Pastor’s Thoughts From The Heart
 
Memorial Day
 
The Church-Wide Picnic last week was outstanding! Thank you to all who planned and participated in the event. This Sunday will take on a more somber tone as we observe Memorial Day in our worship service. We will remember and celebrate the lives of those who gave the last full measure of devotion and sacrifice for our freedom. I hope you will join us. Have a wonderful and meaningful holiday weekend!
-Tom

As the school year comes to an end we celebrate with students and teachers another outstanding year!  The end of the school year means a time of transition.  One of the more recognized transitions is the one experienced by our high school graduates.  For some of them, it will be college. For others, it may mean joining the military or finding a job. For still others, it may be a time for discernment as they contemplate their next steps.  For each of them, the joys and challenges of transitioning from youth to young adults is before them.

I want to congratulate the graduates and their families from our church.  They include: Ryan Banks, Cody Bense, Logan Hancock, Hannah Lykins, Chip Rogers, Rebecka Moreno, John McNeil and Maegan Morrow.  Your church family celebrates this outstanding accomplishment with you!  We also promise to always be here for you, and to keep you in our prayers, especially during this time of transition.

This is also a time of transition in our church.  The weekly calendar will look different, especially for our children and youth, as we move into our summer activities.  The children and youth still have much to look forward to including Vacation Bible School, the youth choir mission trip, the youth mission trip and other special activities throughout the summer months.  There are opportunities available for you to volunteer and to support these programs.  Please contact the church office for more information on how you can do this.  I know our program staff members would appreciate your help. 

The summer also means that Annual Conference will soon be here.  I invite you to save the date of Sunday evening, June 4.  That evening the opening worship service of the Annual Conference will be held at the Jekyll Island Convention Center at 7 pm.  You are welcome to attend the service and to support our youth choir as they participate in what is certain to be a wonderful service of worship.  I am proud of our youth choir for taking this opportunity to perform on the big stage, and for the blessing I know they will be to all in attendance. 

We kick off the summer this Sunday with our annual Church-Wide Picnic.  Make plans to join us immediately following worship at Howard Peeples Park on Gross Road in Kingsland for great food and an afternoon of fellowship and games.   Please bring a covered dish to go along with the hamburgers and hot dogs that will be provided.  Also remember that you are welcome to dress for worship in your picnic attire. 

I hope to see you in worship as we celebrate our graduates, recognize the recipients of the Warren Bailey Memorial Scholarships, and hear the report of the St. Marys UMC Foundation and its spring grant recipients.   It’s going to be a great day as we begin the transition into summer, and look forward with anticipation to the blessings God has in store for us!

Blessings,

Tom
 
It has been another great year for Happy Apple Academy!  As the school year ends, I am reminded of how blessed we are to have this ministry in our church.  It is by far the best preschool I have ever seen.  The positive and lasting impact the preschool has on the children and families in our community is far-reaching and much-appreciated.
 
Over the next couple of day, I will have the honor of participating in the Happy Apple graduation ceremonies.  It is always a joy to hear the teachers share the accomplishments the children have made over the course of the past year.  To see the smiles of the children is heartwarming as they receive their well-deserved recognitions.
 
It is also interesting to see the reaction of parents and loved ones as a child’s name is called — especially the moms.  For some of the children, this will be their last event as Happy Apple students.  They will transition in the next several months from preschool to kindergarten.  As the children receive their diplomas, many of the moms will be in tears!  There will be tears of joy because they are so proud of their babies.  But there will also be a tear or two of sadness because their babies are growing up. They can’t believe that their child is going to “big school” and that their child will no longer be attending Happy Apple.
 
Moms are like that, though.  In their eyes, it doesn’t matter if the transition is simply from preschool to kindergarten.  Every moment in their child’s life is significant.
 
My wife, Anne, is a wonderful mother.  She absolutely adores our children.  She is the perfect example of how every moment in the life of our children is significant.  Whenever one of our children has made nothing more than a crayon mark on a piece of paper, the paper has gone on the refrigerator and then into a box.  I call her a hoarder — but she’s just a mom like most moms who want to cherish every moment of their children’s lives.
 
That’s one of the reasons we celebrate Mother’s Day.  We set aside a day to honor or remember the woman who carried us in the womb, carried us in her arms, carried us through good and bad days and who always carried us in their hearts.
 
It will be fifteen years this year since my mother passed away.  While she is gone from this life, she still is very much a part of my life.  Why?  Because now I carry her in my heart.  The influence she had on my life will never be forgotten.  She is still with me, especially in the significant moments, when I can sense her presence and know that she is still proud of her baby boy.  Thanks, mom!
 

I hope to see you in worship this Sunday as we celebrate our mothers, our families and our church family.  Have a great weekend!

Blessings,

Tom.

I recently returned from my first visit to the Orange Conference in Duluth, Ga. The Orange Conference is a long training weekend held every year at Infinite Energy Center in the Atlanta area that focuses on the newest research in the Think Orange family ministry model.


So what does it mean to “think Orange”?  Orange is created by two very special things.  The church is the light of the world, which is yellow.  The family represents God’s plan of unconditional love, which is red.  When the two blend together in the most intentional way, we have Orange.


A church that is intentionally thinking Orange finds ways to bridge the gap between the church and all families by welcoming, nurturing, and partnering with them at every possible opportunity.


