Sunday, May 31, 2015

Church behind bars

By Lee Schott, pastor of the first United Methodist Church that meets behind bars:

For four years, I’ve been the pastor of Women at the Well, a congregation within a women’s prison in Mitchellville, Iowa. I meet some amazing women there. When I hear their stories, I can’t help thinking that I haven’t met many women like them in the churches I’ve known and pastored. It’s not because they aren’t in our communities. I used to think that drug abuse, domestic violence, economic hardship, and incarceration are problems that exist somewhere else. I know better today. Our neighbors suffer with concerns like these, down the street and right next door, no matter what our town looks like.

Our churches, in turn, sometimes shield us from the true diversity of our communities. In subtle ways, they can seem like fortresses that tell those outside that they are unworthy and unwelcome. Think about it: If you were coming out of prison, or if someone in your family was struggling with addiction, would the church feel open to you? If no one has yet believed your stories of abuse, would you see the church as a potential haven? If one of “those people” walked into your church, would they be welcomed?

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Children's Ark graduation

See the full photo album! Coming soon ... video of the song performances.


2015/05/24 Christ Church, Mountain Top, Pentecost
Call to Worship, Psalm 104.24-35
Children, Acts 2.1-21
Message, Romans 8.19-28

Futility: keeping the bears out of the dumpster, 5 Hour Energy

Futility: “The creation was subjected to futility” (8.20)
      Not by its own choice
            Dinosaurs did not go extinct because they sinned
      By the will of the one who subjected it in hope
            Hope of freedom from decay – the laws of Thermodynamics
            Only an infusion of energy from outside the system will save us
                  The return of Christ Jesus

      Injustice – business, someone makes a bad decision, everyone else gets fired or loses their shirts; violent policemen, creating problems for the majority of level-headed and compassionate officers, the communities, and the individuals they hurt
      War and terror – ISIS, the Ukraine

Decay: Cleaning out Jesse’s apartment

Decay: “its bondage to decay” 8.21)
      Ecology – litter, smog, oil spills, rainforest & desert
      Diseases – cancer, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy

Groaning floorboards

Groaning: “The whole creation has been groaning, and not only the creation, but we ourselves” (8.22-23)
      Disasters – Nepal earthquake and its aftershocks
      Disability – “Mommy, why did God make me this way?”
      Broken relationships – sisters & brothers, children & parents who refuse to talk to one another

Paul has made the argument that we human creatures follow Christ out of futility and into redemption, follow Christ out of decay and into glory, follow Christ out of the groaning of bondage and into freedom.  Now, he asserts that even the entire created order is part of God’s salvation plan.  The creation groans, the Spirit groans, the creature groans.

Children at the Altar - Ascension and Promise

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

From Dealing Dope to Dealing Hope

By Erik Alsgaard
UMConnection Staff
The epidemic of heroin is not limited to neighborhoods in big cities, nor to the suburbs that surround them. In rural areas across the Baltimore-Washington Conference, heroin is often more easy to obtain than alcohol.
The following story is true. Only the names and locations have been changed.
“Robert” drank and smoked pot like a lot of other kids when he was in high school, but he didn’t like the way the harder drugs made him feel. What he did like was being part of the “in crowd,” so he quickly learned that selling drugs secured the attention he craved.
“If I sold these things, I’d be the life of the party.”
His popularity – and market — expanded after high school....
At the peak of his “success,” Robert owned a car and shared a townhouse. “I had everything I ever wanted. I never did laundry; I bought clothes and threw them away. I spent my days playing video games.”
One day Robert watched a woman struggling to walk with a broken shoe. He pulled over and gave her his car.
That’s right: he gave her his car.
With a growing sense that he was “oppressing” his own community, he walked away from dealing and moved home with his parents. But the transition wasn’t easy. Unable to find a job, the temptation to return to his former lifestyle was (and sometimes continues to be) overwhelming. “Even though I stopped, nothing changed.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Program, 1

The conclusion of our Sunday School year features the reading of the roll of the honored dead, from the beginning of Christ Church, and the planting of geraniums.


Thanks to all who serve, all who served, and all who gave their all.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

By Any Means Necessary, a Pentecost Reflection

By Jacqueline Lewis, published by Leading Ideas:

Her name is Essalia. She is 25 years old. Ella no tiene tampoco novio o esposo, no sweetheart and no husband, but she is going to have a baby. She also does not speak English. Once we got our names straight at the nail salon when I was on vacation, she commented on my ring. “Que bonita! Su esposo es muy especial.” Your husband is very special. “Yes,” I said. She called in her younger, más joven, and more salty amiga, Alejandra. “See the ring,” she said in Spanish. Alejandra liked the ring, but she liked my $5.00 sunglasses more. I sensed they often rehearsed this scene, commenting on the goods of clients. I found myself embarrassed, a word close to the one for pregnant in Spanish. I thought: I am so full of wealth and benefits; and these gals have so little relative to what we do. “Cuánto cuesta eso?” asked Essalia. How much did the ring cost? “Yo no se,” I don’t know, because I don’t. “Mi esposo es especial y muy simpático, pero él no es loco. Es más o menos mediante,” I said, not sure if I got that right. My husband is special, and very kind, but not crazy. He would spend a medium amount on a ring because we have bills to pay. They laughed, perhaps at my very rugged Spanish, or maybe they got my joke.

