Stewardship at FUMC

download (1)At First United Methodist Church of Bakersfield stewardship is taught as a Christian lifestyle. All year our people get the message that God gave His own Son for us. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price,” 1 Cor. 6:20; and God wants us to become generous as God is generous.

In 2009 FUMC completed the construction of our newest building – a $1.3 narthex.   There remained a debt of about $250,000 which was paid off in 2010.   How did that happen? Everyone was urged to pray for financial blessing. Then one day we were informed of a considerable sum of money left to the church by a long-­‐ago member. So the mortgage was paid and the Administrative Council praised God and realized that we needed to show our gratitude to God.  So a decision was made to tithe our bequest monies – give 10% –   to a local, Christian ministry. That is how we were able to help The Mission at Kern with their “women in transition” program, LOVE inc. and others.

Tithing is taught at FUMC. Does the Pastor tithe? Do leaders of the church tithe?  Tithing is a not a requirement for church membership, but it is a biblical standard. So we try to embed the Bible in all our communications.  Everyone is encouraged to be in a small group for spiritual growth. The small group experience includes practical knowledge of the Bible, prayer, a stewardship lifestyle, and a service project in the community.

The Finance Committee develops an annual budget that “stretches” us toward God’s purpose. Special holiday offerings go to mission outside the FUMC budget (such as UMCOR projects and local Christian missions). It is our practice to nominate people to the Finance Committee who are tithers or strong and consistent givers.

In the Fall we have a “stewardship emphasis” encouraging our members and constituents to pledge to the Lord’s mission through the church. Each year we have a new theme and logo that appears on our communications and is a theme for a sermon series. The theme for 2013 -­‐   Living the Life God Meant For You “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” John 10:10.

We continue to pray that God will provide the necessary resources for us to fulfill the mission the Lord has given us.

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PastorRichard-bioRev. Richard Thompson
Pastor
First United Methodist Church, Bakersfield

Talking to new members about giving

How does your congregation talk with new members about their giving? I’ve been a guest at a couple of new member classes where the presenter’s entire mannerism changed when the “money conversation” came up. By the way, the change was not for the better. Confident speech changed to apologetic stammering in an instant.

I’m pretty sure that many new members, especially if they are new to the church, would appreciate some guidance about what to give. I’ve had three conversations with pastors recently in which the pastor reported a new member saying, “I want to support the church generously, but I don’t know what a generous gift is. How much should I give?”

What if we said something like this to new members?

“Some of you are coming from other congregations and have a well-established giving pattern. Others of you may not have a history of giving to a congregation and may wonder how much you should give. We aren’t going to tell you how much to give. We know that other members of our congregation give very different amounts.

“One thing I would invite you to consider is the way the Old Testament talks about giving, which is to lift up for us the tithe, or giving ten percent of our income away. This would include your giving to the church and to all other charities. For some of you, giving ten percent may be what you already do. For others, giving ten percent may sound like a hopelessly unrealistic amount.

“I want to encourage you to think about your giving as a percentage of your income, rather than a specific dollar amount. The first step in doing this is to determine what percentage you want to give away. Decide on that percentage, whatever it is. If it is ten percent, that is great. If it is another percentage, that’s fine. Decide on a percentage, and then multiply your household income by that percentage. That is what you want to give away, and whatever percentage you pick, this is a great start. Give that percentage away. Many people start at one level, and then strive to grow their giving as they work toward the tithe, or ten percent.

“Obviously, your membership here doesn’t require a certain level of giving. I have learned over the years that when people give more generously, they find great joy in their giving, and they find greater joy in their involvement in our congregation. I want that sort of joy for you, so I invite and encourage you to develop a plan for generous giving that starts with you answering the simple question, ‘What percentage of my income do I want to give away?'”

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Article by Chick Lane, Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Copyright General Board of Discipleship. http://www.GBOD.org Used by permission.”

 

PARTICIPATING IN SMALL GROUPS…

756dea58-409e-4d11-9f9c-b7e70d3603b2I sit down to write this on the shores of Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.  For those who don’t know, this place is an old, old United Methodist Center perched on the shores of a beautiful lake in the Smoky Mountains. I am here to attend a week of training for new District Superintendents.   The sessions are powerful, long, challenging, and I am full of information and ideas.   It’s such a gift to be here as I prepare for a new ministry of Superintending.

