, and preparation has gone into this that I am overwhelmed… and so proud of this little church and all it is achieving.

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And when we make our way up to the altar rail for communion, I get the biggest piece of bread I have ever seen, because, as the pastor says: who wants a little bit of Jesus? Don’t we all want a big hunk of Jesus?

Yes, yes, yes! This little church in the middle of the cornfield is offering a big hunk of Jesus to all who step though its doors. And that is a wonderful thing.

And I guess it doesn’t matter what size our church, whether we’re in the city or the country, as long as we’re preaching the Gospel and welcoming children as Jesus did.

As long as little children return from the communion rail grinning from ear to ear clutching a piece of bread so sodden in juice that it has turned pink, while others kneel at the communion rail, their eyes closed and their hands held high in prayer.

And when I leave that morning, I look out, beyond the cross, over to the cornfield and I watch the giant stalks blowing in the wind.

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I think about that huge field of corn, and all the work and preparation that went into it. Of how a farmer must have planted those seeds, and nurtured them, and fed them, and proudly watched them grow, all the while anticipating a harvest.

And that’s just what this little village church is doing… planting seeds, and nurturing them, and faithfully fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

There will be a harvest.

To the Newly Ordained Pastors….Why I’m Afraid For You.

It truly was an amazing Ordination Service.

Hundreds of United Methodists, a great cloud of witnesses, gathered together to honor and celebrate those who had bravely stepped forward to answer God’s call on their lives and enter ordained ministry.

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It was such a powerful and moving service that I wouldn’t have been surprised if a white dove had descended from the ceiling. Because the Holy Spirit was surely present… hovering, and filling, and moving, and working. Everyone there could feel it.

In the Bishop’s hands as she knelt to wash the feet of those newly ordained, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the songs we sang. and the music we heard, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the babies and children who clapped their hands, the Holy Spirit was there.

In those who watched from the balcony, who heard God calling them into ministry too, and who made their way up to the altar in tears, the Holy Spirit was there.

It was the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the chaos of creation; the same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus 2000 years ago in the River Jordan; the same Holy Spirit who showed up powerfully thirty years ago, when my husband was ordained.

Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of ordained ministry? the Bishop asked.

I do so believe came the unanimous response.

I do so believe that too.

I believe that God called each of you.

I believe that each of you who knelt before the Bishop have already knelt before God’s throne.

I believe that each of you who had hands laid upon you in prayer already have God’s own hand powerfully laid upon your life.

I believe that for every person who hugged and clapped and cried for you, there are already a thousand angels singing for joy for you.

Because I know that you, like my husband, have been called, and set apart and sent for God’s Holy work, and you entered the ministry because you have a yearning to mend broken hearts, and bind up the wounded, and try to make a difference in this hurting world. I know this.

But I’m afraid for you.

I’m afraid lest you become one of the wounded. I’m afraid that as you rise to your feet and leave that spirit-filled sanctuary behind, the world and (dare I say it) your churches might steal your joy, and cause you to question your call.

And if that day should come, I pray that you can find your sanctuary again, that you will remember that it is Almighty God who has called you, that you will still be able to feel God’s Holy Spirit strengthening and sustaining and upholding you, and that when you hear words that discourage and deter, the truth of God’s words to you will be louder in your ear and stronger in your heart….

you are my child whom I dearly love; I find happiness in you.

It was a privilege to see you ordained. May God bless you every day and fill you with the Holy Spirit as you seek to make disciples, preach the Word, and answer that wonderful call on your life.

You are brave.

And you will make a difference in the world.

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Why Your Church Needs to Celebrate Children’s Sabbath

She could have been at home, watching cartoons or playing outside.

She could have been out shopping with her mama, or enjoying a pancake breakfast in the restaurant on this Sunday morning.

But instead, she’s here, this little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow. She’s here, breaking the bread, and smiling, holding it out at arm’s length well before we’ve even reached the altar, as if it’s really important, as if to say:

Come and get this! It’s just for you! Its special!

