Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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Pastor's E-Letter 07/17/20

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Dear Church Family,

My mom often tells me that “the unknown” is my personal kryptonite. 

“The unknown” is specific- it isn’t necessarily a crisis, or a new thing. Both of those can be “known quantities,” and are easier to navigate for me. I love a good crisis plan, and I love moving or doing something that requires long lists of steps. In that way, disliking the unknown is often an asset for my leadership: I’m really good at making a plan. 

But the truest unknown is different. It is a void that we stare out into. It is, in so many ways, a characteristic of both everyday life and the larger conversations about life, too. Transitional times bring up big “unknown kryptonite.” I’m sure you’ve asked these questions, too. When will we move? Will I keep my job? Will I survive this illness? What will this look like a month, or a year from now? How will I go on after this person is gone? For parents and teachers this week, the questions are particularly painful and scary: how will my children go to school? Will they? Can I afford to stay home, or to keep them home? Will I, or my students get sick if we go back?

In that way, COVID-19 has been one giant unknown since day one, hasn’t it? 

This week on the podcast we talked about how things have changed for us since the pandemic began. Are we still afraid of the same things? How are we coping? What good have we seen? These questions feel especially important as the pandemic has found its current epicenter in Florida. (Be sure to check out this week's podcast- there is plenty of good happening at Suntree!)  

As I thought about these questions for the podcast, I realized these past few weeks are a transitional time in thinking for me as we began to turn our eyes towards the fall and our long-term planning. We wrote in our planning notes in March and April and May- surely we will be back by Easter, Pentecost, July 1st! Surely we will be done with this by the end of July. Yet, here we are. We are still living in a world indelibly changed by COVID. It is scary, and it is unknown. We can no longer expect to duck under the wave and avoid this season. 

This week in Genesis, we continue to explore the character of Jacob. You see, Jacob’s story is not unlike our own. For many chapters in Genesis, Jacob is on the run, fleeing what has come before and afraid of what comes next. He has slept in the desert with a rock as a pillow. He has fled Esau’s threats. This week, we read that he wrestles God. This symbolizes for so many the closeness with which God comes to us, even in the midst of our fear and fleeing. 

Yet even in all of Jacob’s unknown, he is paying attention. He encounters God again and again out on the run, as he makes crisis plan after crisis plan. He marvels at God’s presence. He wrestles with God in his anger and unknowns, and he comes away a changed man. For Jacob, this week marks a change in thinking, a transition towards reconciliation and his true calling. He is ready to set out into the unknown because he has wrestled with an ever-present God.

You may be ready to throw in the COVID towel. Me, too. You may be tired, afraid, cranky, or just plain sad. Me, too. But as we read Genesis this week, we hear God’s call to marvel at the ways the Lord is surely in our lives. We hear that God has always been the God who would come close enough to us to wrestle with our doubts and fears, and to walk with us in our deserts. While God’s truest character is fulfilled in Jesus, it is this moment in the Old Testament that seals God’s intimate character for me. 

The hope that I have as my thinking transitions to “long term coping,” instead of “crisis coping,” is that God is unafraid of my big emotions. God is showing up, drawing near, getting into the ring with me even when I don’t feel worthy or ready. God has never left our sides, but draws intimately near in all of our change and transition. 

Surely, the Lord is in this place.

Surely, the Lord is in the unknown.

We are not alone. 

Be safe, Pastor Allee

Posted by Allee Willcox with

Pastor's E-Letter 07/10/20

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Dear Church Family,

It’s good to be back with you after a couple weeks of vacation. Like everything right now, it was not the vacation I had planned for. The fact is that this summer, I was supposed to have an extended leave of 6-7 weeks that is part of the UM Book of Discipline’s prescribed leave for pastor’s for renewal and recreation every 6 years or so. I’ve taken two such leaves in the past 33 years of ministry, and, over the last year, I had sensed that it would be the most proactive thing I could do to remain fresh, spiritually strong, and healthy in order to continue to lead Suntree UMC into the future. But with the COVID-19 crisis, and the ever-changing nature of how we are trying to adapt ministry to this reality, it was clear that now was not the time for such a leave. 

Despite my disappointment over not engaging in my previous plans, the time away this year was especially helpful. In this season of COVID-19, it was the least “active” vacation I’ve ever had, which was hard for me. I like to do fun things on vacation! But what was good was the opportunity to simply rest, to disconnect from the stress of constantly navigating all the new ways of doing ministry, all the constant challenges, and simply be present, to myself, to God, to the beauty of God’s world, and to my family. I prayed, journaled, stayed up late and slept late, watched the birds from by mother’s front and back porches, and floated for endless hours on a raft on the lake. We made almost daily stops at the lakeside convenience store for ice cream, ate great meals, shared in great conversation with family, and I even finally finished my now withered copy of Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton in time to enjoy the Disney Plus screening of the hit musical (a highlight for my musical loving family)! 

In all of that, what I gained was perspective. In stepping back from the daily grind of all that is going on, I was reminded of the big picture of my life and what God is doing in the world. I was reminded that as hard as things are, God is not absent. God is working and blessing and loving and healing as only God can. The grace of Jesus is ever-constant and present, filling me with hope and even peace. And that work of Christ is not dependent on me (go figure)! I can step away, and the world keeps spinning, even during a pandemic! I know that is God’s point in commanding sabbath. But when it comes to some things, I am a slow learner. Fortunately, God is infinitely patient! 

So, I’m back, renewed, and ready to re-engage in God’s work. Of course, nothing has changed! Even while I was away, we had to engage in the hard decision of pushing the pause button regarding in-person worship. All the challenges were still waiting for me. But that is ok. I can see the challenges, at least for now, from a new perspective, and that is enough. God has been leading us through all this. God will continue to do so. That again, is enough. 

I’m also super excited to dive into our current message series, “All in the Family.” One of the things I love most about the biblical narrative is its brutal honesty about family relationships – which is what was so endearing about the 70’s television show from which we borrowed this series title. The biblical writers never shied away from the pain, strife, and conflict that winds its way through the first families of Israel. As we will see this week as we dive into the birth narrative of Jacob and Esau found in Genesis 25:19-34, it’s all there – everything from sibling rivalry to parental favoritism and family feuds in all their gory glory. 

But in all that pain and the conflict, we also discover the power of God at work to fulfill God’s promises. We discover an ever-present flow of grace and love that weaves its way through conflict and controversy with the power to bring healing and restoration to even the most fractured relationships. My hope is that as we dig into these family stories, we will discover the power of God’s grace weaving its way through our own far from perfect and often conflicted, family stories. Perhaps we can discover the ways that God’s love in Christ is more than enough when our familial love fell short of ever being enough. 

I pray you will join us in online worship this Sunday as we continue this journey. Remember that because of the audio issues with livestreaming worship from the sanctuary, (which we are working on) Traditional worship will be livestreamed from the Worship Center until the sound issues can be remedied. However, Tom and Robert will be leading traditional worship music as always. We appreciate your patience with this as we continue to sort through these issues. 

In the meantime, I pray you will have a chance to engage in some sabbath time that will enable you to renew and refresh in God’s presence. It’s an amazing what God can do in us when we stop long enough to let God do God’s work!

Grace and Peace,  Pastor Annette 

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