Tag Archives: United Methodist Church

Some Reflections on the the Great Plains Annual Conference

For United Methodists, Annual Conference rolls around every year. It is “non-negotiable” if you are clergy you are required to show up. If you are a lay member, it is expected you show up, but not required. Annual Conference in the best of all worlds part revival, part business session and part family reunion. I both love it and dislike it (the loathe and hate words being too strong.)

I’m an extrovert, so having a chance to catch up with folks I only see once a year it wonderful and exciting. Mostly I enjoy the worship if done well, some of the business and the visiting. I do dislike, no I actually loathe the horrible chairs that are uncomfortable and actually are a pain in the “back” and backside!

Four years ago, three annual conferences (Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West) became one conference. I won’t go into the myriad of reasons, but suddenly finding venues large enough to hold that many clergy and laity became more difficult. No longer can we have chairs around tables, which makes it easier to do the work of the conference, now we are in long rows with uncomfortable chairs hooked together. We juggle our laptops or tablets or workbooks on our laps and heaven help anyone who needs to get to a microphone quickly or let alone the bathroom!

The sessions planning committee works hard in those large arenas to make the stage worshipfull and beautiful for our various services. There is nothing easy about trying to get that many people together and have all the various functions go smoothly. I miss the smaller conferences partly because of the ease of knowing most everyone and for the ability to make space more intimate. I, also, was one who voted for the one conference, because I had served a three point charge and I am well aware of the toll on the leader trying to do three of everything. That is not good use of resources, not of time, not of finances and certainly not of human beings.

This year’s conference was our new bishop, Ruben Saenz, Jr.’s first with us. I have been a pastor a long time, but had few bishops. Bishop Scott Jones was my bishop for twelve years, Bishop Fritz Mutti was my bishop for twelve years before that, Bishop Ken Hicks was my bishop for eights years before that and I begin my ministry under the leadership of Bishop Ben Oliphint. Each bishop brings their unique and unrepeatable spirit and their gifts to the area in which they serve. 

Bishop Saenz led with humor, humility, honesty and  a good deal of laughter. He noted again and again that the United Methodist Church is in a time of discernment, and honestly a time of difficulty. There is much about the future that is uncertain, but what is certain, Bishop Saenz stated again and again, is that “Jesus is the foundation and it will be alright.” 

When things got tense, or there were strong feelings running deep, Bishop Saenz’s would stop and lead us in prayer. To some that might some manipulative or shallow, but for me it never felt that way. The times of prayers felt genuine and deep. The prayers were not directed to one viewpoint or another, just that we might discern God’s path for us and to love one another.

Anyone can go to the conference website to see the pictures and videos and updates. My take away said are pretty basic, we are in changing times. Pastor’s and lay leaders need ot be discerning where God is leading using Jesus’ prayer, “not will by thine” and “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The people of God need each other. 

Personally, I am delighted to return as senior pastor at First UMC, downtown Wichita and to begin work with my new associate Rebecca Goltry Mohr. As part of the Transition into Ministry program, I am honored that First will be a teaching/mentoring congregation and that I have the honor to be a mentoring senior pastor. 

During the opening worship service, we were given small silk flowers to remember those members of the annual conference, both lay and clergy who had died in the prior year. During holy communion we were invited to drop those flowers into a bowl in honor and rememberance. Then someone created this with those flowers:


Stunningly beautiful, during ordination we were reminded we are surround by such a great cloud of witnesses. We were commissioning and ordaining our new leaders and being blessed and reminded to continue to run the race set before us. Pastor Rebecca’s was commissioned as a provisional elder during that service.


The theme for this years conference is a good one: Know God, Proclaim Christ, Serve Others, Seek Justice. May it be so. 

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Pentecost Thoughts, Part 2

Pentecost is one of my “favorite” church holidays or feasts that really is not a holiday. There are no chocolates, or special paper dinnerware, or cards or presents or anything else that usually lets everyone know it is holiday time! Perhaps it is because it is always fifty days after Easter and the date changes. Perhaps it’s because there is no way to commercialize this church event.