Lake Junaluska just celebrated its 100th anniversary as a place of training for discipleship and being here is to be bathed in our history as a faith community.  It’s a powerful thing indeed.  One of the things that used to happen here was the training of Class Leaders for the famous and ever present Class Meetings of the Methodist Church.

Class Meetings, Small Groups, Discipleship Groups, Covenant Groups, Spiritual Life Small Groups; they have been known by many names.  But whatever they are called, they are at the core of who we are as a Wesleyan faith community. John and Charles Wesley clearly understood that it was in the intimacy and immediacy of a small group setting that people could pursue Christian Discipleship.    It is in the closeness and clarity of a small group that people can share their faith and hold one another lovingly accountable for their individual and collective faith journeys.     It’s in small groups that people can become vulnerable to one another and to the power of God’s Spirit.

Most of us know that early in our history these groups were inseparable from our larger identity.  Indeed, there was a time when admission to Holy Communion depended on regular attendance to one of these groups.    Most of us also know that participation in these small groups, over time, pretty much disappeared from our local churches.

It’s time to think and pray about reclaiming this historic model of discipling for our Church communities today.    The Small Group isn’t just another program or good idea to deploy.  It is a process for making Christian Disciples.   It’s a way for people to stay focused on their faith and accountable for the lives they have chosen.

small-group-ministries_web-300x225What do these classes look like?    They take many shapes.   A few things, though, seem to be prevalent as people claim this wonderful process.   Small Groups have leaders who have received training.    Ask your Pastor, District Superintendent or Conference Superintendents about training.   I’ve included some web links below that might prove helpful.

Small Groups are small.  They typically don’t have more than a dozen members.  If the group grows beyond that, they usually form a new group.   Small Groups meet regularly.  Meeting weekly for ninety minutes is common.   Small groups usually develop a covenant that they use as a centerpiece, holding one another accountable for the maintenance of this covenant.

A small group covenant includes such things as:

  • Faithfully attending the Small Group Meetings
  • Worshipping every Sunday
  • Reading Scripture every day
  • Praying every day
  • Tithing to your church
  • Giving a stated amount of time each week in service to the poor

This is basic, and echoes the groups of yesteryear, but you likely get the point.   In Small Groups people find enough safety to explore, enough challenge to grown, and enough power to follow Jesus wherever it is he might be leading.

And so comes the call to faith communities to reclaim this powerful and wonderful community building, disciple-making process.    Start a small group and participate in it.   Work with your Pastor and the leaders of your Church to grow these groups.   Set a vision of having every Church member engaged in a small group.  Then, with thanksgiving, sit back and watch the Spirit take over!   Then, with inspired hearts, watch disciples make disciples as we all move into the work of transforming our world in Jesus’ name.

Resources:
http://www.gbod.org/live-the-um-way/covenant-discipleship
http://wesleyanleadership.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/small-groups-are-in-our-wesleyan-dna/

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SchuylerRhodes_2013ACS_80x100_VJUSZYUWRev. Schuyler Rhodes
District Superintendent
Bridges District

Our Confirmation Journey

There were fourteen of us – eight teens and seven mentors – who began the Confirmation journey last spring. And it really was a journey, because everywhere we traveled as a class, we took the words to Psalm 23 and laid them out on the ground and walked them. We chose the Complete Jewish bible translation of this scripture and it became a sort of labyrinth for us to walk and pray.

conf1Outfitted with journals, art supplies, bibles, hymnals, and our own copies of The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook, we journeyed together to discover a faith in Jesus Christ that was both orthodox and personal. The Confirmation curriculum was crafted out of a discussion with a colleague, who holding up her hand asked me, “What are the five most important things to you about your faith (and that every Christian needs to know?”)

And so our Confirmation leadership team put together discussions, activities, and field trips to inform and engage us in some of these essential things: God’s unrelenting love; Sin (missing the mark of who you were created to be rather than a list of your wrong-doing); Soul-work (practicing Wesley’s Means of Grace and Works of Mercy); the Bible (more like baklava – with layers of literature, tradition, law, sweetness, and some nuts – rather than dense and uniform pound cake);  Death and Resurrection (with a field trip to a Catholic mortuary); Science and Technology as gifts and revelations from God (with a field trip to Lawrence Hall of Science); and a Weekend Retreat in the country (looking at nature and beauty as portals to God) at Sebastopol United Methodist Church.