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And it was.

In fact, my whole morning was special.

It was Children’s Sunday in this United Methodist Church, a special day set aside to celebrate the children in our midst.

Everything about this service said: We love children. Children are special to us.

From the bulletin cover,

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to the Call to Worship…

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From the prayers of blessing,

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to the benediction…

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everything involved children, and told them, over and over again:

You’re important here.

And so it’s not really surprising is it, that the little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow should be here at all? Because isn’t this the place where she knows she’s welcomed, and loved, and needed, and important?

I’m watching this little child.

I notice how she crouches down to one who is smaller than her.

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I see how she fixes her eyes on one who is older than her.

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And when it’s my turn, she gives me the biggest smile and tears off the biggest piece of bread, and she tells me, quite confidently and with no doubt in her voice:

 Jesus loves you.

I don’t know how many people received communion from this little girl.. but she managed to make me feel like I was the only one who mattered that morning.

I don’t know how she did that.

But she did.

No wonder that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

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Eight easy ideas to include in Children’s Sabbath:

  1. Have a child design the bulletin.
  2. Use the Call to Worship included in this post.
  3. Have children read the scripture.
  4. Invite them to extend their hands during prayers of blessing.
  5. Have children lead the benediction, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ in sign language.
  6. Let children serve communion.
  7. Decorate the altar with balloons and toys.
  8. Before the service begins, hand musical instruments out to every child and invite them to play along whenever music is heard.

My thanks to Pastors Mary Ivanov and Erin Fitzgerald for these wonderful ideas, and for reminding me in powerful ways to whom the Kingdom of God belongs.

The Invitation

We welcomed new members today. Six people had decided to join our church.

They had faithfully attended the membership class a few weeks before, dutifully filled in the paper-work, learned about the holy sacraments we celebrate as United Methodists, and heard all about John Wesley, our founding father.

They were ready. Today was the day we would welcome them into membership.

My husband stood at the altar and called their names. They came forward, smiling. But before we welcomed them into our United Methodist family, my husband said these words…

Is there anyone else here today who feels like they would like to join our church this morning?

It was quiet. And still. Nobody moved. But he didn’t give up.

If God is moving in your heart, I invite you to come forward. We can deal with the red tape and paperwork later, he smiled. But if God is calling you, come and stand with us. 

And from behind him, a young woman came, followed by her husband, followed by an older lady who slowly made her way up to the altar, pushing her walker. It took her a long time. But she came. They came. They stood together. And suddenly, six became nine.

And you could just feel it, this whisper of the Holy Spirit, this mysterious murmur that happens when you let God work in the moment, in the quietness, in the heart.

And I’m sure it’s the same Holy Spirit who whispered in the wind on that Galilean beach so long ago, when Jesus said ‘follow me’ to four fishermen, who just dropped their nets and went. Because what could be more important than saying yes to Jesus?

And here’s the thing… I don’t think God cares if we’re ready. I don’t think God cares if our nets are mended or our classes are completed. No form-filling, no lesson-learning, no net-mending should ever come between us and God. God just wants us to say yes to the call, to walk up to the altar.

Because when we do, we invite God to be at work in powerful ways. The moment becomes God’s moment, and our church becomes that beach, where we can drop our nets in the sand, and let the ground become holy as we follow Jesus.

If God is calling you, come and stand with us. my husband said.

It’s the best invitation we could ever receive, the only invitation that truly offers us life.

Church

When Christianity Meets Atheism

I used to think that Atheism was a dirty word. I could barely say it. It would leave a nasty taste in my mouth.

But last night, I changed my mind. I met Samantha.

It was at an Interfaith gathering, hosted by our church in Grand Rapids. Over four hundred and fifty people gathered there, to celebrate unity in diversity.

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It was a beautiful thing: rich in culture, and color, and creativity. There was wisdom, and warmth, and wonder. It’s what happens when we humans manage to throw aside our differences, and focus on our similarities. It’s what happens when Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists actually talk to each other. But I didn’t think an Atheist would be there.

