“All Things New”

As we roll out the changes to our ministries at FUMC that are the result of the Reorganization Plan we adopted in July, it’s important that we all know what’s going on. I’m using this space to share news about several new ministries and some new versions of existing ministries. Please take the time to read these notes so that you can help share the news of All Things New!

SUNDAY MORNINGS AT FIRST UMC!

Beginning September 1, Sunday mornings will have an entirely new look. Here’s what you can expect to see when you arrive each week ….

8:30 AM—The doors will be open and you’ll find coffee in the Pecan Street Foyer and a warm welcome

8:45 AM—Children’s Gathering will begin in the Music Room (a.k.a the Choir Room)

9:00 AM—Sunday School begins for all ages

10:00 AM—Sunday Worship begins in the Sanctuary

As I have shared in worship, we will continue to celebrate “5th Sundays” with a covered dish brunch and Service Sunday mission activities, so that the entire congregation has the chance to spend time together.

Remember that moving from three worship hours to one means that “your” seat may be someone else’s seat, too! Please be kind & gracious as you find a place, especially for the first few weeks. This may be the perfect time for you to shake things up and—gasp!—even sit on the other side of the room!

THE TABLE: A Community Meal & Spiritual Life Experience

If you were involved in helping the Reorganization Task Force craft the proposal that became our ministry plan in July, you know that one of the most important parts was the creation of an alternative worship opportunity. Though the plan identified that new venture as happening in an evening time slot, we had many details to be determined. Would it be held at FUMC or an off-site venue? What evening would it be?

As I have shared in worship and in church-wide emails over the past couple of weeks, most of those details have now been set and I’m pleased to share with you that this new worship experience, The Table, begins on Sunday, September 15! Each Sunday, we will gather at the Gainesville campus of North Central Texas College at 6:00 PM for a meal, followed by 30 minutes of shared music and 30 minutes of discussion about the scriptures. It really won’t be like any kind of church experience you’ve had before—the congregation will help create worship every week, selecting music, offering testimony, and sharing thoughts and questions about the Bible and theology.

The Table will be open to anyone, but we are looking for members of our congregation who might be willing to commit to regular attendance for the next several months. If you’d like to be one of our pioneers, please contact me by email (john@fumcgainesville.org) or phone (214-384-1139) as soon as possible.

WEEKLY BIBLE STUDIES BEGIN THIS MONTH!

The fundamental question behind our Reorganization Plan was: “How can we continue to grow our own spiritual life as we create relationships between our congregation and those in the community who do not have a church home?” Bible Study is a cornerstone of the Christian life, and I’m pleased to say we will be offering two NEW opportunities for encountering the scriptures this fall.

“Bible Journey,” a Spirit-led opportunity to engage the scriptures, will begin Wednesday, September 4, and will be held each week from 6-7 PM in Room 113. FUMC member and STAR Partner, Jim Thompson, will facilitate the discussion each week.

Instead of leading the former Pastor’s Bible Study, I will be starting a new group, “Bible Discovery,” that is designed for those who may never have spent time studying the scriptures. I’m hoping to build on the great foundation that Pastor Kathy Nations helped lay for us during her time with us, by gathering this group at Second Time Around Resale. We will also be meeting weekly from 6-7 PM, and I’ve been working with the Partners at STAR to invite some of our Neighbors—that’s what we like to call our customers at STAR.

…….

Friends, as we enter this new age in the story of our congregation, it’s my hope that every one of us might find some new way to intentionally encounter God and love our neighbors. We really can’t say we’re the church without doing just that.

Grace and peace, Pastor John

“Dominion or Stewardship”

On Sunday, July 28, I shared some reflections with the congregation about my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, including a visit to Northern California. My close friend and clergy colleague, Rev. Clay Andrew, is currently on a Renewal Leave funded by a grant from the Eli Lilly Foundation, and he invited me to be one of several guest preachers who have been helping lead worship in his congregation this summer.

Because I had the chance to travel on someone else’s dime, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit a place I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember—the Redwood Forests of Northern California. It was a truly awe-inspiring experience, one which is difficult to adequately describe. As often happens with a visit to such places, I was able to experience the presence of God in the majesty of Creation.

My experience of God’s presence, however, came in a way that was slightly different from what I might have expected. Following my sermon on Sunday, one of our church members approached me to share that he “felt like this”—holding up two fingers barely apart to indicate how tiny he seemed standing among the giant trees, some of which are taller than a 30-story building!

I certainly had those feelings as I walked among the giants, and I eventually gave up taking photographs of them since there was almost literally no way to capture one in its entirety and even less likely that I would be able to capture its essence. It was another epiphany, though, that most profoundly affected me.

I had done quite a bit of research in preparation for my visit to the Redwood National and State Parks, but mostly in regards to what trails I wanted to take through the forests with the little time I had available. What I did not realize was just how extensively the Redwoods had been devastated by logging from the 1850s through the 1960s. During that time, about 95% of the 2 million acres of Redwood Forest had been clear cut along the California and Oregon Coastlines. In roughly 100 years, mankind had reduced to almost nothing what God had taken thousands—probably even millions—of years to create.

This is a common trait of humanity—the will to exercise dominion over nature. For those of us who count ourselves children of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, the word “dominion” holds particular meaning and is tied directly to a specific interpretation of the Biblical story of Creation. In that story, found in the first chapter of Genesis, the Creator is quoted as saying, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Dominion, in this case, is often understood to mean that we may do with creation whatever it is we want: In essence, that creation is subject to human will. But there is another, equally valid interpretation of the Hebrew word that is most often translated as “dominion.” In the other interpretation, God gives humanity “stewardship” over creation, rather than dominion.

In this alternate understanding, having stewardship of Creation, rather than dominion over creation, recognizes two important aspects of Christian faith:

  • First, that all Creation—including humanity—is subject to the will of God; and
  • Second, that we have the responsibility to care for Creation so that it continues to thrive in the ways God intended and intends in the work of creating.

As I walked among the Redwoods that day, seeing the light filtering through their leaves and limbs high above me, I realized that in some ways, God’s creation in that space might have been better served if we had never arrived. That was an extraordinarily sad thought to me and I began to be extremely grateful for those whose work preserved the last remaining Old Growth groves—the ones whose names adorned them.

My faith and understanding of the Scriptures lead me to believe we are partners with God in the work of caring for all things. The Redwoods have taught me a new lesson and I commit myself even more fervently to the work of stewardship, for all things have been created by God and are precious in God’s sight.

Grace and peace, Pastor John