Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

The theme of the 2017 Iowa Annual Conference was Creating Difference Makers! From start to finish, we were exhorted to make a difference in our world. How do you know you are making a difference? You can see the fruits of your labors! I found myself smiling as I thought of the church campaign that could be created with the simple question, “Got fruit?”

A key part of making a difference is aligning our mission, vision and resources in the church. Bishop Laurie, in her opening sermon, told the story of flying in dense fog. As the plane was almost ready to land, passengers looked out the window and saw nothing but clouds. Minutes from the wheels touching down, the pilot accelerated and the plane began to rise again. It turned out that as the plane broke through the clouds, the pilot discovered that the plane was not in alignment with the runway. (The instruments for an instrument landing were apparently not working at the time.) Not being in alignment can cause some pretty serious problems, whether in a plane or in a church.

With that in mind, the mission of the Iowa Conference is to inspire, equip and connect communities of faith to cultivate world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ. (In Iowa, we know all about cultivating, don’t we! How else to have a harvest?)

The vision of the Iowa Conference is to see God’s hope for the world made real through faithful leadership, fruitful communities and fire-filled people. (Let me ask again: Got fruit?)

How do we live the vision and mission of our Conference out in our church? By gathering for worship. By growing in small groups. By going in mission and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. When we participate in the life of the church in these ways, it is to God’s glory. We are bearing fruit.

Annual Conference, as always, was a kaleidoscope of worship, celebration of ministry and mission that stretch around the globe, connection with friends old and new, learning, legislation and holy conferencing. Some of those conversations are easy and some are difficult. Always, always, the center is Christ, binding us together with Holy Spirit power.

When you see Kendall Clarke, Jane Schultz or Kate Swartzendruber, thank them for sharing their time and talent at Annual Conference. Thank Kendy Miller not only for her gifts but for the gift of co-leadership with the high school students (including Kate) who were the diakonos! (I don’t think Kendy got much sleep…) What a great group to share laughter and conversation!

On this spiritual adventure that we share, make a difference. Be a difference-maker.

Got fruit?

On the journey with you,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Prayer always carries us forward. No matter what we are facing, joy or sorrow, darkness or dawn, prayer turns us toward God and offers a way forward. 
The United Methodist Church is now engaged in a world-wide discussion about our understanding of human sexuality. More than 12 million United Methodists in a 120 countries speaking dozens and dozens of languages all coming together to discuss one topic. Their views on human sexuality vary.  Their reading of scripture varies. Their cultural backgrounds vary. Their countries and the laws and customs of their countries vary.  Their approach to controversy varies. Seems like an overwhelming task, except for one thing:

All 12 million pray. 

The discussion of human sexuality is called Finding Our Way Forward and it is being led by a commission which was established at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2016.  Their work will take several years.  As they carry out their work they have asked that United Methodists blanket their efforts with prayer.  Every conference worldwide is dedicating itself to a week of prayer.  We will be Praying Our Way Forward.

The Iowa Annual Conference will be Praying Our Way Forward 
May 21-27. 

  • Our goal in Praying Our Way Forward is not to win the debate. 
  • Our goal is be faithful in a time of controversy. 
You and your church are invited into this holy season of prayer. This is an excellent time to renew your commitment to prayer. Paul says we are to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  Every breath should be prayer, but that is not easy in our distracting world. We have to be intentional about praying. We encourage you to set aside special times and opportunities for prayer during the week of May 21-27.

During the week of May 21 we will be Praying Our Way Forward:

  • With Daily Devotions. Our Praying Our Way Forward team of laity and clergy have prepared daily devotionals. These will be in your email inbox every morning during the week of May 21. 
  • Through A Prayer Vigil. A prayer vigil is really a blanket of prayer, hour by hour, moment by moment, covering our church worldwide in prayer.  You and your church will have an opportunity to sign up to pray at a specific time.  
  • By offering a time of prayer at your church. You may want to hold a special prayer service in your church or you may want to simply open the sanctuary for an evening giving the people of your faith community an opportunity to come and pray. We have offered worship suggestions and prayer resources on our website. 
  • By Announcing Praying Our Way Forward week. In order to help you and your church focus on prayer, we have provided bulletin inserts and prayer signs to post around your church. You might encourage people in your church to create more signs. They might look good on t-shirts. Feel free to have some fun with these. Download these posters and bulletin inserts.

