Pastor’s Corner – August 2017

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Another General Assembly has come and gone. This year the energy of the event was even higher than in the last few with the focus on electing Teresa Hord Owen as the newest General Minister and President. This was accomplished during the Sunday night worship service. For the first time, the Assembly opened its business session in the middle of worship. We approved the order of business and held the election of the new GMP.

All the sermons were excellent, including during the Sunday night service when the sermon was divided between three people, Henry Brewer-Calvert (son of James and Betty Brewer-Calvert of Decatur, GA and candidate for ministry), Rev. Jae Young Rhee, the pastor of the Ghent, OH congregation, and Rev. Mary Lou Kegler, Regional Minister of Canada (talk about a large region).

The general theme of all the messages was the Assembly theme of ONE. It was recognized that this theme was not about total agreement in all matters but rather calling all of us back to the unifying reason we exist as a church. We were reminded of one of the original themes of Disciples, found at #521 in the Chalice Hymnal, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This is attributed to Rupertus Meldenius. Rupertus was a 16th Century Lutheran pastor in Germany, yet his words became a powerful call for Disciples.

This statement acknowledges that we will never really achieve total agreement. Yet, it calls us to be unified in our core, that we are students or more accurately, Disciples of Jesus. We are to follow his teachings and actions as the core of our religious practice. The interpretations and theologies that developed of the course of centuries fall into the liberty area and along with the rest of life today is in the charity area.

Love God with all we are. Love each other, not only in words but in actions and attitudes. Seek justice, do kindness, and walk humbly with God – God is the judge, not humanity. This should be our core of unity. We can differ in how that is played out on a day by day basis. As individuals, we are at liberty to decide how best we live into this core accepting that we may not always choose the same methods, and understanding that differences are not divisions, but only the rich diversity that inspires others to follow the essential core.

During the Assembly, we recalled and repented from the actions of the past that assumed European superiority over the “savages” of the New World and denied them recognition as another civilized culture. We repented from the denial of welcoming to other branches of humanity merely because of degrees of melatonin in their skin. We repented our converting our role in God’s Creation from stewards into owners. We repented from reversing the order of Meldenius’ statement and making absolute agreement as the only essential.

For our congregation in Warner Robins, we need to look at this and discover how we live and act in our essentials and make use of the variety of ways we can turn them into actions that will bring in the diversity of our community into a core who love God with all that they are, and seek to show love to all of humanity.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – June 2017

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Last year during the month of June and July, instead of following the Lectionary as the basis for Sunday’s messages, I focused upon our Disciple understanding of being church. This summer I want to share similar understanding from a book by Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us.

This book, published in 2006, is about the author’s journey around churches to see how they are moving from a “come to us” mentality to a “we are called to serve” as a way of defining the church’s mission for today. She begins the book talking about the change in the neighborhood church. Once upon a time, most members of the church lived near the actual church, in the neighborhood. Now the reality is that few people live within the neighborhood of the church building. It is also true that the neighborhood around the church is often very different from what was there when the church began.

This is very much true for our congregation. As part of our re-visioning, we are looking to learn about our neighbors and how we can best reach out as people of faith to serve as Christ served.

In the second part of her book, Diana Butler Bass highlights 10 signposts of renewal. I want to take this summer to look at these signposts and how we can grow in these areas. The areas upon which she focuses are Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty. We will look at these through the summer, despite the school calendar, August is still part of the Summer.

In June, we will look at Hospitality, Contemplation, and Testimony. Hospitality is more than just how we treat our guests, but a Biblical principle that expects hosts to treat guests like beloved family. Contemplation is not a focus upon seeking the correct answers to life challenges but a way to deepen our faith by spending time listening for the voice of God in Scripture and prayer. Testimony is not limited to the court room, but rather how we witness to the world the impact of the Grace of God in each of our lives.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – May 2017

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During this month we will celebrate a holiday that challenges us to remember those who gave their lives in defense of this nation. As a Boy Scout and later a member of a marching band, I attended many Memorial Day Parades and ceremonies at a cemetery in town or in front of the monument to the soldiers who fought in war. There was always a large group of people who would gather and listen to speeches and prayers, but I do not recall ever hearing names of any individual who gave their life for this nation. Families might visit graves to add flags or flowers, but unless your family had someone in the category, we marked the day for a vast unnamed multitude of individuals. Maybe we need to take time to put names to those whose sacrifice made a difference. Maybe we should expand our personal list to include those who gave their lives for making our nation greater outside the wars that have been fought.

