Milestones of God’s Grace

I started this blog almost three years ago to talk about God leading me to change the direction of my ministry and became a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  For those of you who have read my posts you probably have noticed that my posting has been much less frequent in recent months.  Well, life has just been both good and busy.  

I have been blessed these past nine months to serve in my new appointment at Grace UMC in Sioux City.  It has been a lot of fun getting to know the people of Grace, learning my way around Sioux City, and working in ministry with my new charge.  As the same time I have been continuing the process of working with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church to complete my transfer of orders to the UMC and seek recognition as an Elder in Full Connection.  

Part of the requirements of receiving such a recommendation involved me completing courses in UMC history, doctrine, and polity.  I completed all of those classes in February of this year.  Also in February I had what will probably be my last meeting with an examining committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry.  And I am pleased to say that the BoOM has recommended me for full membership in the Iowa Conference!

This means that my name will come before the Clergy Session of the Conference in June for a vote.  If I receive an affirmative vote from those eligible to vote in the Clergy Session I will be an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC.  

For me this is a milestone in a lot of ways.  It is a milestone in completing the process with the BoOM.  In that process I felt very encouraged and affirmed while the examining committee members continued to ask good questions, seek understanding of my ministry and calling, and make decisions about my progress in the process.

It is also a milestone for me because, as I’ve shared many times now, I have felt for a long time that God wanted me to be a United Methodist serving God in a UM local churches.   I’ve shared here in this blog how I believe God nudged me and guided me over the years into a Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith which led me to seek out the UMC as my church home.

Each Christian tradition has its strengths.  But what has continued to attract me and continues to pull me into the UMC has been John Wesley’s teaching and understanding of Grace.  God’s gracious love, described by Wesley as Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying continues to capture my heart and my imagination.  What Wesley called the scripture way of salvation with its emphasis on the work of God’s grace in each of our lives throughout our lives colors and enriches everything that is best about United Methodists.  

I am also empowered and enriched by the sacramental theology of the UMC.  I was reminded again this Sunday in Communion how much my heart is warmed by the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup.  There is something so right and so heavenly to bend down on one knee so that a small child can take a piece of bread and dip it in the cup with a joyful smile on her face as she is told that the body of Christ was given for her!  There is such Holy Spirit power in the voices of the congregation declaring as one that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”  Some Sundays I can only think to myself, “it just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Yes indeed, I am deeply honored that the clergy of the Iowa Conference will consider my credentials this June, and I am deeply blessed to be serving the Lord in the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC and here in Sioux City at Grace Church.  I am very glad to be a United Methodist!

May each of you be blessed as we continued to celebrate the Risen Christ in these Great Fifty Days of the Easter Season.  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!  Alleluia!”

The First Leg of the Next Adventure

Today we moved into our new home in Sioux City.  The movers unloaded the truck at the house and at Grace UMC filling both my home and office with boxes.  We immediately began unpacking the boxes that we had spent many days packing.

I ran by the office to get keys and meet with some of the church staff and had the good fortune to run into some of members of Grace and some colleagues in ministry from Morningside College right next door to Grace.

My wife Michelle and I are excited to be here!  I’m looking forward to standing in the pulpit this weekend for my first sermons Saturday and Sunday and to meeting many members of Grace UMC throughout the week.

For those of you who pastor you know that a church move always brings many changes which are similar to anyone who moves to a new community for a new job.  But for pastors the change is even more significant.  When you truly feel called to the life of ministry your church becomes not just a profession the church becomes your friends, your family, your place of worship, your place of service, and the place where you live out the calling that is a part of every facet of your left.

There have been times in my life when I have found some ministry to be challenging and difficult.  There have been many other times when I’ve found the some of the greatest joys in my life in ministry with God’s people.   Starting at a new charge reminds me of my calling and the fact that I can think of nothing else in all the world that I would rather do or feel called to do than serve the church of Jesus Christ in pastoral ministry.

It is good to know that you are where you were meant to be!

Last Five Sermons? What do I say?

June 17th will be my last Sunday at First UMC Cedar Falls.  With a Sunday of vacation and my attendance at Annual Conference, it has dawned on me that I have five sermons left to preach at First UMC in Cedar Falls.

When a pastor finds out that she or he is making a pastoral move we are all faced with what we should say in our last opportunities as we worship with our congregations.  It is important in those last sermons, last acts of worship, and last opportunities to share with a church family things you believe will aid them in the transition to new pastoral leadership and allow you to appropriately bring to a close your pastoral relationship with them.

I believe in those last sermons it is always important to be encouraging.  Change is always stressful.  Change brings about new opportunities for service, ministry, fellowship, and friendship.  Change can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas.  But still, change is scary for all of us.  As human beings we long for the familiar well worn paths even when that path may not be the one we should continue on.

I also believe it is important hold up the future of the church.  First UMC is a great church which is going through some big changes and transitions.  We are in major building and renovation project.  We are working hard on invisioning and planning for the future which also will require changes in ministry, leadership, service, and yes changing our very selves for the cause of Jesus Christ.