What would St. Marys United Methodist Church be like if we all intentionally thought Orange?  Imagine the unchurched families that would be reached.  I pray you put the idea of Think Orange for our church in your prayers and please be on the lookout for training opportunities soon to come where we can all learn what it takes to Think Orange.

 

Blessings,

Jeremy

When it comes to technology, I know enough to be dangerous.  I can use email with at least a minimal level of proficiency. I have learned to read Twitter, but have yet to send out the first tweet. And I can do okay finding my way around the internet.

 

Recently I discussed my lack of social media abilities with Jeremy Cole, our director of Youth Ministries. When I mentioned that I could do email, he promptly informed me that email is old news.  Just when I thought I had joined the 21st century, he said that in today’s world it’s more about Snapchat, Instagram and, of course, Facebook.  Other than Facebook, which I choose not to do and have asked Jeremy to monitor for me in the event I need to know something, I didn’t have a clue what he was taking about.  So much for my being a part of the 21st
century. 

 

Whether you are technologically challenged or not, I want to recommend to all of you an outstanding piece of technology that will help keep you informed and in the loop regarding the life of our church.  It’s our new website!  Have you been there?  If you have been there, when is the last time you were there?

 

I want to invite you to visit stmarysumc.org.  It is easy to find and even easier to use.  The website is constantly being updated with the latest news about our church programs and ministries.  You will find helpful tools for event registration, making your gifts to the church and submitting prayer requests.   You can also learn things about our staff you may have never known when you click on “Meet Us” at the top of the homepage.  From the Sunday Bulletin to archived sermons, there is much to explore on the website — not once, but time and time again.   I hope you will plan on visiting the website on at least a weekly basis.  You will be glad you did!

 

Not only is the website a useful tool for us, it is also one of the strongest and most effective means of outreach for our church.  The quality of our website has a tremendous influence on those who are searching for a place to worship.  For many, it’s the first place they will go and the first impression they will have as they consider a church to visit.  With our website, a visitor simply needs to click on the “I’m New” box and they will be given the pertinent information anyone would need to have as they prepare to visit with us.  When you invite someone to church, encourage them to go to the webpage to learn more about our great church.

 

I want to thank Paul Attner, Communications Chair, and Troy Normandin, our church Technology Coordinator, for their long hours of work in creating a church website that will serve as a useful tool and means of outreach.   It’s yet another great step our church has made in our efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

Remember this Sunday’s worship will include Holy Communion.  We will share around the Lord’s Table this week instead of the first Sunday of the month because our children will perform their musical in worship on Sunday, May 7.  Enjoy the weekend and take a moment to check out the new website.  I’ll see you on Sunday!

 

Blessings,

Tom

What a glorious Easter and Holy Week!  Thank you to all who made the entire week such a meaningful time of worship and celebration!  From the wonderful volunteers and our outstanding staff, to all who attended the services, it was a joy to watch the church be the church as people pitched in to help make special preparations, serve unselfishly and greet our guests from around the community with a warm welcome.

 

On Easter Sunday, almost 400 of us gathered in the Sanctuary for worship!  It was beautiful sight as the people of God filled the Sanctuary to celebrate the Risen Christ.   There was also a beautiful spirit in worship which was enhanced by the choirs, children, musicians, ushers and greeters and all who helped make our time together something we won’t soon forget.   

 

We hosted the Community Holy Week services for the 21st year.  It is always a blessing to experience the strong, ecumenical spirit that exists in our community.  We experienced God’s blessing in a special way as our various denominations joined together to worship and then enjoy fellowship with one another at lunch.  

 

The blessings continued to be poured out on Easter morning as many from our community met  to welcome the day at the Sunrise Service.  What a fabulous setting it was for the service that was held at the waterfront park.  Yes, there were a few gnats in attendance as well, but they couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of a crowd that was ready to worship the Risen Christ.

 

I also want to express my appreciation to the Chancel Choir for its Good Friday presentation of the “The Lenten Sketches.”  The story of the last week of Christ told in music, narration and with beautiful images was a poignant and powerful way to complete our Lenten journey to the cross.

 

It was a memorable week of services and special events.  One of the experiences I will remember the most happened after the Sunrise Service.  A woman made an extra effort to find me because she wanted to be sure to tell me how much the Holy Week Services had meant to her.  She said she had lived in our community for 12 years, but had never attended the services.  After experiencing the services for the first time, she said she would do her best to never miss another one again. 

 

That was exciting to hear!  How wonderful it would be if we were able to maintain that same enthusiasm for worship from week to week – even to the point of our saying,  “I will do my best to never miss another one again.” 

 

This coming Sunday is often referred to as “low Sunday.”  The large numbers that showed up for Easter typically do not return the following week.  But remember, every Sunday is a celebration of Easter and the Risen Christ.  This is not the time to stay away; this is the time to invite others to join you!

 

Jesus defeated death.  Jesus rose from the grave.  Jesus lives!  That’s something we celebrate every week in worship.  I look forward to seeing you as we continue to grow in our faith and worship together – not just on special Sundays, but every Sunday!

 

Blessings,

Tom

Up, down, and up again.  Holy Week is a roller coaster of emotions.  Within a matter of days, we move from the emotional high of Palm Sunday to the emotional low of Jesus crucified. 