During this year’s Clergy Summit at the Museum of Aviation, we watched a clip from the movie “We Were Soldiers.” The clip didn’t show any of the battles or the soldiers heading to war. Instead, the clip dealt with a cabbie pulling to the home of Mel Gibson’s character. His wife is alone since the soldiers were deployed and had just learned that the military was using cab drivers to deliver Western Union telegrams announcing the death of a soldier. When his wife saw the cabbie she yelled at him because she thought the cabbie was delivering news that her husband was dead. Instead, he wanted direction to another family because he knew she was the Major’s wife and would know where his soldiers lived on base. Instead of telling him, she took the telegram and said she would deliver it because no one should just be given this news by a lone cab driver.

This was the moment when the change in how death notifications were made in the military. The courage of a woman demanded that this type of news never be delivered without someone investing time and presence to a family receiving this type of news.

As we prepare for picnics and parades and gatherings at cemeteries, let us take time to invest ourselves to stand with people who lose loved ones, not only in the military, police, or fire services. We need to be willing to set aside our discomfort to spend time with people in grief, to sit, to babysit if needed, to prepare food and deliver it, and any other tasks that need to be done.

In our community, as a military community, we need to not wait for deaths. We need to pitch in and help families left behind during deployments. Young families trying to get children to and from school, work, clean the house, take care of the yard and upkeep of the home, and have a space of time to take care of themselves, need people to step up and sacrifice their time and provide assistance. What a much better way to honor Memorial Day. What a great way to remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives by not leaving it to a single day and in some cases maybe an hour or so of Memorial Day.

“When you did this for these……you did it for me.” Jesus’s words still demand we act.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – April 2017

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It’s hard to believe that I am writing an article for the April newsletter. We are in the midst of Spring and of course, we all know what happens toward the middle of the month. Yes, it will be Easter. Oh, you thought I was going to mention something about April 15th. No, Easter is more important. Easter is the day we commemorate the amazing distance God went to assure us of His Grace and Love through the willingness of Jesus to give his life and return to demonstrate a life beyond what we can measure.

Now we are challenged to live into the level of Love and Grace by striving to be like Christ. What does that look like? It looks like the stories from the Gospels that you have heard before. There are the stories of Jesus talking to people that defied what was considered appropriate, such as speaking to women of dubious reputation or people considered as sellouts or morally corrupt. There are also the stories of Jesus granting forgiveness to people who many believed undeserving of forgiveness, such as adulterers and handicapped people who had presumably sinned at some time, or the stories of Jesus feeding the hungry, even if they could have fed themselves and the stories of Jesus praising the least important people in society, people like widows and children.

In our world today, these ideas may defy modern measures of how we should live. Instead of sitting in judgement of others, we are called to love. Instead of amassing a wealth of things, amass a wealth of giving away to those most in need. We are encouraged to convert our tools of destruction into tools that provide food for the hungry.

I realize that we live in a world where this sounds like a pipe dream, yet nowhere in the teachings of Jesus does he say we are only expected to behave this way when everything is perfect. HE dared us to live this way in the real world. We are to love all of our neighbors, not just the ones who are like us. We are dared to forgive as God has forgiven us, because God forgave us when we hadn’t asked for it.

Let us live Christ-like in joyful response to the wonder of Easter morning. It is the only way to honor the one whose name we claim.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – March 2017

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Remember a few months ago when we were at the end of November and we began to celebrate Advent, that time to prepare for the arrival of the Christ child? We took four Sundays to arrive at the manger on Christmas Day. Well, this month we are preparing again, for 40 days.

Lent is a season of preparation for the announcement of an empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. Because this is a greater event that has a much larger impact upon our lives, the journey will be longer and more demanding. During this journey we will not be distracted by shopping and decorating and gatherings at work and with friends and families. Yes, I am aware that some people put up decorations for Easter, but not to the degree they do for Christmas.

Some faiths, including our own, have challenged people to go on pilgrimages, on strenuous journeys to a sight of significance in that person’s faith. This isn’t the type of journey we will be asked to make. This journey is harder. We could find a 50 mile walk more enjoyable. Climbing incredible amounts of stairs on our knees could be less painful. This journey demands that we look at ourselves with complete honesty and serious assessment of our relationship/relationships with God and God’s children (all of them).

