Tag Archives: worship

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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Sunday Service, Celebration of Graduates

Yesterday’s service at 11:00 was packed, literally! So packed that there is not much of sermon (with about 57 minutes and a few seconds of actual television time) my sermon ended up being maybe 9 minutes. I was editing and cutting on the fly. So I suppose I could say unlike what Otis Moss III said at the Festival of Homiletics, this particular sermon was not a work of art.

The good news for me, is that worship is not always about the sermon. The proclamation of the Word is important of course, but so is the music, the liturgy, the prayers and the commissioning.

Sunday, we celebrated our graduates, our scholarship recipients, commissioned a mission team and blessed two young women as they prepared to go on the United Methodist Women’s MET (Mission Education Tour) tour. Our youth director sang “Go the Distance”  as a dedication and blessing. It was a beautiful morning.

The link to the service is here  First UMC Worship

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

Yesterday, we celebrated the fourth Sunday of Easter. I know, I know, most people are done after the first Sunday, but I am one that loves celebrations and I just think it is sad we get all dressed up and excited over new life for one day.

The Gospels only share six or seven post Easter encounters. Yesterday, I focused on the appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. In the lectionary, it was read the Third Sunday of Easter, but I wanted it to pair up with the sacrament and celebration of communion, so I moved it. I am liturgically “flexible” that way!

I am grateful that I don’t have to go somewhere special, or go through some sort of spiritual gymnastics for Jesus to appear on the road. Yesterday’s service was on Life Lessons: Ticket to Ride, Seeing Jesus along the way.

You can watch the service in it’s entirety here:  Life Lessons from the Games we Play

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Third Sunday of Easter

I have told myself off and on that I would post every Monday on my blog. Over the years, it has been sporadic at best. When I began at First nine months ago, I thought, wow, I could just post the link to our worship service each week. I have done that once or twice!

So, today, I attempt again to post my worship video link on Monday. I love the season of Easter. Fifty days to celebrate and ponder that moment, that experience that event is so much fun. Yet, the truth is that mostly once that first Sunday is done, the baskets are put up, we gobble up too much chocolate and go back to the mundane. Or at least I tend to.

I got asked yesterday, “Why are there 50 days in Easter? It was brought up in our Sunday School class and everything else is 40: 40 days and nights in the ark, 40 years wandering in the wilderness, 40 days of Jesus’ temptation, 40 days of Lent.” I said, “Well, it’s actually 40 plus 10. Forty days from the first Easter morning that Jesus walked and talked and shared with his disciples. On the 40th day he ascended into heaven and then there were 10 days that the disciples waited until the day of Pentecost.” Those who know me, know I love this stuff! There are reasons behind the traditions of the church that get lost in the need to have something new and interesting. The traditions of the church were used as teaching tools for the faith, ways in which each person could learn and deepen and grow.

I like to say, “isn’t it interested that we go all in for the forty days of Lent, but after one day of Easter, we are over it.” Perhaps, it is that our world is far more like Good Friday than Easter. That being said, I do, enjoy the celebration of Easter. This year I am doing a sermon series on “Life Lessons From the Games we Play.” Yesterday’s game was Apples to Apples, which my family loves! I didn’t say it well yesterday (in the preaching moment, sometimes things get dropped!), but what I wanted to really point out is, if the green card in the game said “believer” what red cards would be played? Would they include everyone? Women, Men, Old, Young, Straight, Gay, black, white? I continue to pray our community of faith would include all!

Here’s the link to the worship service yesterday:  Life Lessons: If this, then that

 

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A Day in the Life, Part 3: Interfaith Friends

I am often amazed at what a gift it is to be a pastor, but the last three weeks, I have been reminded more deeply how blessed I really am. Today, was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If I was more liturgical and the church I served was more liturgical it would have been “Christ the King” Sunday. The last Sunday of Christian year is a day that points to Christ as Ruler of all and as the one who one day will, in the words of the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah, “will reign forever and ever.”

Instead, as I have in last couple of decades, this has been “Thanksgiving Sunday.” There are so many traditional Thanksgiving hymns and songs and while the culture rushes on toward Christmas, Thanksgiving gives me and the church a chance to breathe, to pause and to do what we are called to do as a faithful people “to give thanks with a grateful heart.” Scripture is filled with admonitions to give thanks, to remember that blessings are gifts and that the love we share, the food we eat, the roofs over our heads, everything is a gift from God.

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Unlike many of our American holidays Thanksgiving is universal. One does not need to be Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist to have thankfulness. Anyone in any place can be thankful. Now the America’s tradition of Thanksgiving is rooted in a faith that understands a Supreme Being, but having a feast where one says “Thank you” doesn’t require faith of any kind.

Today, was a full day in the life of the church. Special music, a pick up for homemade pies made for by our youth as a fundraiser, and a very special dinner following worship. A group from the Student Association for Interfaith Dialog from Wichita State University came to bring us a “pre-Thanksgiving” dinner. Most of the students and faculty and families are from Turkey, so they brought a feast to our church to share with us.

Ms. Esra Barut shared with us about the Association and there were families at each table so we could share food and share fellowship. Ahmet and I had been in touch through other activities including their annual dinner. The food was amazing and it was such a joy to eat and laugh and share with new friends.

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I have not pictures of the food before it was devoured, but I have a few pictures after we had eaten.

The beef pastries and beef and rice was so good!

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The wheat salad was like nothing I had eaten before. They take wheat, soak it all night, then drain it and begin to pour boiling water on the wheat until it tender. Add homemade yogurt, vegetables fresh dish, a little mayo and some pickles….well it was amazing.

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And of course what would a Turkish meal be without homemade Baklava?

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There was other food, spinach pastries, cake, a potato salad, tossed salad and our friends were concerned that they hadn’t brought a main dish!!!! Here is what my plates looked like:

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Wichita is not a big enough city to have a Turkish community center to teach cooking classes. So it was decided that next spring we should gather and learn to cook “real” Turkish food. We will also host an interfaith dialog this spring.

Being thankful is not an “American” trait or a “Christian” trait, it is a gift that crosses all cultural, ethnic and religious lines. I am so thankful for the friendship extended this day from Ahmet, Asra their families and all who came to share food and fellowship with us. Their generosity and truthfully fabulous food was a gift without price. I am deeply grateful to have celebrated God’s goodness this day with West Heights and with new friends who remind me I am graced to serve.

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A Day in the Life….Part 2: Snowy Sunday

Today was one of the wonderful blessing filled days I am given as a pastor. It started out with a little snow on the ground. The snow was lovely but did not stop us from having worship today. And a wonderful worship service it was! This preacher was not in charge, but the youth group was. They had planned, prepared and shared a service around the idea of church as family.

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The service was filled with scripture, with music, with reflections on the scriptures. One highlight was the presentation of the CROP quilt.

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The youth challenged the congregation to join with them to raise money for alleviating hunger in Wichita and around the world. While the link isn’t updated, West Heights Youth led the church to be the number one fund raising group. Around fifty people walked raising more than $2600 with all the groups raising over $20,000.
The CROP Walk

This Quilt will be displayed until the next year! What a great presentation in the middle of a wonderful worship service. The youth led the music and shared the children’s time.

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And of course….the offering must be taken!
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Using the story of Moses, we were invited to remember that we are beloved children of God. We are able to give and participate in CROP walks, mission week and trips and give to United Methodist Open Door because of who God is and because of God’s love. The music and the Word given was powerful and I was touched deeply by this worship service. On a snowy Sunday, called to live as God’s beloved child by this wonderful group, 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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