Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 State of the Communion Address

Introduction
Near the beginning of each year, the President of the United States gives a “state of the union address”.  This televised speech is made to a joint session of the congress reporting the condition of the country and outlining the legislative agenda and national priorities for the coming year.
For the last three years, I’ve been giving a similar address to my congregation because I think it’s a useful way to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and set the tone for the coming year.  This year, I particularly want to focus on the work of the faithful servants in my church. 
There’s a wonderful hymn in the United Methodist Hymnal that says, “The Church is not a building.  The Church is not a steeple.  The Church is not a resting place.  The Church is a people.  I am the Church!  You are the Church!  We are the Church together!”  What a true sentiment!  The Church cannot function without people faithfully serving in all areas of ministry.  The Church functions best when everyone does their part.  So in 2018, I invite you to grow as a person and grow in your faith by intentional service. 

Philippians 1:3-6
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

The Apostle Paul was Thankful for the Philippians
            These joyous words of the Apostle Paul were written from prison.  No doubt, Paul was thankful for some supplies the Philippians had sent.  In New Testament times, prisons often did not supply all the needs of their prisoners as they do today.  Food, clothing, and other necessary supplies were provided by friends and family on the outside.  Certainly, Paul was thankful that the Philippians made sure Paul had what he needed to live while he was in prison for sharing the Gospel of Jesus, but there was more.
            Paul was thankful for the Philippians spiritual birth, growth, and shared Gospel ministry.  Paul was the Philippians' spiritual father.  His missionary work among them helped bring them to Christ.  Paul was proud of his spiritual children in the same was a father is proud of his kids.  There is a special bond with those you lead to a spiritual awakening in Christ. 
            Furthermore, Paul was also proud the Philippians had not remained infants in Christ.  They were growing spiritually through service.  So he could write with confidence, I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” 
            As a pastor, I am so proud of those whom I have helped in some small way to have a spiritual awakening--whether it be accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, seeing them join my church, discover a new passion for Christ, or awaken to a deeper and truer understanding of faith.  What a wondrous thing it is for a spiritual father to see your "children" grow in faith!
            One vital and indispensable element of spiritual growth is service.  Thus, Paul was thankful the Philippians shared in his Gospel ministry as he says, “…for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ…”  Not only was their service a tremendous help in spreading the Good News about Jesus, it was an important part of their growth in Christ.  No one who becomes a Christian and then does nothing to help with His ministry will grow.  On the contrary, those who do not intentionally serve as if willingly serving Christ himself are likely to grow cold and lifeless in their faith and are even in danger of nurturing bitterness, jealousy, and all kinds of rotten fruit.
            I am so thankful for the many faithful people at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Dalton who work tirelessly to carry on the ministries of our congregation.  I want to name some of them here as I explain some of the ministry roles in our church.
 
The Church is Not the Pastor
            I wasn't at my church to preach for the last two Sundays.  The first absence was planned as I was serving at spiritual retreat for youth and young adults.  I am so thankful for Kelsey Ikerd who is a bright young lady with a strong faith in Christ and a God-given ability to speak publicly.  I asked Kelsey to speak in my absence because I knew it would be a blessing to my congregation and an opportunity for Kelsey to grow.  I'm thankful she agreed.
            My second absence was not planned.  On January 2nd, I came down with the flu type B.  My wife followed with flu type A and then all three of my children came down one or the other.  I'm so thankful for our music minister, David Crawford, who called me as soon as he found out and offered to lead a special worship service so I could stay at home and rest with my family (and not spread the virus).  I knew David was a capable, dependable leader and that the service would be in excellent hands.  I'm thankful to have leaders like David who care and are willing and able to help.  I'm also thankful for the choir who is so well rehearsed they can adapt and help David lead a wonderful service of prayer and music in my unexpected absence.  I'm also thankful for prayerful leaders like Jason Denson, Sherry Dickson, and Beth Tessmer whom David could call upon to help lead prayers during the service last week while I was sick.  And of course, I'm thankful for Tom Dickson, our worship leader, who is always willing and able to help.
            I am also especially thankful for our church secretary, Angela Stack.  Between Christmas and New years holidays, the spiritual retreat, and then being sick for a week, I missed almost 3 weeks.  Thankfully, the church can survive for a few weeks without me because Angela--with the help of other leaders in the church--can keep things running.  However, I don't think the church could survive very long if Angela was out sick.  She is the real workhouse behind the scenes and I'm quite thankful for her.