 

Today it is Holy Thursday.  Tomorrow will be Good Friday. These are the days of Holy Week that are remembered as the time when the life of Jesus takes a terrible downward turn.  He shares in a last supper with his disciples.  He goes to the garden to pray.  He is betrayed, arrested, tried unjustly, scourged, mocked and crucified.  His body is placed in a tomb.  In a period of less than 24 hours, Jesus goes from celebrating the Passover meal with those closest to him, to death on a cross.  Jesus is down, seemingly defeated.  Likewise, his followers are down, overwhelmed with grief.

 

What we celebrate on Easter is the “up again!” From the grief of Good Friday comes the the celebration of Easter.  Death could not keep Jesus down.  He rises up!  He leaves the tomb!  Darkness and death are defeated – our joy is complete and unending!

 

As we continue through the days of Holy Week and our preparation for Easter, I hope you will take advantage of the remaining opportunities to remember the passion of Christ.  It is not easy for us to focus on the downward spiral that leads to his suffering and death, but in our doing so it will add even greater meaning to our celebration of the risen Christ.

 

On this Holy Thursday, Drop-In Communion will be offered in our Historic Chapel.  You are invited to come anytime between 5:30 and 7 pm.  A Guide to Reflection and Prayer will be provided for your personal use or to share with any others who are with you.  I hope to see you there and to have the privilege of being able to serve you Holy Communion as we remember the Last Supper.

 

The final noontime Community Holy Week Service will be held on Friday in the Sanctuary.  Following the service, we will gather in Bailey Hall for a for a delicious lunch that includes our traditional salmon croquettes. 

 

On Friday, at 7 pm in our Sanctuary, the Chancel Choir will present, “The Lenten Sketches.”  It is a beautiful and moving presentation of the last days of Christ.  The presentation will be signed for the hearing impaired.  Please extend an invitation to others to join you for this powerful time of worship as the choir leads us.  

 

At the end of the week, the emotional down of the passion begins to shift upward – Easter is coming!  I hope those of you who have used the Praying for 5 devotional booklets during Lent will take the next step.  Invite the five people you have been praying for to join you in worship on Easter Sunday!

 

The day begins with the Community Easter Sunrise Service at 6:45 am at Howard Gilman Memorial Park on the river.  Following Sunday School and an Easter Egg Hunt for our children at 8:45 am, we will fill the Sanctuary at 10 am as we gather to celebrate our risen Savior!   

 

May you experience the joy of Easter anew!  Up from the grave he arose!  New life is ours!  All fear is gone!  Thanks be to God!

 

Happy Easter!

Tom

This Sunday, we begin Holy Week and the journey to the cross. It is not an easy journey to make as we recall what Jesus did for us out of love. But by taking the time to make the journey, our joy will be even more enhanced when we gather on Easter Sunday to worship and celebrate our resurrected Savior!

I invite you to make plans to attend the special services and programs offered by our church and community. Please share this information with others and extend a personal invitation for them to join you.

 

Palm Sunday – April 9, 10:00 am

We remember the triumphal entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem.

Parents, please bring your children to the front entrance of the sanctuary prior to the service to participate in the procession of the palms.

The palm fronds will be provided by the Worship Committee. 

 

Community Holy Week Services – Noon, Monday, April 10 – Friday, April 14

Don’t miss this opportunity to worship with others in our community as our church hosts the noontime Holy Week services. Each day includes a brief worship service in the Sanctuary followed by a light lunch in Bailey Hall. The services are designed to give those in the workplace the opportunity to attend the service and enjoy lunch within an hour. More information about the schedule for the week is included in today’s eBlast. 

Holy Thursday Service – Drop-In Communion – April 13 – 5:30-7 pm

You are invited to come to the Chapel anytime from 5:30-7 pm to receive Holy Communion. You may spend as much time as you like in quiet reflection and prayer before receiving communion. Handouts will be provided to help guide your reflection and prayer time. Come as you are – at a time that is best for you – as we remember the Last Supper.

 

Good Friday Service – April 14, 7 pm

The Chancel Choir will present “The Lenten Sketches.” Come anticipating a blessing during this moving hour of music, imagery and the spoken word as the Chancel Choir helps us complete our journey to the cross.

 

Community Easter Sunrise Service – Sunday, April 16, 6:45 am

Join with churches from around the community at St. Marys Waterfront Park to welcome the dawn of Easter.

Easter Egg Hunt—Sunday, April 16, 8:45-9:45 am

The children will begin in Bailey Hall with breakfast followed by an Easter Egg Hunt on the lawn. All children, toddler through 5th grade, are invited to participate.

Easter Service – April 16, 10 am

We worship and celebrate the risen Christ! Invite your friends and family members to join you. Please bring flowers to help decorate the flower cross on the front lawn. 

 

Have a wonderful weekend! I hope to see you at the Golf Outing this Saturday morning, and then in worship on Sunday as we observe Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.

 

Blessings,

Tom

3-30-2017

           I spent last week working on our home in Marietta as we prepare to put the house on the market.  It’s a sign that we are another step closer to our family being together again.  Some have asked if selling our house means Anne and Croft will be coming to St. Marys to stay.  The answer is, “Not yet.”  We have decided to downsize for the last year they will be in Marietta.  It won’t be until after our son graduates from Marietta High School in May, 2018 that Anne and Croft will join me.  So, while putting our house on the market is a step closer, we still have a way to go.

