Monday, June 22, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

The recent encyclical from Pope Francis is a call for Christians to be good stewards of creation. Climate change, the vast majority of scientists agree, is the result of our use of fossil fuels. The pope points out that our consumptive lifestyles also contribute to the groaning of creation. Not only are the poor disproportionately impacted; the future of our planet is at stake. We cannot be complacent.

Christian teachings have played a role in the fouling of creation. God’s words to Adam in Genesis 1:26 to have dominion over the earth have been understood to mean that humanity can use and abuse the earth’s resources for our own benefit and profit, without regard for others or the long-term implications. The Book of Revelation that claims that Jesus is coming soon and God will create a new earth has been interpreted to mean that we don’t need to take care of this one. Certainly Christians in developed nations have embraced consumerism in ways that contribute to the problem. The early church fathers would identify the deadly sin of greed as feeding our consumptive ways. And beneath greed is fear of not having enough.

My embrace of the pope’s wisdom does not mean that I embrace all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not. (I also do not embrace all the teachings of the United Methodist Church!) I don’t consider that I have all the answers or that you need to agree with me. My job is not to tell you what to think, but to invite you to think.

John Wesley understood that we are to bring reason (along with tradition and experience) to the study of scripture. I understand reason as including the sciences, as well as wisdom from other denominations and other faith traditions. (For example, Native American spirituality offers us another voice in the stewardship of creation for the well-being of future generations.)  

Scripture invites us to ponder these issues deeply. In Genesis 2:15, God tells Adam to till and keep this glorious gift of creation. As a child, I heard those words as affirming the work of farmers. Now I know that those words are directed to all of us. To keep is to be a good steward of that which we have been entrusted. Over and over in the gospels, Jesus warns us about the dangers of money and possessions that own us rather than us owning them. Or, to put it another way, we are called to simplify our lives, our spending, our possessions in order to make more time for loving God and loving neighbor. Certainly how we care for the earth is one way of loving our neighbors.

Care of creation is a complex problem that requires complex solutions. It is an extremely difficult thing to consider changes to the ways we live our lives. No one person can do it all. But we all can do something. If we don’t, who will?

On the journey with you,
Carol


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Annual Conferene Reflection

Bishop Trimble is calling for all Iowa United Methodists to make a difference in the life of a child in poverty.
Following last year’s amazing statewide response to “Imagine No Malaria,” the resident Bishop of the Iowa Conference charged the “Poverty to Opportunity Task Force” of our conference to dream big for ways to create opportunities for Iowans experiencing economic poverty over the next two years.
The task force began in September, 2014 and considered many problems that Iowans face as obstacles to opportunities, and selected one that all United Methodists can get behind and help with to make maximum impact for opportunity growth in our state.
The program selected is called, “Change a Child’s Story” and aims to engage all United Methodists in the state of Iowa to help struggling readers become grade-level proficient.
“We are a church with such Kingdom potential!  Let’s help children right here in Iowa, in our own communities, together, as a conference.”  The task force leader, Clint Twedt-Ball shared the vision the task-force is dreaming of as reading to children becomes transformative for both the young person and for us.
“When something is transformative, it goes beyond charitable giving.  We get to know kids’ stories and our hearts are strangely warmed when we look into the eyes of kids and see Christ looking back – calling us to risk more, to do more.”  How do we change a child’s trajectory from one of generational poverty to one of opportunity?  We provide books and time.
Books:
We are encouraged as the United Methodists of Iowa to give new, quality, age appropriate books to struggling readers in our community.  We are urged to not go into our basements or attics and pull out musty books that we are willing to discard, saying, “here, kid, have a book.”  No, we are asked to show how much we value all children as God’s beloved, and give new or high quality books to kids who don’t have them at home.
As Iowa Falls United Methodists, we have already begun this work through the leadership of Jan Hurd’s “Well-Fed, Well-Read” program in which kids at the free summer lunch program can take books home with them! 
We all know how life changing it can be when we are facing tough times and we come across just the right story or words to unlock the power to dream, or to change our own story through insight we have read in a book.  Imagine not having that gift and what it would mean for your life.  How can you help get good stories and the ability to read them into the hands and hearts of children?
Time:
Bishop Trimble asks each of us to give 20 hours over the next two years to read to a child who is struggling to read.  “All of us can read to a child and help them to read back to us.”  It is up to us to dream of ways to make this a reality in Iowa Falls.  If all United Methodists across the state do this, we will have given one million hours to create poverty-to-opportunity through the gift of reading and care for Iowa children.  How can you support a low income child in learning to love books this year?  What ways can you imagine using our Wednesday night meals into an opportunity for reading to children?  What are some other ways God might use us, the people of Iowa Falls First UMC to further the bishop’s call to “Change a Child’s Story?”
As you have ideas and insights, please share them with others, and let Carol or me know what you are thinking so that we can support your efforts and multiply them with the gifts and talents of others in our midst!  Thank you!