“Churchy” people often call it the birthday of the Church and that is true to an extent.  It was the day the Spirit was given in a new way to those who were waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of an Advocate, a Counselor, a Comforter, God’s very real Presence in their lives. The author of Luke/Acts describes this event in Acts 2.

Every year I want to do something fun, crazy and memorable. Some years, I get something done, this year, I didn’t. I don’t want to trivialize Pentecost and yet, for my faith journey and I believe for the life of the church Pentecost is important. This year there were no cupcakes or balloons, but there was a pair of red shoes

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I wrote a blog post in response to another blog stating why I thought the church and particularly the United Methodist Church needed Pentecost. I think that we are not perfect, but I am grateful that God has a Spirit that makes all things possible.

Debra Dean Murphy at Ekklesia Project: “In truth, Pentecost is not the complete reversal of Babel. We still can’t understand each other; we routinely miscommunicate; we gather and we gripe, betraying the unity Christ has called us to as his Body. But the good news of the Acts 2 story, the good news of all our gathering “together in one place,” is not that the Church has a mission, but that God’s mission has a Church.”

My sermon yesterday pointed to that understanding. Pentecost is not about individuals, it is about God and God’s love and grace as a community. I continue to believe that God is at work and will work and will challenge the community of faith to stand strong in the face of evil, of bigotry, of hatred. I believe we still need Pentecost, but more importantly we need the fresh wind of God’s Spirit.

You can watch yesterday’s worship service at First UMC through our Sunday streams link. It was a morning filled with joy: a baptism, a mission team commissioning and Holy Communion. Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit!

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For the Love of Jesus, Part Three Or Pentecost Thoughts

Since the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church decision in late April, this is my third reflection on for the Love of Jesus. The first one was on my determination not to leave the United Methodist Church that has nurtured me, affirmed my call to ministry, sent me to serve various church and that I love deeply. The second one reference Pentecost and the church, like jazz, learning, in conflict and compromise, to play and make beautiful music and community.

This third one, is written as I reflect upon a clergy colleague and friend’s blog about Pentecost and the United Methodist Church. The Reverend David Livingston posted these words yesterday. I read them from his facebook post on the United Methodist Clergy page. I had permission to link to David’s blog, even though I disagreed with what he said.

You can read it for yourself, and while I do not disagree that Pentecost ties to the Tower of Babel in the church’s understanding, I am not about to give up Pentecost because there are people in the church not willing to speak to one another. I would say we are following the United States culture right now. Many of the social posts are from one very slanted view or another and then the people who agree “like” the post and the ones that disagree make snarky comments. It is true that people are not listening to one another, but I don’t think that is God’s fault or the Spirit’s fault.

What I said on Facebook in response to David’s post was this,

“My friend, I respectfully disagree. I believe we need Pentecost more than ever. The disciples and early believers didn’t have all the answers. They made mistakes, fought, called names and everything else. If we read the New Testament we know that not everything was good. It was messy and ugly and nasty and graceful and everything in between. The world is messy, God is messy, the church is messy, Lord knows I am messy. I intend to stick with Pentecost, I don’t think God has given up on the church or on us or on the world. Blessings.”

Pentecost in so many ways is the birthday of the church. After Easter, the disciples and other believers were a collection of individuals trying to figure out what it now meant to follow Jesus. They didn’t have plans, they had a promise that God would come and make the Divine Presence real in a new way. The Biblical story speaks of wind and fire and “tongues” languages that were spoken so all could understand.

Whatever happened it practically defied description, yet changed lives and transformed those early believers. They didn’t have written doctrine or polity, that had a faith and a hope that God was doing something new and they lived it out. The sense of community that was given in the early church has not been replicated:

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  (Acts 2: 43-37)

That basic verse is repeated again in Acts 4, but the point is that the early church was seeking and struggling and searching for what it meant to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Without going into a deep biblical treatise, the early church did not have it all together. They excluded people, they argued, they fought and they believed that their “preacher” was better than the other preachers. The conflict between Peter and Paul is well documented. Paul was far too inclusive, and the author of Acts tries to make Peter have the same inclusive understanding. According to Paul’s letters, Peter sometimes fails.