A week of prayer, sounds amazing doesn’t it? 

As I write this the New Mexico Annual Conference is praying for us. A few weeks ago United Methodists in Sierra Leone were praying. Germany, Mozambique, Oklahoma, the Desert Southwest, all around the globe, prayers rise to God. “Lead us forward,” we pray. 
Prayer always carries us forward. No matter what we are facing, joy or sorrow, darkness or dawn, prayer turns us toward God and offers a way forward. 
And nothing is impossible with God. 
Rev. Cindy Hickman
Praying Our Way Forward Coordinator
Bishop Laurie encourages you to sign up for a day of prayer either individually or as a congregation. You can use the use the Register Now button below to register your commitment to prayer during this week.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Pastoral Message to the Iowa Annual Conference


To the saints in Iowa,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul; “therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.

(Lamentations 3:22-25)

Grace and peace! As many of you know, the United Methodist Judicial Council issued a ruling on Friday that the July 16, 2016 consecration of Karen Oliveto as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction violated church law. Bishop Oliveto is legally married to her spouse Robin Ridenour. The decision also said, “Self-avowal does not nullify the consecration and cause removal from episcopal office but is a sufficient declaration to subject the bishop’s ministerial office to review.” That review from the Western Jurisdiction will be forthcoming.

By all reports, Bishop Oliveto has been an exemplary bishop in the Mountain Sky Area, visiting almost every church in this geographically vast conference, connecting in a deeply pastoral way with clergy and laity alike, and working toward health, vitality, and outreach in local congregations. I have gotten to know Bishop Oliveto well over the past eight months and admire her passion for evangelism and preaching Christ with conviction and courage.

The Judicial Council ruling has caused confusion and dismay among some who were hoping for a definitive decision and reinforces our deep divisions in The United Methodist Church around human sexuality. Yet the ruling it also redirects us to the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, which is creatively seeking a way for United Methodists to serve and live and change the world together in the midst of our differences. 

In this time of waiting until the called General Conference session in 2019, God asks you and me to keep praying for the Commission at the same time as we continue being the church! Every day Jesus calls us to be faithful in loving all people, demonstrating forgiveness, and seeking justice. And the Holy Spirit lights a fire in our hearts to focus on our mission of making disciples and giving ourselves away in humility to a world yearning for grace.  

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!


Bishop Laurie

P.S. I would also ask for your prayers for the victims of three deadly tornadoes in east Texas last night. Five fatalities have been confirmed so far, there has been extensive damage, and search and rescue efforts have begun. First United Methodist Church in Canton is one of the American Red Cross shelters. Canton is sixty miles east of Dallas, where the Council of Bishop is meeting this week.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We tend to think that if we are praying and listening to God, then the faith journey unfolds at a pretty sure pace. We tend to think that our direction in life should always be clear and our vision should always be precise. We tell ourselves that when we have a lack of clarity that there is something wrong with us; when we are unsure of our direction or our next step that we are in some way being unfaithful.

That is not an accurate understanding of the faith journey.

It is shortly after news that the tomb was empty that Jesus’ disciples are gathered together behind closed doors. Their confusion is palpable. Their vision is cloudy. They wait. Jesus appears to them, offers them Holy Spirit peace, and shows them his wounds. They are ecstatic. They tell Thomas enthusiastically but he has his doubts.

Eight days later the disciples are still gathered together behind closed doors. It is safe to say that they are trying to figure out what they should do next. They are still waiting. This time Thomas is with them when Jesus appears in their midst. Jesus instructs them to believe, which in the gospel of John means to take action. Believe, meaning, “Now get moving. Follow my Way. Live your faith. Be my witnesses.”

