Notes from Pastor Lou

August 2019

Pastor’s Thoughts: Encouraging Conversations

Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

In July, I hosted a series of coffee and conversation times at the church. They took place on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings. My hope was that these would give us an opportunity to get better acquainted, to discuss questions that are on your mind, and simply have a moment to say hello to one another.

I came away from these conversations with mountains of insight. You gave me the gift of your time and helped me to get to know you better. I heard perspectives that are as unique as the persons sharing those perspectives. I thank you for your honesty and your willingness to discuss concerns in a caring and constructive way. As I reflect on these conversations, I think of expressions on faces that told me how  much this church means to each of us. As some of you shared your challenges and joys, I realized again how fortunate I am to be among people who see their pastor as an important part of their lives.

During these conversations, I heard honest feedback about worship services here at Church of the Dunes. After more than 30 years of serving as a pastor of several churches, I would be worried if a church didn’t have strong thoughts about worship services. It shows me how central worship is to the life of this congregation. That’s good.

The attendance at these coffee and conversation times was a tremendous encouragement to me and a hopeful sign for our church. Thank you to those who have participated so far, and I look forward to future conversations. Let’s work together to encourage one another and continue the conversation. As Paul asks us to do in his first letter to the Thessalonians,  I hope that we will be encouragers, by taking opportunities to talk with each other and to others outside this church about what we most like and appreciate about being a part of this congregation. Encouraging words are uplifting. Encouraging words strengthen us to work together to do the Christ’s work in the church and in the community.

The work life of a pastor is busy and different each day. Because of that, I may not always be in my office when you drop by—I may be at a meeting or visiting someone in the hospital. Yet, I do hope you will call or email. I’d like to get together for more coffee and conversations.

With encouragement,

Pastor Lou

 

June 2018

Pastor’s Thoughts : Open Swimming

As I was swimming in the pool this morning, after an admittedly lengthy hiatus, I found my rhythm. I was reminded that I am still strong. I have been swimming fairly “religiously” since the end of January–back and forth, back and forth. Okay, so I haven’t become Hercules, but I feel better than I have felt in quite a while. My core strength is better. My stamina has improved.  My regimen is more disciplined. All this from back and forth, back and forth in a 25-meter pool. You can swim a long way in 25-meter pool without going anywhere.

I am reminded again and again of the strength of the United Methodist Church of the Dunes. We do lots of faith-building exercises—we worship together, we work side-by-side, we study together, we share our griefs and joys, we have our ups and downs. These activities help us build our core strength. The routines hold us in good stead. We have outreach ministries as well; many of which we have supported for generations. All of these activities define who we are as church together.

Yet those things that define, can also confine. We begin to think within the boundaries of our ecclesiology, theology, and praxis–the way we talk about church, God, and Christian practice. Like the 25-meter pool, we limit the space within which learn and grow. Is there more?

Apparently, for my swimming, there is. A friend I met at the pool has invited me to go open-water swimming with him this summer. He wants me to get out of the pool and into the big waters of Lake Michigan. Really? I find it at once scary and exciting. The pool is so predictable—no current, no waves, no sun or rain, no wildlife or refuse. In the pool, my swim takes exactly 45 minutes to complete; however, “the more” keeps beckoning me like a siren on the shore. I’m tired of simply swimming.

I invite you to discover “the more” of ministry and church in the open water of Grand Haven. Let’s get out of the pool and stretch the ways we think, live, and practice our faith. Minds, hearts, and doors are opened in the danger and excitement of open water.

Your pastor,

Lou

 

May 2018

We have had glimpses of Spring over the last month. Certainly, today is not one of them. I stare over the white-covered dune in mid-April. It’s been a month since I put out my deck chairs on a warm Saturday afternoon in expectation of Spring’s inception. What happened?

New life requires many conditions to successfully launch. Seeds need to lay dormant beneath the soil. Adequate sunlight needs to be provided regularly. Spring rains need to soften the seed and warm the soil providing food for growth. The farmer, gardener, or keen observer patiently tends the emerging seedling; and waits.

Over the past few months, Dunes church leaders have been planting seeds of renewal in worship, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and adult education. Clear evidence of renewal and growth doesn’t happen in a moment, but develops over time as seeds are nurtured, take root, and begin to grow. We will have successes and struggles. By God’s grace we will begin to grow and experience the new life that is promised to us in resurrection and in the rhythm of the season.

In worship you will see the 10:30 service begin to change as we become less predictable with unexpected serendipities including new elements and participants in that service. Our 8:30 service will draw on the best of our church traditions as we seek to provide a great worship experience for people with an appreciation for the liturgy and a desire for a more conventional approach to worship. I invite you to attend the service that best fits you instead of just the best time. We want Church of the Dunes to be a place where all God’s children experience worship that is meaningful and transformational.

We are committed to being an intergenerational ministry. However, we must remember that inviting more of God’s children into our family of faith requires meeting a more diverse set of needs regarding worship and ministry. We want children, youth, parents and grandparents to worship under one roof. This requires each group to sacrifice a little of what is most comfortable for them in order for others to also be comfortable.

The sun just came out. The snow is melting off the deck chairs. I know Spring is near. I patiently wait to see what comes next.