She limped up to the microphone as her dad held her hand. Samantha is ten years old. She is fighting a rare form of cancer. I couldn’t begin to pronounce its name. But she could. She said it loud and clear, right into the microphone, where her brave words rebounded off the walls and hung in the air as clear as a bell.

Hello. I’m Samantha. I have grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma. …..and I’m an Atheist.

WHAT?

I must admit to being stopped in my tracks. Right there. How could this sweet young thing, battling this rare and deadly illness, stand there and say that?

How could her dad, who used to be a pastor, stand at her side and not believe in heaven?

This evening has been wonderful, he said. We’ve so enjoyed all the contributions from varying faith traditions, seeing Hindu dancers, listening to Buddhist songs, hearing verses from the Quran and the Bible…..but we’re different. We’re Atheists.

And that, right there, must have been my problem. Samantha is different to me; Samantha’s dad is different to me. And wasn’t that what this Interfaith gathering was all about…to come together, to listen to each other, and respect each other’s differences?

And although I’ve never thought of Atheism as a ‘faith tradition’, what is faith, unless it is something you believe in? And who am I, to judge the atheist, for their beliefs?

Cancer doesn’t care what religion you are. said ten-year old Samantha.

Her words rang in my ears, and will be forever etched in my mind.

I am a Christian. I believe passionately in God. I know Jesus is real, and that one day, I will be in heaven.

But I’m not here to judge.

I’m not here to convert.

I’m not here to convince.

I’m here to listen.

I’m here to love.

And even though Jesus commands me to preach the gospel to all the world, I’m going to try to do that through love. Because without love, my words, whether written or spoken, are nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

And who would ever want to listen to that?

This big old beautiful world is big enough for Muslim, and Hindu; for Buddhist, and Baha’i; for Christians like me, and Atheists like Samantha.

We love. We laugh. We live…together….

Sam and the Red Balloon

It’s Sunday morning, bright and early. I’m excited to be here, in Portland, Oregon, to meet my wonderful new granddaughter and spend time with her big brother.

Sam is not yet two and a half. He is utterly adorable, and utterly sweet. I didn’t realize quite how sweet he really is until I got to spend seven precious days with him.

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We arrive at Montavilla United Methodist Church and jump out of the car. It’s cold and rainy in Portland this morning. We pull our coats up around our ears, put our heads down and get ready to scurry inside.

But Sam has seen something. He pulls on my hand, makes a squealing sound and points upward. He can’t quite say airplane yet, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s seen.

We all turn to gaze upwards, and we see a tiny red balloon, floating far, far away, being carried on the wind through Portland’s cloudy skies. It’s only there for a moment, and then it’s gone.

Wow Sam! We say. Good job! You saw a balloon!

And that’s it. That’s my little story. Except I think there’s so much more to it than that. I’ve thought a lot about that tiny red balloon since Sam saw it, less that a week ago. And I got to thinking:

Why did he see that balloon?

How did he see that balloon?

He was the smallest person there. My husband is over six feet tall, my sons are taller still. But Sam is only two feet tall. You could argue that us grown ups were closer to the balloon, and therefore, shouldn’t we have been the ones to see it?

But we didn’t. Sam did.

And the only possible explanation, the only possible reason, is that he was the one looking up. And why would he be doing that, if he wasn’t expecting to see something… something surprising, and wonderful?

And that makes me think about God too.

We grown ups, we think we’re the ones closer to God. We think we’re the ones who know more, who read the Bible, who know how to pray, who study the scriptures.

But maybe, just maybe, our children are closer to God….because they are the ones looking up, the ones expecting to see God, the ones knowing that God will show up in surprising and wonderful ways.

Like little Sam, who looked up one Sunday morning and saw that tiny red balloon, as it floated across Portland’s cloudy skies and far, far away.