I was working at my computer on Monday, April 15, when I noticed a post on “Facebook” from one of my friends and colleagues, indicating that she was praying for people in Boston. I wondered what on earth that could mean. The only thing that I knew would be happening in Boston was the marathon that is held on “Patriot’s Day,” observed every year on the third Monday in April.
And, of course, that is just what was taking place when the day was marred by an explosion near the finish line and then another just yards away. There was chaos and panic, with three people killed and dozens injured. Most of the crowd began to run from the danger, but there were those who ran toward the death and devastation—and saved lives by their actions.
Some of them were trained “first responders,” including firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel. There were nursing students who were suddenly called on to do more than they had ever imagined. There were trauma teams at local hospitals that responded heroically to the challenges presented them. There were veterans and military families who acted quickly.
“When I was a little boy and something bad happened in the news, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers. ‘You’ll always find people helping,’ she’d say. And I’ve found that that’s true. In fact, it’s one of the best things about our wonderful world.”
We are blessed to have helpers–“first responders”–wherever we are, should the need arise.
We are even more blessed to have Jesus Christ in our lives. He is willing to respond in any crisis and every danger. Praying in the garden, he asked, “’My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’”(Matthew 26:39a).
Sustained by God, he moved toward death and devastation—and brought us life. He was—and is—our “first responder,” offering his own life so that we might have eternal life.
May God be with those whose lives were shattered by the Boston Marathon bombings, and may God be with us in all circumstances and situations of life.
My passion in track was high jumping. I am not sure why that was the case, but I always wanted to jump higher than anyone else. A variety of coaches encouraged me to try other events, but the experience was seldom successful.
As it turned out, however, I could run just fast enough to be part of the various relays that were contested at the time in High School. That included the 440 relay, the 880 relay, and the mile relay. [These days, this would be the 4 x 100, the 4 x 200, and the 4 x 400. I am grateful that there was no two-mile relay when I competed.]
On every relay team, I was always the third runner of the four. It was a position where our coaches placed the slowest runner, and that was me.
I was never the quickest out of the blocks—or from a standing start. I didn’t have the closing speed to bring the baton home. I could be depended on, however, to carry the baton safely from the second runner on the team and get it to the next runner. If nothing else, I never dropped the baton.
That is where I find myself in my ministry as pastor here at First United Methodist Church. I have carried the baton for a tenure of nearly twelve years, and I don’t intend to drop it now!
I am grateful for the words from I Timothy 4:6-9.
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
But the journey of faith does not end with me. I will finish my portion of the journey soon enough, having received the baton from those who went before me. And I will hand it off on July 1 to Jeff Slater, who will be the next pastor to share in the relay. [And, of course, he is not the last pastor in the relay, just the next.]
My goal is for the coming three months to be a time of effective transition, so that I can finish well and Jeff can get off to a strong start. As I said when his appointment was announced, I could not be more pleased at the choice that has been made. I hope that the members and friends of First United Methodist Church will encourage him when he takes on the responsibility as pastor of First United Methodist Church and begins his own journey with the people of this congregation.
In the meantime, may we all run with faithfulness the race that is set before us, however long or short it may be.
One of the stories that I remember from Annual Conference a few years ago was about NASA astronaut Steve Hawley, who grew up in Salina. He flew on five Shuttle missions. His first intended mission, however, was called off two seconds before launch because a computer detected a failure in a valve. Looking out the window after the engines shut down, Hawley commented to his launch commander, “I know I’m the rookie here, but I thought we’d be a lot higher than this.”
I’m certainly not a rookie at First United Methodist Church, but I thought we’d be a lot higher than where we are now. I honestly anticipated that there would be a significant increase in the “vital statistics” that we love to track as United Methodists. I thought that we would have long since broken through the 300 barrier for worship attendance and be pushing 400. I expected that we would have an unblemished track record of meeting Mission and Ministry commitments in full. I believed that we would be in the position of having a full-time associate pastor.
But things turned out differently. We are doing well some Sundays to break the 200 barrier in worship attendance. Sunday School attendance is about a third what it was ten years ago. We have not paid Mission and Ministry Funds in full since 2006.
Steve Hawley did not give up after his first intended mission did not work out as planned. Nor should the people of First United Methodist Church. I believe that a great deal has been accomplished over the last several years, including a renewed commitment to the community, a vital relationship with a congregation in Zimbabwe, and increasing outreach to the “poor and needy of Hutchinson.” We host the “Center for Hope” on the 3rd floor, which is making a difference in the lives of any number of children and families.