Over the hundreds of years of church history, often, the church ends up on the wrong side of that history. One the one hand, it is the church that began the early hospitals and care centers and the early colleges and universities and public education. On the other hand it is the same church, that when confronted with integration created private schools so that white children would not have to be educated alongside African American children. The church has set up hospitals that ended up hurting instead of healing. And the church has encouraged hatefulness, prejudice and inequality.

So obviously the history of the church is a mixed bag of good and bad, inclusivity and exclusivity, love and hate, sin and grace. Sometimes, it would be easy for me to just give up and give in. It would be easy to say “the church will never change. ” “The church is dying and not worth the effort.”

That is why I need Pentecost. As I said before for the love of Jesus I am not going away or giving up on the church, not on my watch. I do long for a new movement of the Holy Spirit to rush upon me and upon the Church. Jesus offered Peace, and then promised the Presence and Power of God. I am not happy at how the United Methodist Church is handling the differing understandings of sexuality and of biblical interpretation. Every person I know has their own private “canon” of scripture that they use again and again to make her or his points. No person is a true literalist.

All of us need Pentecost. We need God’s Spirit to blow a fresh wind into our hearts, our spirits, our minds and our community. I need, I believe we all need God’s love and grace challenging us to pay attention to how we act and to what say in the name of Jesus. For me, Pentecost is the time to cry out, “Come Holy Spirit! Come and refresh your people once more! Strengthen us, challenge us, comfort us and remind us that Christ is leading us into a new age of grace, of love, of hope and of faith for all people. ” I need Pentecost because sometimes I grow tired and cynical. I need Pentecost to remind me that I am not alone in working toward God’s reign of justice, of equality, of peace and of righteousness.

For the love of Jesus, who promised to be with us always in the power of the Holy Spirit, I am praying for a fresh wind of that Spirit. I am trusting that God is at work, even when I can’t see any change. I believe that God will strengthen and guide and help the church to live into that community where all people are loved, welcomed and know God’s grace.

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For the Love of Jesus, Not on my watch

A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie La La LandI always have good intentions seeing a movie IN the theatre, but more often than not, I watch it at home. I am a sucker for a good musical. I realize that life is not one dance number or musical number after another, but I enjoy dance and music and a few moments that are not filled with snarkiness.

La La Land received great reviews and numerous awards. In some ways it was like every other musical and in others it was full of surprises. I was caught how in the twenty first century a film musical could be made filled with both the old and new.

In fact, I was so caught by one scene, that I had planned on blogging about it prior to my post on the Judicial Council decision. I knew this post could wait, because in some ways, it also is about the church, where we are and where we might go together.

In the movie, Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club. She has already told him “I should probably tell you I hate jazz.” To which he replies: “What do you mean you don’t like jazz?” She says, “It means that when I listen to it I don’t like it.” The link to the scene lets you see the whole dialogue including what happens at the jazz club.

There, Sebastian says, “I think when people say they don’t like jazz they don’t have context, they don’t know where it comes from…..people spoke five different languages, they couldn’t talk to each other, the only way they could communicate was with jazz.” Mia had a very different understanding of jazz, her life, her experience was that it was relaxing and good for parties but didn’t have the depth or the history or the tradition. Sebastian responds: “You have to see it to understand it….Everyone is composing, rearranging and writing AND playing the melody. Jazz is conflict and compromise, it’s always new, every night it is new and it very exciting…..and it’s dying. The world said let it die, ….not on my watch.”

Those words shocked me into a realization about how I feel about the church. Insert church for jazz and that is how I understand and experience the community of faith. When I think about Pentecost, people spoke in different languages, but it was the gift of the Spirit that allowed them to communicate, that Spirit that Jesus’ promised. The early church was in conflict and it comprised and it continued to compose, rearrange, write AND play the melody of the story of faith. Unfortunately the other history of the church is to try to set things in stone and forget the amazing movement of the Spirit to lead the people in new ways. We sometimes quit composing, rearranging and playing the melody and then our conflict becomes so cemented that we can’t compromise.

