THE CONNECTION

 

March 2022 Connection

“Care Is Christian”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. 
Amen.
“Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
 
As I have shared openly before, I am grateful for the availability of mental health care, counseling, and psychotherapy (a technical word for talk therapy with a mental health provider) in my life and for the way it helps me to not only treat and control my depression and anxiety, but also for the ways that it can help me make the enormity of life and all of its chaos a bit more manageable. I sincerely believe that destigmatizing mental health and the care and treatment of it is one of the most important things we can do to care for the whole person.
 
And so, I say once again, if you are ever feeling as though it would be helpful to talk to someone about your mental health, there are a number of starting points. The first is that you can talk with your primary care provider (the doctor you go to most). They can help to point you in helpful directions for care that will best fit your needs. Also, it is not uncommon for our physical and mental health to overlap considerably. A second starting point is with me, your pastor. While I can offer pastoral care and limited counseling, I can also provide helpful referrals to mental health professionals who can be of considerable help.
 
As I share this, I am wanting to also share an experience that I had in my own counseling session just weeks ago. While talking with my therapist, I was describing how I responded, emotionally, to the experience of our family all having COVID-19. I happened to mention that I fought the temptation to react with frustration or exasperation, choosing instead to focus on naming what I could control verses what I could not control. For instance, I could not control that we were all sick at the same time. What I could control was my decisions to rest rather than work when time (and naps) allowed.
 
During this conversation, my therapist, Paul, reminded me of the serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and its reminder that there are things we can change, and things we can’t, and that the things we can’t change can actually teach us something about ourselves and perhaps even our faith. And so, he asked the question: “What did you learn from having COVID-19, and will you share it with anyone?”
 
And so, my answer is this: I did learn something from the experience of having had COVID-19, and that is that life is fragile. And I don’t mean that in a doom and gloom sense. Instead, I mean that we are not invincible people who never need care, compassion and love. In a world that so often tells us to pull ourselves up, jump back on our feet and to get back to work, we need to be kinder to ourselves. We need to be kinder to one another. There is no weakness to be found in seeking help, and there is no weakness in naming that we have our limits.
 
Brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent when we turn our attention to our common humanity, let us reflect on the reality that we are all in need of God’s grace, we are all in need of one another’s kindness, and to care for ourselves as well as others is Christian!
 
Love for you,
Pastor Brian
 
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February 2022 Connection

Nervous While Preaching

While I was in seminary, I took a number of classes in homiletics, which focuses on the practice and ministry of preaching. One of my instructors was a pastor and preacher I greatly admire, Rev. Patrick Clayborn, who now pastors at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland – the first AME congregation, started by Richard Allen in 1785. I share that, not to lift myself up, but rather to give you a sense of the caliber of preacher Rev. Clayborn is. To say the least, I hung on his every word and instruction. I’ll never forget one evening’s class when he told us, “If you’re not nervous when you preach, then you’re not fully aware of what it is you’re doing.”
 
I’ve remembered this for years now, and I think about it regularly. His point was not to say that pastors ought to be trembling in their robes every time they preach, but rather that preaching is more than just giving a speech. It’s about sharing a reflection on the scriptures, and trusting – believing – that, if we are open to it, God will desire to speak through us. It’s also not to say that every word of every sermon
is gold! But at times, God can be revealed through the words of a prayerful and thoughtful sermon.
You see, if a preacher is aware of what they’re doing, nerves must enter into the equation. And so, when people ask if I’m nervous when I preach, my answer is yes. After years of doing it, the nerves don’t come out in shaking hands, necessarily, but rather in a focus on speaking more than just what’s on my mind,
but also what’s on my heart.
 
All of that said, my purpose of this article is to say “thank you!” When I started preaching on a weekly basis about 10 years ago, I quickly learned that it was something that I loved to do, and an aspect of my ministry in which I wanted to grow. I have fun when I preach! I enjoy laughing when I preach. I try to be
vulnerable when I preach. My hope is always to connect with others when I preach. But, ultimately, I pray that I am reflecting the love, grace, forgiveness, and good news of Christ.
 
So, now for the thanksgiving.
 
