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Showing posts with label New Year. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Year. Show all posts

Monday, January 15, 2024

2024 State of the Communion Address

As is our tradition each year at this time of the year, I want to review highlights and achievements of our church over the past year and also look forward to what I think should be our priorities for the coming year.  But, this is also a sermon.  It is a chance for me to share the Word of God in Holy Scripture and encourage you in your personal faith.  So I want to begin with the Scripture God placed on my heart today, something I believe should always guide Christians, and something I believe we should pay particular attention to this 2,024th year of our Lord.

John 1:1-5
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Listening to God’s Voice
I have been listening to God’s voice extra careful over the last month.  I always do this time of year as I consider what God want me to do and what God wants our church to do in the coming year.  And especially, since we have just completely the hard work to disaffiliate from the UMC and begin a new chapter in our the life of our church, I have been especially attentive to God’s voice asking: “Lord, what do you want for Your church at Pleasant Grove this year?”  And I have taken time to be alone, to be quiet, and to pray.  And I have been listening for God’s voice to answer and lead us. 
But how do I know if the voice that answers is God’s?  How can any of us know?

Jesus uses an illustration to remind people how to listen to God’s voice and ignore all the others.
The people who lived in Jesus’ day had one of the same problems we have today: there were so many voices claiming to speak for God.  The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealot religious radicals, the hippy Essenes who wanted to abandon society all together.  Then there were the politicians, the Greek philosophers, and the Romans occupiers.  Everyone had an opinion to share.  And all these voices swirling around were so confusing.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever wonder how you can really know what God wants you to do?  How do you cut through all the clutter to get to the Truth?

Jesus says, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.  This should be our main priority this year:  to know and listen to our Shephard’s voice.

And I want to suggest some ways you can tune in to hear God’s voice among all the distractions.

You have to get near God to hear God.  And prayer is one of the chief ways you know you spend time with God.  Prayer is talking to God—and you don’t have to be all fancy.  Just talk.  Sometimes, prayer isn’t saying anything at all, but maybe just intentionally sitting quietly with God.  Prayer is essential for Christians.  It is our simplest way to connect with God.

I’m going down today after church to visit my Mom.  I try to call my mom every week.  By talking to her regularly, I stay in touch and know what’s going on with her.  But, my mom lives with my sister.  She’s there with her every day.  Katie knows what’s really going on with Mom way better than I do, because I only talk to her once a week.

If you want to know God voice, you’ve got to spend time with Him in prayer. If you only pray when you have a problem, you will not be very accustomed to God's presence.  But if you talked to Him all the time in prayer, you will be much more in tune with His voice.  You will know all about what He is up to and will more easily be able to tune in to His guidance.

Scripture is another way we get near God to hear God.  Scripture is the primary way God speaks to His people.  Whereas prayer can often feel fuzzy and intangible, Scripture is solid and unchangeable.  Scripture is the foundation of all true Christian belied and practice.  The Bible tells you who God is and what He expects from you—how you are live and what you are to do.

Scripture and prayer go together.  We speak to God through prayer.  God speaks to us through the Bible.  The more you read Scripture, the easier it is to know the difference between random thoughts and insights and the true voice of God trying to lead you.

Plug in with God’s People
Another essential way we get near God to hear God is by plugging in with God’s people.  Being a Christian who follows Jesus is never something we do all by ourselves.  Jesus called 12 disciples to follow Him.  They did it in a group setting.  And that’s how we follow Jesus too.  Trying to follow Jesus all by yourself without a being part of a church community can be downright dangerous.  But when we plug in with God’s people, God speaks to us and leads us.

Hear at Pleasant Grove, there are a number of ways to plug in.  There is public worship.  But you must go deeper.  You need to be part of a small group.  We offer ways to get plugged in:  Wednesday night dinner, Thursday morning bible study, Sunday school, youth, children, Elizabeth Circle, sack lunch… 

I want to implore you to get accustomed to hearing God’s voice this year through Prayer, Scripture, and by plugging in with God’s people at church.