-        Kendy

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend’s Gospel reading is from St. Mark and it is the story of Jesus calming the waters of Lake Galilee (some translations call it the Sea of Galilee; ‘lake’ and ‘sea’ seem to be somewhat synonymous in the translations).  Many people refer to this story of calming the sea as a ‘miracle’ story.  Scripture tends to express these kinds of miraculous events as “deeds of power” or “signs” as in John’s gospel.  The miraculous is something to be “wondered or surprised at” (according to the Cambridge Bible commentary on Mark, pg. 15).  Certainly people wondered at many of the things Jesus did and we often are surprised at much he said.  Jesus does not do or say these things to get people’s attention only; he does them as a way of pointing to God, God’s kingdom, or God’s presence in the world.  His way is not to excite but to demonstrate.
There are so many books on today’s market that, in one way or another, discuss the miraculous.  For many, miraculous is that which seems to move against the laws of nature or at least shows us something far away from the norm.  Some Christians feel that one must accept at face value these scriptural miracles in order to be a Christian.  In distinction to that litmus test, I accept “being a Christian” as one who works to follow Jesus in the way.  That said, miracles in scripture and in life create problems for many who cannot accept their reality or truth.
I’ve lived long enough to know that I know only a very little about life and all its dimensions.  I’m not, personally, willing to get into an argument about miracles but I am willing to marvel at them, puzzle over them and seek what I might receive about them on a deeper level.  It is thusly that I approach this story of Jesus calming the waters.

As the story goes in Mark, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus sleeping.  A significant wind arose causing water to swamp the boat.  The disciples are unable to manage the problem.  They awake Jesus who then takes care of the trouble and seemed surprised or even marveled that the disciples couldn’t handle things.  He asks, “Don’t you have faith yet?” (Mark 4:40b).  How many ‘boats’ have you been in on the journey of life that by unexpected and powerful winds threaten to undo you?  The answer I have is that has happened to me frequently.  In many of those situations I call out for help.  One sad aspect of this for me and perhaps for you is that sometimes I feel unheard and alone.  The story suggests that
1. Jesus is there with us (even if we think he’s sleeping);
2. 2. He comes at our own bidding;
3. 3. He does indeed calm the storms as we perceive God’s power residing in ourselves.  When we accept that truth of ourselves created in God’s image, we awake the sleeping Jesus and calm the waters of our lives.
I believe that Mark tells us this story not so much to tell us who we are (confused, frightened, and unconscious) but to tell us who Jesus is — King of Creation, Victory over the forces of chaos and fear—in a word, Savior.  To accept his Being is to become part of his purpose.  This is hard to accept; which could be part of the power behind the disciples’ question, “Who, then, is this?” (Mark 4:41b).  Knowing the answer to the disciples’ question 20 centuries later is nice but appropriating for oneself in the midst of storm and fear is really the Great Good.  I think that when Jesus does things like this, then  or now, it points to God, to himself, and to us.  I work to make my behavior to more and more reflect the truth that calms waters.
                                                                              Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

