Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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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 

Pastor's E-Letter 06/19/20

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Dear Church Family,

 Last Saturday, I attended a small, outdoor wedding for a very dear friend, a covenant sister of over 25 years. Have no fear. We were appropriately socially distanced. But as all my covenant sisters agreed, nothing was going to keep us from celebrating this incredibly joyous occasion. One of my covenant sisters officiated the ceremony where she read from Isaiah 43, “But now, thus says the Lord, he who created you…he who formed you…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” And then later in the chapter, “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.” And we all wept with joy at the power of God to redeem, to transform pain into strength, sadness into joy, heartbreak into a new, abundant, joyful life. That is exactly what God had done and is doing in the lives of the two who were joined in a loving marriage that day. God was and is transforming grief into joy, heartache into life. 

 Of course, we also heard and experienced those words and the gift of that moment, against the backdrop of the ongoing pain and struggle that we are experiencing in our world. I marveled at the ways that God shows up, the ways that God works even in the most difficult of seasons, to bring joy, hope, life. It was a beautiful reminder to continue to look for what God is doing for our good in every situation. So much of life is a beautiful mixture of joy and hope amid pain and sadness. And in all of it, God is working.

 I also pondered this on Sunday afternoon as we said goodbye to the Allen family. What a gift they have been to Suntree UMC. What a joy it has been to watch Augie and Mary lean into God’s call and do everything they could to prepare to take this next step. I can’t deny that my heart was filled with joy and anticipation for all that God is doing in their lives while, at the same time, being sad over having to say farewell. We will miss them greatly. 

 Also, this week the staff said farewell to Pearl Laravea, our Director of Communications. Pearl is leaving our staff to pursue work that is solely focused on her passion, graphic design. Fortunately, she will still be around as she is not moving. But again, we will greatly miss Pearl’s presence on our staff team. She is such an amazing light of love and joy. Who else will walk down our halls and sing our names to us? 

 But we know that God will work for our good in these transitions. Nothing is outside of God’s care. So, we trust that as God blesses these folks in their new ventures, God will also bless the ministry of Suntree with new folks to carry God’s vision forward. 

 So, we are continuing the search for a Director of Outreach Ministry, which has already been posted. In the future, this position will be under the supervision of our associate pastor, Allee Willcox. In the meantime, Allee will be overseeing our Outreach Ministry along with several faithful servants who are working to ensure this ministry continues to move forward. 

 We are also currently re-imagining our communications position description to be sure that it reflects our current needs in the ever-changing world of communications. We will post that position opening soon. In the meantime, we are grateful to Morgan Wood, a member of Suntree UMC, and a teacher on summer break, who will be serving in this area on a part-time, interim basis over the summer. This gives us the time and space to hire the right person for the new position. 

 Transitions are hard for sure. But God uses transitions to move us on toward the new things that God has in store as we are open and welcoming of those changes. In all that faces us as a world, it is easy to lose sight of the ways that God is working. I pray we will trust and stay focused on God’s promise of new things, of ways in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. I pray we will look for and celebrate the joy of God’s redemption in Christ that is all around us, every day, always.  

Grace and Peace,

Annette Pendergrass