Review of 2023
2023 was a hard year, but God was good.  The whole year, it felt to me like we were the Israelites trying to escape from slavery Egypt.  The United Methodist denominational leadership didn’t want to let us go, even though we heard God’s voice clearly telling us it was time to leave that denomination.  And when the Bishop “paused” disaffiliation.  It seemed it would be impossible to get out of Egypt.  But God was our deliverer.  He “parted the Red Sea” so we could leave.  And God was with us as we “walked through the wilderness” of raising money to pay the disaffiliation fees and doing all the legal work required to change.  In may ways it was weary and tiresome work—but all done with great hopes for a new Promised future.

We also saw the Hand of God moving in many ways.  Even in the desert, I saw water flowing and flowers blooming.

We started out the year with a positive--with the infant baptism of Robin Starling.  It was a sign of things to come.  Through the year we had seven people publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  And we added ten new people to our membership rolls--the largest increase since 2019 (pre-COVID).

Outreach to Kids
Our sack lunch program continued to flourish—sharing blessings with the children of our community through PGE and White’s Pediatrics.  We also helped with other needs like school supplies and improvements to the playground at PGE.  We also packed over 100 boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  Thanks to Susan Cooksey, Tom and Sherry, And Becky Haley, and all our faithful, dedicated volunteers!  (We could use a few more!)

Children’s Ministry
Our children’s ministry has flourished under the capable leadership of Melissa Starling.  One year ago, before Melissa took over leadership of the program, our children's ministry was floundering.  We needed volunteers. We needed new leadership.  We needed excitement.  Melissa has helped bring all of that since she started at the end of January last year.  Last Sunday we had 9 children at the altar for the children’s moment.  And the kids have been active and growing all year long.  Consistent

weekly classes, Sunday school, children’s church, nursery, Easter Egg hunt, VBS, Trunk or Treat.  And they even did a Christmas program and went Christmas caroling to shit-ins in December.  And I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to thank Melissa, and also Sydney Harris who we hired to teach kids on Wednesday nights.  This frees up Melissa to focus on teaching on Sunday mornings and to coordinating all the children's activities.  And the kids love Sydney on Wednesday night. 

Youth Ministry
We are blessed to have Amy Harris leading our youth ministry. We are all blessed to hear her brief, inspirational messages “to the youth” each Sunday morning, but she loves, leads, and inspires the youth each week on Wednesday nights and also helps teach youth Sunday school classes with Debra Sloan, and McKenzie Marlow.

Some of the special events Amy coordinaed for out youth were volunteering with special needs kids at the Miracle League, handing out free hot chocolate at the Dalton Christmas parade, and taking our youth to Fields of Faith.  She took the youth on a beach trip this summer, coordinated 2 yard sales, one of which was use to fund a o Christmas outreach t help families in need.  What were you doing Christmas Eve and Christmas day?  Amy was delivering assistance to families on both days.  And Amy is always the biggest helper with anything that needs to be done--even with things not associated with the youth.  And I would also be remiss if I didn't talk about some people who have been volunteering on Wednesday nights to help shepherd the youth as Amy teaches--Ricky Stack, Mike Wilson, Scott Denson, and DJ Seifert


Music Ministry
Another thing that I am particularly proud of is our music program at Pleasant Grove. David is humble and he doesn’t like to be pointed out, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share what a great job David does to help us have a great music program.  He makes sure we have great music throughout the year – including original music, horn and instruments, solos, and special guests musicians. 

And one thing David really focused on in 2024 was getting people involved, even people who don't sing.  David found was to include non-musicians in our Easter and Christmas cantatas.  Plus, we had a Contemporary Christmas Program, choir music at the Christmas Eve service, and contemporary music from the praise band throughout the year.  David has helped Pleasant Grove do something that many churches in our area are moving away from--having a great choir and choral music.  So many people stereotypically say, "The younger generation only wants contemporary music."  But that's not true.  If you ask many in the younger generations (like my own daughter), they will tell you they prefer hymns and choral music in worship.  So, David has helped us have both great contemporary music and great choral music and hymns.