One particular gift of this congregation that I have been astounded by is your willingness to provide encouraging feedback to this preacher. I have lost count of the phone calls, emails, letters, and cards that I’ve received from so many of you remarking on one sermon or another. I also find it particularly touching when you share with me how a sermon connected with you. Again, none of this is to say that
I think every sermon I give is worthy of awards, let alone mention, but I hope that at least a few of them hit home.
 
I am forever grateful for your encouragement, for your reminders that my preaching matters in your lives and in the life of this church. I am thankful that I continue to have opportunities to learn new approaches to preaching and scripture interpretation, and I look forward to doing all of that along with you!
 
Nervous while preaching,
 
Pastor Brian
 
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January 2022 Connection

“Tomorrow”

Welcome to one of my shorter Connection newsletter articles. It’s not because I’ve grown tired of writing (it’s rare that I’m at a loss for words). Instead, I’m sharing with you a thought that will help us kick off the new year. It’s in the form of a question: “What do you hope that our church can be in the years to come?” As you consider that question, and formulate your own answer, let me offer two reminders: 
 
First, to authentically be the church, we cannot aim to be who we once were. Our God is one of transformation, a God who continues to call us into tomorrow without looking back. This doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from our past, but to desire to be only who we once were fails to see that we are the church in a new time with new needs and with new possibilities. 
 
Secondly, you are absolutely part of our tomorrow. Whether you’ve been in leadership positions for years, or have just begun a life with this church family, you are part of what God is doing in this church today as
we are led into tomorrow. The possibility of realizing your hope for our church in the years to come is dependent upon who you are ready to be for the church. God is calling each one of us – no exceptions – to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. For the church, today, to be the church tomorrow requires that we respond to God’s call in our lives with a resounding and energized “yes!” 
 
Will you join me in visioning and actualizing what we all hope this church can and will be for our community and world? Will you boldly step toward the potential of tomorrow’s new day without holding onto dreams of what used to be? Will you join me in a daily renewal of trust in God’s leading, calling, and creating?
 
What do you hope our church can be in the years to come?
 
Peace,
Pastor Brian
 
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December 2021 Connection

Already?

Is it possible that it is already December? Is it possible that Christmas is only 20 some days away? It can’t already be here, can it; the trees, the carols, the gifts, the dinners, the stillness? Can it already be Christmastime?!
 
Advent is a time of waiting, yes. But, more specifically, it’s a time of already-but -not-yet. We discover throughout the Bible, particularly in the New Testaments, reminders that Jesus’ presence in the world was the revelation of God’s kingdom. For instance, this familiar passage can serve as a good reminder:
“Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set
before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom
has come upon you.” -Luke 10:8-9 (CEB)
This is what is meant by “already.” God’s kingdom, for a brief time came and dwelt among us. God took on human flesh and it was through Christ Jesus that we discover that divine love in a very real and tangible way. We call it the gospel – the “good news.” This is what we celebrate at Christmastime. We celebrate God’s revelation to us through the baby Jesus who would grow up, teach, preach, heal, and bring forgiveness and grace to all of God’s creation. We sing a familiar hymn, uttering the question, “Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I Am?” This is the already-ness of it all.
 
And still, not yet. Christmas is all about the already – God’s Kingdom realized in Jesus Christ. But Advent, the season of waiting that leads us toward Christmastime is about that Kingdom of God that is not yet fully realized.
Think of it a bit like a preview at the beginning of a movie. We’d never watch the preview and make the assumption that we’ve seen the entire movie. There is no way that the totality of a 2 hour movie could be completely relayed to an audience in 2 minutes. It’s not that we’re not watching parts of the movie, but there is still far more to realize, understand, and discover when we watch the full length version of the movie. The already-ness of Christmas is like the preview. We see Christ revealed to us in Jesus. We experience his love and grace in a way that helps us to better know the fullness of God, and yet the kingdom of God is not yet fully realized, actualized, or brought into being. This is what we are seeking in the time beyond Christmas.
 
Let’s look at it from one more angle. For Christians, the church year begins with Advent. This year, that began on November 28th and continues until Christmas Day. This is the not-yet time. This is a time of waiting in which we acknowledge that we are in need of God’s Kingdom. On Christmas Day, that gracious gift of God’s Kingdom is celebrated in the form of a child born in Bethlehem. The rest of the Christian year, we remember the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of God’s kingdom come. We celebrate God’s continued presence through the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, giving thanks that God still remains with us. And beyond that, we follow God’s leading through the Spirit to move toward the full realization of God’s kingdom come! We do this by sharing God’s grace and love in the world – a grace and love made evident through Christ, and evidenced through the grace we embody and the good we contribute to the world.
 
