Investing in our church

Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

I have a mantra I shared with the staff when I came to First United Methodist Church Garland:

Not all my ideas are good ideas.

Not all good ideas come from me. 

Honestly, I don’t remember if I made this up or borrowed it from someone. Regardless, it still applies. 

A few weeks ago, Joey Fisher mentioned that the Finance Committee wanted to do a stewardship campaign to help fund repairs to our building and other facility costs. 

The language he wanted to use was investing in our church.

Frankly, I didn’t like it. It felt too … corporate … for my taste.

But I didn’t have another suggestion, so I suggested we think on it and try to come up with a better idea. 

In the meantime, I’ve come to be rather fond of the language of investing as relates to our church.

When I think investing, I normally think about my retirement savings.

But investing is so much more than money.

We invest our time in things that are important to us.

We invest ‘sweat equity’ in projects that matter.

Investing in our church is so much more than simply giving cash. 

We invest in our church by coming to worship and sharing together in song and word. 

We invest in our church by volunteering to cook, or clean, or set the table, for Wednesday WINDOWS. 

We invest in our church by helping to clean. 

We invest in our church by telling stories in Godly Play with the children. 

We invest in our church by just spending time with our sisters and brothers in the faith over a cup of coffee or tea. 

And yes, we invest in our church by giving money to support our shared mission together. 

Our Finance Committee and Board of Trustees have a heavy responsibility.

Our building is in need of maintenance and repair.

Our insurance bill is much lower than it has been in years past, but is still significant.

Facilities exist to facilitate our mission, and are not inexpensive.

So our Finance Committee is asking for a commitment of $100,000 this summer.

I am personally increasing my weekly giving by $50.00 through the end of the year, designating it to our facilities via the Building Fund.

I pray that everyone will consider what they can do to invest in our facilities as well.

For some of you, this will be an investment of time and elbow grease pushing the carpet cleaner. 

For others, this will be a financial contribution. 

For everyone, this will be a commitment to pray for the facilities and those who maintain them.

I trust the dividends from these investments will be counted for generations to come.

If you are not currently contributing to the operating expenses of our church, I encourage you to do so. 

Every little bit helps. 

I know it seems trite to say, “the price of a cup of coffee each day …,” but it is true.

Every little bit helps. 

Beyond one-time gifts, what helps most are recurring gifts. 

I have my gift set up to automatically charge my credit card twice a month. That works best for me.

For others, weekly, monthly or quarterly gifts are better. 

Having pre-configured, automatic giving through direct draft or on a credit card helps us plan better. 

Recurring giving levels out the seasonal ups-and-downs that stress our Finance Committee. 

Our congregation has a tradition of designating giving to Music Ministries, Student Ministries and other special funds. 

In normal times this is wonderful. But designating your gifts restricts what the Finance Committee is able to do when things are exceptionally tight. 

As important as youth and music are, we can’t have people in the building to sing and play without first paying our insurance and utilities. 

I encourage you to consider making designated gifts only after you’ve given to the general operating budget. 

Your gifts, any gifts, are sincerely appreciated, no matter how great or small. 

Our ministry in Garland is important. Your contribution to our shared ministry is important. 

Thank you for your gifts and tithes! 

Sometimes a light surprises

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Liminal space” is a popular phrase lately.

When I looked it up, this is the description I found: 

The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word ‘limen,’ which means threshold. To be in a liminal space means to be on the precipice of something new but not quite there yet. You can be in a liminal space physically, emotionally, or metaphorically. Being in a liminal space can be incredibly uncomfortable for most people. 

My life is that kind of place right now. I’m thankful that there is a different kind of liminal space.

Godly Play describes a place like this for the prophet:

“When God comes so close to them and they come so close to God, that they know what is most important …”

We, too, can come close to God and find healing and understanding.

Hymn writer William Cowper describes this space well: 

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while she sings: 
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings. 
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again 
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain. 

In holy contemplation, we sweetly then pursue 
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new. 
Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say, 
E’en let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may: 

It can bring with it nothing but he will bear us through: 
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people too: 
Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed; 
And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread. 

Though vine nor fig-tree neither their wonted fruit should bear, 
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks, nor herds be there, 
Yet, God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice; 
For, while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice. 

