WOW! Those are words that keep coming out of my mouth week after week. When I started feeding our youth 4 years ago, I was selfishly providing a meal on Wednesday night for our youth to ease the stress of trying to get everyone fed and off to church on Wednesday evenings. I was pleased at how well it was received and supported by our youth families and Wednesday Chapel goers.
That spring I worked with Linda Scallon on providing free lunches during the summer in our community. During this time it became very clear that our church sat right smack dab in the middle of a "pocket of poverty" as defined by the U.S. census. I also discovered that 50% of the children in the Iowa Falls/Alden School district were receiving free or reduced lunches. How can this be? I don't see this, so it can't be true. This is what many of us think as we go about our daily lives. We think all is well in our beautiful little community.
After this eye opening experience, I was approached by Linda Scallon and Pastor Carol about the possibility of open the Wednesday night meal to the community. Because our church was in the middle of the "pocket of poverty" it made perfect sense. Without much fanfare and a limited budget we embarked on this adventure of feeding people. After the first year we were pleased with the number of people we were feeding, but felt that we had not yet reached our target population. With the renovation of Friendship Hall, we had time last fall to try and decide how to reach out to the community and get people in the doors. We currently send menus and information about the Community Meals to Greenbelt Home Health, Friendship Club, MICA, Ministerial Alliance, the Alternative High School, CIRSI, The Alden Food Pantry, The Ruth Project Food Pantry at Church of the Open Bible, and Ellsworth Community College. Small menu fliers are also placed at the Thrift Shop for shoppers to take. There is also a poster in Spanish with a menu in English hanging at the Thrift Store. Linda Starr gets information to the Alden United Methodist Church and places information in the Iowa Falls Methodist Church bulletins and monthly newsletters, and Jane Schultz makes sure information is in the mid-week update. By networking in this way, we saw our numbers increase from about 125 in January to 200 in May. Not only were we seeing an increase in meals servered, but also saw that we were reaching our target population.
We do currently have a small budget for this ministry, but as of right now we have not had to use this money to help pay for the Community Meal. Last May we finished in the black by approximately $2000 and were able to donate $800 to the purchase of food for the Ruth Project at The Church of the Open Bible!!!
This fall we have seen our numbers increase even more. Last week we served 314 meals! We also took in enough money to not only cover the cost of the meal that night, but also cover the cost of another meal! WOW! There is that word again. With our growth, also come a few growing pains. We have started to look at menus to simplify and save money. Don't worry, they will all still be homemade. We are also changing some of our service options and times to make the service of the meal flow better. To date this fall we have served a total of 1240 meals. 164 of these were deliveries and 196 were carry-outs. We have taken in $2348.13 in donations and spent $2751.55. I have purchased a lot of food ahead, so right now it looks like we are in the red, but we are doing great!
This summer I applied to partner with The Food Bank of Iowa. I attended orientation in August and Sherrie Ireland and I traveled to Des Moines last Monday to pick our first order. I placed an order on the food bank's online ordering system. A few of the things I ordered were brown rice, peanut butter, peaches, chicken bouillon, dill pickles, stuffing mix, mandarin oranges, and saltine crackers. When you arrive at the food bank the order is on a pallet to be loaded in your vehicle. You have a total of 20 minutes to then shop for other items. There is frozen meat and other items, free produce and other random free overstock items. I had no idea what to expect. IT WAS GREAT! I got 184 lbs. of meat including 5 hams, some ground beef and some chicken. We also got several large cans of fruit, veggies, and pudding. And the best was 12 #10 cans of crushed tomatoes for free. (We go through a lot of tomatoes!) In total we received 712 lbs. of food. 85 lbs. were free and the rest averages $.14/lb. with a small handling fee for the food pre-ordered and palleted. I am very excited for what this can do for our Community Meal Ministry!
This experience has been so amazing! I truly believe that God is walking with us on this journey. In the last couple of weeks I have received donations of pasta from Sean Holm through Diane Love, apples from Apple Ridge Orchard, canned goods from Shari Bruflot who is a food broker for a distribution company, and we are applying to receive pork from Iowa Select in December.
This is just the tip of the ice burg on giving. It takes all of us to make this ministry a reality. Each week many many bakers provide cookies, and cakes, and goodies for this meal. There are people coming to do prep work on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., people helping to package the meals we deliver, people who deliver these meals each week to those who cannot get to the church, people who serve meals, pour drinks, wipe tables, and wash dishes. There are many many many of you that come each week and eat a meal. You sit at tables with people you don't know. You have conversations, get to know people in our community. You put money in the basket and provide that welcoming smile!
God has blessed me with the gift of hospitality. I receive great joy in feeding people. I love to see the dining room full of people talking, laughing, sharing their lives with others. This is truly what "Church" is about. All of us being the hands, feet, face of God. Loving each other and caring for each other. Wednesday night has become a time of worship for me. I want to thank you all for the support and love that each of you put into this meal each week. I am truly humbled by your generosity! God Bless!
