Newsletter – January 17, 2018

January 17, 2018

Pastor’s Letter – January 17, 2018

If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, would he use Twitter?

The other day on Facebook, I ran across King’s Letter From the Birmingham Jail.  It is an extended meditation on the vital necessity of actively resisting evil and injustice in whatever form they present themselves, and it is among his best-known writings.

The open letter was a response to a well-meaning group of clergy who had initiated a response to active resistance called “A Call for Unity.”  They argued that King’s non-violent protests were doing more harm than good for the cause of civil rights.  They contended that by actively resisting, King unnecessarily stirred things up, made many people uncomfortable, and motivated those whose cause was to keep things as they were.  They suggested that the best place to fight for civil rights was in the courts.

Could the contents of King’s letter be effectively tweeted?  The maximum length for a tweet is 140 characters.   This sentence from the letter is 132 characters: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

And this is 262 characters:  “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Several questions come to mind:

  1. Would anyone send such serious tweets in 2018?
  2. Would anyone pay attention?
  3. Would anyone pay attention beyond an hour or two after the tweet?
  4. Except for generating lots of arguing back and forth on Twitter, would this have any effect on anyone or anything?

I don’t have answers to these questions.  Rather, I think we are beginning to see the answers unfold.  Are ideas mere objects that we bounce off the wall, or each other?

What is it that opens us to a serious, well-thought-out idea (way beyond Twitter length) for constructive social change, whatever that idea may be?  What makes us spend time with it, and consider it, and make it part of ourselves for a while?

In the gospels it has to do with the movement of the Spirit.  That’s why the membership vows of the United Methodist Church includes this:  “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

That’s 136 characters.  Perfect length for a tweet.  See you in church.


Newsletter – January 9, 2018

January 9, 2018

Pastor’s Letter – January 9, 2018

This past weekend I was talking with a clergy friend who asked me what good things happened at St. Mark’s this past year. I paused for a moment and reflected on so many things we celebrated: working with International Relief Teams to build a school in Tijuana, our Youth and Adult art shows, the Preschool Annual Carnival, our annual Yard Sale, the expanded Living Nativity and Marketplace, hiring our Minister of Visitation, and so many more exciting events. But after giving it more thought I realized that there were a lot of behind the scene events that occurred and are of great significance; events that may have gone unnoticed by some.

Each of these projects required the organization of time and contractors by our trustees, office staff, and the Capital Campaign committee. I’d like to thank the Trustees, ministry leaders, and the Capital Campaign Committee, especially Jack Carpenter, Bill Williams, and Bob Hout, who spent long hours planning, communicating, tracking, and overseeing the work to fabricate and replace the education building stairs, replace the glass in the Social Hall doors, hang new gutters on the Social Hall, upgrade the heating and AC in the church office, expand our campus security cameras, provide a new system for the hearing impaired in our Sanctuary, repair and improve the organ console, as well as provide additional handrails and an automatic door opener for the office. Each of these, as well as other smaller projects, involved making accommodations for our staff and various community ministries to continue their work during the many construction phases.

This past year we have witnessed the fact that in our giving we receive as we continue to preserve our heritage and prepare for our future through many projects. I invite you to take a moment and give thanks for all we have accomplished and the people who helped to bring each event and project to fruition. Every project and act of ministry was done because of the vision, faithful work, and financial giving of many people. But we are not done; 2018 brings another year of offering wonderful community events and coordinated changes to our campus as we move forward with upgrades to our landscaping and our buildings. More information on the changes and ministry opportunities will be shared as they begin to emerge.

Happy New Year!


Newsletter – December 4, 2017

December 4, 2017

Pastor’s Letter – December 4, 2017

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York with some of our choir members and their guests. As many of you know, this trip centered around the world premiere of a new choral cantata called Rhapsody in Bluegrass by Joseph Martin performed at Carnegie Hall. I’ve had a chance to share some of my thoughts about the trip, but I invite you to ask those who also journeyed about their perspectives and activities around this event.

One thing I noted was how quickly the time flew by. It seemed such a short time from our arrival on Friday afternoon to the standing ovation on Monday night. It was described by a few of us as going from here to there to wow in a little over 3 days. As part of this troupe, we recognized that it took many people to make this happen. To all of you, thank you for your encouragement and prayers as we prepared and represented St. Mark’s UMC at Carnegie Hall.

In addition, I would like to thank our Music Director, Frank Williams, for sharing this vision with the leadership, the choir, and the church. Thank you for your work and constant communication with the people in New York to make this trip a wonderful event and lifetime memory for all of us.

