Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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Happy Father's Day

Happy Father’s Day weekend, Dads! Whether you are a Dad by blood or a dad by choice, a dad to your children, or to members of your community, we’re grateful for the way your Fatherhood can mirror the love of God. We know that just as with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is not the easiest holiday for all of us. If today is difficult because you are missing your dad, or you have an estranged relationship with your father or your children, or you have lost a child, our hearts are with you. We give thanks for a loving parent God who walks with us in these difficulties. Know that you are not alone.

Our relationships with our “families of origin” are often the places where we learn how best to approach the world and others- for better and for worse. This is certainly true of my life. I am grateful for the ways that both my mom and dad and my relationships with them, have taught me about relating to the world. As I thought about Father’s Day, I reflected with gratitude on the person my father is. My dad and I are incredibly similar. We are both passionate, sensitive, opinionated people. (We even look the same- see below!)

My dad is incredibly outgoing and has never met a stranger. He is a lover of food and coffee and has a deeply compassionate heart. I used to unconsciously twirl my shoes with my toes, just as he would. The similarities run deep! Most of the things I’ve inherited from my dad, I count among my strengths. I am grateful to share strong genetics and these great qualities with him. But our similarities can sometimes turn small misunderstandings into big conflicts when our sensitivity and opinionated natures get the best of us!

When I step back and realize how similar my dad and I are, I can reflect with empathy on our common goals and shared love. This process of conflict and reorientation through empathy has taught me a lot about being a good friend, roommate, and pastor! When I step back and react with empathy to a difficult situation, I’m reflecting on the healthy things I’ve learned from my dad and in my family of origin. Being in a relationship with others, including our own family, even in difficulty, can help us be better Christ-followers.

This is the message that Paul has for the Ephesians in our verses for this Sunday. While the Ephesian church was healthy, it was not perfect. There were certainly conflicts that had arisen among their membership. Throughout the book, Paul is urging them towards unity, but also unity through empathy. As they reflect on the grace they have been given, they can offer others grace in their imperfection, too.

This weekend, we’ll hear a practical message about sharing this grace in conflict. But this is not the only place our empathy can extend. Empathy can help us live as better conflict managers, but also as better neighbors.

Tomorrow our country will celebrate Juneteenth, which is now a national holiday marking the emancipation of slaves in the state of Texas on June 19th, 1865. While the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1st, 1863, slaves in Texas did not hear about it until June 19th, two and a half years later. For many African Americans, June 19th is a holiday of freedom and celebration, representing a time of long-awaited rescue.

If this is not our cultural experience, we can reflect with empathy on times that our families of origin have experienced freedom or the feelings we may have about the Fourth of July. This week, the Senate voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and one we can all learn about as we continue to make our world a place of freedom for all.

Conflict, neighboring, and family of origin relationships all take a lot of grace and empathy. So, this weekend, I challenge you: lean into your empathy muscles as we celebrate Juneteenth and Father’s Day, and as we explore the nature of conflict together with Paul.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Allee

Posted by Allee Willcox with

Time to Disconnect

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
Just reading the above verse brings a sense of peace and calm to my heart. Maybe you feel the same. There is something so gracious, so reassuring about this promise of Jesus, the promise of rest in his presence. I feel the same way about the words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” 
One of the realities of pastoral ministry is that it is a 24/7 kind of vocation. It’s not just that we can get a call at any time of day or night and need to respond, although that is true enough. But also the work and demands of producing sermons, teaching classes, writing devotions, “E-Letters” like this, are something that occupies your mind all the time. In a way, that is a good thing. I talked about my creative process for worship and sermon prep each week for our recent podcast. Because I plan out themes and topics for messages for long stretches at a time, it enables me to notice things that I read, hear on the news, or see in a movie or any ordinary experience to become potential “grist for the mill” that is theological and biblical reflection. That is one of the many exciting parts of ministry.
However, at the same time, it can also become draining. Doing this work week after week, year after year, can catch up with you. No matter how hard you try to maintain a healthy balance and rhythm to life and ministry, there comes a time when you need an extended period to disconnect from the demands and the routine of daily ministry and recharge your spiritual and vocational battery. Fortunately, in recognition of this reality, the Book of Discipline of the UM Church includes recommendations for renewal leaves for the spiritual renewal and refreshment of clergy from time to time. 
Back in December of 2019, I began a conversation with our Staff Parish Relations Committee about taking this leave and they graciously agreed this would be a good thing for me to do. Then, in January 2020, the Church Council approved this leave as well. My plan was to be gone last summer for 6 weeks. But with the Covid outbreak and all that managing that crisis entailed, it was not the right time. 
Now the time has come, and it couldn’t be coming at a better moment. I’m so grateful for how Suntree Church has weathered the challenges of the last year. I’m so grateful for all we have accomplished in our Finish Strong campaign over the last month. I’m so grateful for a loving and supportive church family and an amazing staff team. It has also been an especially challenging season which makes being able to step away for a bit especially appropriate and helpful. 
I will begin my leave officially on June 13 (my last day in the office will be June 9) which is right after Annual Conference. I’ll be away from the office for 7 weeks, with the last week being a work-from-home week, doing long-range worship and message planning for the Fall. During part of that time, Scott and I will be traveling and exploring some of our National Parks out west. There is nothing like being in the beauty of nature to restore my soul and renew my strength. We will spend some time with family and hopefully plenty of time on the water, both on Lake Hartwell and on the ocean. I will read books for both fun and spiritual enrichment! I will journal, pray, reflect and be still, listening for the still small voice of God that always speaks when I’m still enough to hear it. I will attend a silent retreat. And I will return on August 1 renewed, inspired, ready to re-engage with you in mission and ministry. The staff knows to be prepared since usually, even after just a week or two away I come back with all kinds of new ideas and inspirations for ministry. Imagine what that will be like after 7 weeks? I can’t wait!
In the meantime, I am so grateful for an amazing staff and pastoral team and lay leaders that will manage ministry in my absence. I trust them completely and know you will all be in very capable hands! 
Again, I’m so very grateful for this opportunity. It’s been 10 years since I’ve taken such a break and it is time. I know it is a privilege that I don’t take for granted so thank you for your support in this. 
Finally, this Sunday in worship we will be continuing in our “Immeasurably More” message series and we will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. If you are worshipping at home or while you are traveling, be sure to set a communion table with bread and cup before you join us online. We will be reflecting on the prayer found in Ephesians 3:14-21, the enormity of God’s love and grace in our lives, and the power of God to do “immeasurably” more in us as individuals and as a church. We will also be announcing the total commitments to our Finish Strong Campaign and the total of our First Fruits offerings. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it! 
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Annette

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