            As I worked on the house, Anne gave me this charge: “Fix things that would keep potential buyers from considering our house.”  In other words, find all the flaws and correct them.  The home is relatively new and in generally good repair, but my task was to look at the house with the eyes of a person who was looking for what’s wrong more than for what’s right.  A scratch on a cabinet, a stain on the driveway, some chipped paint around a door frame – things for us that are practically unnoticeable because it’s our home. But things that a potential buyer would consider as flawed.

            Most of us are more inclined to look for what’s wrong instead of what’s right. Sadly, this is also true in regards to how we perceive other people.  All it takes is one slip-up, one mistake, and that person is seen as flawed.   In some instance, their “flaws” are the result of nothing they have done, but simply who they are.  They’re not from around here; they speak with a different accent; their skin is a different color; an illness or accident has caused them to look or act differently than we are or in way that makes us uncomfortable.  It doesn’t take much for us to label another person as flawed.

            If you have a child or grandchild, you’ve probably heard that a new version of “Beauty and the Beast” is showing in theaters.  The story is about a beautiful woman who looks beyond the ugly appearance and attitude of the beast to see that there is kindness and care in his heart.  She looks beyond the flaws. Through her patience and expressions of unconditional love, the beast was transformed. 

            How do you look at others?  Do you see their flaws and turn away?  Or do you do you help expose the beauty that is within them?           

Christ wants us to share the same grace, compassion and acceptance he has offered us, in our own flawed conditions, with others.  It begins when we recognize that we are most beautiful when our hearts are in a beautiful place.  We are reminded of this in 1 Peter 3:4:  “Let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”

Flaws are easy to find and point out.  I challenge you to be a person who looks for all that’s good, and, in doing so, to let the beauty of Jesus be seen in you.

I hope you have had a wonderful Spring Break!  I look forward to being with you in worship this Sunday as we celebrate Holy Communion. 

 

Blessings,

Tom

3-23-2017

When I first started in vocational ministry almost three full years ago, I sought out some wisdom from a few ordained ministers that I already knew well.  One has a unique appointment in the Savannah area.  He has a charge of two brick-and-mortar churches, and a third element being The Foundery Coffee Pub, which is also a place of worship.  I can still remember messaging this friend on the first day in the office asking, “what kind of advice could you give me as I come into this position?”  He replied, “remember your Sabbath.”  I then said, “could you be more specific?”  He continued, “divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.”  I then began to catch on to the wisdom he was bestowing on me.
 
We must divert our attention away from the hustle and bustle of life each day as often as possible.  Maybe for you this looks like a quiet commute to work, just you and the road.  Maybe you have a special place at home that you can relax and unwind from the hard day of work and responsibilities.  Maybe it’s an afternoon walk, jog or bike ride. 
 
We must withdraw from our work and responsibility for almost a full day each week when possible.  For me, that time is Monday afternoons catching up on TV that Amber doesn’t care to watch and sometimes getting a much-needed nap.
 
The third, and often hardest to make happen for Sabbath care is to abandon annually.  If you don’t already, I recommend planning a vacation or staycation away from your work or daily grind for an entire week each year.  Sometimes we desperately need that extended time to recharge, relieve stress and relax. 
 
I’m reminded of the beautiful hymn we often sing called “Take Time to Be Holy.”  It is a wonderful example of how to use our Sabbath time to draw nearer to our Father.  This week, I’ll taking some time to be holy with my annual abandon.  I pray you consider ways in which you can also begin being more intentional with your Sabbath rest as well.
 

Blessings,

Jeremy

2-23-2017

This week, I want to take a few moments to highlight several new ministries and opportunities for you to “Invite, Grow, and Serve” in the life of our church.

I announced in worship last week the availability of the

Praying for 5 – Lenten Devotional Booklets.

 
We had well over 100 booklets available and almost all were taken from the Welcome Desk!  Thank you for your incredible response.  There are a few remaining booklets available in the church office.  If more become available, they will be placed on the Welcome Desk.

 

The “Praying for 5” booklets serve a dual purpose.  They provide daily devotionals to use during the forty days of Lent. The devotionals were written by clergy and lay people from across the South Georgia Conference and include devotionals by our own Jeff Barker and Jay Jordan. The booklets also provide a guide on how to pray for five people who need an invitation to our church and ways you can reach out to them in Christian friendship.  The five people you pray for can be individuals you know or acquaintances that you hope to know better.  Even if you aren’t able to get a booklet, I want to invite you to think of five people in your life and begin to pray for them and for yourself to have the courage it may take to reach out to them.  Put their names in a place where you will see the names often.  If you can’t identify five people right now, ask God to show you a few more. What an exciting time as together we join in prayer for people to come to know and follow Jesus through the witness and ministries of our church!

 

The season of Lent, the 40 days not including Sunday before Easter, begins with Ash Wednesday.  It is a season of penitence and renewing our commitments to sacrificial living as we reflect upon the sacrifice that Christ made for us.  This year, we will once again gather with our friends from the First Presbyterian Church for an Ash Wednesday Service next Wednesday at 7 pm in our Sanctuary.  Rev. Rick Douylliez will join with me as we share together in the imposition of the ashes and the combined choirs will present special music.  Invite your friends as we begin the season of Lent in worship.