Many look at the church and just say “I don’t like it, I hate it.” With good reason people feel that way, they have been hurt and abused and have no need to continue experiencing that. Some people feel the church is out of touch, is boring and might be okay for “background music” at an event, as a value to toss about or proclaim somehow they are part of a “church” so they can check off something on a list, but it has nothing to do with what I think “real” church is about.

Like jazz, many do not know the full history or tradition of the church, not all of which is nice or lovely. Some of our past is downright ugly and hateful. I am always amazed that God uses fragile and flawed human beings to bring a reign of justice, of righteousness, of equality and of peace. Grace abounds, not because the church always plays the “right notes” but because God is God and through Jesus challenges us to love. Jesus was constantly playing the melody, and composing and rearranging and writing. His jazz interpretation caused him a great deal of trouble and eventually his creativity was threatening enough to get him arrested, tried and executed. Again, his rearranging and composing meant he played a new melody that we call resurrection.

I believe the church is called into being a new creation, always new, “every night” and every day called into newness of life and love. Jesus leads the way, not being set into stone, but being made a new creation. The melody is “God’s love and grace” and each generation must re-write, re-arrange and compose so that others might know and experience that love and grace.

This is not an easy task. There are many that would claim this can not be done. We must either tell the “old old story” the way it has always been told, or we walk away and give up. That may be extreme, but I don’t tend to believe it is either/or. I do not believe I am alone in believing that the gospel, the good news of God’s love as experienced in Christ Jesus is dead, or irrelevant. I believe it is every changing and ever new for each generation. The church is challenged to not ONLY play the melody, but to rearrange, to re write and to compose new songs. The church is conflicted and it is in the composing that we can find compromises that lead us into new life.

In the words of the movie, “the world says let it die….not on my watch.” I am not willing to let the grace and love of God be stuck in old ways, in ways that do not connect with a new generation. The United Methodist Church may be in some ways dying, but I am not willing to let it die. For the love of Jesus, not on my watch, not while I have life and breath and faith that in Christ I am made new and the story, the melody is new every day and every night. For all the dreamers, I am committed to the love, the grace and the melody that Christ is creating for all people.

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For the Love of Jesus, I am not going away

Yesterday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) released its decision on a request from the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC concerning the application of certain paragraphs from the Discipline on the nomination, election and consecration of bishops. In shorter terms, the question had to do specifically with the nomination, election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto from the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, and the paragraphs have to do with “self avowed practicing homosexuals.”  Here is the link to the full review of the case before the Council.

There are a “lot of words” out there on this case, before the Council met and now since they have released their decision. For non United Methodists, the Judicial Council is basically our Supreme Court. They make decisions based on requests from United Methodists that question acts by bishops or pastors or annual conferences and rule on what is “lawful” or “constitutional” within the UMC. The Judicial Council doesn’t make the laws or the rules that are within the Discipline, they only make decisions as to whether entities within the church are following them, or upholding them. The General Conference is entrusted with writing or rewriting or changing the Discipline every four years.

The church, for some time, has wrestled with the issues surrounding human sexuality. This is not the first debate the “church” has had over biblical issues. The church has split over many other kinds of issues, over power, over structure, over biblical authority, over slavery, over women in the ministry, divorced people in the church and in the ministry, over the use of alcohol, playing cards or dancing. I am not making light of the conversation and deep divide that is in front of the UMC right now. I am pointing out, that the church is constantly struggling to figure out how to be the church and how to live out following Jesus Christ in a real way in each generation.