We are currently considering the possibility of partnering with the YMCA in an after-school program for grade school children. We have sustained a commitment to children and youth in our staffing as a congregation. We have been able to bring on board an Assistant Pastor who has been invaluable in our ministry with persons who are homebound or care facilities. Our staffing is as strong as it has been at any time during my tenure as pastor. We have leveraged unexpected bequests for the good of the congregation. We have benefited from the continued commitment of laity in the congregation.
No, it’s not quite where I expected us to be. But it may be exactly where we need to be—in God’s time.
Nearly twelve years ago, my family and I arrived in Hutchinson. I was the newly appointed pastor of First United Methodist Church. I had just finished six years (and two weeks) as Salina District Superintendent, and I was ready for something different!
I arrived in the same pick-up that I still drive, with the porch swing in the back and various items of property held on precariously by rope or bungee cords. We came with a dog and a cat, three adult children, and hopes to find a worthwhile place of service.
At the time, I did not know how long I might stay as pastor of this congregation. There was plenty of time in the usual scheme of things for another appointment before retirement. The longest that I had ever stayed anywhere was eight years (Wichita-Pleasant Valley, 1987-1995). The longest pastoral tenure at First United Methodist Church had been nine years (Wayne Findley, 1982-1991). The Hutchinson District Superintendent told me that, if things didn’t work out, the cabinet would find something else for me in five or six years.
Evidently, things worked out! Another appointment never came along, and I have been privileged to be pastor of this congregation for nearly twelve years.
The time has come, however, for this journey to come to a close. I will turn sixty five years of age this coming June 22, and I have already served more than forty years in ministry.
I have shared with Bishop Scott Jones my written request for retirement. This will be formally approved in May, and it will take effect July 1, 2013. My wife and I are currently in the active stage of house hunting in the Hutchinson area, and we hope to maintain some kind of continuing relationship with the congregation.
At this time, I cannot find any better words than what Paul wrote early in his letter to the Philippians,
“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
Please know of my deep gratitude and appreciation for all those who have faithfully supported, encouraged, and held me accountable over the years. I look forward to doing what is helpful and necessary for there to be a smooth and effective transition to the leadership of the next person privileged to be appointed to this church!
I am not one of those preachers who plan out sermons a year at a time. Over 35 years of pastoral ministry, I have occasionally tried to do so, but I have never done so effectively.
Perhaps by default, I tend to follow the revised common lectionary, which offers a variety of scripture on a consistent pattern. However, I have felt free to deviate from that in the past in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is for a month’s worth of sermons on a specific topic. Sometimes it is for a series of one sort or another.
As I was casting about for what to preach this January, I wasn’t satisfied with the lectionary readings. It’s not that they aren’t worthwhile. It just seemed like it was time for something else.
I happened to notice on the copier in the work room a summary of the weekly readings for the Adult Bible Studies curriculum that is used by some of our adult Sunday School classes. In particular, this included:
- January 6: “Proclaiming Christ” (Philippians 1:15-26).
- January 13: “Jesus’ Humility and Exaltation (Philippians 2:5-11)
- January 20: “Gaining in Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:12-16)
- January 27: “Stand Firm” (Philippians 3:12-16).
To tell the truth, I couldn’t remember having preached a series based on Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity.
Then, as I began my preparations for the first Sunday, things began to fall into place.
I refreshed my memory about how Paul never intended to go to Philippi in the first place, but that something intervened in how he had his life planned. I remembered my assumptions twelve years ago about where I would be appointed in the summer of 2001, never imagining that First United Methodist Church in downtown Hutchinson, KS would be the place.
I read again how Paul made his way to Philippi and eventually encountered a “certain woman named Lydia,” who was receptive to Paul’s words and baptized, along with her household. (Acts 16:11-15). It was this woman who opened her home as a place of welcome and hospitality, providing for the needs of Paul and his party. I remembered how in January 2001 the women of First United Methodist Church were industriously serving the noon meal for a meeting of the Board of Ordained Ministry in Friendship Place. Despite a lack of heat in that portion of the building at the time, they were doing their best to care for us and our needs with warm food and gracious hospitality.
I read Paul’s words in the first chapter, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now”(1:3-5). And I remembered the countless number of those who have provided encouragement, support, and accountability for me during my time as pastor of this congregation. And I made this my prayer on Facebook for Sunday, January 6:
“Thank you, O God, for those who believe in us, work with us, and encourage us. Keep us faithful. Move us forward. Grant us joy. Amen.
I read with astonishment Paul’s affirmation that his personal inconvenience or suffering made no difference, so long as “Christ is proclaimed in every way”(Philippians 1:18). I remembered those who have disparaged my ministry or doubted my integrity over the years, and I asked God’s forgiveness for the desire for resentment or retaliation.