Rather than pair up mentors and Confirmands we had group mentors, and the discussions with our mentors became intense and engaging as adult-seekers shared openly with young-seekers about the joys and struggles of following Jesus. (It turns out that wrestling with faith and fear, and certainty and doubt, are part of the human/Christian experience, regardless of age.) Church families provided meals for us and were invited to stay and eat and enter into our conversations. Food, games, art, laughter, confession, and silence became tools we used to mine the riches of the Christian experience. And every time we gathered we walked and prayed Psalm 23: silently, or aloud in unison, or with a cacophony of voices. Psalm 23 became the underlay for our journey and a necessary metaphor to craft faith statements: the words and word-pictures informing us about who God is and who we are as God’s own.

On Confirmation Sunday each of our Confirmands read his or her faith statement and tears flowed as our congregation witnessed faith being handed to and received from one generation to the next. Each Confirmand knelt to receive a cross and a blessing with laying on of hands. One of our Confirmands was baptized and all of his class gathered around him to witness this new commitment he was making.

conf2I shed some tears on Confirmation Sunday, too, in part because the journey had ended; it had dumped me out of the “believer box” and set my feet on the path of seekers where I traveled with a group of diverse companions – some young, some old, some confirmed in their beliefs, some clearly undecided – but together we traveled to those unexpected places of surprise and delight in encountering the living God. I discovered that Confirmation, like any profession of faith, is not a one-time-only experience.

So… how do I create those “surprise and delight” experiences of the Confirmation journey for myself? And how do I create opportunities – and engage others – in journeying to those sometimes unknown and unexplored places of encountering the living God?  Psalm 23 beckons me to listen to these questions, to this longing for the journey: “Adonai is my shepherd; I lack nothing. He has me lie down in grassy pastures, He leads me by quiet water, He restores my inner person.”

Questions to consider:

  • What are your “surprise and delight” experiences of your confirmation journey?

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Pastor-MaryleeRev. Marylee Sheffer
Pastor
Lafayette United Methodist Church
Lafayette, CA

When Professed Faith becomes Personal Faith

tennis-balls

I was a church kid. I grew up with Sunday School, Confirmation, and Youth Group as an ongoing part of my life, but I didn’t see myself as a stereotypical church kid.   Competitive sports were a big part of my growing up, and that kept me, at least in my own imagination, from being a stereotypical church kid.  Everything was turned upside down the summer following my junior year of high school.  The local Kiwanis club selected two high school students to attend the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Boy’s Camp in Ashland, Oregon.   To qualify you had to play a sport (mine was tennis) and be active in a church.

The stereotypical church kids I imagined (long on church, short on sport) never showed that week at Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp.   Most of the 800 teen boys played football, basketball, baseball or track, and most were bigger, taller and stronger than me . . .  by a lot.  As it turned out, tennis wasn’t a featured sport, but football, basketball, baseball and track were.

The first two days of competition were the two most humbling days of my life.    I was a part of a team made up of eleven other guys and me.  In almost every competition, I felt like that proverbial  ‘last kid to be picked for the team’.    As I failed to shine for (or even with) the team, my self-confidence plummeted through abysmal performances at football, basketball and baseball.

My redemption, however, was coming:  Wednesday afternoon was track.  While I knew I wasn’t the fastest kid there, I was pretty quick.  My event was to run the second leg of the mile relay.  It was hot, about 103, and the brand new black rubberized track absorbed so much heat that your feet were hot just walking across it in tennis shoes.  When they ran out of colored shirts, our team volunteered to be the skins (we ran shirtless).

My race started out wonderful, I received the baton and actually passed a couple of other runners.  For the first time since I had arrived, I felt like I was an asset, rather than a liability, to the team.  However, on the back stretch my toe came in contact with another person’s heel and the next thing I knew I was skidding across that new, hot, rubberized track.    Without any idea of the amount of skin I left on the track (substantial), I pulled myself to my feet and ran, or perhaps staggered, until I collapsed.

That afternoon and evening I sat alone in my dorm room covered in some sort of petroleum jelly slathered all over my still burning body.  I was  hurting intensely, both physically and emotionally.

My life up to that point included a number of significant ‘professions of faith’: baptism, confirmation, and kneeling at the altar receiving communion.  However, that petroleum jelly-covered Wednesday evening was a new sort of profession of faith.   For the first time my ‘self’ was stripped of all imagined worth . . . like the skin that flayed off my body as I skidded across that hot rubber track.