 

Last Sunday in worship, we celebrated Stephen Ministry with the commissioning of five new Stephen Ministers:  Marilyn Adams, Brandy Champeau, Jeremy Cole, Neal McCain and Carol Riley.  These individuals complete 50 hours of training on how to walk with those who are experiencing difficult days and seasons of life.  These individuals, along with existing Stephen Ministers Chris Thomas and Mike Brandon, are equipped to serve and to be there for you in times of crisis or in times when you simply need someone to listen.  We also commissioned Jeremy Cole and recommissioned Jerry Goodson as Stephen Leaders.  In addition to being trained as Stephen Ministers, they have completed a week-long training to equip them to guide the Stephen Ministry program and our Stephen Ministers.  If you have questions or want more information about Stephen Ministry, contact Jeremy Cole at 912-227-0976 or

youth@stmarysumc.org

 

Finally, I want to celebrate the re-energized Older Adult Ministry.  Affectionately known as the “Good Timers,” all the programs and events of this group are open to anyone 55 and older.  Pat and Michael Green, along with the members of the Older Adult Ministry Team, have done an excellent job of jump-starting this ministry.  They have committed their time and energy to provide times for weekly fellowship and activities.  The invitation is always open for you to participate.  Currently they meet Wednesdays at 1 pm in Bailey Hall for fun and games.  Watch the bulletin, eBlast and website for new opportunities that are coming soon. 

 

I look forward to seeing you around town this Saturday as our community celebrates Mardi Gras and then on Sunday as we gather for Sunday School and worship.  Remember the Youth Choir Baked Potato “Lunch to Go” Fundraiser after worship.  Baked potatoes, loaded the way you want them, will be available in Bailey Hall.  The cost is whatever you choose to donate.  Proceeds from the event will help support the Youth Choir Mission Trip.  Please join with me in supporting our outstanding youth choir this Sunday.  Have a great weekend!

 

Blessings,

 

Tom

3-16-2017

What a great time to be a sports fan!   The college basketball tournament, commonly known as March Madness, has started.  Over the next few weeks of nail-biting games, underdogs upsetting higher-ranked teams and the occasional blow-out or two, a new college basketball champion will be determined.  Also, Spring Training is in full-swing and a new baseball season will soon be starting.  Go Braves!

 

At the beginning of the basketball tournament, every team has high hopes of being the champion.  At the beginning of the baseball season, every team, including the Braves, has a goal to win the World Series.  But there can be only one champion.  For all the other teams, their only consolation comes in the words, “Wait until next year.”

 

Wrapped into that simple phrase, “Wait until next year,” is all the disappointment and hurt one feels after a loss, as well one’s commitment to persevere and the determination to do better next time.  Many of us have similar approach to our lives.  Next year will be better.  It will not be as disappointing and hurtful next year; you will persevere through the present challenges, determined that things will be better.  There is always next year, but, like the team that never seems to make it to the championship, you may begin to wonder if it’s ever going to be your year. 

 

One of the wonderful things about being a disciple of Jesus Christ is that we don’t have to wait until next year to be champions.  Through faith, we can have the victory today. We are given the strength to persevere and overcome any challenge. And through faith, we never lose hope that a better day is coming. 

 

We are reminded of this in 1 John 5:4-5: “Every God-begotten person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.”

 

Basketball teams are playing to win during the tournament.  Baseball teams are preparing to try and win during the upcoming season.  As Christians, we have won!   We are the champions over the things of the world that try to disappointment, discourage and defeat us – when we believe in Jesus, the Son of God, who provides the victory to all who are faithful.

 

Sunday is going to be another great day of worship as we celebrate United Methodist Women’s Sunday and the outstanding ministries our women provide.  We will bless the prayer shawls that have been lovingly made by the women of the church.  The shawls will then be given to those who are sick, lonely or hurting as a visible sign that they are wrapped in our prayers.  We will also celebrate with Brannon and Rebekah Cobb in the baptism of their son, Killian.  To top off our day, the youth and children’s choirs will bless us with their singing.  It’s going to be a wonderful morning of worship!  I look forward to seeing you here.

 

Blessings,

 

Tom

3-10-2017

Confirmed!  When we make a transaction, we like to receive confirmation that the transaction was completed.  In some instances, we receive a confirmation number; other times a receipt. There are even times when it’s a verbal confirmation or a handshake.  Confirmations can take various forms, but they all mean the same thing – transaction completed. 

 

This Sunday, we will receive seven youth into full membership in the church.  The youth have participated in this year’s Confirmation Class.  This included six study sessions, attendance at the South Georgia Conference Confirmation Retreat, and a tour of Savannah to see the sites where John Wesley served in ministry.  Their next step is Confirmation — a time when the youth stand before our congregation and make their personal professions of Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

 

Four of the youth were baptized as infants or children.  The youth’s parents or guardians answered on their child’s behalf and made a commitment to raise the child in the faith.  On Sunday, the youth will confirm for themselves the gift of God’s grace that they received when they were baptized.  Three of the youth will celebrate their baptisms on Sunday. They will confirm the gift of God’s grace in that moment, and then join the other confirmands in professing their faith in Jesus Christ.

 

The transaction the confirmands make is different than most.  They will confirm what God has done for them, but they also confirm their desire to serve and faithfully follow Christ.  The “receipt” they offer God is to be disciples of Jesus and to grow in their faith journeys.  God will also confirm his love and forgiveness for them – the “receipt” he offers them, as he does to each of us, is the cross.  It was on the cross that the most important part of this transaction was completed. It was the blood of Christ made it possible for us to receive the gifts of his grace and forgiveness and to have a personal relationship with God.