Hopefully,

Pastor Lou

 

April 2018

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  John 15:2 

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  John 12:24

Dear Dunes Friends,

Times of change are unsettling. Over the past few years, UMC Dunes has undergone what I would call many unintentional changes. Sometimes stuff just happens. Pastors come and go. People pass away. Job changes move key leadership to other communities. Social and political conversations cause upheaval.

Change is inevitable. Our church will continue to undergo change. This means we will always experience some level of discomfort. That’s probably not what most of us want to hear. We will continue to be periodically impacted by unintentional change; but our church leaders will also initiate intentional change. Intentional change is still difficult, but it is powered by the Holy Spirit and moves us toward a preferred future into which I believe God is leading us.

The Gospel of John makes it clear that fruit cannot be born without significant grief work. The metaphor of pruning infers that a clear-eyed evaluation of our ministry’s effectiveness is a necessary step in the process of becoming a faithful, fruit-bearing church. This is a dynamic process, which will always be a work in progress.

As we move through these intentional changes, I hope you will be patient with your leadership and your fellow Dunes participants as we try things. Our goal is always to provide an environment to bless those who are here and those who have not yet chosen to be part of us.

Most of you have already noticed new elements in our worship structure. Some have asked what the endgame might be. One of our goals is to create ministry and worship experiences that meet the needs of multiple age groups, so that families can worship together. Secondly, we want to provide worship and ministry opportunities that provoke our spirits to respond to the Holy Spirit and assist us on our spiritual journey.  I always hope that people can leave on Sunday morning and remember what the intended message was, and how it might impact their lives in the week to come.

We will continue to try things. Be assured that we will strive to maintain at least one traditional worship experience each Sunday, but that all services will be planned with renewed creativity and thoughtfulness with an emphasis on excellence. We want you to be proud to invite people to our church and our God!

In Ministry with All of You,

Lou

 

March 2018: Singing Under Water

Dear Dunes Friends,

A few years ago, I read a book by Richard Rohr called Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. In the book, Rohr works through the 12-step process often used to assist those struggling with addiction and relates it to principles of Christian spirituality. As Rohr says, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of being; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” The idea is that addiction isn’t something that goes away, but something with which one learns to live.

Similarly, most of us live lives filled with busyness, obligations, and responsibilities. Sometimes the load can feel very heavy. As time passes we realize that these things don’t go away, but with a focus on God, they are something with which we can learn to live.

While reading Rohr’s book, I was struck by the metaphor of “breathing under water.” I was reminded of it again a few weeks ago, when I started swimming after nearly a year hiatus. There is nothing like exercising after you haven’t for a while. It’s frustrating to see how much ground one loses physically when exercise is not part of one’s routine. I found I couldn’t swim the distances I used to be able to swim. I could only swim freestyle for part of the time or I would be overwhelmingly winded. I had to settle for sidestroke, backstroke, and breaststroke as my body acclimated to exercise and swim-breathing.

About a week into this regimen, I increased the portion of my swim that was done using the freestyle stroke. My body began to panic that I was not going to be provided adequate recovery time. The more my body told me to stop, the more winded—and panicked—I became.

The day before that swim, I had done worship planning with Megan, our church’s new Director of Music. From that meeting, my head was full of songs we had discussed, hymns we had chosen for the following Sunday, and prayer responses for Lent. One by one I began to sing them from memory in my head: “How Great Thou Art,” “Standing on the Promises,” “Jesus Remember Me,” “Breathe.” With each song, my heart began to regulate and my breathing became more even and regular. I began to swim lap after lap without needing to stop to catch my breath. I discovered that my breath was with me, even under water.

A number of years ago, Scott Krippayne wrote a song called, “Sometimes He Calms the Storm.” There is a lyric in that song that says “Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child.” In the frenetic rhythms of our lives, we are invited during Lent to allow God to calm us. Let’s sing songs of faith until we remember that God’s grace is sufficient and that God’s comfort is found even in the midst of the storm.

Pastor Lou

 

 

February 2018

Dear Dunes Friends,

Lately my heart has been aching, as I realize what a difficult world we live in.  I spent the last few days working through the technical challenges resulting from my children having access to the worldwide web.  It is there that they simultaneously learn to deal with the risky, constant stream of data, pictures, music, videos, addictive gaming, and instant reports that include real-life scary news that includes violence against women and school children.  Honestly, our children have very limited access to the ‘net compared to most.  At the end of the day, in desperation and frustration, I conclude that the best I can do is narrow the amount of temptation foisted on them, begin to teach them my deepest values, and offer them spiritual tools to deal with what they see, hear, and experience. I need to constantly trumpet that there is hope for a better tomorrow.

I am not feeling that the world is devoid of hope and goodness.  I am not saying that children have not always had to deal with temptation.  Instead, I find myself loving my children and the people of God’s world more than ever, in the midst of our despair.  All of us desperately need to find a way to navigate a society full of challenges that are infinitely greater than the world in which I grew up.  My heart is breaking for all of God’s children.  It’s time to leave the sidelines.  That’s what God did in Christ Jesus.

This year, Ash Wednesday begins Lent on Valentine’s Day.  We can get all sugared up and think that’s what love is about, or as we begin Lent, we can remember that God in Christ was the founder of the Lonely (Broken Heart’s) Club.  God loves us with an everlasting love, and God’s heart breaks for us each day as we struggle to deal with life.  In desperation and love, God sent us Jesus — not to judge us — but to teach us about God’s love as we grapple with the tangled web of the world.

Welcome to the Season of Lent,

Pastor Lou