Behind the Scenes
            You see a lot happening in the church and, perhaps, you associate ministry with these more visible examples.  However, the greatest majority of the work happens behind the scenes and you may not even think of it.  For example, do you know what an altar guild is?  The altar guild comes in early each Sunday morning to set up our worship space.  Jean Coker and Kay Fetzer arrange and place flowers and other decorations to draw our attention to the beauty of God.  They also change the paraments to colors that symbolize the season of the Christian year and do other important task like set up for Holy Communion. 
            Also working behind the scenes, Frank and Kaye Fetzer spend countless hours each week making sure our facilities are clean and ready to host worship and other important events.  Others like Andy Andrews (our trustees chair), makes sure everything is in working order--either getting someone to come fix it or fixing it himself.  Some who have done a lot of work on our facilities this year were James Greenway (installing more efficient LED lights), Bobby Brooker (fixing lights and light switches and flag poles), Mike Kirk, Jason and Johnny Denson (replacing the mulch on our playground), Dianne O’Brien (taking inventory of furniture and equipment damaged by a water leak), and many
others. 
            Our church is blessed to be in a great location on one of the busiest thoroughfares in our community.  Each day between 10,000 - 20,000 cars drive past our church.  Someone before I ever came here had the foresight to say we should have a church sign that enables us to share messages with the community.  Did you know the Holy Spirit doesn't sneak up each week and put a message on the sign?  Nope.  The Holy Spirit inspires a group of people from our church to do it.  This past year, our sign team included:  Beth Tessmer, the Kevin Roberts Family, Grace Mullis, Mara Cobble, Kyle & McKenzi Marlow, Rene Gallman, the Jeff McDonald Family, Mike Marlow, the Scott Ward family, and Ron & Donna Philips.  Regardless of if it was pretty weather or rain or snow, hot or cold, these faithful servants come out as often as needed to change the message on our sign.  And people in our community noticed.  I hear all the time from people throughout Dalton and Whitfield county how much the appreciate the encouragement, wisdom, and information we share on our church sign.  This is another way we share in the Gospel ministry.
            Many other things happen behind the scenes.  Did you know the offering we collect each week doesn't count itself?  No.  Our Financial secretaries do that.  While you are already sitting down to lunch after Sunday worship, there are faithful servants still at church counting and depositing the offering.  Our financial secretaries are:  Debra Sloan, Jean Coker, and Nancy Ware.  Added to these are our church treasurers Jeff McDonald (who handles reports & and financial planning) and Donna Philips (who signs all the checks at our church to pay bills and paychecks).  Many others serve behind the scenes to manage the business of our church--whether it be as elected church officers, serving on the church council, finance committee, board of trustees, the nominations team, or the human resources team.  There are too many people in these roles to name here.

Ushers
            One vital servant roll in the church that we often take for granted is that of the ushers.  Ushers are often the first people you meet when you arrive at the church for worship.  Ushers are here to greet you and give you a bulletin and help you find your way into the church.  How they treat you--whether good or bad--can set the tone for your whole worship experience to prepare you to draw close to Jesus or leave distracted and unfocused. 
            Ushers also help keep us safe.  As they welcome people with a friendly smile, they also notice whether someone is in a safe frame of mind to be here.  If a problem arises during the service, the ushers are there to help manage the situation.  And did you know that, while we are gathered in the sanctuary, one of our ushers also patrols the parking lot to keep an eye on things and serve as a deterrent to anyone looking for mischief.  The ushers are very important.
            Mike Marlow coordinated our ushers and he is always faithful to make sure we have the people we need who know what to do.  This year, our lead ushers who recruited ushers for each Sunday and helped the Financial Secretaries count the offering after the service were:  Don Douglas, Garry Bingham, Kyle Marlow, Frank Fetzer, Scott Ward, Jimmy Brooker, Johnny Denson, Gary Carter, Perry Motley, Andy Andrews, Steven Yarbrough, and Eddie Brooker.  I'm very thankful for everyone who serves as an usher at PGUMC. 