Advent is a time of already-but-not-yet. It is a time when we look forward to what we know can be. We celebrate the glimpse of it that will be revealed in Jesus Christ, and we pray for the day when we look around and see that God’s kingdom is now. So be it!
 
Pastor Brian 

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November 2021 Connection

Canned Thanksgiving

If you’ve sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner before, you’ve probably been exposed to the activity of going around the table to name something for which you are thankful. As a kid, we’d do this with our little family of four, along with any immediate relatives who happened to travel in that year. As the youngest in the family, it was always up to me to go first. I’m not sure if this was a privilege extended to me as if I’d won some form for family lottery that I wasn’t aware of, or if it was just everyone else’s way of making sure that they had a few extra seconds to come up with something that they were (1) willing to share out loud, and (2) would make them look extra thankful! But there I was with not one moment to prepare: “Brian, what are you thankful for?”
 
I don’t recall what my answers were, but I suspect it was probably something as profound as “family” or “my friends.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that those topics of gratitude are any less deserving of being named, but they felt so canned! It’s like asking a kid what they’re favorite part of school is and they answer, “recess!” It’s true, I’m sure, but we were looking for something a bit more…original.
 
And so, I’d blurt out my answer, “family,” only to be outdone by the next answer that recalled the memorable family trip from earlier that summer! Constantly being outdone in my gratitude, I was determined one day to have a big family so that I could be the last one to express my thanksgiving at the Thanksgiving table and bring the masses to tears with my thoughtful response!
 
Do you see the twist coming?
 
Now, as the adult and parent, I am oldest in our household (by 3 months, mind you). It’s MY turn to look on as others nervously name their thanksgiving, all the while knowing that I’d be the last to go with the most touching, creative answer! I look around the table as our kids, one by one, name what they’re thankful for, and then, finally, it’s my turn. My answer: “Family.”
 
After 30 years of waiting for the opportunity to come up with a blow-‘em-out-of-the-water answer, and I come up with the same canned answer that I did when I was young enough to still need an apron to eat a decidedly “messy” dinner. What gives!?
 
What I think happened was this: the answer of “family” or “friends” – or any answer that might feel canned – was never really just a rote answer, but was instead an answer I didn’t fully understand until I grew older. “Family” was and is a perfectly good answer to the question, what are you thankful for? I just didn’t know it yet.
 
This November, or whenever you’re able to join others for a Thanksgiving dinner, remember that gratitude is not about outdoing one another in our thanksgiving, but seeing the value and meaning in the things that might otherwise go unnoticed.
 
What are you thankful for?
 
~Pastor Brian
 
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October 2021 Connection

Does Prayer Work?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” –  Philippians 4:6
 
Odds are good that you’ve heard my theology of prayer before, but in case you haven’t, I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version of it: Sometimes, we think about prayer as God’s newspaper. We let God know what is going on in our lives and in the world, and God chooses how to respond to the things we’ve made God aware of. The problem with this way of thinking about prayer is that it forgets that God is all knowing. In other words, God already knows the things we raise up in prayer long before we ever pray the words or think the thoughts. So, are we just wasting our breath with prayer? No! We’re not wasting our time or our breath. Rather, I believe that God uses prayer as a time for us to accomplish two things: (1) First, we
become more acutely aware of the needs of our neighbors and our world. Prayer forces us to come face to face with the celebrations and concerns of those around us. (2) Secondly, we become more intimately aware of what matters most to God, how God is responding in our world, and how God is (not “might be”) calling us to be God’s hands and feet in the world, responding to needs.
 
With that understanding of prayer, let’s ask the question again, “Does prayer work?” Our good Christian instincts might have us shouting, “YES!” but let’s think through why it is. In Philippians, we are encouraged to lift every petition, thanksgiving and request to God. We are to do this in all situations, even those that might cause us anxiety.
 