MCDONALD'S AND CHURCHES HAVE MORE IN COMMON THAN I THOUGHT By Shane Raynor

Those pesky millennials. They’re ruining everything. Even fast food behemoth McDonald’s can’t figure them out. And it’s not because the restaurant chain isn’t spending millions of dollars trying.
A few days ago Mickey D’s announced its latest round of changes to stop declining sales. And boy are sales declining. Last month, sales fell 4.6% from November a year ago. The chain hasn’t seen a sales increase in over a year, and its third quarter earnings dipped 30%.
If you’re McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, you’ve got major McProblems. And according to one restaurant expert, the biggest one is the company’s positioning with millennials.
It will take some time to know whether or not the latest changes have a positive impact on business, but given the sales trends over the last year, staying the current course would probably have been a much bigger risk than trying new things.
Through research, trial and error, McDonald’s is learning a few lessons about operating a 60 year old company (some would call it an institution) in the twenty-first century.
And like many principles from the world of business, these lessons are also applicable to the church world:
Bad perceptions are hard to overcome. That’s the problem with being an institution. If you get a bad reputation, it’s hard to shake it. For years, McDonald’s courted families with kids, and the chain made its name on unhealthy fast food. Now it finds itself in a decade where young people are staying single longer and having fewer kids. And more of them actually care about the quality of the food they stuff in their face. If you’re McDonald’s, that means you have to change your brand (and risk driving away your base), create another brand to compete with yourself, extend your brand (but risk diluting it) or double down and own your brand (risking continued decline.)
It’s not easy to decide which way to go, and many churches find themselves in a similar situation. Do we start a new service? Plant a new church? Change our name and get rid of the pews? Start a “Doctor Who” small group? Or keep doing what we've been doing but do it better?
Cut your losses and move on when you’ve tried a really bad idea. So the 6 a.m. worship service didn’t attract the multitude you thought it would. Give it some time and make a few adjustments, but once you see the handwriting on the wall (someone may have to point it out to you), don’t be afraid to shut it down so you can try something else. McDonald’s rolled out McLobster and McPizza once. And the chain also spent $100 million marketing the Arch Deluxe sandwich in the mid 90’s. Had an Arch Deluxe lately? Neither has anyone else, because it crashed and burned.
Serving gourmet coffee won’t fix all your problems. Oh, the coffee increased sales for a while. It found the middle ground on price between convenience store sludge and the top-shelf bitter brew at Starbucks. And the thing is, McDonald’s coffee is actually pretty good. But after they rolled it out to most of the stores, the big sales bump disappeared after a couple of years. These things happen. People can only drink so much coffee.
McDonald’s serves coffee, but that’s not what McDonald’s is known for. I’ve been to churches that serve good coffee. Some of the bigger ones even have coffee bars. Those things are great to have but they won’t bring people to church and keep them there.
You can’t get rid of the Big Mac. It’s McDonald’s signature sandwich, and even if the rest of the menu gets overrun with concoctions made of kelp and tofu, the Big Mac isn’t going anywhere. The sandwich and the brand are just too interconnected.
Churches don’t have a flagship sandwich, but many do have certain things they do well that set them apart from other congregations. High-quality kids programs, relevant preaching, solid small groups, effective missions and service projects, etc. What is your church known for? What is its Big Mac? Figure out what it is and don’t let it get crowded off the menu.
More people are wanting a customized, participatory experience. Restaurants like Chipotle and Subway allow you to be involved in customizing your food. McDonald’s has moved toward this but not quickly enough. I’m old enough to remember when ordering a burger at McDonald’s without a pickle or onions would bring the kitchen to a halt. They didn’t particularly care for special orders and if you dared try one, you’d pay dearly with your time. (Burger King capitalized on this weakness for years with its “Have it your way” ad campaign.)
Now more fast food and “fast casual” chains are making your food right in front of you and you get to call the shots. So in response to this trend, McDonald’s is launching the “Create Your Taste” custom menu options with touch screen ordering. It’s betting that millennials in particular will respond to this new “empowerment.” I’m not sure that’ll happen, but the touch screen order kiosks are a nice touch. (Said the Generation X writer.)
How participatory is your church? Is your congregation feeding everyone with a sermon that’s been kept warm under a heat lamp or are there a number of fresh options for education and spiritual formation? Are you mostly presenting information to passive listeners or are you encouraging an environment where people interact with each other and with the word of God?
You never finish tweaking things. Almost 60 years after the founding of McDonald’s, company executives are still making changes. Sometimes those changes work; sometimes they don’t. But in today’s competitive business climate where things fall out of favor quickly, companies like McDonald’s can’t afford to stop evaluating and tweaking, even when they’re successful. It’s the same with churches. Methods that are effective today may not be as effective next year. Or next week.
That’s why it seems like the most influential fastest-growing churches are always trying something new and crazy (even to the point of being annoying.) Sometimes they see things the rest of us don’t. While we’re scratching our heads wondering why they don’t just stick to a tried-and-true formula or make the obvious move, they’re thinking a few chess moves ahead and planning for what’s going to happen down the road.
Sometimes it’s good to simplify. McDonald’s finally wised up and realized that having 16 value meals is too much. So they’re cutting five of them from the menu. They’re also going from four quarter-pound options down to one. (Did you know McDonald’s had four Quarter Pounders? Neither did I. That’s probably why they’re getting rid of three of them.)
Does your church have some sacred cows and Quarter Pounders that need to be yanked from the menu? Maybe now’s the time to make the move.
Just remember to keep the Big Mac.