Operation Mercy Drops

Our innovative outreach program, Operation Mercy Drops,  was a blessing to our community, helping so many.  We gave away 12 grants to people our church members sponsored in 2023.  These helped with a variety of needs like hardships--helping families with medical emergencies our when a house burned as will as honoring people who are doing great work in the community or helping charitable organizations continue to do good work to help people.  The funding for OMD was originally intended to last for 12 months.  However, generous donations extended the program out for three years.  Unfortunately, funding for OMD is now depleted (unless you decide you want to continue to program with your new funding).

Look Forward to 2024
As I said in the beginning, we need to focus on following God’s voice.  And we will know God’s voice through prayer, Scripture, and by plugging in with God’s people at church.  As I’ve heard God’s voice, He’s shared that we can be excited about what’s coming this year.  The hard work of the past year is paying off and we will see more blessings in 2024.

I also want to share some specific things we are working on or that I want to see this year.

New Hymn
The old United Methodist Hymnals were given back to the UMC as part of our disaffilation agreement.  However, that hymnal was over 40 years old and out of date.  We are getting a new hymnal in 2024.  We've already ordered 20 for the choir, and we will give our members a chance to order one in memory or in honor of someone soon.  Our sanctuary will be filled with hymnals.  And the one we've chosen, "Our Great Redeemers Praise", is a great hymnal.  It may be one of the most comprehensive hymnals published in decades and it will be an upgrade from the hymnal we were using before.  While many churches are moving away from hymnals, Pleasant Grove is going to upgrade and show our commitment to this ancient but still greatly relevant form of worship.  How exciting!

New Church Directory
We will publish a new church pictorial directory in 2024.  Our current directory is way out of date.  In fact, we were preparing to update the directory in 2020 when the pandemic hit.  This year, we are committed to finally publishing and new one so all the members of our church are properly listed so we can keep in touch and know all our church family.

Clean Up Membership Roll
We are going to clean up our church membership roll in 2024.  We have already done a great amount of work to convert our old handwritten membership books into an electronic database  This was invaluable as we went through the disaffiliation process with the UMC.  Volunteers were essential in this work.  Walker England and Matthew Head helped enter some of the names.  But the chief worker in this process was Donna Phillips, who entered 95% of the names.  Thank you Donna Phillips! 

Now that the membership roll is in electronic format, it will be much easier to audit the rolls and remove persons who have moved away, joined other churches, or who have passed away and are no longer living members of congregation.  We will do this work in 2024. 

Get Excited for 2024!
I want to encourage you to be excited about what’s happening.  We are part of a new Global Methodism Movement.  God is moving in Methodism—not just in our church, but all around the world!  That’s exciting!  We get to be part of something great!  Let’s get motivated!  Let’s get involved and be part of what God is doing!

Get excited about our church! Invite people to come and be part of the great things we are doing! 
Get excited about our music!  (We do praise music and choir and we’re getting a new hymnal!)  
Get excited about our children’s ministry!  Our youth ministry!
Get excited about our ministry with adults!  Our fellowship! 
Get Our incredible outreach to help our community! (And even the world – Pakistan!)
Get excited about how we stand upon the Truth of God’s Word
        and yet also love and accept everyone!

In 2024, we are following the voice of the Great Shepherd
        and we can be a place for others to follow Him too.


Monday, January 1, 2024

Don't Worry. Seek the Kingdom.

On the last day of 2023, it's a good idea to reflect on where we've been and consider where we are going.  What a crazy year it’s been! Do you remember what you were doing this time last year?  I do.  I was still in shock from a terrible and unfair decision by the North Georgia UMC bishop's decision to cancel the disaffiliations of nearly 200 churches in our conference.  We didn't know what to do or if their was anything we could do.  But here we are one year later and God is good.  He has opened doors we thought couldn't be opened.  And December 31st, 2023 is the last day my church and I belong to the UMC.  On January 1st, we will be free and will be Global Methodist!  Praise be to God! 