I hope you can find space for gratitude, trust, healing and rejoicing.

Getting ready

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Pastor for Children and Families

This week in children’s Sunday School, we are telling the story of “The Ark and the Tent.” 

It is a favorite story of our children that you can read in full in Exodus 25-31.

For those who may not be familiar with us, our curriculum is based on Godly Play, which makes use of simple, imaginative props to help our children not only ‘learn’ but also ‘experience’ the stories of the Bible. 

For “The Ark and the Tent,” we use a ‘desert bag,’ and how can you not love running your hands through a bag full of sand?

We build the tent out of many different, interlocking pieces of wood, a builder’s and puzzler’s delight.

We also use a basket of artifacts, the sacred pieces that go in and around the tent in the tabernacle, plus the many layers of roof.

So many pieces come together to help the people of God get ready.

I remember one of the first years we shared these stories with our children, we also shared them with any adults who wanted to come on Wednesday evenings.

The adults could have their own time of learning and reflection, and see this transformative way of storytelling and work.

I was the door person for this story and was able to listen and observe as the storyteller carefully added piece after piece, building the tent, adding more and more to help the people of God get ready.

At the end of the story we wondered, thought, and considered.

An adult exclaimed, “Why do they need so much to get ready?”

Why do we need so much to get ready for something like worship, or time with God, or drawing near to God?

It seems the opposite of what the people of God have been learning in the desert all these years, that God is not just here or there, but that all of God is everywhere.

So if God is so near, I wonder what is the purpose of such care in getting ready?

When else do we take this time to prepare?

A wedding. A new baby. Going to college. An important interview. A memorial service.

Perhaps we take the time when we recognize something important is going to happen.

We still tell the story of “The Ark and the Tent.” Maybe God is inviting us to get ready.

I wonder what kind of transformation is about to happen?

Let us draw near to the presence of God, and may we be ready for the future God holds.

Listening to God is not always audible

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

The desert us a dangerous place. 

“There is no food or water there. People can die in the desert.

“When the wind blows, the shape of the desert changes. You can lose your way.

“The sun is so hot that people wear many clothes to keep the sun from burning their skin.

“When the wind blows, the sand stings your face and hands. People need protection from the blowing sand.

“At night, it is cold, and you need many clothes to keep warm.

“The desert is a dangerous place. People do not go there unless they have to.”

This is the opening statement to several of the Godly Play stories.

First United Methodist Church Garland recently hosted Core Training for Godly Play.

I attended. Although I don’t have the privilege of teaching on the 2nd floor, as a member/staff, I like to know what/why something is going on in the church.

As a choir director, I tell my people, ‘It’s not only important to know your part, but what you are a part of.”

One of the reasons I am convinced that Godly Play is probably the best curriculum for kids is that it teaches kids to listen for God’s voice.

My heart is full knowing that God is working in and with each of us.

I’m thankful for [Pastor] Caroline [Noll] and all the 2nd floor personnel who are teaching our kids to listen for God’s counseling.

I would love to tell you about my experiences in the desert (in my soul) and how listening (not always audible) for God’s guidance, led me through.

Have you been to the desert? Let’s share!

Dr. Suess has a book titled, Ohthe Places Youll Go

Listening (not always audible) and trusting our God who is love, can lead you to a beautiful life.

This is what we at First United Methodist Garland teach.

This poem by Williams Cowper (pronounced “Cooper,”) expresses my heart overflowing: 

Sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings:

the light of one who rises with gentle, healing wings.

When comforts are declining, God grants the soul again

a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation with joy, we shall pursue

the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say,

let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but God will bear us through.

Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe the people, too.

Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed:

the one who feeds the ravens will give the children bread.

Though vine and fig tree neither their yearly fruit should bear,

though all the fields should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there,

yet God, the same abiding, through praise shall tune my voice,

for while in love confiding I cannot but rejoice.

Veggie tales

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

Can you feel God loving you? What does it feel like?

Sometimes we ask our children this in Sunday School after a prayer practice and a few moments of silence.

I love holding their responses in sacred space.

I love naming the belief that yes, we can experience God here and now, just like people in the Bible long ago.

What helps you meet God and know God’s presence?

It is summertime, and sometimes our minds go to church camp, mission trips and retreats.