 

A special word of thanks to Jeremy Cole and Tina Bense for their leadership of the class.  They not only led the sessions, but they became the mentors the youth needed.  Their guidance, as well as the care and understanding they provided, was extremely helpful to the youth as they explored their commitments to Christ in their journey toward Confirmation. 

 

The 2017 Confirmation Class includes:

Logan Tyler Bense

Mikayla Alexandria Boyd

Joshua Thomas Champeau

Mary Grace Kinney

Chloe Abigail Moon

Dylan Thomas Moon

Jessica Leanne Porter

 

Please join with me in congratulating the youth on their accomplishment and make plans to join with us in worship this Sunday as we celebrate Confirmation!

 

Blessings,
Tom

3-2-2017

A few days ago, I got into a discussion about Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent with the person who was cutting my hair.  It began with my telling her that I would be preaching at the Ash Wednesday Service, so it was up to her to help make me look good.  This was followed up with the usual comments of, “I only have a limited amount of time, but I’ll do the best I can” and “I can only do so much with what I have to work with.” 
 
I have been to this place numerous times to get my haircut.  Most of the stylists know that I am a pastor.  It doesn’t matter which person cuts my hair, discussions about church and faith often become talking points.  It is not unusual for others in the shop to overhear what we are talking and join in the conversation.
 
It was no different on this occasion as we talked about Ash Wednesday and Lent.  I could tell the hairstylist was not familiar with Ash Wednesday.  I explained to her the meaning behind the service and how the ashes are symbolic of our desire to humble ourselves before God and acknowledge our need for his forgiveness.
 
I then described Lent and how it is a time of preparation for Easter as we remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us and how he in turn asks us to live sacrificially.  It was in that moment that I apparently pushed the “go button” for everyone to enter the conversation.  They talked about how they had heard about Lent and that it was about giving up stuff.  One person talked about a time they gave up coffee and how painful that was. Another talked about giving up their favorite dessert — ice cream.  Still another chimed in with how she sacrificed her favorite TV show. 
 
Little did they know that they had set themselves up for a preacher moment, and I didn’t miss the opportunity.  I reminded all of them that self-sacrifice is not only about our choice to give up something, it’s also about what we choose to give. 
 
It was interesting to see how quickly the other hairstylists left the conversation and returned to their work.  Giving up a few, somewhat meaningless things seemed appropriate to them.  What a sacrifice!  But to give of themselves, their time, their energy, their love was too much for them to consider.  That really would be a sacrifice.  I continued the discussion with the person cutting my hair and she confessed that she had never considered giving a part of herself instead of giving up something.  She promised me she would try to look at Lent and the sacrifice she would make in a new way.
 
What about you?  Have you decided to give up something or to give of yourself during this Season of Lent?  One of the ways you can give of yourself is to sacrifice the time to pray for others.   I am offering a challenge to each person in our church to pray for five people you may know, or have contact with.  These five people are persons you will eventually invite to learn more about Christ and to join you at church. 
 
The “Pray for 5” booklets are gone, but you can still be a part of this exciting effort to reach others for Christ as well as enjoy the benefits of the daily devotionals.  If you were not able to get a booklet, please go to the South Georgia Conference website at sgaumc.com where you can download a digital copy. 
 
These next 40 days have the potential to be one of the most powerful Seasons of Lent we have ever experienced individually and as a church.  Are you willing to give your time to pray for others, to be inviting and to grow in your faith journey?  For some of us, that’s a lot to give.  But I can’t wait to see what God is going to do through you!
 

I’ll see you on Sunday! 

Blessings,
 
Tom

2-23-2017

This week, I want to take a few moments to highlight several new ministries and opportunities for you to “Invite, Grow, and Serve” in the life of our church.

 

I announced in worship last week the availability of the
Praying for 5 – Lenten Devotional Booklets.
 
We had well over 100 booklets available and almost all were taken from the Welcome Desk!  Thank you for your incredible response.  There are a few remaining booklets available in the church office.  If more become available, they will be placed on the Welcome Desk.

 

The “Praying for 5” booklets serve a dual purpose.  They provide daily devotionals to use during the forty days of Lent. The devotionals were written by clergy and lay people from across the South Georgia Conference and include devotionals by our own Jeff Barker and Jay Jordan. The booklets also provide a guide on how to pray for five people who need an invitation to our church and ways you can reach out to them in Christian friendship.  The five people you pray for can be individuals you know or acquaintances that you hope to know better.  Even if you aren’t able to get a booklet, I want to invite you to think of five people in your life and begin to pray for them and for yourself to have the courage it may take to reach out to them.  Put their names in a place where you will see the names often.  If you can’t identify five people right now, ask God to show you a few more. What an exciting time as together we join in prayer for people to come to know and follow Jesus through the witness and ministries of our church!

 

The season of Lent, the 40 days not including Sunday before Easter, begins with Ash Wednesday.  It is a season of penitence and renewing our commitments to sacrificial living as we reflect upon the sacrifice that Christ made for us.  This year, we will once again gather with our friends from the First Presbyterian Church for an Ash Wednesday Service next Wednesday at 7 pm in our Sanctuary.  Rev. Rick Douylliez will join with me as we share together in the imposition of the ashes and the combined choirs will present special music.  Invite your friends as we begin the season of Lent in worship.