 Shane Raynor from ministrymatters.com

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We just celebrated Trinity Sunday in the life of the church. The doctrine of the Trinity explains that God is revealed as three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You have to read between the lines to find evidence of that understanding in scripture. The concept of the Trinity comes out of two thousand years of conversation in an effort to make sense that, in some mind-boggling way, God is three and yet one.

Western Christianity (that’s European and American Christianity) often approaches the Trinity as an intellectual statement. Eastern Christianity (Orthodox Christianity springing from the cultures clustered around the Middle East) understands the Trinity as relationship. The picture of the Trinity as three Persons holding hands and dancing in a circle captures that sense of relationship between the three Persons. Three Persons, engaged in one dance. It is a dance of creation and re-creation, of healing, wholeness and life. It is a dance that fills the universe.

To be made in the image of God is to be in relationship – with God and with one another. For Eastern Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity is foundational for understanding the importance of the faith community. And since John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) was big into Eastern Christianity, I’ll claim this understanding as my own as well!

Last Monday night, Jeff and I arrived home after a vacation that was both precious and traumatic. It was precious because of the time spent with children following Peter’s graduation from medical school. I worked hard to notice and treasure every moment.

It was traumatic because Alyssa was reeling from the unexpected break-up of a long-term relationship. It was traumatic because our dog Scout nearly died from a run-in with a porcupine whose quill punctured a lung. (Our dog is now home and healing, thanks to the excellent care she received at the ISU animal hospital. Let me say it again. Go Cyclones.) And we said good-bye to Peter and his fiancé Lisa as they headed to Spokane, Washington, where Lisa teaches at Gonzaga and Peter will begin a family practice residency. When Jeff and I arrived home, we were emotionally and physically exhausted.

And we came back to you. In returning to you, we felt cared for, embraced and encouraged. You have laughed with us and cried with us. It truly felt like coming home to friends. You have ministered to us in many ways. This is the dance of relationship that is revealed in the doc trine of the Trinity, Word made flesh in you. In our community of faith, the relationship we share has brought us healing and hope.

Thank you.

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

12 Things that your Pastor, Priest, or Minister Wishes You Knew

From What God Wants for Your Life by Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr
1. YOU are a source of encouragement to us. All too often the people in our pews imagine that clergy are islands of devotion – except, of course, when we fail spectacularly and publicly. We aren’t. Like everyone else we draw encouragement from others who are faithful and courageous. You shouldn’t be that way for our sake, of course, but don’t forget, there are days when we draw renewed strength from your example.
2. Don’t forget to show up. A bishop or a search committee may have been instrumental in our coming to your parish, but we count on your presence. In one ancient Rabbinic story God tells the children of Israel, “If you obey the Law, I am God. If you don’t, I am not.” The story didn’t mean that literally, but it makes an important point. God works through people and through God’s church. That work requires your presence.
3. Don’t compliment my sermons. React to them. I would rather hear you struggle with what I’ve said from the pulpit or tell me that you disagree and why, rather than say, “That was nice.”
4. Remember, I’m not here to be the religious or spiritual performer. Clergy take responsibility for fostering and nurturing the spiritual life of a congregation, but we are not there to believe, sing, pray, or profess the faith for all of you. When we do it brings out the worst in us and in you.
5. Remember that I can’t “fix” you. Like every caregiver, I wish that I could fix things for you. I can’t. Only God can heal you and even God cannot nurture healing when we resist God’s help. I will walk with you, listen to God alongside of you, and offer advice when and where it seems appropriate and welcome. But there are spiritual decisions that are all your own.
6. Please don’t pick on my family. They are in this because they are devoted to God and to me, but like all of us they are human. They make mistakes. They have their own growing pains and they can be defensive on my behalf. Clergy often describe the lives of their children as “life in a goldfish bowl.” Remember, the memories they have of the church are shaped in dramatic ways by your love for them. Just as surely, abusive behavior can alienate them.
7. No one is perfect. When you are unrealistic about me, it can make it difficult to relate to you in an honest, transparent fashion. Don’t make us little “g” gods or paragons of virtue. We can’t possibly fulfill those expectations.
8. Even clergy need grace. We all have bad days and we all live in a world marked by sharp differences of opinion, unmanageable stress, and the pressure to be everything to everyone. Like you, we will have moments when we are impatient, when we lose our temper, or when we react out of fear or a sense of betrayal. We try to remember to say we are sorry, but we will still need grace, forgiveness, and understanding.
9. We can’t hold together a church that you are determined to re-make to suit yourself. We work hard to discern the will of God, but no one knows the will of God in the absolute sense of the word. Along the way, we will feel honor bound to make a decision you don’t approve. Wait long enough and we will make one that others don’t like. If we offer transparent, sound reasons for making a choice, we hope you will remember that we are doing the best we can to hear God and to hear you. If you think that can be done without disagreement, you must be living alone.
10. We don’t like talking about money anymore than you do. We might even like it less. But we live in a world in which many good things can only be accomplished by raising money and spending it. We will try to avoid asking for the wrong thing. We will focus on vision, not vanity. We hope that you will remember that the money you give is for something far larger than any of us.
11. Bring your gifts to the table. Jesus didn’t call the Lone Ranger. He called twelve people who were asked to find twelve more, who – over the centuries – have called billions of others. You are God’s gift to the world in the making and there are contributions that only you can make. Nudge us and offer those gifts. Our lives will be enriched and yours will become more of what God created you to be.
12. Pray for us. These are challenging days for the church. They are also days filled with potential. You nurtured us in this vocation. Please pray for us. We will pray for you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