As I’m writing this, I’m only 22 hours removed from praying inside an ambulance as our one year old daughter, Jane, was being taken to the hospital following a 5 minute seizure during which this scared-half-to-death dad held her in my arms just hoping and praying that her breathing would continue. As we were rushed to the ER, I remember looking out the backdoor window, trying to determine how far away
we were, only able to pray the deep guttural prayers – the kind for which no words can be found. I firmly believe God heard my prayer, even though I wasn’t sure what I was praying, exactly. As I stood by her gurney in the ER bay, surrounded by doctors and nurses, I texted a quick prayer request to some clergy friends of mine who I was supposed to be with on retreat. For that whole afternoon, I received messages that they were praying for us. With only Stephanie, Jane, and I in the ER room waiting for test results, we felt an acute awareness that we weren’t alone in that moment. Not only was God’s Spirit present with us, but so were the spirits of all who were praying. As our prayer request made its way to the church prayer
chain, we immediately began feeling as though we were surrounded by our church family.
 
So, how did the wordless prayers of a frightened dad work? Or the prayers of a near breathless mom hurrying from her office to the ER? Or the prayers of friends and church families? How did they work? I believe that it was those prayers that helped to remind Stephanie and I that we weren’t alone in a scary moment. It was those prayers that allowed God to dispatch so many words of love, support, care, and concern from so many who love us. It was those prayers that bolstered the energy of doctors, nurses, techs, EMTs, and hospital staff, and reminded them of the sacred task of life and compassion to which they, too, are called. It was those prayers that made space for the hand of God to be laid upon a little girl who was scared and not feeling well.
 
But, What About When the Prayers Don’t Seem to Work?
Even as I write this, I’m sitting in the living room defending my keyboard from the alsdkjfskldfjskdjf energized fingers of the same little girl who is now feeling much better, and my heart is aching for those
parents whose experiences are not as reassuring, or medical emergencies without good outcomes. Did
prayer not work there? Did God simply not care enough? Did God forget to bolster the energy of the
doctors, or were the prayers of friends and churches just not effective? It can be tempted to think that,
can’t it? But notice that it was never about God interjecting in the situation to defend certain nerve-endings in Jane’s brain and not in other children. It was never about God’s preference for one child or another, or the sins of the parents visited upon the children. As much as it breaks my heart to say, there are times when the body does not work the way it is supposed to. Sometimes microscopic cells misbehave, and sometimes accidents occur because the laws of physics always remain constant. Sometimes the amazing accomplishments achieved though chemotherapy work, and sometimes it’s just not enough or in time.  These aren’t things I say lightly, but things we must acknowledge.
 
And so, when our hearts break in this world, we find comfort in God’s dispatch of those who have been
praying who now surround us in our grieving. We find comfort that the peace we’ve prayed for is still
possible, and that suffering is no longer endured.
 
It’s never that our prayers didn’t work! Prayer just doesn’t work that way! The joy of prayer is that we become more connected to one another and to God, and God becomes more connected to us! And when we are connected in that way, we can journey every storm…together.
 
Pastor Brian
 
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September 2021 Connection

If you remember back to the August Connection, reading part 2 of 3 of our story about the fictional “Cheer Team,” you’ll remember that we left our TBall parents, Courtney and Dave having a night’s-end conversation about the church-sent cheerleaders who had a pretty great mission: make sure every
kid had someone cheering them on! You might also remember that, thus far in our example of a different kind of evangelism, no pamphlets have been given, no bullhorns made an appearance, and the book of Habakkuk remains unquoted! This must be a different kind of evangelism! Well, let’s see what
happens next!

Checking In On Our Family:

A couple more games have been played since we listened in on Dave and Courtney’s conversation about the church’s Cheer Team, and you better believe, that Cheer Team was present for each one of those games. Dave, sitting in the stands for each of the games, got to know the cheering churchgoer better and better. Finally, during the last game of the season, one of the Cheer Team members who has come to know Dave better and better offers these daring and bold words of evangelism. “Dave it was really
great to meet you! You have a great family! I wanted to let you know that if you ever want to come by our church on a Sunday, we’ve always got room in our row, and we’d be happy to sit with you guys!”
Okay, well, those words weren’t too bold, I suppose. But, consider how it would have felt like to make that invitation without ever having met, talked to, or learned about Dave. Awkward, right?! When we take time to build relationships with folks, invitations to church become much easier, and are actually received much better. Think about what keeps you a part of GBUMC. I’d be willing to bet that relationships, of some form, have something to do with it, right?