And now that I am back I join you as we embrace the excitement of Advent. This will, again, be a time of moving from here to there to wow as St. Mark’s creates an atmosphere of reflection, anticipation, and community engagement. There will be music, drama, food, and candles. There will be quiet spaces and an abundance of laughter. There will be discovery through study and hands-on activities. In a word, there will be life. There is something for everyone, and everyone is invited. We will have church each Sunday morning at 9:30 AM, but here are some additional events:

Dec 7 and 14        Dinner and Taizé Services – dinner at 5 PM, Services at 6 PM
Dec 10                  Free Community Pancake Breakfast beginning at 7:45 AM
Dec 10                  Christmas At St. Mark’s Concert beginning at 4:30 PM
Dec 16                  Living Nativity and Bethlehem Market beginning at 5:30 PM
Dec 18,19,20         “The First Christmas” book study beginning at 1 PM
Dec 21                  Dinner and Longest Night Service – dinner at 5 PM, Service at 6 PM
Dec 24                  Christmas Eve Services at 5:30 and 8 PM

So, come, bring your family and your neighbors. Experience life here at St. Mark’s. Use this time to transform your life from here to there to wow.



Newsletter – November 30, 2017

November 30, 2017

Pastor’s Letter – November 28, 2017

Here is a message from Music Director Frank Williams, on the morning after St. Mark’s choir performed at Carnegie Hall:

I am feeling a lot of emotions this morning but the overwhelming one is gratitude to God, the choir, and congregation at St. Mark’s for giving us the opportunity to live a dream last night. It was electrifying. I am hoping we can bring some of that energy home and share some of the music we performed last night.  Thanks to everyone.

The choir will be back in church this Sunday as we start the season of Advent, when we wait, prepare, and hope!  The four themes of the Sundays of Advent are

  • Hope
  • Peace
  • Joy, and
  • Love

We begin with the overarching theme of this season: hope.  In our quiet moments we consider what we hope for.  It’s both an important and a down-to-earth question—what do we spend our days hoping for?  Where does our hope come from?  Who or what gives us hope?

In the ancient world, people put their hope in the leaders of their kingdoms.  The book of Daniel refers to the four dominant kingdoms and the hope that each initially brought to their people.  In Babylonia, people hoped in Nebuchadnezzar.  In Medea, people hoped in Darius.  In Persia, people hoped in Cyrus.  In Greece, people hoped in Alexander.  All these hopes were disappointed, as corruption brought widespread suffering.

Then he has a vision of a new, fifth kingdom:

As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven….
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

Our reading this Sunday from the first-written gospel of Mark refers back to Daniel’s vision as “one like a human being” comes to establish an “eternal kingdom,” giving us something to both hope for and work for.  Something that is worth our hope.  Something that is worth our time.  Something that is worth our lives.

See you in church!


Newsletter – November 21, 2017

November 21, 2017

Pastor’s Letter – November 21, 2017

We have an extra Sunday this year.  It’s like the recent time change where there was an extra hour during the night.

Most years the Sunday after Thanksgiving is also the first Sunday of Advent—the first of four Sundays leading to Christmas.  This year the first Sunday of Advent is December 3.  So we have an extra one.  What should we do with it?

We could use an extra Sunday in the Season of Gratitude.  What do you think?

We need all the help we can get when it comes to gratitude.  Even if our lives are very modest, and our needs are great, we have much to be grateful for, in every single moment.  It’s ironic that this time of year can actually make it hard to be grateful because the cultural expectation is so strong, and the resulting expressions of gratitude can seem contrived, superficial, or inauthentic.

Why is it so hard to be grateful sometimes?  Maybe we get overwhelmed with schedule and tasks and obligations.  That can happen.  Maybe we are overcome by worry as we think about our health, or the health of someone we dearly love.  That too can happen.  Maybe we simply let ourselves get caught up in the distraction of many hours alone, watching TV news.  Or we become obsessed by some new product we want to buy.

If we are not feeling grateful, there can be a very good reason.  And we can’t just flip a gratitude switch inside of us.  How do we get to gratitude if we’re just not feeling grateful?

It takes patience.  Deliberate, intentional patience that accepts the reality that gratitude is not real for you at the moment.  And patience that embraces the knowledge that gratitude will come to you, at some time, in some way.

This kind of patience will keep at bay the self-criticism and self-judgment that bring on bitterness.  If we can do this, gratitude will come.  It will come as we notice the sun on the horizon, or a beautiful song on the car radio, or the smile of the person serving us coffee.  Or we will wake up in the morning and our first thought will be “I am alive, and I am grateful.”

The continuing practice of gratitude is the most-powerful spiritual discipline we can exercise every day, and even every hour.  It expresses the living grace of God, which transforms and renews the world.

Patience and gratitude.  May it be so for each of us.  I am grateful for the congregation of St. Mark’s, and all that we are accomplishing together.

See you in church!