During Lent, we give ourselves a complete spiritual physical (like the Doctor examines our physical condition, we perform a self-examination of our spirit). Do we spend time in conversation with God? How often and how much do we speak to God vs. listening to God? Do we act lovingly toward God, or is it more like we are doing our minimum daily requirement? Do we respect and care for the Creation of which God has made us stewards, not owners? Do we love our brothers and sisters? Do we seek to do kindness for them? Do we seek justice for all God’s creation, even if it means we have to give up some things? These are not simple yes and no questions. They are challenging and may cause pain. Remember going to the doctor and the doctor did something to help you that was painful? This is how we do a spiritual physical.

We are to invest ourselves fully in the coming gift of Easter by getting ready to invest all that we are in the presence and promise of God. Being a Disciple of Jesus isn’t about a name on a membership card, or getting a pin to wear. It is about being Christ-like. Loving and living the way Jesus taught us to live in harmony and love with all God’s children. It means overcoming fear with compassion, converting anger into the energy to seek justice, and transforming selfishness into caring support for our brothers and sisters.

I invite you to take time every day, maybe 30-60 minutes at a specific time for your spiritual physical. Use all the tools available, tools like prayer, reading the Bible, worship, writing out thoughts and fears in a journal for God, and any other tool you might use. We will start on March 1st at 7:00 p.m. with a service of worship for Ash Wednesday. During that service we will dust off our tools and get them ready for use.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – February 2017

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February, the short month, is upon us. During this month we honor love, two important presidents and complete the season of Epiphany. Yet within this short month, much will happen. Youth will go to the Youth Retreat at Epworth By The Sea, we will have a special night out for adults, we will prepare and respond to the needs of people suffering from disasters during the Week of Compassion, and we will learn about living as students of Jesus on Sunday mornings all during this short month.

Even in a short month, we are able to respond to the call of God to serve and love as God has served and loved each of us. Our call, our mission, is not limited to longer months or months with more things of importance. Rather, we are called to serve daily. Every morning becomes an invitation from God to love your neighbor, to care for those who suffer, to overcome our fears and step forth into the world God created. During February we will celebrate Valentine’s Day which has become focused on romantic love, even though the name recalls Saint Valentine. There is not much that is reliable known about the first Saint Valentine (there were three by that name), but the oldest lived during the Third Century and was martyred for refusing to deny his faith. His devotion to following the love of God was well known. Therefore, the holiday we celebrate this month isn’t about romance so much as devotion loving as God loves. Please do not think that I am telling people not to get cards or flowers or to do something special with your spouse or partner. Rather, love everyone.

When you do anything this month, remember that we are challenged to love all we meet. Show compassion to all around you, whether they are someone you know, someone with whom you disagree, or a complete stranger. Remember that Jesus reached out to everyone who would listen and even those who didn’t want to be loved.

Once February ends, don’t set aside the focus on loving as we have been loved. Make it a life practice. Greet people with open warmth, smile at everyone, when you talk to someone focus on their words and not how you plan to answer their words, touch people with your hands, your heart, and your soul.

These are the things we are called to do. The community, the state, the nation, and the world could benefit from our sharing love with everyone in the name of the God who first loved us.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – December 2016

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Here we are at the end of 2016. It has been a full year at First Christian Church. There were ups and downs just like any other living organization. While I am not someone who usually makes resolutions at the end of the year in preparation for the coming New Year, I may deviate from my norm a bit this year. In looking back at all that has taken place, maybe forward with resolution might be the way to go forward.

At the beginning of this year, a leadership team from First Christian was trained in the process for the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. If you thought it was long reading it, try saying it aloud fast. This program is from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and helps churches make hard decisions about the future of their congregations. In May and June we held house groups to go over the material provided, look at information about our community, and make recommendations to the congregation. Ultimately, we decided to begin the process of re-visioning, redefining the Mission of First Christian Church.

Re-visioning is not about saying we will spread the Gospel message. It requires we create a dynamic statement that is action oriented. Ultimately, it reflects the Great Commission of going out and making disciples, but is directed toward the unique time and place in which we live.

As part of the process, we suspended our constitution and by-laws in order to be flexible during this process. We also created a Transition Team to guide the effort and communicate with the congregation. Since that time, we have taken some new steps and done different things that we have not attempted as a congregation in a long time.

On October 1st, we hosted a Fall Festival for the Pre-K through 3rd grade children and their families at Miller Elementary School. There were inflatable events and games, hotdogs and chips, and prizes. Children were given a card with numbers for each of the stations. As they went to the Bouncy House, or the Face Painting room, or one of the games, their card was stamped. They even got a stamp when they went to eat. The last stop was in the prize room where there were colorful pencils, stickers, pencil bags, coloring books and reading books. Many parents were surprised that this was all free, especially the food and books. We had a good turnout of volunteers and children, and it was a fun afternoon.