Can I just be honest with you for a minute?  I need to confess something this morning.  You see, I thought I had really done something 23 years ago when I answered the call to ministry.  I thought I was really trusting God with BIG faith.  I walked away from a promising career as an engineer to follow Jesus.  I graduated from college when I was 23.  I started a career as a textile engineer.  But then God called me to be a preacher.  And so after only 3 years into my career, I stepped out in faith and became a United Methodist minister.  I thought my wife might leave me, because me going into the ministry had never been part of our plans.  She chose to marry a straight-laced, dependable man with great career prospects.  Leaving all that took a lot of faith for me and Kelly.  

But as scary as it was, there’s acyually a lot of security for ministers in the United Methodist Church.  We had health insurance, a pension, a decent salary, and a guaranteed appointment.  Yes, we had to go wherever they sent us and they moved us away from family and friends frequently.  But we also had job security.  

Now, I never took anything for granted.  Ephesians 6:7 says, “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  So, I’ve always tried to do my best, because I realized I didn't really work for the United Methodist Church.  I work for the Lord.  The UMC was an ally, for a time, that helped me fulfill my calling to help people grow closer to Jesus.  But I’ve always said if the UMC ever departed from traditional Scriptural Christianity, I would depart from the UMC.  And that time has come. 

And so, I’m walking away from a second career.  As of January 1st, 2024, I will no longer be a United Methodist minister.  I will be a Global Methodist minister.  And I’ve had to trust the Lord in this.  Because I am walking away from something I’ve known very well for the past 2 decades into an unknown future and an unproven denomination with less job security than the UMC. 

But I know this is where God is leading me.  And I trust Him!  He has never failed me yet.  He won’t fail me now.  I am His servant.  It is a privilege to serve Him and god wherever He leads! 

I want to read to you one of my favorite passages from God’s Holy Word–something that has encouraged me my whole life as a Disciple of Jesus Christ.  It’s right in the middle of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6:25-33
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God…
I’ve tried to make that verse 33 the theme of my whole life and ministry.  In the old King James Version it goes, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

If you think about it, that’s the whole theme of the Bible.  Isn’t it?  Go all the way back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis.  What do you find?  There’s Adam and Eve living in paradise.  God has given them everything they need.  They have food.  They have peace.  They have protection.  They’re naked and don’t even care.  They aren’t ashamed.  They don’t feel vulnerable and exposed.  (Now you think about that.  They are wild animals roaming all around–lions, tigers, and bears–and Adam and Eve are totally naked.  No knife. No bear spray.  No gun.  No weapons.  Not even a scrap of clothing.  But they weren’t “naked and afraid”.  Why?  Because God provided everything they needed.) 

That is the way we were all meant to live.  It’s a life where God provides everything we need–just like He cares for the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field.  Oh that we could go back to that Garden in Eden and live without a care in the world.  Where we can walk in harmony with each other and with God!

Sin Wrecked It All!
Ah but sin!  Sin came in and wrecked it all!  It wrecked you!  It wrecked me!  And the curse of sin is that we must scrape a living from the dust of the ground.  And try as we might, it’s constantly producing thorns and thistles!  Do you have any thorns and thistles in your life–in your family, in your work?

And so the curse of sin has always meant, “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat.”  I always thought that sweat meant the sweat that comes from the hard work of farming.  But it’s not.  There’s nothing wrong with working hard and sweating.  That’s a good thing. A cleansing thing.  SOme people (like me) actually enjoy doing hard work with there hands.

No, “sweat of your brow” means the sweat that comes from the deep, overwhelming anxiety we have when we think, “Oh no! It’s all up to me!  The fate of my family and the people I love rest on my shoulders.  Whether I live or die will be a result of my own hands.”  Have you ever been so stressed out and worried drops of sweat literally broke out on your forehead?  THAT is the sweaty, anxious curse God proclaimed in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.  For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

Jesus Breaks the Curse!
But praise God!  Hallelujah!  Jesus came to break the curse!  That’s what it’s all about!  Jesus is our redeemer!  He redeems us from our sin.  He heals our whole lives.  His life, death, and resurrection mean we know longer have to drown in the anxious sweaty drops of worrying whether we will have food to eat and clothes to wear.  In the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs:  “No more let sins and sorrows grow!  Nor thorns infest the ground!  He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found!  Far as the curse is found!”  We don’t have to feel ashamed and naked because of our sin.  We don’t have to fear death, because Jesus gives us new life–new life now and for all eternity!  