And so perhaps there was a reason–a providential coincidence–as to why that piece of paper was left on the copier. Perhaps the book of Philippians is just what I need to be reading, pondering, praying, and preaching this January after all! May it be worthwhile for all of us!
Each year at Church Conference, I share a written report about my ministry for the prior year. This year’s version was drawn from the “Ministry Goals” report that I had prepared for review by the Staff Parish Relations Committee here at First United Methodist Church. These are the highlights:
While we did not go through a process of establishing specific goals for the 2011-2012 appointive year, I believe that our ongoing areas of concern at First United Methodist Church include:
- End and then reverse the decline in worship [and Sunday School] attendance;
- Meet established financial goals, including a greater percentage of Mission and Ministry paid;
- Sustain an emphasis on children’s and youth ministries, called into jeopardy with the sudden resignation of our Youth and Education Coordinator in November 2011;
- Maintain a “welcoming” presence to visitors and attendees;
- Sustain and extend outreach to the community; and
- Maintain our partner relationship with Streamview United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe
I believe that our shared goals for the coming year include:
- Utilize the bequest of $110,659.73 from the Herman and Dora Schierling Trust (and other bequests) in ways that will be a benefit and blessing to the congregation;
- Incorporate the “Safe Gatherings” process into the life of the church;
- Continue our certification as a “Welcoming Congregation;” and
- Prepare for the (eventual) transition in appointed pastors.
My commitment to the church is to:
- Provide support and encouragement for the lay leadership and the staff of the congregation;
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including effective management of stress;
- Find a measure of joy in the midst of challenges and occasional turmoil; and
- Prepare effectively for the (eventual) transition into retirement.
It continues to be a privilege and blessing for me to serve as pastor of First United Methodist Church. I look forward to doing so in 2013!
A few weeks ago, we received a check here at the church. By any standard of measurement, it was for a small amount–$28.75. In reality, it was a surprisingly generous gift.
This check constituted the closing of the bank account of one of the great classes in the history of First United Methodist Church–the Progressive Sunday School Class. This class was first organized in 1928, being made up originally of several of the younger couples in the Homebuilders class. The growth of the Progressive Class was remarkable, so it says in our church’s written history, and officers of the Sunday School were constantly confronted with the problem of finding a room sufficient to accommodate the attendance.
They were a vigorous class as late as 1987. The class remained as active as possible for as long as they could. The last teacher of the Progressive Class served in that capacity for the last 25 years.
When the check was delivered to the church, it was all that the class had left after years of faithful service. The request was that it be contributed–in its entirety–toward the Mission and Ministry commitment of the congregation. This was a long-time interest and concern for the Progressive Class, and this last gift was a means of honoring that commitment.
By any conventional standard of measurement, this check was for a small amount. And yet, Jesus reminds us, not everything can be judged by quantity.
In Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4, Jesus specifically commends the generosity of a woman who contributes to the Temple treasury only “two copper coins.” Others donated much more and with great fanfare. However, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).
It is not the size of the gift but the commitment of the heart that makes the difference. We are blessed and honored to receive a contribution of $28.75 and to designate it for Mission and Ministry. It is a surprisingly generous gift, since it amounted to all that was left to give.
May the generosity of those who made this gift be a continued means of blessing for this church and the ministries that we support. And may we in turn offer “what we have and who we are” in support of the work of the church!
Grace and Peace,
This year’s session of the Kansas West Annual Conference was curiously refreshing. We met May 23-25 at the Kansas State Fairgrounds with a theme of “Vital Congregations: Dynamic Worship.”
A variety of worship experiences characterized our time together, including powerful preaching by Bishop Gregory Palmer who proclaimed the “Word of the Lord” at the Service of Commissioning and Ordination that took place on Wednesday evening.
Having spent eleven days at General Conference in Tampa, Florida, it was refreshing to meet for only three days. Moreover, it was good to discuss issues and to make decisions without subterfuge or political maneuvering.
The issue that commanded the most attention was the recommendation for us to become one Annual Conference, composed of three current conferences—Kansas West, Kansas East, and Nebraska. Generally speaking, we were able to ask our questions and to make our speeches without resorting to accusation or innuendo. We could disagree without being disagreeable. We could speak to one another rather than about one another.
All things considered, our conversation was healthy and constructive. We will find out about becoming one conference on Saturday, June 9, after the Kansas East Conference and the Nebraska Conferences have also voted. If this is approved, it would then be referred to the South Central Jurisdiction and presumably implemented on January 1, 2014.
There were other factors that made this a good conference. There were more clergy commissioned, recognized, or ordained than retired this year. That is a pleasant change from the direction we have moved in recent years.
We were blessed by the visit of eight clergy and laity from Zimbabwe, who helped us to experience the “joy of the Lord” in new ways. We sang “Amazing Grace” together in a blended version, with simultaneous singing in Shona and English.
