For All These Blessings – Thanks! – November 2014

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Part of the work of preparing for our annual Church Charge Conference – (November 17 at Bourne UMC, potluck at 5:30, meeting at 6:30 – please be part of this annual meeting gathering if at all possible) – is to reflect on the year that has just passed, and take stock of where we are on the journey with Jesus.

First, let us always give thanks to our gracious and generous God, for all the blessings we have enjoyed over the year that’s now past, and for all the help from God we continue to receive each and every day…

Thanks also to God for this Parish of Cataumet and Bourne United Methodist Churches, yoked together in the love of God and in the service of Jesus and his kingdom. As Ecclesiastes (4:9-10) says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other, but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” Together, as one parish in two places, we share the costs and burdens of ministry, to the advantage of all. Together, we share in the blessings of ministry, in far greater measure than either of us could alone. All this is by God’s design, who made us to be one community of faith working through love (John 17, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12).

In Jesus’ day the phrase ‘take up the yoke of Torah’ was a metaphor for uniting oneself to biblical teaching – which of course brings great responsibility – and an even greater measure of peace, joy, and rest. Jesus, the embodied Word of God, brings the very deepest peace and rest. (Assuming we are weary…and willing to receive help from one who is gentle and humble of heart.)

Often when I lack rest it’s because I’m really not coming to Jesus for rest; I’m trying to do rest on my own terms. Which inevitably brings yet more anxiety… Till somehow God reminds me – often speaking through my wife or daughter, saying, “Remember to listen well – and pray always.” And when I do, I am often led in the direction of wondering –

How would whatever I am fretting about – how (for example) would the task of writing about this whole past year and all the prospects for the year ahead appear – if I could see only with the gentle and humble eyes of Jesus?

When I look with just my own eyes I start off seeing this past year has had its share of disappointments and challenges. Attendance in worship has been downward, at least more often than upward. Much of this is due to deaths and parishioners moving to assisted living or nursing homes. Some of it is due to other factors. We continue to be challenged by our demographics and by wider cultural changes that are somewhat beyond our control.

But we can plainly see churches that have emphasized prayer, bible study, hospitality, outreach to the wider community, and generous giving – churches that have set the bar higher, and aimed for excellence in serving God and neighbor – have most often thrived – while churches that have set the bar lower have almost universally continued to decline.

When I’m feeling tired and trying to reason out the way forward in my own strength, it’s very difficult to know what to do…

But when I remember to come to Jesus, take up his yoke, learn from him, enter his rest – now, again, things come into clearer focus… Now I can again see differently… Now I am again thankful that we have been making some good steps towards facing up to the challenges we face.

This year Bourne UMC held a series of four neighborhood listening sessions in homes, all of which were well attended and lively. This year Cataumet UMC has held three house meetings thus far, combining fellowship meals with longer discussions of chapters of Bishop Robert Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The Bourne Church Council and Worship Committee have read and discussed Five Practices also. Both churches have begun making steps to make it easier for new attenders to feel welcomed and to learn more easily about who we are – our worship, fellowship, ministries, and opportunities to serve.

This year Bourne UMC rebuilt its nursery, and hired Wendy Weston as Nursery Coordinator. A second Sunday School room is scheduled to be redone soon.

Members of both congregations gave beautiful testimonies on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and on all four Sundays of our October stewardship campaigns.

A Parish session met in June over pizza and salads to hear reports from Annual Conference and engage in discussion about conference related issues. (More all-parish sessions are anticipated.)

A Parish membership class met Sundays in October after church and did double-duty as an introduction and/or refresher course in United Methodist beliefs, serving both prospective new members and also those who are already members. We took in new members in each church on All Saints Sunday. We are planning on another class this winter.

A new small group led by our church council chair in Bourne is reading and discussing Henri Nouwen’s Spiritual Direction. (There will likely be another group later.)

As I write we’re in the last few days of our (now in it’s sixth year) annual Pumpkin Patch, raising funds for the Bourne Food Pantry. This year our joint Parish Outreach Committee enlisted 100 volunteers to help unload our truckload of nearly 3000 pumpkins, and our weekly captains (alternating between Bourne and Cataumet) have kept busy ensuring that all shifts are adequately staffed with volunteers. We enjoy our volunteer shifts (especially when the sun shines), which always brings opportunities to meet new people… (Rohi loves to help by pulling wagon loads of pumpkins to people’s cars…)

Plans are well underway for another Thanksgiving Community Meal to be served in the Cataumet church. Every year we serve anyone who would like to enjoy a free thanksgiving meal in a warm and welcoming environment. Every year we have many volunteers, some of whom come from far away to be part of this ministry.

We participated in the Methodist Foundation’s Mother’s Day challenge for the United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign, taking in nearly a thousand dollars, which was matched by the Foundation. The UMW hosted Dr. Ben Lisse, of Hudson MA, leader of a nonprofit that brings health care to Malawi, who spoke movingly about the successes and challenges of Imagine No Malaria recently. We plan additional INM offerings and activities.

Ryong Jae (pronounced Yong-jay, the R is silent) Jung (also known as ‘Isaac’) and Eunsook An (also known as ‘Irene’) have been with us since May. Ryong Jae is finishing up studies at Boston University School of Theology, and is a candidate for ministry in the UMC. He has preached in both churches. Both Irene and Isaac have helped with Sunday School and other ministries. They are expecting their first child in early November. We are very blessed by their presence.

Remembering all these and many other blessings has me remembering, now, the humble, low-key, almost below the radar helping of one another and neighbors that is always present in our parish…. A few days ago, one of our members was in need of a refrigerator. An email went out to members inquiring if anyone could help. Within ten minutes a call came in from a parishioner offering one in good condition. Two parishioners picked it up and delivered it. Thanks be to God.

Then there’s the family in our parish who, when another member suddenly needed a place to stay, offered their camper and other assistance, making the “radical hospitality” described in Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations really come to life. Then there’s all those who spent days hanging insulation and wallboard, and painting the nursery room… And the parishioner who spent half a day helping another parish family install a hot water heater… And all the others who regularly spend time helping in similar situations, without calling attention to it… Like Jesus – gentle, and humble-hearted…

And when I set aside my tendency to try to do things in my own way and in my own strength and start to remember again all this…and much more… I hear Jesus, better, as he says, “come unto me… and I will give you rest…”

Looking to God… and looking also at you, God’s parish in this place… Now I remember… The rest Jesus gives is right here, among us… As we come to him, take up his yoke, learn from him….

He makes us ready for whatever lies ahead…

Thanks be to God.

May God bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you…

And give you the fullness of God’s peace…. on the journey with Jesus….

Pastor Tim