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Monday, January 2, 2017

The 2017 State of the Communion Address

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 his legislative agenda and national priorities.
My message this morning is a blatant copy of this presidential tradition.  However, I hope it will be a useful one.  I wish to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and outline our agenda and priorities for the coming year.  I invite you to also reflect on your own personal goals for the coming year.  As we reflect, I think of the God’s Word in Philippians 3:13-14 where it says: 

Philippians 3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

Looking Back on 2016 at Pleasant Grove UMC
            There is always room for improvement in life. We learn from our mistakes. Even in our victories are opportunities to improve as we consider how to make our efforts even better in the future. We made some progress on each of the goals we set last year.  Let's review them.           
            At the beginning of 2016, we made a commitment to “do whatever it takes” to provide exceptional ministry to children. We have made significant progress in this difficult work. After much agonizing and prayerful consideration, we decided it was time to change the leadership of our children’s ministry. This has been a difficult transition, but it has also brought new ideas and new energy.  We now have 19 children engaged, learning, and excited to come build a relationship with Jesus on Wednesday nights.  Many of them have started attending on Sundays as well.
            This could not have happened without the excitement, enthusiasm, and dedication of many volunteers, such as: Sara Edmond, DJ Seifert, Allie Motley, Andrea Denson, Debra Sloan, Lori Roberts, Laurie Wilson, & many, many others. It has been amazing to watch the progress we’ve made with these volunteers and the commitment of parents wanting their children to know Jesus. We are still seeking a part-time Children’s Director to guide our volunteers. We will continue to push for exceptional children’s ministry at Pleasant Grove in 2017.
            Another goal of 2016 was spiritual growth through worship, study, and service. In 2016, our Sunday morning worship themes and sermon series covered the topics of homosexuality, deep relationships, core values, spiritual revival, our membership promises, and following God’s signs. On Wednesday Nights, we studied  church revitalization, Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, Mike Slaughter's The Renegade Gospel, the War Room study on prayer, and Max Lucado's Fearless. Our children's programs focused on how to pray, overcoming fear, and the Christmas story.
            We should all be proud of the members of our Thursday morning Bible Study We had 20 people participate in reading through the Chronological Bible this past year. They completed that journey on December 31.  These dedicated people read through the entire Bible in one year!  We will celebrate their accomplishment this Thursday!
            We continued our outreach to Pleasant Grove Elementary School and Northstar School by providing sack lunches for needy children.  This school year, we were blessed to find a new program coordinator—Susan Cooksey—who is doing a wonderful job coordinating with the schools. We provide 110 sack lunches each week. Susan has also expanded our efforts to encourage teachers with special gifts and service opportunities throughout the year.
            We participated in other service projects as well.  A group of men from our church built a wheel chair ramp for a needy family that included an armed forces veteran.  We packed 150 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child to give to impoverished kids around the world.  And we continued our support of Family Promise to help combat homelessness in our community.
            Last year, I challenged everyone be present at church every Sunday (missing no more than five Sundays in a year).  How did you do on your own personal attendance? Did you miss more than 5 Sundays? Average attendance at PGUMC was 115 in 2016.
            We received 14 new members at our church.  We were blessed to receive  Pamela White, Trevor Maddox, Will Maddox, Mattie Grace Maddox, Donald (DJ) Seifert, Jeremy Ptak, Dale Wallace, Valerie Wallace, Daniel Kai Wallace, Jason Childers, Deborah Childers, Alex Childers, Amaya Childers, and Beth Tessmer.  We had 2 reaffirmations of faith: Alex Childers & Jeremy Ptak.  We also baptised 2 people: Alex Childers and Daniel Kai Wallace.           
Dedicating our new PGUMC church van on Dec. 11, 2016
Church Fire
             There are some things for which you just can't plan.  Early in the morning on September 4, someone set fire to our church van.  The van was parked under the breezeway between the gym and the Promise Building.  The fire destroyed the beautiful van.  Fortunately, fire sprinklers kept the fire at bay until firefighters arrived, but the Promise Building sustained severe smoke and water damage, including the disabling of power to the building.  Much of our time, money, and resources during the last part of 2016 were devoted to recovering from the damage.
            We are making progress.  After negotiating with our insurance company and with the generous support of our church members, we took ownership of a brand new 2017 church van.  We also now have a new cover to park our van under (so we don't need to park in the breezeway anymore).  We also added security cameras to the Promise Building to make our campus even more safe.
            Let me update you on the progress of repairing our Promise Building.  We have repaired the damage to the vinyl siding outside the building.  We also repaired the power meter.  Later, William Ware was repairing a HVAC unit in the building and discovered the power was hooked up to the meter incorrectly.  So, we corrected the electrical problem.  We have negotiated with our insurance company and convinced them of the fact we need to replace the carpet in the facility.  Currently, we are review carpet samples and will soon have the old carpet removed and replaced.  Then, there will be some painting and other work before we are able to fully utilize the Promise Building once more.  I hope these repairs will be completed early this year.
            Dealing with the fire has been a learning opportunity for our whole church.  It was a lesson in forgiveness--forgiving the person(s) who would terrorize a church through arson.  There is still a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for the fire and we hope for justice, but we are not bitter.  The fire was also a lesson in patience, trusting God, and working together.  I am very proud of the way our congregation has pulled together through a very difficult situation.