We have also joined with All Saints Episcopal Church and Faith Lutheran Church to provide an after school tutoring program created by the Episcopal Church in GA called Path To Shine. This program targets early elementary children who are on the edge between success and failure. According to studies, if these children don’t improve, the chances that they will leave school before graduation are very high. This program began on Nov. 8th. The response of the children the day after the program started was tremendous. People from all of the congregations volunteer to tutor, lead recreation, bring special programs like art, or music, and provide food for the children.

We also partnered with Faith Lutheran Church to hold an Ecumenical Election Eve Prayer Service. On the Monday before the election, we gathered in the sanctuary to pray and to remember that we are called to pray for those selected to serve the government at all levels. We also recalled our baptisms in order to remember that no matter who won or lost, we as Christians must stand together and not give in to divisiveness.

The newest opportunity to gather for fellowship and conversation is the Wine and Wisdom gatherings on Wednesday evening every 2 weeks. This program provides our church family as well as anyone else who would like to come to the Fellowship Hall and share in focused conversations on various topics, of which not all of the topics will be serious. We will also share in wine and other refreshments as people choose. As I am writing this column on the day before the first Wine and Wisdom party, I cannot tell you how it went. I am hopeful that it will go well.

Our focus as a congregation is moving from counting numbers on Sunday morning and moving toward counting the impact First Christian has in our neighborhood and community. Counting the amount in the offering plate and the number of people in worship has been the norm for generations. We need to look back to what counted in the Gospel, who was touched, who was fed, who was healed. We made an impact with children and their families with the Fall Festival; we are touching the future through Path to Shine; we are reaching in new ways to our community and seeking greater depth of disciple within the congregation.

Now, as we approach our next step in Re-visioning, we will begin to write our Future Story, a narrative vision of our next 5 years of serving God in Warner Robins. We look at 5 years, because the world changes rapidly and we need to develop a habit of reassessing what is needed and what we can do more frequently than we have in our history. We are called to serve in a living community where needs and challenges can change and we as First Christian Church, need to be able to respond more quickly than ever before. Please pray and participate in the process and the ministries come from this effort.

This December, Christmas Day is the last Sunday of the month. Because of this, we will do some different things in worship. There will still be singing and have scripture and responsive readings, but the focus for the sermons will be odd.

On Dec. 4th, the sermon will be on The Littlest Angel; Dec. 11th will be on The Little Drummer Boy, Dec. 18th will be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and on Christmas Day we will sing as many carols as we want.

On Christmas Day we will have a light breakfast available at 10:00. There will be no Sunday School, so come enjoy fellowship and then come to worship. Also, if you received a new clothing item for Christmas, wear it. Well, maybe not PJs. We will sing carols and read the Christmas story and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – November 2016

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On Nov. 7th, at 7:00 p.m. First Christian will be hosting an Election Eve Prayer Service in partnership with Faith Lutheran Church. This service will remind us to continually pray for all those who will be elected on Tuesday, whether our candidates win or lose. The unity of our faith is greater than the lines drawn by political parties and elections. I hope you will come out on Monday night to prepare for the election by seeking the presence of God.

By the time most of you will read this, I will have completed my fifth decade of life. In the grand scheme, turning 60 isn’t that long to walk through life, until it is your turn to do so. As a child with my birthday the day after Halloween, most of the party atmosphere was spent on the day before, and the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas could overshadow my birthday. As a child I spent a good number of birthdays being sick, too much candy and/or dramatic changes in temperature in Northeast Ohio could have been the cause.

Now I try to slip my birthday amidst my oldest daughter and youngest daughter’s birthdays (Elisabeth shares Nov. 1 and Micah’s is Nov. 3). It was far easier when they were younger. But the necessity to provide an article for this newsletter has led me to think more deeply about my 59 years of life and the purpose of Thanksgiving.

When we give thanks, we often skim the upper layer of the things for which we should give thanks. We are grateful for family and friends, we are grateful for our success in life and work; we are grateful for overcoming illness and challenges. While this is acceptable and good, what happens when we look more deeply on the times we should have given thanks to God in our lives.