Those are formation experiences for sure.

But what about in-between, during your regular week?

I wonder where you meet God in your daily life?

One that is new for me is poetry.

Now I am imagining that once you read that word poetry, you did one of two things.

Either you thought, “Really? Tell me more.”

Or, and in my imagination perhaps more likely, you tuned out, or made a face as if I mentioned your least favorite childhood vegetable.

Was it broccoli? Brussels sprouts?

Did you make the face? I used to make the face.

But what if poetry was like our childhood vegetable?

It wasn’t so much the vegetable’s fault as the fact that it was boiled into a tasteless pile of mush.

I remember trying to understand poetry in high school.

Sympathizing with Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,” tying it to a chair and beating the meaning out of it. 

Then some wonderful Godly Play trainers introduced me to some new storytellers.

Poets creating beautiful and powerful stories with more space on a page than words.

Irene Zimmerman, Danna Faulds, Mary Oliver and Jan Richardson are some.

I am drawn to their words because, like our children, I am introduced to the idea that God did not speak only to the prophets and pages of old.

God speaks today.

I am thankful for these writers, these servants, these gifted people who use their gifts to give witness to God’s unfolding story.

These poems are not scripture.

But some days the spirit of God leaps through them and helps me know that God is near.

That I am loved. That someone knows my story. That I am invited to be part of the story.

Poetry may still be your broccoli. Your Brussels sprouts.

So where do you go? What do you do?

How do you hear, see, listen, be still and know that God is near?

In scripture, song, worship, prayer, nature, community, silence?

I wonder which one is just right for you in this season. 

May you hear the invitation, join that circle of welcome, and feel God loving you.

The story continues

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor and Pastor for Children and Families

I’ve thought for a long time that it would be so cool to have a Godly Play room at my house.

Be careful what you wish for.

At the beginning of shelter in place, back when we didn’t know how long we’d be in our homes and under what circumstances, while many were hoarding toilet paper and canned soup and ice cream (I’m telling you … the freezer section was bare), I was hoarding stories.

I really didn’t know if I’d have access to the church building for a while, so I took a couple of rolling carts and empty boxes up to the second floor and brought home every Godly Play story that called my name that day.

Plus a few more.

As our ministries quickly transitioned to virtual spaces, we shared the Core Godly Play stories of Jesus, his life, the parables, and stories of the disciples.

Time passed, and as I wondered what we would do in the summer, a wise colleague suggested that I ask the children.

The kids of our church, who have been learning the stories and language of our faith in the style of Godly Play for six years now asked for deeper stories.

You see, there are the Core stories, that physically take up the top shelves of our space, as if the Bible opened up and the stories spilled out into the room.

Then we physically go deeper, to the lower shelves, to enrich and extend the core stories we now have as our foundation.

These stories are different.

For example, the story of Creation as presented in Genesis 1 is on the top shelf, a core story.

Genesis 2-3, the story of Adam and Eve, sits below and extends that story.

The story of the Great Family, the broad sweep of the story of Abraham and Sarah, sits on top, a core story.

Individual stories of Abraham, Sarah and Jacob sit below to extend that story.

As we’ve been telling these deeper stories on that middle shelf, I consistently wonder, Well what in the world happened to us?

The people of God get into some messes.

We rebel. We falter. We get angry.

We become fearful. We are embarrassed. We do not own up to our mistakes.

On the top shelf, it seems things happen to us and for us.

Now on this middle shelf, the people of God have gotten in on the action, and it’s not always pretty!

I feel like that’s our world right now. My world.

When things were going 90 to nothing, it was easier to skim the surface and avoid the deeper realities.

But things have slowed down tremendously, and what we see reflected back isn’t always very flattering.

Our messes catch up with us. We get angry. We are afraid. We’re embarrassed.

It’s hard to look in the mirror and own up to our reality.

Okay, the good news?

Because we seriously need some good news.

These are not separate stories of our faith. One does not exist in isolation from the other.

This is one big story, and it’s a story of love and grace and promise.

Through all the muck and mire and mess the people of God have been through, often times of their own doing, God is steadfast.

God is everlasting.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, ever separates us from the love of God, and the story continues.

The story continues, and God continues to journey with us.

May we welcome that grace and invitation into our hearts and our lives each day.