The Methodist church divided over slavery a little over 150 years ago. Each side believed they were right. Slavery is biblical, there are verses in place as to how to treat a slave appropriately. And yet…..I do not believe there is a church left that still believes that “owning” another human being is Christian. Women have been in the pulpit just a bit over a 100 years, and yet it was not until 1956 women were full members as clergy. There are still people who walk away from the church when a woman is appointed as pastor. There is plenty in the New Testament to cling to if one wants to deny women the opportunity to live out their call as pastors and preachers and teachers. It has only been since the 1970’s that divorced people could be ministers. If a pastor went through a divorce he (and at that time it was usually a he) had to turn in his credentials. Of everything that I have noted, divorce is the one thing that Jesus had some very strong and judgemental words to say. (Matthew 5: 31-32)

I was saddened by the Judicial Council’s ruling, but not surprised. Their job is to rule on what the Book of Discipline states. As someone who has been clergy for 35 years, I know what the Discipline states and have worked to change the language. Our, as in United Methodists, statements that all people are of sacred worth and that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings is contradictory. Obviously I disagree, but the Discipline states what it states, so the decision by the ruling should not surprise anyone. Judicial Council’s function is not to question or change what is in the Discipline, it is only to rule on whether or not the question before them is valid and then what if any acts are in violation of the Discipline. The Western Jurisdictions College of Bishops released this statement. The College (which is the name of the group of bishops for a particular area) already has had Bishop Oliveto’s “case” under review. The sad thing is that her jurisdiction elected her with no dissenting votes, which is practically a unanimous vote. They elected Bishop Oliveto because they believed she had the gifts and the graces to lead the church forward. Her assigned annual conference also have many who agree with her giftedness for the church.

I am saddened by this because I continue to see the best and brightest and most gifted people turned away because they are gay or lesbian. Men and women are told they are sacred worth, but not holy and sacred enough to share their lives and their gifts for ministry in the church. Some congregations won’t even allow them to be on staff or in leadership. I, divorced and remarried, am allowed to stand up Sunday after Sunday and preach grace, love and hope and promise and faith and the good news of new life in Jesus. Yet, someone, who happens to have a different orientation than I, is denied that privilege not because of an action that Jesus clearly condemns, but on the basis of their “being.”

I have been told that those who think the church needs to change should just go away or start a new church. What if those who had worked diligently for slavery to be abolished had just gone away? Or those who worked for full inclusion of people regardless of the color of their skin had just gone away? Or those who worked for the full inclusion of women just went away? I have loved the United Methodist Church my whole life, I am not going away. I am not leaving. I want to be part of bridging the divide that honors what I believe is the real grace and love of Jesus for ALL people.

There are many bumps and mountains and disappointments in the long round to justice, to the reign of God. I never thought I would see in my lifetime, all the changes that have been made. I never thought I would live to see gays and lesbians being able to marry legally, to have the same basic civil rights that I enjoy. And yet, it is now the law of the land as well as the law in many countries around the world. In the church, I have seen many things that are disappointing, but I have seen a movement towards equality and justice. Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.

Yesterday, in Egypt, Pope Francis spoke these words, “”History does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.” While I know Pope Francis was not speaking about the UMC, he was speaking about equality and justice. I will continue to work for what I believe is true justice in the UMC. I will work with and walk with those who are most hurt by our lack of compassion and grace. I will not walk away or leave, because I believe that I am called to do the working of inviting, including and proclaiming God’s grace for ALL. For the Love of Jesus, I will continue to Stand Up!

 

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Transitions, Part 2

On July 1, in my annual conference of the United Methodist Church, new appointments begin. I began ministry June 1, 1982 when appointments began June 1. Today, I officially begin my new appointment as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas. I posted about this surprise move in an earlier blog, Transitions . I say “official” because I have spent this last week moving my office and preparing for Sunday morning.

I am aware that no transition is easy or clean. First Downtown is the church I grew up and so there is a familiarity to the building and the space. There are people from what I jokingly call “my former life” and others are new to me and I to them. So I am going home in some ways and in other ways this is all brand new.

In the midst of joy, excitement and a little fear in this new beginning, there is also a sense of awe, humbleness and gratitude. The pulpit ministry of First goes beyond the walls of the physical space through live television and online streaming. Ministers that have gone before me are some of the “best” preachers in the United Methodist Church. As a historic downtown “tall steeple” church, the expectations are real. In its 146 year history, I will be the first woman senior pastor. Other women broke the barrier as associates as far back as the 1970’s, but I am aware of how honored I am to be appointed to this church that has such  an important place in my heart and in the hearts of others.