Read the full story.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Holy Manna

Pentecost Prep

Acts 1

Have you ever been overwhelmed by something that you cannot touch, at least not in a conventional way?  Perhaps by an emotion – grief, joy, anger, peace?  Felt yourself immersed in something bigger than you, more powerful than you?  Have you ever felt yourself connected to another person, not simply by being near one another or even by being in love or “in like” with each other – but connected at the core of who you are, connected at the level that goes beyond words, beyond touch?  We are made for that kind of connection.  And when we experience it, it is a glimpse of what God wants to have with us every moment.  In Ecclesiastes, we are told that “God has put eternity in the human heart” (Ecc 3:11, NIV).  Saint Augustine writes, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee” (Confessions).  One of the biblical expressions for this connection, for which God has designed us, for which we long, is being “filled with” or “baptized with the Spirit”.

The Pentecost story is mind boggling.  The Spirit comes in wind and fire. The disciples find themselves speaking a variety of languages they have never learned.  People are in town from every nation and they hear the story of “God’s deeds of power” in their own language.  The story is weird and really cool.  What particularly amazes me is that the miraculous demonstration – the speaking in many languages – was not clearly understood as a sign of the Spirit of God.  (Some folks thought the disciples had too much to drink.)  But, what they said in those languages was clearly understood, “God’s deeds of power.”  You see, while God desires direct and personal connection with each of us, the gifts of God are not about us being worthy of the gift, but about us fitting into God’s purpose in the world.  Today, we’re going to focus on the story of preparation for Pentecost.  And what can we do to get ready for this gift?

I want to be clear about one common question about filling with the Spirit.  Many times, folks wonder, “When we believe in Jesus, don’t we receive the Spirit?”  Absolutely yes (Acts 2:38).  That’s what the Scripture says, over and over.  John’s gospel talks about conversion itself as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5).  However, people who believe in Jesus, people who have already received the Spirit, are nevertheless commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  And, in the Acts stories, the same disciple band is recorded several times to be filled powerfully with the Spirit (Acts 2, Acts 4:31).  Like any relationship, like any connection, refreshment, reconnection is critical.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Graduating from Seminary

Congratulations to Mark, one of our own, who graduated on 16 May from Drew Theological Seminary! Pray for Mark as he continues to pursue his call to ordained ministry!

Knowing Your Neighbor's Name

“You can tell that somebody is not from here if they talk to people in line at the grocery store.” We all laughed as we talked about the busy life of our metropolitan area’s culture while sitting in the living room of the small group leader’s home. “Yeah, we really don’t even know our neighbors’ names,” replied one woman in the group. I listened but then began to question the legitimacy of those observations—even if they had been made in jest. Of the ten or so gathered, probably two had grown up in the area. I found that “from here” didn’t actually mean “born and bred” here but more so “lived here more than ten years.” These comments explained how the prevailing culture had influenced the habits of many folks who moved here. But what was even more interesting was the fact that most people agreed about the concept of the statement that was made: most people don’t talk to anybody they don’t know, let alone gets to know their names.
Read the whole article.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Youth & Mother's Day - Children at the Altar

Diversity and Politics

I received several disturbing political voice mails attacking the increasing diversity of our region, and reflected on that briefly as we began worship this past Sunday. Because of Jesus Christ, there is "no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free - but Christ is all and in all". There is no room for fear or hatred among the people of God.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Heart Strangely Warmed

Life as I know it was a little difficult, but I am confident that God has always had a plan for my life. I was raised by my grandmother in the beginning years of my life when both my parents were struggling with an addiction. I met my father when I was five years of age and my mother when I was about ten years of age. Both of them lived very different lifestyles. By the age of eleven I was an emotional mess. I witnessed my father’s domestic abuse, and while under the care of my mother, I experienced rape and incest. Without proper counseling and support I became very rebellious, and by the age of eighteen I was a teenage mother with two children and an abusive boyfriend who introduced me to drugs.

For the next ten years my life spiraled out of control. My addiction caused a lot of damage. My children and I were homeless and spent many nights without food. I tried many times to get away from the man and the drugs by entering into rehab and safe houses, but nothing seemed to work.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Iron Shepherd

The story of a clergy member of our annual conference from Shickshinny, PA!
1st Armored Division Chaplain Lt. Col. Karen Meeker will be leaving Fort Bliss in February for a new assignment. She is shown with an image of St. George
By David Burge / El Paso Times
As Chaplain Lt. Col. Karen Meeker sees her time at Fort Bliss rapidly coming to a close, she can't help but feel some mixed emotions.
It has been a privilege to serve as the 1st Armored Division chaplain and to serve soldiers and their families here at Fort Bliss, Meeker said. But she also knows she will terribly miss all her friends she has made here.
"This has been an extraordinary two years," said Meeker, a 47-year-old native of Shickshinny, Pa. "It has exceeded my expectations in every regard. I will really miss the people of El Paso, their kindness, their friendliness. El Paso and Fort Bliss are a great place to serve."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Prevent Me