Monday, October 13, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Faith Journey by Jessie Weaver
Pastor Carol asked Chris and me to each write something for the mid-week newsletter. I must warn you my contribution does not hold a candle to my husband’s writing about Paul, but I am honored to be asked to share my story with you.
I have really enjoyed becoming a member of this church. When I was a child my family sporadically attended St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Atlantic, Iowa until the time when my younger brother got through confirmation. After that my family did not attend often and my faith lessened more and more over the years. Through those years I developed questions and felt doubt.
Pastor Carol accepted my questions and my doubts and welcomed me into the Methodist Church with open arms. For this I am truly grateful. Until now, I have never been a part of a church that feels like family. There is genuine respect and kindness for one another and a real desire to give to others. Our community meals demonstrate the commitment and care our members and volunteers have for other community members. The Sardines Youth Group provides teens with a sense of belonging and a place to go that is safe and comfortable. Watching the Sunday School kids sing “Father Abraham” with gusto last Sunday reminds me that kids want a place where they can smile and sing about God with their hearts. I am constantly in awe of how much the church’s members give to others, regardless of their membership and without judgment upon the way strangers may live their lives or their religious beliefs.
Even though all my questions and all my doubt may not be answered, I have faith. I have faith in the power of people who give their time and effort to others and who commit to something bigger than they are. We all have our own faith journey and through that journey we can learn from each other and support each other. God shows us the way, We just need to open our eyes and follow him.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
It’s no secret that I am not a track star.
In fact, growing up, I was always one of those kids. You know the type. The ones who tripped over air. The ones who always managed to be “sick” on the day we had to run the mile. The ones who did everything in their power to avoid setting foot on the track at all. Yeah… that was me alright.
So, it may come as a surprise to my former P.E. teachers, that on numerous occasions throughout my adult phase of life, I’ve found myself walking in circles on the high school track. Over the past seven years that my kids have attended school here, in Iowa Falls, I’ve walked there more times than I can recall, even.
Shocking… I know.
A couple of days ago, while out for a stroll, listening to a little Johnny Cash/Bluegrass radio on Pandora, I... once again... found myself walking in circles around that track.
I believe it was lap #2 that I noticed it.
On the far west side of the asphalt ring, tucked among all kinds of different trees, stood a lone apple tree. I’m not exactly what you’d consider “a tree whisperer”, but I knew it was an apple tree because… brace yourselves for this… it had apples on it.
Bright, red, perfectly round, apples! And there were even quite a few of them... each one hanging like perfectly placed Christmas ornaments on that tree!
I stopped and stared at it, completely bewildered.
How many times had I walked that route over the past several years? And yet, prior to that day, I’d never noticed that apple tree hugging the fence line. How was it possible to have overlooked something that so obviously stood out from all of the rest, for so long?
I arrived at a conclusion a few more Johnny Cash laps later.
The answer? Seasons.
You see, all of the foliage along that side of the property was still very green. Even the leaves of this stand-out tree blended in with all of the others. Sure, there were a few brush strokes of yellow beginning to contrast the otherwise monochromatic landscape, but for the most part, the bright, bold, telltale signs of fall were yet to be seen.
Except for those apples.
In just a short time, however, the autumn hues would undoubtedly camouflage those little crimson fruits, resulting in a hidden apple tree once again.
And so, the cycle continues.
My friends, our church is filled with as many colorful seasonal changes and hidden treasures as our beautiful scenic city and neighboring greenbelt. Each season, no less wondrous than another, expertly showcases something… someone… within our community of faith who may have otherwise been seen as just another face in the crowd; another tree in the forest.
As many of you know, our Sunday morning Growing Groups have recently undergone a significant change in format; a new season, if you will. As I continued to circle around the track that day, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my family’s experience with the new Growing Group configuration.
So… to our Growing Sphere: who has surely spent countless hours brainstorming, agonizing, and praying for guidance throughout the entire planning process; to my brothers and sisters: willing to step out of the comfort of familiarity
and embrace this
new concept; and finally… to some of you: not yet sure about how you feel about
this new idea or how you’d fit into a Growing Group...
I want all of you to know something...
My family and I… we’ve been noticing a whole lot of apple trees, lately.
Beautiful, strong, fruitful apple trees. The kind that are just too good to allow to go to waste.
Thank you, First UMC, for the wonderful gift of fellowship, encouragement, and spiritual growth. Again… I’m no track star, but it sure feels good to walk through this new season of discovery with you.
Living a Worthwhile Life
Philippians 1: Paul’s Thanksgiving and Prayer
Pastor Carol said a few things that really got me thinking last Sunday. She talked about Paul and his imprisonment. She talked about how he, through steadfastness in his devotion, was able to bring people together and inspire them while locked behind bars. She spoke of how he was able to create a “team mindedness”, while being alone in a dark place.