“When he came to himself” was the wording of the existential turning point of “the prodigal” in my RSV Bible (presented to me as a 4th grader, with my name imprinted on the cover, at Court Street UMC in Alameda).  I had long loved the story, but never before had I been stripped to that sort of ‘self’.   It was there that my public professions became faith. . . alive and intimately personal.

Over the years in the church my understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ has changed in many ways (I’d like to think it has deepened and matured), but that raw moment of embracing, accepting, committing to . . . and with . . . and for . . .Jesus Christ, remains formative and clarifying.

Through this blog on professions of faith, each of the writers close with an invitation to explore a couple of questions.  I leave you with two.

  • Is there a raw and stripped down moment where professed faith became personal faith?  (I don’t want to suggest that it cannot happen simultaneously in a public moment of Professed Faith).
  • How can you return to those “coming to yourself” moments to rekindle passion and find intimate clarity?

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DaveSamelson_80x100_GVKZGJVCRev. David Samelson
District Superintendent for Great Northern District
Cal-Nevada Annual Conference

Make a Joyful Noise!

“Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” ~Mother Theresa

Ah, the worship wars.

07-cute-kids-in-churchThe liturgy must be done this way. The pastor and the congregation must dress this way, and visitors must sit in these seats (or at least, not in these). The music must consist of this selection of songs, sung from this book, played in this way, using these instruments. Musical anthems must be performed in this style, at this point in the service, by this selection of people. The readings must be read from this version of the Bible, and the sermon must be this style, on these topics, and must certainly not be longer than this. Children and teenagers must come to worship (why, what is this world coming to, that parents don’t insist that their children stay in worship?), but they must not move or make a single sound.

We human beings do love our control, don’t we?

We at SRUMC have dealt with some of this, as most churches do at one time or another.  That happens, especially during periods of stress and transition: when all around us seems chaos, we desperately try to grab hold of something and find control and predictability. Our newly-formed Worship Ministry Team talked about this when we began our work together a few years ago. We wanted to infuse our worship services with creativity and give them new life, while at the same time being gentle with those who were panicked by change. We prayed a lot, and experienced a lot of fits and starts. We made tremendous improvements to sound and video, created a liturgy that was intentional rather than merely familiar, involved more people in worship leadership. We experimented with music, art, drama, and preaching styles and had successes and failures. We have tried to make sure that our worship includes more – much more – gratitude and praise. In all of it, our guiding principle has been Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth, and serve the Lord with gladness!”

All of it has been well and good, and important and necessary for our spiritual growth. But none of it truly is the reason why we have experienced such growth in worship attendance in the last year.

There are two reasons, I think, why more people are coming to worship at SRUMC. One is mission, and the other is children.

joyful noise

Our Youth and Young Adult Ministries leader, Shellie Seelye, is outstanding, and a huge proponent of mission work. We have a new adult mission group this year as well, which is doing a wide variety of simple local and national mission projects. Our Children and Family Ministries coordinator, Nora Schmidt, is amazing. Thanks to the work of these people, this year our youth group has almost doubled in size, our young adult ministry has tripled, our Sunday School attendance has skyrocketed, and more people are involved in mission and volunteer work than ever before. We celebrate all of this during worship, with prayers of commissioning, slideshows, Mission and Ministry moments, and announcements inviting participation. Our Children’s Moment during worship is intentional, and full of participation, laughter, and singing; our children’s ministry has a strong missional component as well. We have found that all of this is creating the joy – the deep, real, lasting joy – that we were trying so hard to create with worship alone.

We have a great deal yet to do, as we continue to grow in our faith together. But we have learned a lot! At SRUMC we emphasize together that worship does not begin and end on Sunday morning, but can fill every moment of our lives. Preaching the Gospel with hands and feet, rather than just words, fills our hearts and lives with deep and abiding joy. As God said to Abraham, “Know yourself blessed. Go to be a blessing!”

___________________________________________________________________________________________Dawn-150x150 Rev. Dawn Pidlypchak
Pastor
South Reno UMC

Faith in God

It has long been my belief that we, the Church, need to do a better job telling our story. Years ago, as Israel made it’s way from Egypt to the promised land, they were constantly stacking rocks along the way. When they asked “why” – why all these “stacked rocks” they were told that the rocks would help them “tell their story”, when you and your children pass this way, and they ask about the stones, you can tell them …

In 2012, I was given the opportunity to go to Israel on an archaeological dig. Knowing I would be joining up with a team of young, seminary students and flying out of JFK, I took a little time to visit with some friends on the east coast prior to flying to Israel.