Acolytes
            Do you know what an acolyte is?  The acolytes light the candles on our altar at the beginning of the service.  However, there is more to this that you think.  The candles on our altar signify the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit.  So, at the very beginning of the worship service, a specially trained acolyte brings the "light of Christ" into the sanctuary and lights the candles on the altar.  Then, at the end of the service, the acolytes don't just blow out the candles.  No, they take the flame from the candles back out of the sanctuary, symbolizing that the light of the Holy Spirit doesn't just stay in the sanctuary; it leads us back out into the world to serve.  So as you leave worship, know that the Holy Spirit goes with you to lead and guide and equip you for our shared ministry of the Gospel.  This year, our acolytes were:  Jeremy Ptak, DJ Seifert, Amaya Childers, Allyssa Childers, Alex Childers, Abigail Mullis, Lindsey Harris, Trenton Hartman, Trevor Hartman, Walker England, Trevor Maddox, and Mattie Maddox 

Children’s Ministry
            One of our most important responsibilities is bringing kids up in the church so they are able to develop faith in Jesus Christ for themselves.  One of our goals last year was to provide exceptional ministry to children.  We've made great strides toward that end.  Last year we saw many milestones as evidence.  Our annual community Easter egg hunt, which normally sees about 30-40 children, had over 200 kids attend.  They came to hunt for candy eggs, but they also heard the life changing story of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the grave. 
            Other milestones were offering one of the best summer Vacation Bibles Schools I can ever remember with about 45 kids in attendance.  We also had an amazing Trunk or Treat with nearly 1,000 people attending.  Many of those came back to share or wrote their thanks on our Facebook page--expressing how much the appreciate the enthusiasm and love we offer our community through our trunk or treat.
           As part of our initiative to offer excellent ministry to children, we have been searching for the right children's minister to lead the ministry.  I am so happy to have Ashten Webb now on board in this role.  I'm very impressed with Ashten's diligent work so far.  She has done a great job in the short time she's been here and has picked out some awesome lesson series for 2018.  Ashten continues to impress me with her ability to think theologically while also understanding how to communicate with children.  I think she is going to do an excellent job so far with our kids and look forward to seeing her excel.
            Of course, we could not do children’s ministry without everyone’s help.  We have many helpers who serve with children in a variety of ways.  On Wednesday nights, DJ Seifert, Allie Motley McClain, Matt Webb have been faithful helpers.  In the nursery, Rachel Ward is our paid attendant, but Laurie Wilson has helped coordinate volunteers to help Rachel.  And this year, Laurie--with the help of her husband Mike--went through and cleaned and upgraded the nursery to make sure it was safe and in the best possible condition to serve parents and our youngest children.  Volunteers who helped in the nursery this year were:  Allie McClain, Andrea Denson, Debra Sloan, Teresa Marlow, Becky Ward, Susan Forester, Tanya Brooker, Rita Wagers, Susan Cooksey, Mary Hartman, JoAnn Ward, Lori Roberts, Amanda Mays, Diane O’Brien, Meri McDonald, Grace Mullis, and Judy Forester.
            Debra Sloan coordinated our children's church volunteers, who each took a month to teach children about Jesus during our worshp hour.  Their faithful service helped parents to focus their own spiritual growth while knowing their children were receiving a worship experience specifically tailored for their age level.  This year, our children's church volunteers were:  Jason & Andrea Denson, Maribeth Reno & Karla Motley, Tanya Brooker & Donna Douglas, Teresa & Andy Andrews, Kyle & Teresa Marlow, Kelly Mullis & Kathryn Brooker, Mike & Cindy Marlow, Lori & Kevin Roberts, Mike and Laurie Wilson, Jeff & Meri McDonald, Amy Crawford & Jean Carter, and Angel Kirk & Sallie Thomas.  Subing in from time to time were Jean Coker, Kelsey Kirk Ikerd, and Debra Sloan.

Youth Ministry
            Amy Harris has been our youth minister for almost 4 years now.  Amy works hard to build relationships with youth, teach them about Jesus and lead them to deepen their faith, and she plans and coordinates special events for them throughout the year.  I'm very thankful for the work Amy does, but I also understand she doesn't do it alone.  Parents, volunteers, chaperones, drivers, helpers all do their part to minister to youth.  I don’t have a list of everyone who has taught Sunday school, sat in on youth lessons, or volunteered as a chaperone or to drive the church van, but if you helped with youth, you have made a difference and I think it can help you grow too if you serve the youth as if you were serving Jesus. 
            It is said that the youth are the future of the church.  I would challenge that statement because I believe the youth are more than just the future.  I believe the youth are the church today!  So let us support them and everyone who works with them with all our heart.  And I invite you to come to Pleasant Grove January 21 for Youth Sunday and you will see some of our amazing youth being the church as they lead us in worship.