2015/05/03 Christ Church, Mountain Top, Communion
Children, John 15.1-8
Message, Acts 8.26-40

Daily discipleship:
      Scripture as the way to salvation – OT as testimony about Jesus
      Sensitivity to the Spirit’s leadership
      Life of witness

      Story of mission of Jesus in the church – “Jerusalem … ends of the earth” (Ac 1.8)
      Working out the theology of resurrection in witness & mission of the church
      Working out theology of the Spirit in the order & mission of the church

Introduce Philip:
      One of the seven “full of the Holy Spirit” (Ac 6.1-7) – meals on wheels – part of the minority Grecian group
      Mission in Samaria (Ac 8.5-25) – Peter and John had to come and “validate” it (gift of the Spirit)
      Father of 4 daughters with gift of prophecy (Ac 21.8-9)
      Led by the Spirit: “an angel of the Lord said” (8.26); “the Spirit of the Lord snatched him away” (8.39)
      The Spirit is constantly overflowing boundaries, the kingdom of God is much larger than we imagined.

Introduce Ethiopian Eunuch:
      Roots of the Ethiopian Coptic Church, now ½ the population of Ethiopia and over 40 million persons worldwide

Monday, May 4, 2015

Heroin and the Church

By Melissa Lauber
UMConnection Staff

Hannah McLaughlin sometimes saw God in the starry night sky. She was a girl who understood the mystery, and the beauty, of the galaxy. She also loved playing with her dog, Zeke. When she was little, she had plans of growing up to be Santa Claus or a farmer or president. And, at 19, she died broken – a victim of the heroin that took over her life.
She was not alone.
Maryland’s new governor Larry Hogan has declared heroin as the No. 1 crime problem facing the state. From 2011 through 2013, the number of overdose deaths in the state spiked by 60 percent to 464, state officials reported. That number continues to rise....
The statistics are troubling, but behind each of them is a story that is often marked with destruction and despair. What amazes people about Hannah McLaughlin’s story are the people she leaves behind who are using her legacy to educate others about the lethal dangers heroin poses.
Hannah is a child of The United Methodist Church. She’s the daughter of the Rev. Craig and Lisa McLaughlin of Mt. Zion UMC in Bel Air. Lisa wears Hannah’s photo in a locket around her neck. On a silver chain, Lisa also wears the serenity ring she and Craig gave their daughter the Christmas before she died.
Hannah wore it in her coffin.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


Call to Worship, Psalm 23 (KJV)
Children, Acts 3.1-26
Message, Acts 4.5-12 (1-12)

Opening: (with announcements)
Arizona trip, 25th anniversary, pics in entry
Jane Dodson, parting wishes:
      “Relax and enjoy Robin’s company all to yourself”
Wishful thinking!
      Mom on the plane – son with 1 in nation genetic anomaly
      Heroin addict
      Lynn, investment performance, move to Sedona, spiritual journey
      Park ranger,
            “kicked to the curb” after 35 years so she could “find herself”
      Couple’s daughter losing her baby
For Robin, this is just what “comes natural” to her

Peter and John and the healing of the lame man, in the name of Jesus
“Why do you look at us, as if by our power or piety we made him walk?”
Jesus, rejected and resurrected!

Message body:
Address a difficulty: Exclusive salvation language in re Jesus
      “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12)
      Bonhoeffer: “The more exclusively we acknowledge and confess Jesus Christ as our Lord, the more fully the wide range of his dominion will be disclosed to us” (cited by Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 133).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015


Bradley Joseph and Ethan Jon baptized (26 Apr 2015, 8:30 worship)

Nepal Report

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, the most powerful quake in 81 years to hit the region, caused significant damage in Patan Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Photo by ACT Alliance, DCA
By Linda Bloom
April 27, 2015 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

United Methodists joined Christians around the world in a prayerful response to the earthquake that has claimed thousands of lives in Nepal and neighboring China and India.
BBC News reported the death toll at 4,000 people, with at least 7,000 injuries by Monday evening as the Nepalese army and police undertook massive search and rescue operations.  Many were living in “vast tent cities” in the capital of Kathmandu as aftershocks from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake continued.
Five missionaries working in Nepal for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries were reported safe.
... Missionary Katherine T. Parker expressed appreciation for the outpouring of concern by church members and made specific prayer requests as the earthquake recovery began. Parker deals with issues of water, sanitation and hygiene as a member of the health team of United Mission to Nepal.
“Our relief focus will be primarily in Dhading and planning for this has started,” she wrote about the mission’s plans in a Facebook post. “Two doctors from Tansen left from Pokhara this morning to go to Gorkha. We are coordinating all of our efforts with other local partners.”
Thousands of homes and most schools reportedly were destroyed in Gorkha, one of the closest districts to the earthquake’s epicenter.