 

Last Sunday in worship, we celebrated Stephen Ministry with the commissioning of five new Stephen Ministers:  Marilyn Adams, Brandy Champeau, Jeremy Cole, Neal McCain and Carol Riley.  These individuals complete 50 hours of training on how to walk with those who are experiencing difficult days and seasons of life.  These individuals, along with existing Stephen Ministers Chris Thomas and Mike Brandon, are equipped to serve and to be there for you in times of crisis or in times when you simply need someone to listen.  We also commissioned Jeremy Cole and recommissioned Jerry Goodson as Stephen Leaders.  In addition to being trained as Stephen Ministers, they have completed a week-long training to equip them to guide the Stephen Ministry program and our Stephen Ministers.  If you have questions or want more information about Stephen Ministry, contact Jeremy Cole at 912-227-0976 or

youth@stmarysumc.org

 

Finally, I want to celebrate the reenergized Older Adult Ministry.  Affectionately known as the “Good Timers,” all the programs and events of this group are open to anyone 55 and older.  Pat and Michael Green, along with the members of the Older Adult Ministry Team, have done an excellent job of jump-starting this ministry.  They have committed their time and energy to provide times for weekly fellowship and activities.  The invitation is always open for you to participate.  Currently they meet Wednesdays at 1 pm in Bailey Hall for fun and games.  Watch the bulletin, eBlast and website for new opportunities that are coming soon. 

 

I look forward to seeing you around town this Saturday as our community celebrates Mardi Gras and then on Sunday as we gather for Sunday School and worship.  Remember the Youth Choir Baked Potato “Lunch to Go” Fundraiser after worship.  Baked potatoes, loaded the way you want them, will be available in Bailey Hall.  The cost is whatever you choose to donate.  Proceeds from the event will help support the Youth Choir Mission Trip.  Please join with me in supporting our outstanding youth choir this Sunday.  Have a great weekend!

 

Blessings,

 

Tom

2-16-2017

Have you seen the pictures and heard the news stories this week from the northeast section of our country?  Blizzards. Extremely high winds. Unbearable cold. Schools closed. Commutes to and from work that are almost impossible to make. 

 

As I sit here writing this article, I’m looking out the open window of my office at a beautiful blue sky.  There is gentle, warm breeze blowing, a breeze that comes through the open window and often moves the papers on my desk – such a nuisance. 

 

We are blessed to live in this beautiful, warm part of God’s creation.  Not only are we blessed by a warm climate, we are also blessed to be a part of a warm and caring church.  It makes me sad and disappointed to hear about cold churches that are hesitant to welcome others.  More often than not these churches are also more inward thinking instead of outward thinking in their vision of ministries.  They are more concerned about caring for themselves and less concerned about reaching out to others.  That is why it is always good to hear from those who visit our church about the kind welcome they received.  I am proud to be the pastor of a church of a church that has embraced the idea of reaching out to others in missions as well as in warmth and hospitality.  

 

While each of us should continue to practice being a committee of one to welcome and offer hospitality to visitors, I want to express my appreciation to the Outreach and Assimilation Committee for the outstanding job they have done in helping us grow a culture of warmth in our church.  This group of dedicated individuals has helped to enhance our outreach and welcome and to assimilate new members into the life of the church.

 

In the last few years, committee members have established a Welcome Desk, started Newcomer Orientation Classes, started the New Member Gatherings, planned and completed – in record time – a beautiful pictorial directory and created the Coffee Station for our enjoyment on Sunday mornings. 

 

In addition, a special part of this committee’s responsibilities are the social activities in our church.  In recent years, this has included “An Evening to Remember” and the Church Picnic.  But last Saturday night this group outdid themselves as they brought the Love Boat to SMUMC.  The Fellowship Hall was transformed into the main dining room of a cruise ship – and what a party we had!  Well over 100 of us gathered to enjoy a great meal, good fellowship, games, prizes, excellent entertainment and singing and dancing.  It was great to see everyone having such a good time as they made new friends and enjoyed the evening. Thank you to the members of the Outreach and Assimilation Committee and to our outstanding servers from the SMUMC Youth Group who helped make the Love Boat such an outstanding event! 

 

I look forward to a wonderful day of worship this Sunday as we baptize the Casey twins and celebrate the commissioning of our Stephen Leaders and Ministers.  Have a good and safe holiday weekend!

 

Blessings,

 

Tom

2-9-2017

After the resurrection, Jesus and Peter had an encounter that went something like this:  Jesus would ask, “Peter, do you love me?”  Peter would respond, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus would say, “Feed my sheep.”  Three times Jesus asked Peter the same question.  Three times Peter responded with the same answer.  Three time Jesus gave him the same command. 

 

Most of us think that the reason Jesus asked Peter the same question three times was because Peter had denied Jesus three times before Jesus was crucified.  But what exactly did Jesus mean by the command, “Feed my sheep.” 

 

My wife has often said to me that it’s nice when I tell her I love her.  The words are good to hear.  But then she goes on to say that she feels most loved by the things that I do for her.  Our discussions go something like this:  Anne asks, “Do you love me.”  I reply, “Yes, Anne, you know I love you.”  Anne says, “Then get my car serviced for me.”    Or, in other words – show me!   If you love me, don’t just talk about it – do something about it. 

 

Valentine’s Day is set aside for us to let those closest to us know how much we love them.  While the words, the cards, the gifts and other sentiments we may share with them are wonderful, the best expressions of our love are the things we do for them.  To show them  how much we care and how special they are to us.