In the church, we are continually evaluating. In fact, that is a substantial part of every staff meeting as we discuss the events of the previous week and ask what went well, what did not, and what needs to be changed. Part of the reason for on-going evaluation is that we as a staff strive for excellence. Another part of the reason is that there is no one right way to do church. There is no church out there that can say that they have found a “one size fits all” approach that will be guaranteed to work in other churches. If a church would ever find that magic formula, that church that would be swept into the stratosphere of other churches clamoring to know their secret. Since that is not the reality, we evaluate continuously in order to discover what ministries work well in our church in our town at this time. Our mantra in staff is that there is never a failure unless we fail to learn. (In fact, what I know is that if we don’t have “failures,” we playing it safe rather than risking for God. But that is another sermon…)

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that as we came to the end of our new confirmation program, we evaluated our efforts to create a program in which our youth practiced the second year what they had learned in the first year of confirmation. Our goal in creating this two year program was that we would eliminate the pattern of kids getting confirmed and thinking that they had graduated and were done with church.

Yet as the leaders talked and as we evaluated the input of parents and the youth themselves, it was clear that the second year didn’t really accomplish what we hoped that it might for a number of reasons. Out of those conversations, Cindy and Bob Burns, Duane Schultz, Kendy, Jeff and I have made some changes to our confirmation program that reflect the best of what we have been doing and what needs to be done differently. And – guess what? We will also continue to evaluate, both as we go and at the end of another year!

These are the aspects of confirmation that will continue:

Confirmands will meet Sunday mornings during the Sunday school hour and Wednesday evenings from 6:30-7:30 p.m. They will continue to have lock-ins, mission opportunities and a work trip. Wednesday evenings will continue to rotate with mentor night, pastor night, parent night, destination unknown and (on fifth Wednesdays) meeting with the high school youth group. We will continue to have a shared program with the Alden UMC, with appropriate modifications made on the part of both churches.

There are the aspects of confirmation that will change:

We want to strengthen the mentor-student relationship and the parent-student relationship. We will have more structured interaction times with parents and mentors on Wednesday evenings.

Confirmation will be a 12 month program, from September to September. Our current 8th graders will be confirmed (if they so choose) in September. The Alden UMC and the Iowa Falls UMC will confirm on different dates in order that confirmands and leaders might support one another in this faith milestone. This summer they will have a lock-in, a mission “trip” (a local effort to shingle a home in Iowa Falls while spending nights at the church), and help with VBS.

I am grateful beyond words for the deep commitment of Bob and Cindy Burns and Duane Schultz. I am also continually delighted by the youth of our church. Both the recently confirmed young people and those in 8th grade are such gifts to our church! May they know that the church is a gift to them as well.

God is doing good things in our midst! If you have questions, concerns or feedback, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Meanwhile, I am…

On the journey with you,

Carol