If you know me, you know I always give myself extra time when traveling. I arrive at the airport long before the prescribed arrival time. I plan extra time for connecting flights. I call this my “just in case” time. And so, after a visit with my friends, I arrived at the airport in Orlando, Florida – 15 hours before my flight was to leave JFK. I had arranged an early flight out of Florida, plenty of time to rest, contact family, and meet up with the group heading to Israel. Once again, I had planned plenty of “just in case” time.

Flight-Delay-1-300x199When I got to the airport, I was informed that my flight out of Orlando was delayed – engine trouble. I smiled as I watched people scrambling, checking their connecting flight schedules, attempting to make other arrangements. And sure enough, when we finally got into their air, much of my “just in case” time was gone, but…

Then our flight got “detoured”. There was a storm out off the coast of New York that was causing a lot of wind and rain and flights were not being allowed to land or take off. We were routed back to North Carolina where we refueled the plane and waited.

We finally landed at JFK five minutes after my connecting flight and my group had left for Tel Aviv. According to the airline, because there were so many folks in the same condition I was in (missed flights) it would be two days before they could get me out of JFK and it appeared as if they were going to send me to Tel Aviv by every other airport known to man.

I was two days in New York with no place to stay, I would land in Tel Aviv not knowing where I was to meet up with the group, and I had no way of knowing how to connect to my group. I was totally lost and afraid.

I called the group’s travel agent and explained my problem. She informed me that she would book a room for me at the JFK Inn and I was to go there for the night and she would see what else she could do.

I felt a little better until the shuttle for the JFK Inn pulled into the airport shuttle garage. I was the only person out of all of these stranded people, who was heading for the JFK Inn. I began to wonder, what did they know that I did not know. And then …

We drove past some very nice hotels – none of which was the JFK Inn. We drove past some very bad hotels – none of which was the JFK Inn. We drove through a section of New York that was nothing but burnt out warehouses – the JFK Inn was not there either. And then we came to a place which cannot be described – that was the JFK Inn. (To call it “flea-bitten” would be to insult fleas everywhere)

I entered the lobby only to be told that I did not have a reservation and they were full. I called the travel agent and, after handing my phone to the man behind the solid glass window and listening to him argue with the travel agent, was finally given a room. I made my way through a narrow door, down a set of stairs (no elevator) and into a hall way. (There in the hallway was a gentleman cleaning his fingernails with a knife. He looked at me and smiled.)

I found my room, entered, locked the door, stacked my luggage in front of the door and sat down and cried. I prayed, I considered returning to the airport and getting the first flight home, and I prayed some more. Finally I fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning from a restless sleep, showered and began to dress. I heard a knock at my door and knowing better than to open the door, I called out “Who is it?” A voice I recognized replied, “Bob Collins! How many people do you know in New York?” It was the leader of our group.

Four other individuals (including the group leader) had found themselves in very similar circumstances. They too had attempted to fly into New York (they were heading for LaGuardia) and while they had been able to land, they were not allowed to disembark from the plane. They sat on the tarmac there in LaGuardia while our connecting flight headed for Tel Aviv. The travel agent booked them rooms at the JFK Inn as well, telling them that I was there.

I was no longer alone. I had friends to have breakfast with, friends to return to the airport with, friends to travel with, friends who were able to get us all to our kibbutz in Israel, landing in Tel Aviv only 24 hours late.

Here’s what I learned from this experience – our God can be trusted. There are going to be times in our lives, in the lives of those who sit beside us in church, times when life takes hard and unexpected turns. We have a story for those going through those hard and difficult times, a story that says – our God can be trusted.

In the year that has past since my return from Israel, I have been with people facing great difficulties. I have been with a family whose granddaughter was born so very prematurely that doctors held no hope. I have been with people who have lost jobs and relationships and hope. And in each of these cases, I have told the story – that things often look hopeless, but our God is a God of hope.

In the events that I have faced with others – not all have turned out as well as my trip to Israel. But in each case, I have been able to tell the story – we have a God you can trust – we have a God of hope.

I wish I were smarter. I wish I could articulate that better, but truth be told, this is what I know, what I believe … no matter what you are going through, you can cling to God, our God can be trusted.

Questions to consider:

* What is the role of faith sharing in your worship experience?