And so Jesus invites us all in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  Jesus is leading us back to Eden–back to life in Paradise where we don’t have to worry where our next meal will come from or if we will have a job in the morning or if our church property will get seized by a corrupt denomination. 

It is Eternal Life, and it starts the moment we put all our faith in Jesus and follow Him.

Walking Through the Wilderness
We still have some wilderness to walk through. We’re not in the Paradise Garden yet.  But we will get there. In the meantime, God leads us like He led the Israelites through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  And He will provide manna from heaven to feed us and water from a rock to quench our thirst.  You don’t have to understand it all; but you must have faith.  You must trust Jesus when He says, “Don’t worry about all these things.  You’re Heavenly Father already knows all your needs and He will take care of you.”

And so we come to my favorite verse–the theme verse of my ministry–that tells us the secret of living as Christians who follow Christ.  Matthew 6:33 – “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else. 
When my middle child was still a toddler, we were shopping in JC Penny.  In a moment of lapsed attention, she wandered away from me and my wife.  We dropped everything and frantically searched for her.  It only took a few minutes to find her hiding behind some clothes hanging on a rack, but the anxiety of those moments were palpable.  (Talk about the sweat of anxiety breaking out on your brow!)  

That story about searching for a lost child is a great illustration of seeking the Kingdom of God.  That’s how we should seek the Kingdom of God above all else.  We drop every thing else and make the Kingdom our number one priority.  And that’s what I want to do with my life.  And that’s what I want to challenge our church to do in 2024.  And that’s what I want to challenge you to do with your family and with your own life.

I want you reflect for just a minute.  I want you to think about the one thing in your life that’s really important to you right now.  (I’m not talking about Jesus, OK.  Everyone knows in church the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.  But let’s be real right now, OK?)  What’s something that’s really important thing to you? 

Think about it.  If this person or thing (whatever it is) is so important if it we lost, you’d drop everything to go look for it.  What would that thing be for you? Maybe it’s your kids.  Maybe it’s your spouse or your mom or dad. Maybe it’s your phone; let’s be real.  If you went on a trip and left your phone at home, how many of us wouldn’t turn the car around and back track an hour to go get our phone?

Now, I want you to make a mental image of whatever you're thinking of right now.  And I want you to think about how you’d feel if this thing was lost.  Think about the lengths you would go to find it.

From now on, every time you see that thing or even think of it, here’s what I want you to do:  I want it to remind you that Jesus told you to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and all these other things will be added to you as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

2023 State of the Communion Address

It is our tradition at Pleasant Grove at the beginning of each new year, to have a State of the Communion Address where we look back at the accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to some goals and initiatives for the coming year. Before we get into those details, let us hear God’s Word.

Exodus 18:14-26
When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. 16 When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.”

17 “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. 19 Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. 20 Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. 21 But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 22 They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. 23 If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions. 25 He chose capable men from all over Israel and appointed them as leaders over the people. He put them in charge of groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 26 These men were always available to solve the people’s common disputes. They brought the major cases to Moses, but they took care of the smaller matters themselves.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
Moses had a heavy burden—to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.  These were a people who had lived as subjects and slaves of the Egyptian empire for 400 years.  They had always had slave masters to tell them exactly what to do.  And if they stepped out of line, there was surely a whip ready to snap them back into line.  Now they were a free people, but they had still to learn how to live as free people.

Moses’ Father-in-law, Jethro, saw how hard Moses was working and knew this was too much for one man to bear.  His wise advice was that he should delegate the administrative tasks to capable leaders among the people.  Moses should concentrate on being “the people’s representative before God” and teaching “them God’s decrees” and showing “them how to conduct their lives.
But Jethro advised Moses to delegate the day to day tasks of managing the community to capable and honest community leaders.

The Methodist Way
This is wise biblical advice for any church or large organization.  This is the model that built the Methodist Church.  It’s where we get our name:  Methodist—because we follow a methodical process for governing the church and doing Christ's work.