This story from John 20:19-29 is a reminder that on the journey of faith there is a time to wait and there is a time to take action. Waiting in times of confusion and lack of clarity is never passive. It is an active watching, praying, and on-going gathering with brothers and sisters in Christ. In that a-ha! moment, when confusion clears and clarity comes, the wait is over. Then it is time to move, to take the next step in faith.

Anne Lamott has a powerful illustration of what it means to follow these instructions. Picture yourself on a darkened stage. You wait – however long it takes, you wait – until the spot light comes on, and then you step into the light. You wait in that spot – however long it takes, you wait – until a new spot light shines nearby and then you move into it. The process repeats itself over and over. This is the unfolding of the journey of faith that involves both waiting and taking action.

The Holy Spirit peace, whether waiting or whether moving, is this: Clarity always comes. And so does the Spirit-filled empowerment to live the faith we claim.

On the journey with you,


A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a number of ways to name the church “season” we are now experiencing:  Eastertide, Easter season, or the Great 50 Days of Easter.  I like this last way best because it suggests a specific time period for teaching about the resurrection of our Lord.  This is the tradition we receive from the writer we refer to as St. Luke, who penned the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles.
In light of that, we are approaching the third weekend of the Great 50 Days (the 50 days begins with Easter and ends with Pentecost).  The gospel reading is St. Luke’s story about revelation and insight found on the road to Emmaus.  The passage, Luke 24:13-35, is a resurrection story relating two apostles’ experience with the risen Lord.  One apostle or disciple is named Cleopas and the other is left unnamed.  It is the same day as the resurrection, i.e. Easter but later in the day.  Where exactly they had been is unknown but they were with the other disciples and a part of the events of what we call Holy Week.
There are interesting and imagination-capturing aspects to this beloved story.  These disciples are clearly distressed about those events of Holy Week, because for them “Holy” week ended with death and burial.  So, they are distressed and disturbed, disturbed because Jesus’ tomb had been violated in some way.  A stranger, whom we are told is Jesus, joined these two on the journey of six miles or so from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Here is aspect number one:  They don’t recognize Jesus  He is simply a stranger.  “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (24:16).  It is pretty easy to imagine distress and emotional “blindness,” but this blindness is theological, not physiological.  The story suggests we could today be equally afflicted.  Interesting…
The Stranger tells them how Jesus fits into the whole story of God’s salvation from Moses and the prophets up to Jesus.  Their hearts burn as they listen—perhaps hope rekindled?  As the walk continued the day moved into evening and they encouraged their stranger, in good Semitic style, to stay and receive their hospitality.  This is another interesting aspect.  The story suggests that Jesus walked on and had to be invited to stay.  This is true for us today:  Jesus does not dwell with us uninvited.  The disciples’ invitation was explicit and urgent.  Jesus remains with them.  So what of our invitation to Jesus to remain with us?  Explicit?  Urgent?  Interesting…

And, finally, the meal.  This is not a special meal of finery or set aside food.  It is a meal like most—common and familiar.  When the Stranger prays over the meal and offers broken and blessed bread, they see and experience Jesus.  A common and familiar experience made brilliant by the light of Presence.  Interesting that the story is not seeing, not understanding, not knowing glory until it comes together in a moment which can then vanish.  I believe that this story is easily a mirror of our own daily walk as we have expectations created by the fog of so much of life’s disappointments.  Strangers greet us and maybe offer wisdom at times.  We walk along with them without noticing who they are.  We eat meals blessed and unblessed, but always broken, and often we see nothing.  So we have nothing to tell, no insight to relate, and we just walk on from nowhere to nowhere.
So, headed to nowhere?  Or headed to Emmaus?  Interesting
                                                                                         Pastor Jeff Blackman

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Lazarus has been in the tomb four days. Jesus arrives on the scene and after conversations with Mary and Martha, he stands outside the tomb and cries, “Lazarus, come out!” It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the disciples crowding around the opening of the tomb, craning their necks to see. Lazarus, wrapped in grave clothes, comes staggering out. Jesus instructs the disciples, “Unbind him and let him go” (John 11).