Things really started to ring out for me when she spoke of how sometimes we are happy to give of ourselves as long as it doesn’t require becoming “uncomfortable.” It can be pretty darn easy to give right up until it hurts. Hurting is something I naturally try to avoid. But maybe in doing so, there are times, where I miss opportunity to personally grow and do something truly enduring. I’m pretty sure that happens more than I like to admit. But not Paul. His words ring of hope and celebration beyond his own pain and loneliness. He’s happy to think of the life he has built as he speaks to his followers…
…I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,[d] both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Does this sound like imprisonment? To me it sounds like boundless freedom. But how can this be?
The idea of building a team was also something Carol mentioned. Building true belief in others that lasts beyond one person or one idea is a miraculous thing. Just think of the power in creating something strong enough that your physical presence can be absent while the efforts you have undertaken live on in one spirit delivered through the hearts and minds of those who have chosen to follow. This can take many forms, but for Paul it was about Christ and the Holy Spirit at work through his people.
Some of us have positions of leadership, be it in our work, our community and affiliations. Some of us have families with children. Anyone who’s been at these things for any amount of time comes to understand that a mission is only as good as its people. It’s also understood that if we want our coworkers, associates, community member or our children to believe in us, we must live by example. This doesn’t mean being perfect. It means deciding what is important in our hearts and minds and having courage enough to following it, no matter what. If you have those two things: people and courge to lead by example…you can create something that lives beyond you and your circumstance. Doing this with an understanding and a willingness to be “uncomfortable” is what true leadership is all about.
Paul sat in jail but wasn’t imprisoned. His work, his spirit and soul, couldn’t be shut off or held down because he had something that transcended his circumstance. He had people who believed in him, in the Holy Spirit and the importance of Christ in their daily lives. This is what was most important to him. The bars, the cold stone beneath his feet and the locks that held him, weren’t really there. Not to Paul. Because the life that really mattered, the life of Christ and those willing to carry on his message, was thriving outside, beyond any stone wall or metal cage. What freedom! What a great inspiration!
Monday, September 22, 2014
Paul writes from prison to the church in Philippi: “God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” Phil 1:29-30.
I don’t think of suffering as being a privilege. I would rather avoid it, thank you very much. I particularly don’t think of God as graciously granting the privilege of suffering. That’s not a gift I want. It is even worse when you know that the original Greek is saying that God has “graced” us with the privilege of suffering. That’s grace that I don’t get too excited about.
However, Paul doesn’t mean that God sends bad things that make us suffer. That’s not the issue here. I think Paul would agree with me when I say that God doesn’t punish us by making us suffer. So what in the world is Paul talking about?
I read an article in the most recent issue of the Christian Century that has shed some light on that passage for me. The article is entitled “From Survival to Love” by Bethany Sollereder. I’ll do my best to summarize:
Sollereder says that human beings have an evolutionary response to pain. When we are hurt, we are aggressive and defensive and retaliate. Evolution has taught us over the course of millennia that these reactions are necessary for our survival. Our primal, raw emotions of rage and hate are part of our instinctive reaction to being hurt.
These primal, passionate emotions are also very closely related to the passion of love. If you don’t believe me, think about how easy it is to be enraged with someone you love. It is the work of God whenever hate and rage are transformed into love; God at work to move us beyond our evolutionary, primitive response to pain.
The key to this transformation is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a decision to deal with our pain differently. It is the choice to accept the pain inflicted by another and to refuse to return that pain in-kind. It is a choice to end the cycle of violence. It comes at great cost. Our evolutionary impulses tell us to strike back, to fight or to flee.
It is much easier to react with anger or aggressiveness. To forgive can mean that we will suffer more because we do not have the relief of revenge. Love absorbs hurt and returns good. Jesus showed us on the cross what that sacrificial love looks like.
Sollereder writes, “From this evolutionary perspective, the ubiquity of pain in the world is not an argument against the love or goodness of God. Rather, it is the key to understanding our high calling of love. When we are in pain, more than any other moment, our passions are invoked and shaped. When our pain leads us to violence, hate, or revenge, our desires turn to evil. If instead, in the moment of pain, we choose to forgive, the power of pain is broken. It is not passed on in aggression or turned upon the self in shame. Forgiveness is the ultimate defeat of evil and freedom from it. While we may still be in pain, we may also find joy in the transformation of love. There is redemption in finding that without retaliation we can relinquish the role of victim and become the victor. The pain of the transformation is correlated with the joy that comes from the new power of love and possibility of healing, both for oneself and that broken relationship.”
Wow. Paul was right. We have been graced with the privilege of suffering: the suffering of forgiveness that transforms us – and the world.