Fast Forward A Few Weeks…

It’s been a few weeks since the baseball game ended. Our Cheer Team member hasn’t seen Dave, Courtney and their son, Michael, since the T-Ball season ended, but he thinks about them from time to time and remembers them in his prayers, at least. But, one Sunday, Dave, Courtney and Michael walk into the sanctuary about 5 minutes before the start of the service. They take a seat at the back of the sanctuary in the first empty pew. Without hesitation, our Cheer Team member quietly walks up to them and asks if he could join them (did you catch that…he met the visitors where they were – in their comfort zone).

What Then:

Our mission as a church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world . Sometimes that can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Is that something I can even do? The answer is yes, and sometimes it’s as easy as going and sitting in the bleachers in order to make sure kids have someone cheering. It’s as simple as getting to know someone in order that a relationship can form and a sincere invitation can be made. It’s through evangelism – no longer a scary word, I hope – that we
can grow God’s kingdom, and make the world a little better place.
 
~ Pastor Brian
 
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August 2021 Connection

Last Time, on Pastor Brian’s Newsletter Article:

Every evening, Grand Blanc’s Bicentennial Park is flooded with families all summer long. We’re talking kids of all ages, parents, grandparents, aunts uncles, etc. And they’re all there for the same purpose: little league sports! Now, imagine you’re part of a group from Grand Blanc UMC that commits to going to some of the games, all the while wearing a shirt with the Church name on the front and the words “Cheer Team” on the back. When you arrive at the fields, you simply sit in the stands and do the best job in the world: cheer on the kids! Now, one or two nights would pass by with out much comment, but eventually, a parent walks up to you and says, “Someone was here yesterday and the game before with that same shirt on. I’m just curious.” Your response is this simple: “Oh, yeah! I’m from Grand Blanc United Methodist Church. We’re really wanting to commit ourselves to caring for families in our community, and we thought an easy way to do that would be to make sure that every kid here would have at least one more person cheering them on.”

Evangelism, Right?

This is where we left our intrepid “Cheer Team” member in June’s article as we talked about the often-feared word, “evangelism.” Once more, my hope is that this word has shed some of the baggage it often comes with. Evangelism, after all, is simply the sharing of God’s good news. Sounds right up our alley, doesn’t it? So, how is cheering on little leaguers from a bench full of proud parents and even prouder grandparents evangelism? Let’s continue our story.

Continued…

After hearing the reason for church members gathering to cheer on kids to whom they are not even related, the parent turns and says the words almost no one associates with evangelism: “That’s great! Thanks for doing that!”
 
As the game continues, our cheering member keeps cheering on the kids, our curious parent does the next most surprising thing. He starts to tell our cheerleader a few things: “By the way, my name is Dave and my wife, Courtney, is the coach. That’s our son at first base, Michael.”
Pretty normal still, isn’t it?
 
With all of the courage in the world, you’re now ready to become a true evangelist. You turn to Dave and say, “It’s great to meet you guys. It’s been a long time since our kids played little league. It’s a real blast from the past sitting here again.”
 
Despite my feeble attempts at humor, did you notice that this conversation had between our Cheer Team church member and Dave sounds a lot like any other conversation you’ve ever had with anyone?! No pamphlets were handed out, scripture from the book of Habakkuk wasn’t recited by memory, and the bullhorn and floppy-paged Bible never made an appearance. But, still, it was evangelism.

How Was That Evangelism?

I’m happy you asked! (You did ask, didn’t you?) You see, you would likely never identify this bleacher-based conversation as evangelism, simply because 99.9% of people think of evangelism as a I’m-gonna-push-my-religion-in-your-face kind of thing, rather than a relationship kind of thing. But, this really was evangelism! This conversation, believe it or not, did share God’s good news with someone else. To see what I mean, listen in on this conversation had between Dave and Courtney after they got home from the baseball game, put kids to bed, and kicked their feet up for the evening:
 
Dave: (Using the remote to find their current binge-worthy show): Hey Courtney, did Michael go down okay? I think the snack that one of the moms brought had him pretty sugared-up!
 
