Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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Pastor's E-letter 9/13/19

During my first year in seminary, I spent a lot of time “church shopping,” which is a way of saying I visited a LOT of churches in the Raleigh-Durham area. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, but I did know if I spent time in lots of different spaces, I might find out. While driven by my spiritual seeking, I also learned during this time about a lot of different styles of worship. Later, I realized this varied “shopping” was a gift. After I graduated, I would be locked into worship at the church I was appointed to for most Sundays for the rest of my life. 

In my shopping, it became clear to me that my “must-have values” were the (at least stated) values of most churches. Most churches said they were Christ-following, loving, welcoming, missional. Most churches said they were interested in including everyone, seeking diversity, loving their neighbors and their enemies. But the differences were always in how they lived it out. The big mega-church had folks lined down the drive, waving as I pulled up to the warehouse-like building. The tiny church in downtown Durham had soft-spoken older men who greeted me at the door. The hip, artsy church had artisanal coffee and donuts and a stylishly dressed young adult at the door. 

All these formal processes were designed to help me feel “welcome”: seen and appreciated, known and loved. But sometimes, the only person I talked to was at the door, and it was obvious that I didn’t fit in after I sat down. Other times, desperate church-members fixated on me as the “young person,” making me feel foreign, too. It was often as though we were all fumbling around for a welcome but didn’t know how to do it. I experienced a lot of “hospitality” in that first year.

Finally, after a few months, I sort of settled into attending a church just a few minutes from my house. I noticed after my second or third time there that the usher would smile when they saw me and say, “Welcome back.” The woman who sat in the pew in front of me gave me a big hug and asked how classes were going. The pastor, in line for communion, always said, “We’re so glad you’re here today.” I never felt pressured, but I always felt seen and loved, welcomed and appreciated, not just by the formal church process, but by the whole church, from pastor to usher to parishioner.

When I pulled up to visit Suntree United Methodist for the first time, I saw your sign out front that said, “Everyone is welcome. Really. Seriously.” I remembered the other “welcoming” churches that I had been to in Durham and wondered if your culture lived up to your sign. Over and over again throughout the last year, I’ve been astounded and impressed at your genuine, loving hospitality. New members come because of that sign and stay because you mean it. You are dedicated to hospitality. You live it out as it should be lived. And you know that this is a value from the beginning of the Old Testament when God instructs the Hebrew people to “welcome the stranger,” all the way to the life, death, and resurrecting love of Jesus Christ. 

Because of this, this Sunday we’ll talk about what we think our sixth vow as members of this United Methodist Church is: welcome. We’ll talk about how our call to welcome and hospitality isn’t just for the pastor or the usher but is for everyone. We’ll read the story of Blind Bartimaeus and hear about how Jesus takes notice when no one else will. And we’ll be reminded that this is a need in our world: folks desperately want to be known, loved, seen, when the rest of the world would ignore them.

You all are gifted and ready for this work, and I can’t wait to do it along with you. 

See you Sunday,

Pastor Allee 

 

Posted by Allee Willcox with

Pastor's E-letter 8/6/19

It is so good to be back in the office after days and days of hurricane preparations and stress over where Dorian was going. Like all of you, I watched with horror as Dorian struck the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane and then parked itself over the islands for two whole days. I was praying as I know all of you were; for the people of these Islands, for their safety, for their sanity, for the comfort of Christ amid the storm. It was so hard to watch and feel powerless to do anything to help their pain and suffering.

Now, the storm has passed us. But as I write this, people along the coast of North Carolina are still in harm’s way due to storm surge, flooding, and tornadoes. It appears Dorian will be off the East Coast for several more days, wreaking havoc in its wake.

The question I have, and that I’m hearing from many of you is, “What can we do now? How can we help?” As we see the images coming out, especially from the Bahamas, we are driven to want to act and act fast. I understand those feelings as I feel the same way. So, the first thing I did yesterday was contact our Disaster Response Director for the Florida Conference and ask those same questions. Her response, in short, was pretty much what I expected and yet not as satisfying as I might want right now, “Give money and wait.” The fact is, Disaster response professionals must begin to assess the best way to respond. Infrastructure must be secured in order to bring supplies into the Islands and to be sure it can be distributed. All the experts I’ve talked to have said the same thing, “Please don’t start sending stuff, or anything, until we know exactly what to send, how to send it, and where to send it.” The quickest way to make a disaster more of a disaster is to respond without an appropriate plan in place. It might make us feel good to “do something” but the point in our response is not to make us feel good. The point is to help the situation.

So, we are awaiting further instructions. I know we are all tired of waiting. But for the time being, it is the right thing to do. But we don’t “do nothing” during our waiting. First, we continue to pray for the people of the Bahamas, those who are scared, hurt, and who have lost so much. We also pray for their leaders and those on the ground who are beginning to map out a response. Don’t take those prayers lightly. They make a difference.

Second, we can give, right now, to relief efforts that will be there, not just in the next days or weeks, but in the months and even years to come. The best way I know how to give is through UMCOR, our United Methodist Committee on Relief. When we give through UMCOR, we are assured that 100% of our gifts will go to relief and recovery in the Bahamas because all their administrative costs are covered through our regular connection giving to this ministry. The beautiful thing about UMCOR is that they are already beginning to coordinate their relief efforts with other organizations. And, UMCOR will not just be there during the initial crisis, but for the years of rebuilding that must follow. When others move on, UMCOR is still there. For example, right now, UMCOR is still working with those here in Florida who are recovering from hurricane Irma. In fact, when I spoke with our Conference Disaster Director, she reminded me that they are still looking for work teams to go to areas affected by Irma.

This Sunday, I invite you to give, above and beyond your usual tithes and offerings, to UMCOR for Hurricane Dorian relief. Just write your check to Suntree UMC and put “Hurricane Dorian “in the memo line.

As soon as we get more information about other ways that we can help, whether it is by collecting certain necessities or putting together work teams to go to the Bahamas, we will let you know. I know that you stand ready and waiting to help. That is who we are here at Suntree and I’m so grateful for that.

This Sunday in worship we will be focusing on our membership vow that calls us to be a “witness” for Christ in the world in word and in deed as we reflect on John 1:35-51. We will be specifically focusing on the importance of learning to share our experience with Christ with others in ways that invite them to “come and see” the grace and love of Jesus. Sometimes, we need to use our words, our stories and experiences of faith to help others find their way to Jesus. But as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Sometimes the gospel is best embodied through acts of love and service in the name of Jesus. This is one of those times. I’m so grateful to be a part of a church where that kind of witness is second nature as we seek to love our neighbors in extraordinary ways.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Grace and Peace,

Annette

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