* How does your worship experience enable your people to relate and celebrate their own story with the Gospel story?

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PastorBob3-118x145Rev. Bob Collins
Pastor
Centenary United Methodist Church, Modesto

Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations

“We should so live and labor in our time that what came to us as seed may go to the next generation as blossom, and what came to us as blossom may go to them as fruit.”  – Henry Ward Beecher

We all desire significance –- to lead happy and fulfilled lives surrounded by family and friends. And for many of us, there is a compelling need to make a difference – to leave a lasting impact on the people most dear to us and the world in which we live.  The search for significance and desire to plan for the future leads many to ponder their legacy. What kind of legacy will you leave?

Our ancestors left us a legacy of faith that provided places to worship that we love today.  While we don’t know what ministries of the future might require in the way of resources, we do know that our generation can provide financial resources to those who will come after us – faithful people we will never meet, but who will feel the impact of our love for them.

One way to provide for future generations is through your will.  It is no accident that a will is called a last will and testament.  A testament is nothing more than your personal testimony.  It says what you believe and what you stand for.  In fact, it may be the most important statement of all regarding what we truly believe matters most in our Christian life.

Many faithful members consider the church to be their family and, accordingly, include the church they love in their charitable estate plans through a bequest.  The charitable bequest affords a way for virtually anyone to witness to his or her faith in Christ.  A bequest may take on a number of forms, including a specific dollar amount, a percentage of the estate’s residual value, or the gift of a specific asset.  Tithing from our accumulated assets, just like from our regular income, is a good starting point for a faithful steward.

It is not difficult to add a charitable bequest to an existing will or living trust.  You should, or course, seek the advice and counsel of your attorney to make sure that your charitable dreams for your church are effectively and legally fulfilled.  There are only three places your assets can go upon your death:  family and friends, government or charity, including your church or favorite ministry.  Not a difficult choice, right?

Many of our local churches have established Endowment Funds to receive gifts from estates of their congregation members who wish to leave a legacy.  Palo Alto First UMC, Los Altos UMC, Modesto First UMC, Carson City UMC, Fair Oaks UMC, Santa Rosa United Methodist Foundation, Stockton Central UMC, Napa First UMC, Watsonville First UMC and San Jose Wesley UMC are just a few of our churches with Endowment Funds making regular distributions to their ministries.  These funds will go on giving to future generations of faithful congregations.

Questions to ponder:

  • Have you made a will?
  • Is God in your will?

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susan petersSusan Peters, CFRE
Executive Director
California-Nevada United Methodist Foundation

Who’s Watching the Children?

Jesus called the children over to him and said, “Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them. People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom. You will never get into God’s kingdom unless you enter it like a child!” (Luke 18:16-17, CEV)

This familiar passage from Luke was the text on the Sunday in 2005 when I was convicted by my own sermon.  On that Children’s Sabbath I asked, “Who’s Watching the Children?” and I sensed God’s strong call for us to do more for the children in our community.  It was time to expand the church’s long and ongoing commitment to the community.  We decided to begin close to home, with the public elementary school in our neighborhood, which reflects the struggles and the need in our community.  More than 65% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and breakfast.  Like Centennial UMC the children are diverse;  more than fifty percent are children of color.

The next fall the congregation responded out of their wealth of knowledge and love, building a relationship with the school by starting an after school tutoring program.  Over these past six years, every week during the school year, members of Centennial have helped children who are struggling with their homework, one-on-one.  We have seen children grow and excel.    Our tutoring program has also grown through the years.  More than that, our relationship with the students and staff has deepened through the years.  We have occasionally provided a luncheon for the teachers and have collected school supplies and backpacks for the children.  Last Christmas we decided to do more.  As a Christmas gift to Jesus, members of the church decided to give a $50 gift card to every staff member of the school: teachers, teacher’s aides, custodians, secretaries, after school caregivers and the principal.

Although it was our Christmas gift to Jesus, we gave the cards as New Year’s gifts to the staff members, along with a simple note of our deep appreciation for all they do for the children in our community.

The ripple effects of that gift to Jesus have been ongoing.  If you had been at the school in the immediate weeks following you would have heard the sounds of God’s Kingdom celebration breaking out.  When Joyce Rasmussen, the leader of our tutoring team, handed the envelopes to the principal her eyes got big.  She started to tear up, saying, “Oh, my goodness!  We rarely get any appreciation, even a note!”  Later, the principal told us that staff people kept thanking her.  She told them, “It wasn’t me, it’s from Centennial United Methodist Church.”

