Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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Showing items filed under “Annette Stiles Pendergrass”

When the Mountains Move Us

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4

Magnificent. Glorious. Majestic. It is hard to find the words that can truly describe the beauty, majesty, and wonder of the world that God created and continues to create. As Scott and I made our way from Colorado to Utah, to Wyoming, everywhere we looked were sights that took our breath away. One day we found ourselves hiking along a river in a canyon just outside of Denver. With the city just a mile away, the only sound we heard was the sound of the water rushing along the creek bed. Another day we would find ourselves hiking through the vast desert landscape of Arches National Park, dotted with mammoth red and orange rock formations created over thousands of years. It was there that I thought of Elijah when he fled to Mount Horeb and how, after days of rest and recovery, he stood outside the entrance to the cave waiting for the Lord to pass by and heard “the sound of sheer silence.” I remember getting out of the car at Grand Teton National Park and taking in the panorama of mountains before me and just weeping at their beauty. Then there was Yellowstone, with its astounding array of ecological diversity – everything from mountains to canyons, rivers, lakes, geysers, mud pots, travertine terraces, vast fields of wildflowers, and my personal favorite, the wildlife. 

 

With every view, I was taken out of my small, narrow, world of worry and stress and invited to dwell once again in the bigger picture of God’s incredible work and presence in the world. At every turn, I was reminded of the vastness and goodness of God’s creation and the power and majesty of God to which these majestic scenes point, which is what the Psalmist describes in Psalm 19. I thought also of Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” 

 

I began to let go of so much that I was carrying: burdens, stress, anxiety, hurts, disappointments. I began to dwell more in the deep goodness, beauty, and grace of life and the created world. And my heart was turned to wonder, to praise, and to worship of the God who made it all, holds it all, carries it all, (and without my help, I might add) and yet still cares for and walks with me, with all of us. How amazing is that? 

 

For me, moments such as those described here, naturally move me to worship. They move my focus away from me and toward the God of the universe who created heaven and earth, you and me, and sustains it all in love. This Sunday in worship we will be thinking about the importance of worship as a spiritual practice that first and foremost seeks to honor and praise God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all. Worship invites us to recenter our hearts and minds on the transcendence and greatness of God. At the same time, it shapes our hearts personally and it shapes us as a community that more clearly reflects the life and heart of Christ for our community. We are made for worship, and I believe we need worship so that our restless hearts can find our rest in the Triune God. 

 

I hope you will plan to join us in worship this Sunday, whether in person or online – where we will offer ourselves in worship to God and reflect on the power of that corporate action to lift our eyes to God, broaden our perspective and shape our hearts to conform more to the heart of Jesus. 

 

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Annette

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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