Clearly, Jesus is the one who brings new and unexpected life. Clearly, Jesus correctly assesses the situation: Lazarus will never be able to fully embrace new life if he’s all wrapped up like a mummy. Clearly, Jesus has a job for the disciples: They are in charge of unbinding him and letting him go.

There are so many different ways that people are bound. Fear, anxiety, grief, loss, isolation, addiction, self-doubt, disease, dis-ease, racism, poverty, violence, abuse, oppression, to name a few. All suck the life out of people. All prevent people from fully embracing life. Jesus says to us, his followers, “I’ll bring the new life. You unbind people and let them go.” We do that weeping as Jesus wept when we see suffering. We do that by getting angry and indignant as Jesus did when we see people held captive by death-dealing systems and situations. We unbind and release people by our care and comfort, by our support and encouragement, by our willingness to stand with those who cannot stand alone. We surround them until they can stand on their own two feet. Once they can walk on their own, they join us in the discipleship work of unbinding people and letting them go.

I have experienced what it is to receive this incredible gift on behalf of the church. I grew up in a world that valued all that was male much more than it valued all that was female. This was the message in my family of origin as well as my church and school. I questioned my competency and my abilities and my value as a human being. I was bound tightly by cultural expectations, self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence. And then God called me into ordained ministry.

It hasn’t been an easy journey. There have been those who walked away rather than choosing to participate in the work of unbinding me and letting me go. But there have been those who were willing to give me a chance. Seminary professors who affirmed my gifts. Parishioners who felt I had something worth listening to. Colleagues who valued my insights. Over the course of time, over the course of a lifetime, I have experienced what it is to come staggering out of the grave into new life. I have experienced what it is to have brothers and sisters in Christ unbind me and let me go.

And I am eternally grateful to God and to you, the people of First United Methodist Church.

On the journey with you,


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel reading this weekend comes again from St. John’s gospel.  It is another long and critical story about the ministry of our Lord.  The passage is the story about Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, more specifically the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
There are many phrases and fragments of this long 45 verse narrative such as:  “Lord, the one whom you love is ill” v. 3; “I am the resurrection and the life. …Do you believe this?” vv. 25-26; “Jesus wept” v. 35; “Unbind him and let him go free” v. 44.  Many scholars connect this story of the raising of Lazarus to John 5:21:  “As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to men” neb.  We who are followers of Jesus on the Way are convinced of Jesus’ life-giving powers.  We trust that the life we have with God through Jesus is never-ending but always changing.  We can rest in peace with that faith.
There is another aspect of this story that is a little deeper, a little more provocative to we who follow.  When Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” does that mean only after death?  I believe the answer to that is no.  In fact, I believe that the greatest aspect of this resurrection and life idea is resurrection in this life on earth which leads to real life now and forever.  When Lazarus is commanded to come forth, it is to this life, not an ascension to the next.  On the surface, Lazarus comes back to the same old painful world he left.  Jesus seems to have raised him to a new life here.  Jesus is presented in John’s gospel as the inbreaking of God’s kingdom now.  New life comes where Jesus is.  Where Jesus is, there is resurrection.

As with the stories of Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the man born blind, there is the surface level meaning and then deeper, spiritual insights that are offered.  This story of Lazarus can, perhaps, offer us the deeper level of looking at our lives now and to the degree they are bound up in death.  To that degree, death—brokenness, fear, self-doubt, sin, anxiety, addiction, anger, to name a few—has dominion over us.  Jesus calls us out of that world wrapping binding into a new world of compassion justice, courage in God, i.e. into a daily living relationship with God’s healing, wholeness, and life through Jesus the Christ.

I believe that this is the life-changing power of the resurrection that is demonstrated by Jesus.  This is the Good News that starts now, hee at the edge of the tomb.  Martha talks of the resurrection being on the last day.  Jesus looks at us and says “I AM the resurrection and the life now… Do you believe this?  What say you?
                                                                                   Pastor Jeff Blackman