Looking Forward to 2017
            But the Scripture says not to dwell on the past. The past is the past and cannot be changed. What is done is done. Therefore, the Scripture says, “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…”  Let us consider a vision for 2017.  Our goals for the coming year were aided by two recent meetings --facilitated by Dr. Phil Schroeder.  First we met to dream about our hopes for PGUMC.  Then, we met again on December 3rd to plan our 2017 calendar.  From what I learned at these meetings, I offer the following 2017 goals for PGUMC.

Goal #1 - Provide Exceptional Ministry to Children 
            We have made significant progress in re-invigorating our children's ministries.  New leadership and new volunteers have brought new excitement and as many as 19 children regularly participating.  We still have work to do and will continue our work to provide exceptional children's ministry.  One of the key tasks we hope to accomplish this is year hire a part-time children's minister to lead our wonderful volunteers and help develop a vision for children’s ministry at PGUMC.  Please pray for us and help spread the word that we are seeking to hire a children's minister.

Goal #2 - Visionary Youth Ministry
            Amy Harris does a wonderful job ministering to our youth.  This year, we will support her to take our youth ministry to the next level at PGUMC.  We have already begun work to develop a vision for our youth ministry, asking the questions: "What are we trying to accomplish with our youth ministry? What do our youth need to know to be the person we all want them to be by the time they graduate from high school?"  As we cast our vision and develop a mission statement, we will also build a team of volunteers to assist Amy in her ministry.   Perhaps you would like to be on the team.

Goal #3 - Invigorate Worship
            In 2017, we plan work on ways to make Sunday morning worship more energetic and flowing.  David Crawford sought insights from a focus group and is working on some new ideas for how to make worship more heartfelt and inspiring.  We will experiment with new ways to make worship a true blessing.

Goal #4 - Reorganize Our Greeters
            Another of our goals for the year is to reorganize our greeters so that everyone who comes to PGUMC receives a warm welcome.  We need volunteers and a way to organize our efforts.  We will also look at some opportunities to train people as greeters so they know how to make people feel welcome.

Goal #5 - More Outreach
            Love lives at PGUMC and we have always cared about our community.  In 2017, we will make a concerted effort to provide more organized opportunities to reach out and serve the people of Whitfield County.  We will work to provide service projects all year long as well as participate community efforts like Family Promise and Be the Church.

            Which of these is God leading you to help with?  How can you help?  I hope you will prayerfully consider how you can get involved so that 2017 is truly a great year for you and for Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.


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