Courtney: It took a little while, but he finally settled down. Then he looked at me and said, “Mommy, you’re the best coach!” You know, I didn’t really think I would like coaching, but I really do! I don’t really know what I’m doing, but its fun! And he says things like that!
 
Dave: (Laughing in agreement): You’re doing a great job. A bunch of the parents were talking about how great you are with the kids. By the way, did you see that guy from the church?
 
Courtney: If he wasn’t picking dandelions, you’ll have to be a bit more specific.
 
Dave: He was sitting next to me. He and his wife are from the Methodist Church, I think it was, and they just go and cheer on kids at the games.
 
Courtney: That’s kind of weird.
 
Dave: (Laughing) No! It’s a whole bunch of them. They try to go to every game. He told me that it’s their goal to make sure that every kid has someone to cheer them on.
 
Courtney: Okay, that’s actually kind of sweet.
 
Dave: They even had shirts! I don’t know, I thought it was cool!
 
For now, we’ll just leave Courtney and Dave in their living room and check in with the next article. But 2/3 of the way into the story, we have Dave and Courtney, young parents, feeling good knowing that there are people from a church nearby who care enough about kids to make sure every kid has someone cheering them on. Sounds like good news to me. I’m pretty sure Jesus would approve.
 
And that, friends, is evangelism done well. More to come next time.
 
Pastor Brian
 
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July 2021 Connection

“An ING Kind of Church”

ING

I remember years ago while watching the Superbowl, there was a commercial that came on somewhere between the Budweiser Clydesdales and a Doritos ad that caused quite a bit of confusion. That commercial was for something called “ING.” The commercial simply showed a pristine park on a beautiful spring day with a park bench that simply displayed the letters “ING.” An intrigued passerby asked the gentleman sitting there on the bench, “What is ING?” The gentleman simply shrugged his shoulders. Then, fade to black. No answer, no information, no catchy jingle to play in your head for the next three
days. Just those three letters: “ING.”
 
Almost immediately, conversations online began: what is ING? It began to trend as a top search on Google.com and eventually, you found yourself down the rabbit hole of ING U.S., an investment and retirement group. A commercial for a company that would have likely served as the Superbowl half-time bathroom break suddenly turned into the talk of the town, asking the same question as the commercial’s passerby: “What is ING?” 

The “E” Word

The word “Evangelism” has garnered for itself a bad reputation. Maybe it’s due to the seemingly endless number of times we’ve been subjected to the street corner signs reading “Repent” and “Are you going to heaven?” while the bullhorn guy shouts about hell while waving a well-worn leather Bible. Or maybe we’ve simply received too many tract pamphlets that serve more to instill fear about salvation rather than hope about God’s grace. Was it the distrust instilled by televangelists like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? Or maybe the images of the hate spread by the few at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka,Kansas. But I want to introduce to you the idea that “Evangelism” is, in actuality, a wonderful thing and something that ought to be part of our practice as a church…just maybe not in the way you might think.
 
Let’s start with the word itself. The word “Evangelist” is derived from the Latin,“Evangelista” which literally means, “bringer of good news.” Hard to be upset with that, right? You’ll discover within the word an even more familiar one: Ev-angel-ist. Do you see it? Even the word “angel,” with its meaning of “messenger,” is
part of this idea of evangelism. Putting the etymology aside, “evangelism” is really just about being a messenger of good news! Again, hard to be upset with that, right?
 

Back to ING

It strikes me as interesting that ING’s marketing department was able to convince its budget manager to invest in a multi-million dollar Superbowl commercial that does not tell viewers what ING is all about! Oh, to be a fly on the wall of that meeting! But, consider the genius of it all. By giving almost no information – by refusing to begin with the tagline, what was sparked was interest. Interest in something that would have been otherwise ignored, no less!  It was a clever away of saying, “We’re here!” without inundating the audience right off the bat. It allowed the viewers’ interest, coupled with the power of internet search engines, to dive deeper – deeper than anyone would have otherwise.
 

