We held our Church Conference a couple weeks ago. That's our annual meeting with our District Superintendent where we look back on the year that was and look forward to the next. And there are a bunch of reports. I know that sounds boring, but it actually is quite insightful to read how each committee and ministry area views its activity over the last year.
At the very least Church Conference is a needed reminder that a whole bunch of people are extraordinarily dedicated to this congregation. We do not celebrate that faithfulness nearly enough. So I highly recommend reading the full report. Contact the church office to receive a copy.
Here's what I wrote for 2018:
Koinonia Pastor's Report
One of our most paradoxical churchy sayings is “already but not yet.” Mostly used as in, “the Kin-dom of God is already but not yet.” Meaning that God’s Kin-dom is both already here and not yet here. How can that be? We find moments here and now in our lives — both individually and communally — where God’s Kin-dom breaks through: Experiences of extraordinary peace; times when justice prevails; neighbors truly being loved. This is the “already” part.
I have heard these called Glimpses of God, God Winks, and Kin-dom Moments. Or we even may call them miracles. These moments may seem to just happen beyond our control. Or we may help bring these moments to life through our words, our actions, our prayers.
But those moments are sporadic, not continual. We believe there will be a day when justice and love reign, and hunger, violence, and hate will be no more. When that day arrives, God’s Kin-dom will be fully realized on earth. However, we know all too well and in so many ways that the Kin-dom is not yet fully manifested on earth:
- 800 million people worldwide are still hungry.*
- One in three women in the U.S. (and one in six men) experience some form of sexual violence.*
- Anti-Semitic hate crimes in the U.S. have risen 60% since 2016.*
- Tens of thousands die in our country due to firearms.*
This is the all-too-clear “but not yet” part of the saying.
God’s Kin-dom, aka the world as it should be; the world as God intends it to be; the reality in which we long to live; God’s dream for the world. However we refer to it, we know that “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is both already happening, but not yet fully happening.
What does all this have to do with Church Conference? I think (I suspect; I hope) reminding ourselves how we talk about the Kin-dom can help us as we talk about our congregation. Perhaps our congregation is also both already and not yet? In other words, our work as a community of faith can have both immediate impact and effects that we cannot see until years later…if we get to see it at all.
The truth is our current crop of Confirmands is smaller than it has been since 1995, my first year serving as one of your pastors. There are four of them: Ethan, T.J., Josh, and Veronica. Three 7th grade boys and one 8th grade girl. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster…well, you would be mistaken. In just three months of class, this group has laughed together, studied together, played together, and pondered together. Especially that last one. This group asks really good questions. Including:
- Do babies sin? What is sin?
- Is there an afterlife and what is it like?
- How do people live without believing in God?
- How do we understand the Hebrew Bible?
- Are the stories of the bible true?
- Does God still give people visions?
- What does the Cross & Flame symbol mean? How does it relate to God or Jesus?
- Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
- Does Confirmation guarantee I’ll always connect with God?
To be fair, these are still 7th and 8th graders. We can be silly too:
- Is water wet?
- Chicken or egg?
- Is a cheeseburger also a hamburger?
- How many rubber bands does it take to break a watermelon?
- Are bottled water brands actually different?
- How much is the government lying to us?
Ok, maybe that last one isn’t so silly. We’re still working through these questions of course. I mean, we really could talk about them all year without exhausting all the possible responses. So the immediate impact is that four young teenagers are learning more about each other and about themselves as they learn more about the story and life of faith into which we hope they will choose.
Immediate impact was also the theme of the 2018 Youth Mission Trip. In June, 17 youth and adults traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to serve with Revive225, a home repair ministry of First United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge. We were split into to work crews: one crew bravely tore off and replaced an entire roof. The other crew creatively cut wood to form new window sills and siding, painted, and patched a roof. It was arduous work for all of us. But after just four days of labor, we could see the great difference we made for the homeowners. It was immensely gratifying.
We’re so proud of — and thankful for — all the youth on the trip: Margot, Veronica, Ryan, Jackson, Lia, Jake, Gillian, Jaidyn, Krista, Sarah, Rachel, and Amanda.
Our mission trips would literally be impossible without the dedication of, and sacrifices made by, our volunteer adult leaders. THANK YOU Heather, Nikole, Glenn and Kevin!
So what about “but not yet”?
Inherent to youth ministry (and all ministry, really) is the inability to know the ways in which what we teach will affect people in the long term. I’m convinced we have to be faithful, do our best, and trust in God’s Holy Spirit to continually work in our people’s lives (ours too!). But every once in a while, evidence that is a bit more empirical shows up. Here’s a text I received from a woman whose daughters and some of their friends were active at WUMC (both in youth ministry and worship) about a decade ago:
My now-adult daughters’ time at WUMC helped shape them into the compassionate adults they are today. They are beautiful, caring people because so many beautiful caring people pitched in. I can see the difference [WUMC] made. [WUMC] definitely contributed to why these young people turned out to be so spectacular. Thanks for preparing them to fight the good fight.
With a nod to the conclusion of the book that was the basis of our fall bible study, Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration: However many people are in our pews and in our classrooms, let’s continue to do all we can to live
the loving way of life embodied by Jesus, filled with the nonviolent, liberating Spirit of God, organizing people for mission so more of us can become embodiments of Christ in our world working for the common good.
a) hunger from Bread for the World http://www.bread.org/where-does-hunger-exist
b) sexual violence from National Sexual Violence Resource Center https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics
c) anti-Semitic violence from Anti-Defamation League https://www.adl.org/what-we-do/anti-semitism/anti-semitism-in-the-us
d) gun violence from Everytown for Gun Safety https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-america/