Rather than one person making all the decisions—whether it be the pastor or someone—the work of the church is divided up among various committees.
We have a Trustees Committee to oversee and make decisions about the property of the church.  We have a Finance Committee to oversee finances.  There is the HR Committee (Human Resources, usually called SPRC) that oversees the paid staff of the church.  The Nominations Committee recommends people for the various jobs in the church and all the committees and ministries report to the Church Council, who is the main decision making body of the church that oversees everything.

Sometime people complain that we have too many committees.  I understand.  no one likes sitting in a boring committee meeting.  However, have you ever thought of the alternative?  The alternative is to give just one person or maybe a small handful of people all the power to make decisions.  That may be easier, but it can also be very dangerous.  Some churches have succeeded that way, but the overwhelming majority get into serious trouble when they invest that much power in the pastor or a small board of directors.  Power corrupts and ultimate power corrupts ultimately.

Using various committees as we do give everyone a say in what happens in the church and maintains proper checks and balances.  Plus, it is actually a method of discipleship.  It may be more pleasant to confine your interaction in church to just sitting in a pew singing pretty hymns and listening to sermons.  But actually doing the business of the church making important (and sometimes even uncomfortable) decisions is a much better way to grow closer to Christ as you oversee the work of His Church.

Some Highlights from 2023

Let’s take a minute to remember some of the things we did last year as a church.

In February, Coach Matt Land was our guest speaker for Souper Bowl Sunday.  It was well attended and included many people who would not regularly attend a church service.  They came to here a football hero speak, but he spoke about the Greatest Hero--Jesus Christ--and the good news that we can be saved from our sins if we repent and put our faith in Jesus.

In February, we also resumed our Valentines Sweetheart Banquet, which we discontinued during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was great to resume this activity.  And I want you to notice that even though it has been nearly 3 years since the onset of the pandemic, we are still recovering from the negative effects it had on our church's ministries.  

In March we had our first ever Car Show/Cruise-in.  our main parking lot was full of classic cars and visitors roaming the lot to see them all.  And our members were out there mid=gling and our showing Jesus' hospitality.  And again, this was a victory because it was originally scheduled for 2020 and had to be canceled for COVID-19.  SO just having the event meant were we getting thing going again.

Children’s ministry has struggled since the pandemic began.  Of course, we had to cancel many of the usual events because it wasn't safe for kids to gather together.  However, the biggest obstacle has been the loss of so many regular volunteers who are now out of the habit of helping with children's ministry.  Even so, we did have some things to celebrate in 2022.  

We had our first Community Easter Egg Hunt since

COVID began with about 40 people attending.  We also resumed VBS for the first time since COVID began--with about 30-40 kids attending each night.  And we also resumed a Walk-thru Trunk or Treat that well attended and appreciated by around 500 people from our community.  We started Trunk or Treat over 10 years ago and we managed to continue it through the pandemic, but we had done it as a drive-thru event in 2020 and 2021.  In 2022, we resumed the walk-thru method.  Another victory for the return to normalcy.

Our Youth Group for middle and high school students is going strong on the wise, and capable leadership of Amy Harris.  They met weekly on Wednesday nights and had some extra meetings on Sunday evenings as well.  They took several trips including the summer extreme beach trip, a Halloween trip to Hell's Gate Christian Haunted House, Six Flags, as well as others.  Furthermore, they volunteered to help clean up a church members yard, and served as volunteers at the Miracle Field of Whitfield County to help disabled people play baseball.

The Girl Scout troop that has met at Pleasant Grove for numerous years, offered to build a community raised bed garden for our church.  With the help of several church volunteers, they installed 6 raised beds and we had a garden this season!

The Boy Scouts program exploded with over 40 boys attending.  This year, they outgrew the Scout Hut on our property and started also meeting weekly in the Promise Building.  A big thank you to Frank Fetzer and the many volunteers that help run the Boy Scouts program at Pleasant Grove.

On Wednesday nights, we had a first century Roman soldier visit and teach about what life was like for soldiers in Judea when Jesus carried out his earthly ministry.  We also watched seasons one and two of the Chosen Series, about the ministry of Jesus and the Disciples.  (We started Season Three this past week.)