Hosting & Hospitality
            Hospitality is listed in scripture as a special gift the Holy Spirit gives to some to enable them to serve the church.  We have many who use this gift at Pleasant Grove in a variety of ways.  One of the biggest is on Wednesday nights when we gather for our weekly fellowship meal.  It is such a blessing to have one night a week when we don't have to focus on cooking and cleaning our kitchens, but instead can come to church to fellowship with our church family and focus on learning about our faith.  We offer an affordable, healthy, home-cooked meal and studies for children, youth, and adults every Wednesday.  But we could not do it without incredible, faithful, volutneers who take a month out of the year to serve.  These volunteers come in early to set up, put out food, serve, and stay late to clean up.  They are a true blessing.  Angel Kirk (and her husband Mike), coordinate our volunteers (and often fill in when they are absent).  I cannot thank them enough for their service.  Volunteers who helped on Wednesday nights were:  Jason & Andrea Denson, Andy & Teresa Andrews, Jeff & Meri McDonald, Diane O’Brien, Kevin & Lori Roberts, Randy & Jean Coker, Mike & Cindy Marlow, Mike & Angel Kirk, Chad & Kelsey Ikerd, Gary & Jean Carter, Ron & Donna Phillips, Stephen & Kathy Yarbrough, Kathryn Brooker, Rena Gallman, Sallie Thomas, Sherry Dickson, Eddie & Tanya Brooker, Angela Stack, Debra Sloan, Maribeth Reno, Perry & Karla Motley, Mike & Laurie Wilson, and Diane & Bill Caylor.  We really could use some more help on Wednesday nights.  So please contact me or Angel Kirk if you would like to help.
            We have other opportunities to show hospitality.  The following people have served as hosts who provide heavy snacks before Thursday morning Bible study: JoAnn Ward (coordinator), Mary Helen Speights, Margie Sosebee, Marsha Ray, Gail Bradford, Kathryn Brooker, Sally Brooker, Donna Douglas, Judy Forester, Susan Cooksey, and Cathy Byers. 
            Others have provided snacks or a devotion for the Elizabeth Circle women's mission group:  Marsha Ray, Judy Forester, Susan Cooksey, Kathryn Brooker, Mary Helen Speights, Kay Denson, Diane O’Brien, Hattie Morse, Donna Phillips, Miriam Storey, Linda Powell, Kay Denson, JoAnn Ward, Susan Cooksey, and Jo Marlow.  
            Another way to show hospitality is on our Bereavement Committee, which provides a meal for families in our church who have lost a loved one.  It's a important time for grieving families to have a chance to visit and comfort one another without the worry of making food.  It's a grace and gift our church provides to those in need because of the following faithful volunteers:  Kathryn Brooker, Donna Douglas, Diane O’Brien, Diane Caylor, Susan Cooksey, Marsha Ray, Barbara Haley, Marie Jordan, Debra Sloan, Angel Kirk, Judy Forester, JoAnn Ward, Jean Coker, Linda Powell, Nellie Felker, Hattie Morse, Cathy Byars, Miriam Storey, Jo Marlow, Kaye Denson, and Mara Cobble. 

The Nitty Gritty
            Now I don't want to bore you anymore with more and more lists of faithful people who have served and, unfortunately, I don't really have time.  And I haven't even gotten a chance to brag on people like Sherry Dickson and Susan Cooksey and all those who help with our sack lunch program or Trunk-or-Treat or Easter Egg Hunts.  I haven't mentioned all our Sunday school teachers who faithfully prepare a lesson each week and then come to teach and disciple their classes.  And I am sure I have forgotten to mention someone or something that I really should mention (like Bobby Forester who runs the sound and slides for almost all our worship services).
            I am proud of everyone who serves and it warms my heart to see people growing in the faith and I am thankful for every partner in the Gospel ministry.  However, my point in all this is not just to show how proud I am of everyone or to try to write the names of everyone I want to thank.  My point is this: this is the Church--it is the people who are growing as they serve as partners in the ministry of the Gospel.  We cannot Be the Church without people who serve. 
            So this is the main thing I want to see my church focus on in the coming year.  In 2018, I would like to see more people involved and serving.  Instead of people looking for excuses to get out of serving, I want to see people looking for reasons and ways they can serve.  If you’re not involved, I want to see you get involved.  If you are involved, I would like to see you become more involved or to become more effective and/or focused in the ways you are involved.  The Church cannot operate without you.  But there's another reason I want you more involved.  I want you involved because this is how you grow in your faith.
            The Church is made up of disciples of Jesus Christ.  A disciple learns by living like their master.  Jesus is our Master and we want to live like him.  How did he live?  Jesus faithfully served, giving everything--even his own life.  In Matthew 20:28 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  So, we who want to be like him should do as he did.  For if he was not too good to serve, how much more should we be willing.