On the journey with you,
Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Contention seems to be a normal part of religion and of living. Contention comes when people have different ideas about how to reach the same goal. Most of us bring the best we have to problem solving and that includes problem solving in the Church. Because people have significantly different life experiences, we tend to see differently and, of course, assume that what we see is valid. We get into difficulties when we think that what is valid for ourselves needs to be valid for everyone else. You can see the problem in this line of thinking.
This sort of difficulty happens in every walk of life. The present political situation between many Democrats and Republicans is an obvious example of the result of this sort of thinking: we go nowhere except to stalemate and obstruction. This can happen in the Church, also. In the UMC some would point to the issue of homosexuality as such a struggle. Even in local churches of any size such struggles happen, often, resulting in very hurt feelings and loss of fellowship and love. This is exactly the wrong outcome for which to work. And the Apostle Paul would agree.
In this weekend’s reading from Paul (Philippians 2:1-13), he offers those who follow Christ a radical solution to these kinds of contentions and struggles… “with humility think of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3b). Boy! This is not easy! My perspective is that most of us are taught and encouraged to “fight” for what we think is the right way. It often seems like doing less is to proclaim to be inadequate. Our cultural value currently seems to be “Don’t back up!” Take no prisoners! Scorch the whole place! This is an attitude in great detriment to all concerned. It is adversarial, destructive and, for me, opposed to God’s desire for us.
Perhaps such disunity is going on in Philippi. Paul has heard of such goings on and writes of the way of the cross as his strategy for fellowship. He says put yourself behind the other with whom you have conflict. He says that in different ways. For example, he says: Don’t do anything for selfish purposes; watch out for what is better for others; think of others as better than yourselves. Paul calls this the attitude that was in Christ Jesus. Paul says Jesus emptied himself taking the form of a slave and humbling himself to the point of death on a cross. This is a model, not a prescription. What that means is we understand that the way of the cross says that your ideas are not the most important of all ideas. Rather, unity in the Church is more important. For me, that demands loving compromise to stay together and to stay in Christ. This is not talking about abusive relationships between individuals. This is talking about our ‘normal’ relationships inside the Church. This is the hard spiritual work that Paul gives us as we live together long term as Church.
Failure to live up to this hope is region. So, when we fail, we acknowledge our failure, ask for Christ to lift us up, ask God to forgive us our arrogance, to the other in Christ’s love, and try again for the sake of Christ’s Church. When we function in such a way, Paul says, “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes” (Philippians 2:13). It can’t get any closer to God’s desire than that. Do not be afraid!
Pastor Jeff Blackman
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
We’ve been sitting at Jesus’ feet, pondering his words in Matthew 18 about how to handle conflicts, differences and division in the church. Add Paul’s words in Romans 14:1-12, and we have a recipe for loving our neighbor – in the pew. A summary of how followers of The Way work through their issues might look like this:
- If someone offends you or if you offend someone, go talk face-to-face. That is difficult to do. You might decide that it isn’t worth the effort. If so, go immediately to #5.
- If the two of you can’t be reconciled (meaning to re-connect, to re-align), take it to our Staff-Parish Relations team. If they can’t facilitate reconciliation, it needs to go to our district superintendent. If you don’t want to involve SPR or the DS, go immediately to #5.
- Bless those who leave the church by continuing to care for them and reach out to them.
- If someone comes to you and is complaining about and criticizing another, ask them two questions: Have you spoken to the person involved? If not, ask to go with them to talk to the person involved. If they are unwilling, encourage them to go immediately to #5.
- Forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what another has done is ok. It means releasing them from your expectations. It means releasing them from the punishment they deserve. It means letting go. When we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are saying that we can only fully open ourselves to God’s forgiveness if we fully open ourselves to letting go of our grudges.
Whenever I preach, I preach primarily to myself. While it is always a little nerve-wracking for me, an introvert, to get up in front of people to speak publically about – of all things – faith, I am always deeply impacted by the experience. What may seem like a poor sermon to you sinks deeply into me and can’t help but change me. What I was most impacted by this week was Jesus’ story:
A man owed a king a million billion dollars. The king asked him to pay up. The man said that he couldn’t and got down on his knees to beg forgiveness of his debt. The king released him and let him go.
You’d think the man would leave filled with gratitude, but he didn’t. He left grumbling. As he did, he saw a friend who owed him $25. “Pay up,” the man growled. “I can’t,” said the friend. So the man imprisoned his friend in a world of hurt by his refusal to forgive. And the man descended into his own private hell, filled with anger and blame, resentment and grudges.
God whispers to me, “I’ve forgiven you a million billion times. Can you not offer what you have received to others?”
I’m trying. And what I realize is that church is the exact right place to try, to sometimes get it right and sometimes fail, to learn from my mistakes and to keep trying. Over and over, 7 times 70, and beyond.
On the journey with you,