I am grateful, because I am not here because of who I am, but because of the hard work of many other women before me. This year at General Conference they celebrated the 60th anniversary of women’s ordination.

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Now first of all, I need to note that this is INCORRECT!!!! This is the 60th anniversary of women in “full membership.” One might think that the question that those in process gets asked the most (what’s the difference between ordination and membership) might not be misrepresented at the top level of the church. Sigh. In my blog from a couple of years ago, I mentioned one of those wonderful foremothers who broke the ground for me and so many others Rev. Portteus Latimer. Portteus or “Preach” as she was known was ordained BEFORE she was a full member.

What that meant was that she had to “find” her own appointment and if a man was found to fill the pulpit she had to leave. What that meant was that when she attended annual conference with her lay member (who happened to be a woman) her lay member was allowed full voice and voting right and Preach was not. She was ordained, but NOT a member. Those membership rights 60 years ago MEANT that in theory at least, women could vote, could be elected to attend General and Jurisdictional Conference as clergy delegates and could even become a bishop! She shared about being a pastor without being recognized as fully equal. Without her mentoring me and caring for me in those first five years of ministry, I am sure I would not be the pastor I am today. I am so grateful for all those women who went before me that paved the way for me to serve God in so many ways.

On May 31, 1988 I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. Preach laid hands on me in the moment that was so blessed. On that day I received two gifts, one a red stole placed around my neck after I was ordained and a small gold dove, engraved with my ordination date by my family.

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Each year at Annual Conference I wear the dove and if I participate in the ordination service I wear this stole. It is part and parcel of the history of those who went before me and I pray for the ministry in which I am now engaged.

So the new adventure begins. Downtown Wichita is part of who I am, from when I was a child, to the choice I made ten years ago to move back to the heart of Wichita, where I grew up and where I attended school and where I thrive. To be part of Life.Downtown. was a surprise blessing. I look forward to coming full circle and being in ministry at First.

I am graced to serve.

 

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A day in the life….

Most days, being a pastor/minister is wonderful. Every day is often different with many different tasks and people to minister to. Some days are pretty mundane, with tasks that must done in order for the ministry of the church to continue. Other days come with surprises, some good, some difficult, some tragic.

And Sunday comes around every week! I heard one key note speaker say, “Sunday comes around every DAMN week!” For preacher types, it feels often like it comes around every couple of days. Planning worship is humbling, challenging, exciting and often frightening! Each week, the “preacher” is charged with creating a sermon that will be insightful, meaningful, comforting, challenging and most of all give voice to “the Word.” Sometimes the task is easier than others.

Today, at West Heights United Methodist Church the worship service was not created by the pastor or the worship team, but by a group of confirmation students. Their grade levels were seventh grade through tenth grade. They have spent the last 10 weeks studying the bible, church history, the sacraments, visiting with other worship communities and writing a “credo” which means “I Believe.”

We started out with eight, seven of which had not been baptized. Last Sunday afternoon, four of our youth chose to be baptized by immersion. In the United Methodist Church, like many mainline churches, babies are often baptized. Only one of our confirmands had been baptized as a baby. So we went to a church that had a baptistry. What a joy to baptize these four young people.

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Today, we baptized three more this morning in worship. Then at the second service, we had seven young people profess their faith and become full members.

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They chose the songs/hymns, wrote the prayers and crafted statements of faith that they shared with us today. It is one of those services that makes a preacher proud. It wasn’t what I was doing, but what they were doing as they lead worship, shared their individual faith statements, affirmed their baptism and professed their faith that made worship so sacred and holy. Each year, I am in awe of these young people and I look forward to seeing them grow and deepen in their faith.

On this day in the life of being a pastor, I am blessed, humbled, in awe of the faith of Jimmy, Robin, Kayden, Maddie, Jessica, Connor and Lyndsey, and I am so graced to serve.

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