 

There are those of us who say that we love Jesus.  But when temptation or challenges come, we find ourselves denying Christ instead of showing him that we love him.    

 

Do you love, Jesus?  Then feed his sheep. Be strong in the face of temptation and let your witness be a light to others.   

 

Do you love Jesus?  Then feed his sheep.  “Just as you did it (served) one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)  

 

Do you love Jesus?  Then feed his sheep.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

 

May this Valentine’s Day serve to remind us of how to respond to the question, “Do you love me?”  Show Christ – feed his sheep.  Show others — put your words into action

 

I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday!

 

Blessings,

 

Tom

2-2-2017

As one would expect, church music directors listen to A LOT of music… My July is spent listening to different cantatas and praying in order to choose the one with the message God has in store for our congregation and the community. Last summer was no different. I listened to over 20 cantatas and prayed; nothing was really clicking. God was not sending the “YES! You got it! That’s the one!” message I usually get.
 
The Camden House committee called and asked if we would first, like to participate in its annual fundraiser concert and second, would I conduct. After asking our choir (which said “yes” unanimously) I said yes so that changed the type of cantata I needed to look for. I came to the committee with three choices and all three were ok but again, we didn’t get that “YES!” from prayer. I was ready to move forward with one that we would piece together from past cantatas.
 
When I came across “We Have Our Savior,” I wasn’t sold on it but God had other plans. The committee liked it so forward we went. Months went by. I ended up getting feedback that wasn’t positive; I began to doubt the decision. God whispered “I have plans. Trust me.” It was already early November so what choice did I have? I also knew God was in control. I had to have faith.
 
The cantata came and went. We presented it at the Camden House Fundraiser with participants from six churches. We then did it for our congregation. Brandy and Sam Champeau presented the cantata in American Sign Language (ASL). Both presentations went well and it was well received. Another December cantata in the books, right? Not quite…
 
The youth choir sang this cantata with us. Two weeks after we presented it in church, SHOUT! and AWAKEN would present the same cantata (with SHOUT! member Samantha Champeau signing) to the youngest residents of the Orlando Union Rescue Mission in Orlando, Florida. This shelter is home to over 70 children.
 
After our presentation, a worker from the shelter came up to me with tears in her eyes. She proceeded to tell me that a family has just moved into the facility three months prior to our coming with a child who was deaf. Although the child was learning ASL at school, this child’s family knew limited ASL and they had made up their own language to communicate with her. The workers at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission were working diligently to learn ASL to communicate with her but it was a slow process. Within the cantata was narration that told the Christmas story from the Bible. That was the first time that child had “heard” the story of Jesus’s birth!
 

If my prayer hadn’t been “Thy will, not mine, be done,” I would have backed down. If I hadn’t trusted God and had backed down, that child wouldn’t have been able to experience the Christmas story in its entirety in words from the Bible. Everything we do for the kingdom must be bathed in prayer, from start to finish. May we all experience God’s blessings and know His absolute power by praying “May Thy will, not mine, be done!”

 

Prayer:

O Lord, our God,

Thank you for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. May we always remember to have faith in Your plan. May we always seek your guidance in our lives and as we work for Your kingdom.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

 

Blessings,
 
 
Dara

Director of Music Ministries

1-19-2017

Have you ever heard someone say, “This is a big deal?”   I am well aware that big deals are relative.  What’s a big deal to some may not be such a big deal to others.  For my little girl, Croft, it’s a big deal to go see the horses.  For me, it’s a big deal that the Falcons are playing a football game this weekend with another chance to go to the Super Bowl.  For my son, Sam, it’s a big deal to watch Liverpool in the English Premier Soccer League (I really don’t get that one). 

 

All of us have experienced big deals.  Like closing on a new home or taking the trip of a lifetime.  Big deals help to keep us motivated.  They help keep life energized.  We look forward to the next big deal.

 

I look forward to this Saturday and next big deal in the life of the church.  All – yes, including you – are invited to attend the Day of Visioning and Planning.  It begins at 8:30 am in Bailey Hall and we will be finished by noon.  Nursery care will be available.

 

This meeting will give the church the opportunity to hear the report of the Long Range Planning Task Force that has been working to gather data and put information together for the last few months.  You will also have an opportunity to provide feedback and input into the plan as Dr. Phil Schroeder, Long Range Planning consultant, and Jeff Barker, chair of the Long Range Planning Task Force, lead the discussion.  Please begin now, if you haven’t already, to cover in prayer our time together on Saturday morning.

 

The Day of Visioning and Planning isn’t a big deal for just a few.  It isn’t a big deal for just the key leadership of the church. My hope is that it is a big deal to all who are members of our church.  We are putting the finishing touches on the map that will guide our church for the next five years.  Your investment of three hours of time this Saturday morning will help ensure that we are in agreement, that we are motivated and that we energized as our church follows where Christ leads.  I hope you will make it a priority to be here and take part in the plan.  I look forward to seeing you on Saturday morning!

 

Phil Schroeder will also be with us on Sunday morning in worship.  If you have heard him preach before, you know what to expect.  If you haven’t heard him preach, then you have missed out on a blessing.  Invite your friends or missing family members and encourage them to join you in worship this Sunday.  You will be glad you did.

 

The Day of Visioning and Planning on Saturday. The anticipation of a great worship experience on Sunday – this weekend is a big deal in our church and in our personal faith journeys.  I can’t wait!

 

Blessings,

 

Tom