We also had a number of leaders from our community share about their faith in Jesus and how it guides them to serve the Lord in our community in a variety of ways such as teaching, government, business, social work.  Speakers included Senator Chuck Payne, Kelsey Ikerd, Jason Denson, Sherry Dickson, and others.

In July, we had an important Town Hall Meeting to consider developments in the United Methodist denomination and how these may affect our congregation relationship with the UMC.  An anonymous survey indicated the congregation overwhelmingly wishes to pursue disaffiliation from the UMC.  According, our church council voted to request a Church Conference by the District Superintendent to vote on disaffiliation under provisions in the Book of Discipline.   We also created to teams to help, one to handle the work of disaffiliation (the D-Team) and another team to study future affilation options if we disaffiliate (the A-Team).

In November, we had Homecoming and Revival services lead by Tom Atkins.  It was an important time of healing and revival as we drew closer to God.

Becky Haley led our church to collect 148 boxes for Operation Christmas Child--the most we've ever collected since we started participating a decade ago.

In 2022, our music minister, David Crawford, created and directed an original production with volunteers from our congregation acting out the Christmas story with music by our chancel choir.  It was a beautiful presentation that involved so many people.  Then, we ended the year with 68 people attending our Christmas Eve service.  It was such a special time for our church family.

Sack lunches have been packed throughout the pandemic and continue to be an important part of Pleasant Grove's ministries.  In 2022, 17 faithful volunteers met and packed 65 sack packs a week for around 36 weeks, totaling around 2,340 sack lunches to help needy children at Pleasant Grove Elementary School. Plus, another 40 sack packs were packed per month to help at risk children visiting White's Pediatrics, bring the total to around 2,700 sack lunches. This was over 9,000 pounds of food!  In addition, we gave supplies to the nurse at Pleasant Grove Elementary, along with other essential help.

Through our Operation Mercy Drops grant program, Pleasant Grove awarded 12 grants totaling $12,000.  There were 6 hardship awards to help people in need, 2 merit awards to honor people who are doing admirable things in our community, and 4 service awards to help special community organizations continue their good work to help people in our community.  

Looking Forward to 2023

I believe God has great things in store for our church in the coming year.  We are privileged to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus Christ to our community.  I want to mention a few things that we can expect for 2023.

One Morning Worship Service
First of all, we will combine our two morning worship services back into one starting next Sunday.  We will continue to have our live, online service at 10:55 AM but we will only have one in-person service, which will be at 10:55 AM.  I believe this will bring more unity to our congregation, as we all meet together again in one service for worship.

Easter Program
Second, we will have an Easter Cantata patterned after the Christmas cantata which was so successful.  Families from our congregation will tell the Easter story from Scripture in cooperation with the beautiful music of our choir.  

Children's Ministry
Third and very important, we will focus on children’s ministries in 2023.  I am excited about the idea David and Amy Crawford have to start a puppet ministry.  They had so much fun using puppets for our summer VBS, they took the initiative to build a set in a class upstairs above our fellowship hall that they plan to use regularly during the children's church time to have a puppet program for kids.

But we must also do more to invite more families with kids into our church for regular meetings.  The HR team is already considering how to get some training for our church about how to revamp and invigorate our children’s program and bring in more families and kids.  This is critical to our calling from Christ to make disciples.  We have an important opportunity with children that we cannot pass up.  We have to do better than we've been doing.  

We are also going to need more volunteers to help with children in the puppet ministry, in Sunday school, on Wednesday nights, and in children’s church.  Could you help?

We believe our church wants to vote about disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church over issues related to Scripture and human sexuality.  We have been working through that process and will continue to work through it in 2023.  Unfortunately, the out going Bishop of the North Georgia Conference announced a "pause" on December 28th (a few days before she left our conference to be reappoint Bishop of the Virginia Conference).  This "edict" has disrupted our disaffiliation process (along with hundreds of other faithful congregations across our conference).  We are in communication with other churches and conference leaders to decide what will be our response.  We hope that the conference will be open to cooperate with churches who are faithfully following the process that was approved by General Conference and our own annual conference and conference board of trustees.  We will do whatever we can to ensure that our congregation has a fair chance to voice your desires to either remain in the UMC or to disaffiliate from the denomination.