I am grateful for the family into which God placed me. It wasn’t perfect, but then again perfection isn’t the goal. I was loved and given the space to become who I was supposed to become. I lived in a time when I could get on a bicycle and ride all over my hometown with friends and in the summer be home for lunch and supper and dark as my boundaries. I was able to go through school and find my place not in one niche or circle, but rather as a person that connected to most of the members of my class regardless of cliques. I attended a great college and built strong ties to classmates, the same can be said about my seminary experience.

It is with profound gratitude that I give thanks for my wife and children. They have kept me sane and level (excluding those times my children attempted to drive Marsha and I over the edge). Now that they have partners and children, I am grateful that they can be driven into sanity after being driven to the other side as well.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to serve the church in all the different capacities to which I have been led. I am grateful for the good as well as for the not so good, because they have all provided lessons I needed to learn. I am especially grateful for the challenges that lay before me as First Christian seeks to re-vision our mission in Warner Robins. We will move through this time together and with God’s help be the best church for this place and time.

I am grateful for all the saints who have crossed my path and demonstrated how to live Christ-like. These saints performed no miracles as we would define them, but rather miraculously loved, listened, and taught with grace and confidence by the way they lived and treated other people.

We all have several weeks before Thanksgiving arrives. Take this time to look back over your life and remember the names and faces of the saints in your life, the people and events that helped to shape you, the gifts that were given. Also remember the struggles that made you stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more the you that you have become. Then, when you have recalled all the people and events, express that gratitude in all that you say and do to everyone you meet. After all, you might be the very saint that God needs to put in someone else’s path.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – October 2016

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By the time you read this, we will have completed our first Fall Festival. On Oct. 1, we are holding a Fall Festival for the Pre-K through 3rd graders and their families of Miller Elementary. There are going to be games and food and all sorts of fun for the people coming to the church. This is the first event since we completed the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation program.

I am reading a book that referred to churches like ours stepping forward out of our comfort zones as going out into the mission fields, out on the edge. This triggered a connection to the heritage of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Our church began on the frontier of this nation.

We are back on the frontier of our church in Warner Robins. With this as inspiration, I have prepared sermons for the month of October looking at the core of our denomination for guidance as we move into the frontier. Rather than traditional sermons, there will be time for thoughts and dialogue as we explore how our founders looked at the Bible, focused upon communion, structured the church, dealt with challenging issues that might divide, and looked at other denominations.

Alexander Campbell and his father, Thomas, lived and ministered on the western border of Virginia and Barton Stone in the heart of the Kentucky frontier pulled together people who were out on the edge, beyond the familiar they had known before. The world in which they lived was dangerous, challenging, and even frightening. They needed a place to gather and people upon whom they could count on, not people who would look down on them or judge them as less than others. Sound a bit familiar? Aren’t we in a similar world today?

We grew up as a denomination in this world. Yes, we didn’t always get it right, but we did our best in that time. We can do the same by remembering from where we came. I hope you will participate in an exploration of our heritage.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – September 2016

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Much is happening within this church. We have finished the self-evaluation part of the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation and have now begun the journey to live into our new mission statement; We Seek to Love God by Loving Others.

We have entered into a joint project with Faith Lutheran Church and All Saints Episcopal Church to provide an after school program for children of Westside Elementary School. The program, “Path to Shine”, seeks to help borderline students in early elementary school. It meets once per week while school is in session. It is a Jubilee Ministry of the Episcopal Church. We already have a list of volunteers to fill in a variety of roles in the program.

We are also gearing up to host a Fall Festival for the students, parents, and staff of Miller Elementary School. We will play games, have inflatable equipment, serve hotdogs and chips and have a good time during the October 1st event. The Fall Festival team began meeting August 24th to put it all together.

We are also trying to arrange a special worship event for the blessing of animals and involve rescue groups as well as people wishing to have their pets blessed. Having had two daughters who had pet albino corn snakes, I will bless the reptiles. (I won’t handle the venomous varieties.) Watch for the date to be announced and bring your pets to be blessed.

First Christian undertook these efforts so that we could answer one question, “If our church ceased to exist, would anyone in the community notice?” We want that answer to be a resounding yes. Therefore, we have begun the process to serve our community, not just to serve ourselves. This includes seeking a college student to work with our youth on Sundays and midweek. We will also begin training opportunities for better equipping this congregation to do the work before us, to be better Disciples.

The immediate goal is to become a flexible congregation that can quickly respond to our needs and the needs of the surrounding community. We will strive to respond as Jesus taught His disciples to respond, with grace, forgiveness, and love. We do not have to be a big church to make a big impact.

Shalom, Darrell