And then there were babies! We are currently privileged to have several younger clergy—including a number of clergy couples—who have infants under a year of age. One of these babies was baptized as part of the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. This helped remind all of us that our call to ministry is based in our baptism. The presence of these little ones throughout the entire conference helped to bring a perspective that was refreshing for those of us who are “old” or “oldish!”
And so, despite the fatigue of three long days of meetings, we were curiously refreshed and spiritually renewed for another year of service!
The 2012 United Methodist General Conference has come and gone. This was my fifth such venture, and it was the first–and only–time that I decided to “step out of line” and offer my services for some form of leadership in the legislative committee process.
I took the liberty of sharing my interest ahead of time with the lay and clergy leaders of the delegations in the South Central Jurisdiction. I did receive one response that affirmed my leadership ability. That was encouraging, but it was the only such response. Some of the members of my own delegation did make contact with those on the “Conferences” committee whom they knew, but everybody was busy with the attendant details of preparation for General Conference and these contacts did not seem to generate any interest.
The organizing meeting for the “Conferences” committee took place early in General Conference at the same time as the other twelve committees. I believe that our committee represented the “worldwide nature” of the church at least as well as any other legislative committee. There were delegates from a wide variety of locations, including every jurisdiction in the United States and from conferences in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Malawi, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sweden, and Zambia.
I thought that I had my proverbial “ducks in a row” for another delegate to nominate me as chairperson, and I was under the impression that I had a back-up plan. However, it turns out that I needed a “Plan C” for my name actually to have been placed in nomination to chair the committee.
As it turned out, we moved quickly toward an excellent choice for chairperson of the committee, the Rev. Guy Ames–a District Superintendent in the Oklahoma Annual Conference. Things continued to move forward, with the Rev. Robert Kilembo of the Zambia Provisional Conference elected as Vice Chairperson.
Then came nominations for secretary, an office I was also willing to fill. I thought that this might actually be an opportunity to be elected, since the possibility of a male–whether clergy or laity–at least went against the grain of the stereotypical expectations for secretaries, whether in the local church or at General Conference.
I did manage to get my name placed in nomination and made the requisite “less than a minute” speech summarizing my interest and experience. Despite being the only male nominee, however, I quickly finished third out of three candidates. Gloria Holt (North Alabama) was eventually elected to that responsibility.
The last leadership choice was for the two sub-committees that would do the basic work and bring a recommendation to the entire committee. Byrd Bonner (Southwest Texas) and Mele Maka (California-Pacific)–both of them with prior General Conference experience–were quickly selected, and I thought that my brief excursion into the possibility of legislative committee leadership was over. However, Mele Make immediately asked me to serve as secretary for the “General Conference” sub-committee, so that is what I wound up doing for the next few days.
The work of a legislative committee at General Conference is a detailed and tedious process that can get bogged down at innumerable points. It took us a while, for example, to figure out whether we were to vote “on the motion” or “on the petition.” That makes little or no sense to anybody who was not there, and the memory thereof is already beginning blessedly to fade!
The first day of legislative work, my responsibilities included reading aloud the petition under consideration. Apparently I have a voice for that sort of thing, although I was asked at one point to “speak loudly more quietly.” Now and then I was asked to provide interpretive context.
Altogether, our sub-committee managed the work that was given us to do. We listened to one another. We learned from one another. We sang together. We prayed together. We learned to wait for translators to do their work.
We were reminded that neither the title of the petition nor the rationale were disciplinary in nature. We disagreed with one another now and again, though never in a disagreeable way. That seemed to be reserved for other committees and for plenary sessions of General Conference the following week.
There was nothing earth-shattering or legislatively spectacular for us to consider. Such proposals were then under consideration in other committees, especially “General Administration,” where there was ultimately an unsuccessful struggle to come up with a proposal for restructuring the general church. We had no such challenges in our committee, and we were able to complete our work in the allotted time.
We did not work without assistance. There were translators, monitors, pages, and a parliamentarian, all of whom contributed significantly to the functioning of the committee. With their assistance, we processed all the petitions given to us–thoroughly if not quickly.
Along the way, I helped to put together a “multi-source” petition that integrated language from four petitions into a relatively coherent whole. Amazingly enough, that is the sort of thing that I enjoy doing! It was that petition which I had the privilege of presenting to the Friday afternoon session of General Conference. It was the first–and last–for me to speak “from the platform” at a General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
No, I did not chair a legislative committee at General Conference. I was not one of the formally elected officers of a legislative committee. But I believe that I contributed in some small way in the work that was accomplished in our committee by means of “leading from the side.”