I am calling on everyone in our congregation to join with hundreds of other faithful Methodists across our state who are praying and fasting to prepare for the difficult road ahead.  I invite you to choose one day each week to pray and fast from sundown to sundown.  For example, I am taking Tuesdays, to pray and fast.  I will eat dinner Tuesday before 6 PM and then only have water, juice, or coffee until Wednesday night at 6 PM.  During the fast, you are asked to pray that our hearts will be right with God, our attitude and motives will be pure, and that the conference will cooperate with churches discerning a path forward that leads them away from the UMC, and that God will make a way for His Methodist people to walk faithfully with Him--whether inside or outside the UMC.

Pray for New Church Leaders

Finally, I call on you to pray for all the church leaders from our congregation who have been elected to serve in 2023.  Here are the names of those who have been elected:  


Chairperson of the Church Council – Tom Dickson

Vice Chairperson – Mike Wilson

Secretary – Amy Harris

Treasurer – Jeff McDonald

Finance Chairperson – Kevin Roberts

HR (SPRC) Chairperson – Elaine McDonald 

Board of Trustees Chairperson – Marcus Blalock

Pastor – Rev. Chris Mullis

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

Assistant Lay Leader – Bill Caylor

Lay Delegate to Annual Conference – Mike Wilson 

Marketing Specialist – Donna Phillips

Youth Ministers – Amy Harris

Music Minister – David Crawford 

Children’s Minister – Tiffany Tankersley

Sunday School Superintendent – Debra Sloan

Church Council Members at Large: Harry Kelly, Dianne Caylor, and Mara Cobble


Lay Delegate to Annual Conference – Mike Wilson

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

John Denson, Elaine McDonald (Chair), Jason Childers, Jimmy Brooker, Danny Cobble, and Diane O’Brien


Pastor – Rev. Chris Mullis (Chair)

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

Scott Ward, Bill Caylor, Sherry Dickson, Sallie Thomas, Amy Crawford, and Angel Kirk


Maribeth Reno, Jean Coker, Marcus Blalock (Chair), Becky Haley, Jon Adams, Lori Roberts, Mike Kirk, Kyle Marlow, and Scott Denson


Chairman – Kevin Roberts

Lay Member to Annual Conference – Mike Wilson

Chairman of Church Council – Tom Dickson

Human Resources Chair – Elaine McDonald

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

Chairman of Trustees – Marcus Blalock

Treasurers – Jeff McDonald, Donna Phillips

Financial Secretaries – Jean Coker, Teresa Marlow, & Debra Sloan

Finance Committee Members at Large:  Becky Ward, Bob Brooker, and Steven Weed

Operation Mercy Drops Committee

Mike Wilson, Salena Weed (Chair), Kelly Scruggs, and Andrea Adams


Vice Treasurer – Donna Phillips

Altar Guild – Kaye Fetzer

Church Historian – Rita Wagers

Librarian – Becky Ward

Nursery Coordinator – Laurie Wilson                    

Coordinator of Ushers – Mike Marlow

Sunday School Secretaries – Ron Phillips, Johnny Denson

Coordinator of Special Events – Marie Jordan, Angel Kirk, and Debra Sloan

Coordinator of Family Night Suppers – Angela Kirk

Prayer Coordinator – Sherry Dickson

Alternate Lay Delegate to Annual Conference – Laurie Wilson

Memorial Garden Committee – Elaine McDonald, Kaye Denson, and Jimmy Brooker

Coordinator of Scouting Ministries – Frank Fetzer

Affiliation Study Team (The A Team)

Debra Sloan, Elaine McDonald, Harold Brooker, Kay Denson, Kevin Roberts, Kyle Marlow, Mike Wilson, Salena Weed (Recorder), and Tom Dickson (Chair)

Disaffiliation Study Team (The D Team)

Bill Caylor (Chair), Jason Denson, Marcus Blalock, Maribeth Reno, and Rita Wagers