Our tutors say it’s even more fun to go to the school these days!  When they come on campus, everyone stops them to say thank you, from the aide in the resource room, teachers who come by the tutoring classroom to express their delight and thanks, to the parent (also an aide on the playground) who was thrilled!  One woman said she had been at the school 18 years and had never experienced anything like it.

Another person from Centennial recently joined the tutoring team.  She said the first day she was on site every single adult she passed asked if she was from the church.  They were full of thanks.  They said, “It was such a wonderful surprise for all of us!”  It was clear that they had been talking, celebrating.

A couple of months later a staff member from Hollywood Park Elementary delivered a beautiful bouquet of roses to the church with a handmade thank you card signed by several staff members saying how much the gift meant to them.

We hope and trust that this small gesture will have a positive impact on the children too.  Just last week, we saw signs of that impact as the ripples still continue.  As our tutors were setting up, before the final school bell sounded, a teacher and class of students with special needs filed into the tutoring classroom.  The teacher told the tutors that is was how she and another teacher had used the gifts.  The children thanked the tutors and presented a cake they made themselves.  Just this week another teacher invited our tutors to come by after open house to see how she used the gift from the church.  Aren’t they remarkable teachers, using those gift for their students?

We hope to find more ways to follow Jesus and partner with these wonderful people who give so much to the children in our community.  It’s hard to tell who’s been having more fun: the children, the school staff, the tutors, or members of the church! Can you hear the Kingdom celebration?  It seems everyone involved has been lifted by the experience.  That’s just like God.

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lindalossRev. Linda Loessberg-Zahl
Pastor
Centennial United Methodist Church

Signs at Carson City 1st

Over the last five years Carson City 1st has become a vital congregation. How do we know? Ask anyone in this congregation and they will point to the transformation among individuals and as a church family. Transformation is the bottom-line, but the numbers also point to this change. In 2012, Carson City 1st was in the top ten congregations in the Annual Conference in six out of the seven VitalSigns that we track and was in the top five congregations in three of these categories. The two most significant numbers for us were the 106 new people joining our church family and breaking the 200 mark in average attendance in our small groups. How did it happen?

Here are a few key factors:

  • The Lay Leadership decided that we were going to be a vital church.
  • We adopted the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations as our mission and burned it into our consciousness through constant repetition, resulting in bringing it into reality.
  • We kept it simple, focused on 2 main things at the same time, Diversifying Passionate Worship and Developing Small Groups.
  • We diversified our worship by making our most attended Sunday hour an alternative style worship experience and made each of our 4 services unique in style. We also encouraged various worship styles in small settings outside the Sunday morning format.
  • We geared our alternative style service to young families, made Summer a bring-your-kids-to-worship-Sundays, and brought Disney and Pixar into Summer worship. This accelerated the presence of young families.
  • Started using the Worship Design Studio with Dr. Marcia McFee to bring more creativity to worship, including two artists to do creative altar design.
  • We formed a task force of energetic and passionate lay leaders to launch small groups. They established a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to have 500 people in small groups in 5 years. It had to be big and seem impossible. We are half way there and are now turning to the greater community as we form new groups.
  • We decided that to be the church is to be small groups.  We made a specific definition of what constitutes a small group. Each group meets at least every other week, is less than 15 people, prays and cares for each other, and most important, is focused on at least one of the 5 practices of our mission. This makes every small group a mission group. Many existing groups like the choir and fellowship groups did not fit the definition. Everyone is encouraged to be in small groups.
  • Our small groups are formed around leaders. Our small group leadership training happens in quarterly parties, with food and fun. Small group recruitment happens in a festival of quarterly Sunday “Group Links.”
  • Power and ministry is now more decentralized. Small groups have functionally taken the place of the old committee structure because the small groups meet peoples’ needs and are the front lines of mission. Staff now works as support to lay people who have a more active role.
  • We see ourselves as a teaching church on behalf of the greater church and the world. In the last year we have put on a Small Group Conference, Circles Out of Poverty Trainings and Stephen Ministry Workshop for churches of our Annual Conference.
  • And we know we are not there yet, but we are being constantly transformed and energized.

Question for thought:

* In what ways are your small groups working to vitalize your church?

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rob jtRev. Rob and Rev. Dixie Jennings-Teats
Pastors
Carson City First UMC