An ING Kind of Church

Every evening, Grand Blanc’s Bicentennial Park is flooded with families all summer long. We’re talking kids of all ages, parents, grandparents, aunts uncles, etc. And they’re all there for the same purpose: little league sports! Now, imagine you’re part of a group from Grand Blanc UMC that commits to going to some of the games, all the while wearing a shirt with the Church name on the front and the words “Cheer Team” on the back. When you arrive at the fields, you simply sit in the stands and do the best job in the world: cheer on the kids! Now, one or two nights would pass by with out much comment, but eventually, a parent walks up to you and says, “Someone was here yesterday and the game before with that same shirt on. I’m just curious.” Your response is this simple: “Oh, yeah!  I’m from Grand Blanc United Methodist Church. We’re really wanting to commit ourselves to caring for families in our community, and we thought an easy way to do that would be to make sure that every kid here would have at least one more person cheering them on.”
 
That’s it! No pamphlets. No scripture passages to recite. Not even a commercial about our worship services. It’s almost like sitting on a park bench with ING printed on the back, except now it simply reads “Grand Blanc UMC.”

But Isn’t There More?

But isn’t there more? Sure, there is! But we’re not there yet. No one started an account with ING simply because they saw the commercial. The commercial sparked an interest. What comes next is the connection…and that will be next month’s article. But until then, let’s cheer!
 
~ Pastor Brian
 
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June 2021 Connection

Traditions: The What, the Why, and the That

Each summer, my family would take a two-day road trip out east to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts for a few weeks of vacation. This was all due to the beautiful gift of tradition my grandparents gave to our family when, in 1960, they bought a small little gingerbread cottage in the Oak Bluffs campground. It was there that we’d gather just about every summer with friends, traditions and memories. One tradition we had, no matter the circumstances, is that we’d listen to Carly Simon’s song, “Never Been Gone,” a song she’d written while on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, as we’d disembark the ferry with our feet planted firmly on the island home.
 
The list of traditions went on from there, of course! Pancakes at Linda Jean’s restaurant, rides on the Flying Horses Carousel, one of the oldest remaining carousels in America (you can still catch the brass ring to win a free ride), fresh donuts at midnight from Backdoor Donuts, cookouts on the beach at the Menemsha fishing wharf, a last-night pizza at Giordano’s, etc. The list goes on and on.
 
The other day, I was driving down Center Rd toward Flint when I had this overwhelming desire to hear “Never Been Gone.” It has become a little trick of mine when I just need to escape for a few minutes. I swear I can smell the saltwater as the song plays. As the song played, I found myself remembering all the trips we took as kids, as teens, and even into adulthood to this home away from home. I remembered the many little things my sister and I would do with my parents each trip. I recalled the little traditions that somehow made these weeks away into an almost sacred time.
 
I also remembered how it felt when Stephanie and I first took our kids to Martha’s Vineyard when Matthew and Micah were just 2 years old. I began to smile as I thought about the traditions we’d created in subsequent trips – early morning walks, walking donuts (so mom wouldn’t find out), trips to the beach, and those same Flying Horses. But we’ve also mixed in new traditions. Things that will just be ours.
 
It’s funny how traditions work, isn’t it? We rarely know that they are traditions when they’re being formed. It’s later as their repetition becomes meaningful that we realize their importance. However, that being said, I often wonder what is most meaningful to us about traditions? Is it the activity or action being repeated, or is it what that activity or action represents to us? I realized as I listened to Carly Simon sing that the latter is the case. The song is beautiful, and it will always be one of my favorites. But as I hear it, I can still picture my dad driving off of the ferry. I can still smell the coffee my mom would brew in the morning. I can still hear the carousel music play in the background, and feel the sand between my toes. For me, that song will always be about family. It will always be a meeting place for me and my dad’s memory. It will be played at family gatherings and everyone will just have to suffer for a moment as my mom, sister and I sing along at the top of our lungs.
 
The same is with traditions in the church. We base traditions on actions and activities: the singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve; the movement of an action item from one committee to the next for votes and vetoes; choirs, classes, and more. The truth, though, is that over time, the actions we take may change. They have before, and they will again. But that doesn’t mean that the traditions disappear or that we’re being less faithful than those who took charge before us. It means that the tradition of faith is not wrapped up in what we do or even how we do it. Instead, the tradition of faith is wrapped up in that we do it: that we worship, that we serve, that we give, that we share, and that we witness.
 
I am immensely grateful for those who have been a part of the tradition of the church. Though the way we serve as a church may change as we discover, evolve, and grow, the tradition remains the same: faithfulness.
 
Peace,
Pastor Brian
 
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