I believe that attitude is a huge part of the success of any institution but especialy the church.  Our attitude about our church and the cause of Christ makes a huge difference in our ability to serve God.  If you look at the Emmaus Road ecounter with Jesus, we see that those on the road to Emmaus were dejected, stressed, grieved, and hurting from the death of the beloved teacher and friend Jesus.  Their attitude was one of defeat even though Jesus Christ was already risen.  But their attitude, created by not realizing the risen Christ’s victory, meant that they could do nothing for the cause of Christ.  But when they discovered that Jesus Christ is risen indeed it changed their attitude, their actions, and their lives.

In the United Methodist Church right now we are worrying about the same issues that all of the mainline churches are worrying about.  We are worrying about shrinking membership numbers, not enough young people in our churches, and shrinking resources.  Because of that in some ways we can fail to remember that we live in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Like those on the road to Emmaus, we can fail to live out the full joy of what God is doing for us because we are looking at all the wrong things.  We have Jesus walking right beside us but we fail to see him because we are dejectedly staring at our feet.

Well as a long time admirer of the United Methodist Church who  has now embraced this family of faith, I can tell United Methodists that in may ways we are too hard on each other.  The United Methodist Church has powerful gifts and graces to share with the world.  Our Wesleyan theology of grace and love and our acceptance of people gives us a great message to share with the world.  We are an Easter people living in the Great Fifty Days of the resurrected Christ and we need to quit moping around about what isn’t working and instead share with the joy the message that God has for us to share.  If we recapture our joy as a people of God then the other problems will take care of themselves.

I also believe in a pastors last sermons in a church it is important to say those thank yous to the church for their love and support.  The church needs to receive a pat on the back when they’ve done good.  They need to know when their pastor has been loved and supported and how much a difference that made in their life, ministry, and the lives of their family.

So I’ll close this post by saying something I intend to say several more times in the next few week.  Thank you First UMC Cedar Falls for taking care of me and my family these past two years, for making us a part of your family, and for giving me strength and allowing me to lead among you because of your support, love and prayers.  Thanks be to God for your witness on behalf of our risen Savior!

Itinerancy and United Methodist Ministry

It has now been more than two years since I began the process transferring my ministry to the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church.  This past year my ordination was recognized and I was commissioned as a Provisional Member of the Conference.

As I have been working towards the day when I hope to be an “Elder in full connection” in the Conference I have been both studying United Methodism and also living out the life of a new United Methodist pastor serving in my first appointment in the UMC.  It has been an exciting two years serving at First UMC in Cedar Falls.   I have had a great time helping the church in Transformation worship, preaching in both contemporary and traditional worship settings, and working with a great Senior Pastor and staff at the church.  It has been a blessed two years!

Early on in the process with the Board of Ordained Ministry and the PARC Committee I was asked if I understood that United Methodist pastors are itinerant.  Itinerancy is the means by which United Methodists deploy their pastors to meet the needs of the entire Church by placing pastors where their gifts and graces can best be used.  The committee needed to know that I both understood the itinerant nature of Methodist ministry and that I supported and was committed to being an itinerant Elder in the UMC.   I indicated that I did understand and was fully ready and willing to commit my ministry and my life to going where the Bishop and the Cabinet decide to send me.

Well now the first opportunity has come for me to act on that understanding and that promise.  Today it was publicly announced that Bishop Trimble has appointed me to be the next Senior Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sioux City, Iowa.  My appointment will begin around July 1st.  During the coming weeks I will be ending my ministry with the fine people at Cedar Falls First UMC and doing what I can to help pass the ministry on to whomever the Bishop appoints to succeed me.  My wife and I will be packing and getting ready for a move to the Sioux City metro area some time near the end of June.  And then we will begin another exciting chapter of ministry with our United Methodist family at Grace UMC.

In my ministry I have pastored a number of churches.  It is always hard to say goodbye to people you’ve come to love and care about.  This time it will be hard because I will be saying goodbye to my first UMC church family and they have been a blessing to me!

At the same time I am very excited as my family and I look forward to new ministry.  I am excited for the opportunity to get to know the people of Grace UMC and serve the Lord with them!  I look forward to new ministry opportunities with another great UMC church.  I’m looking forward to getting to know the community around Grace UMC, which includes the Morningside neighborhood, and Morningside College.

In God’s ministry it is always good to be ready for the next adventure that God is sending you on.  And like the itinerant Methodist preachers who traveled on horseback to share the gospel of Jesus with a needy world, it is best to travel light.

Getting Settled In

Tomorrow will mark one month since my family and I drove up from Johnston, Iowa to spend the night here in Cedar Falls before our moving truck showed up on June 25th to move us into the First United Methodist Church parsonage.

It has been an exciting month.  I’ve had opportunities to preach, share my testimony, and share at the Lord’s table both in Sunday worship and in Wednesday night Ignition.  I’ve had a lot of fun getting acquainted with the wonderful church staff and church members of First Church.  And I have been pleased to see that First Cedar Falls is a church on the move, looking to grow and change for the future.

It has also been a good month meeting some of my new United Methodist colleagues both here in the Northeast District and from the Iowa Annual Conference center.

My family and I are starting to feel settled into our knew home.  We are seeing less boxes around the house.  We are starting to find our way around the community.  And we are beginning to adjust to our new a new place of ministry and service.

Sometimes change can be scary.  But I believe it is best to view change as an adventure.  And oh what an adventure it always is serving Christ in ministry!