Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Worship Threshold

Dr. Marcia McFee, a worship consultant well known in United Methodist circles, believes that communal worship is a place of great power. When we worship God together, God's Spirit moves in life-changing ways. 

Brighton First's Worship Design Team began its most recent meeting by viewing a video segment where McFee talks about the "worship threshold", that significant moment when a congregation enters worship together. McFee suggests that the threshold should be marked in some way so that worshipers sense the entrance into the sacred.

It has been the tradition at Brighton First to begin worship with the procession of the cross and the light during the first hymn. The choir members join the procession on the weeks they offer music. In our band-led worship, we begin with a gathering time of conversation. The worship director's invitation to join in song with band members marks the threshold.

In discussion following the video, team members brainstormed and planned for new ways to create a threshold into worship that fit with different worship themes. The worship committee considered lighting changes, the use of instruments and choruses, creative prayer, scripture reading and congregational movement. In the coming weeks and months, congregation members will experience subtle and bold worship thresholds that fit with worship themes.

Why did the Worship Design Team give so much effort to just one small segment of worship? The team's work reflects their purpose: to be a "think tank" for creative, excellent worship. They accomplish this through honest, critical review of worship and planning together for upcoming worship experiences.

When the Worship Design Team was established in early 2015, team members described the characteristics of excellent worship at Connecting, Transforming and Transcendent. The worship design goal is to reach excellence, by the grace of God, every time the worshiping community of Brighton First gathers. The team is committed to creating worship experiences that connect worshippers to the sacred and to one another. The team works to design worship that will transform, changing the hearts of those who worship. And while team members understand that transcendence cannot be forced, worship must be a place where the Holy Spirit is welcomed to move in the midst of the people.

Creating an intentional worship threshold is our first step into excellent worship that connects, transforms and transcends. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Our Dwelling Place

I’ve been thinking about the security of dwelling places in recent days. We have seen the images of destruction left in the path of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and we have been reminded of the fragility of the dwelling places we construct.

I am in awe and give thanks to God for the overwhelming response we have shown for those recovering from wind and water damage. To date we have given over $8,000 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Together we are bringing comfort and rebuilding shattered and damaged homes for those in need.

I have also been in prayer for the dwelling place of this congregation. This summer we discovered that much of our flat roof had deteriorated and was in critical need of repair. Reroofing and repairs has cost $52,820. Unfortunately, we have no financial reserve for the unbudgeted cost of the roof. This is a challenging time and I give thanks for church leaders who lead by faith and a vision for what Christ is calling us to. I also give thanks for the continued generosity of this faith community.

In the midst of my concern for those in distress in the wake of storms and the challenge of needed repairs to the church roof, I have found comfort in remembering the strength of the dwelling place offered to all. Psalm 90 begins, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

God is our dwelling place in times of upheaval and uncertainty, today and for our tomorrows. Praise be to God.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Disciple Bible Study Is Back at Brighton First

This fall I am leading a Disciple: Fast Track class with Rev. Bob Fuchs. The class is a 12-week study of the Old Testament. It’s been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity to join with others in a Disciple study and I am excited about what lies ahead. A few days ago, I planned for the introductory class session and began the daily Bible readings. I am delighted to join, once again, this disciplined journey through scripture.
I led my first Disciple Bible Study in 1998. Back in those days, study facilitators were required to attend a two-day training. Study participants committed to 34 weekly sessions and read over 80% of the Bible. I looked forward to the weekly discussions and the strong relationships built through 2 ½ hour study sessions.

Over the last 20 years it has been my privilege to lead Disciple at three churches and to watch, through the study, many congregation members deepen their commitment to discipleship and their faith practices. I have witnessed Disciple Bible Study participants go on to be leaders in the church. A few have answered a call to professional ministry.

Disciple, published by Abingdon Press, has proven to be a life-changing program for thousands through the years. The editors of Disciple have taken note of the decline in number of people who feel they have the time to make the 34-session commitment. In response, Abingdon Press has published a “fast track” version of Disciple. The first two twelve-week courses are a survey of the Old Testament and New Testament. Session time has been reduced to 1 ½ hours.

Disciple: Fast Track uses the Common English Bible
translation. I find this Bible translation, published in
2011, comfortable and refreshing.
Brighton First’s Director of Discipleship, Rev. Bob Fuchs, asked me to lead the course. Bob, a Disciple Bible Study “graduate”, understands the power of the course and has sought a way to invite more people into the experience. Bob’s leadership in bringing this new format of Disciple to our faith community reflects our mission to lead people to know, love and serve God.

I appreciate that the weekly format is the same as the beloved study that I have led many times. It is my prayer that the study, even in its abbreviated version, will help believers to grow in discipleship and in relationship with one another. I am so looking forward to reading and discussing the Bible on a weekly basis with the faithful.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Call to Action Reflects Core Value

United Methodist volunteers in Louisiana prepare flood buckets with cleaning
supplies to be delivered to victims of Hurricane Harvey flooding.
Hurricane Harvey has left passed through Texas and Louisiana leaving extensive damage. The coastal damage caused by winds and a storm surge has been eclipsed by the unprecedented flooding that has displaced over 30,000 people and left thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed.

As news and pictures of the destruction were being broadcast this week, I began to receive emails and phone calls from congregation members. They asked the same question, "Will we be having an UMCOR offering on Sunday?" I have responded, "Of course we will. That's who we are."

Service is a core value at Brighton First. Many congregation members serve in church-sponsored missions and outreach, as well as community service. When people are in trouble, the faith community of Brighton First seeks ways to help. As news of the unprecedented destruction in Texas and Louisiana came in, congregation members began seeking ways to reach out through the United Methodist connection.

UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is the emergency relief agency of the United Methodist Church. UMCOR was established to offer emergency aid to those experiencing disaster, both displaced persons and refugees. UMCOR not only helps in the immediate aftermath of disaster, but works long-term with survivors, creating sustainable paths to recovery. Because United Methodist congregations give annually to support the administrative costs of UMCOR, when disaster happens, all designated gifts go directly to support those in need.

As I write this blog entry, UMCOR is already responding in Texas, offering grant money to support shelters that have been established at 20 United Methodist Churches. They are also working to deploy specially trained, volunteer Early Response Teams from across the nation. Cleaning and hygiene kits that are stored at an UMCOR warehouse in Louisiana are on route to flood victims.

UMCOR will be present in the days, weeks and months ahead in Texas and Louisiana. The relief and assistance offered represents the heart of compassion and service of the congregations of the United Methodist Church. And the sources for this service are local United Methodist congregations like Brighton First, where faithful disciples respond with action when people are in need.

To give to UMCOR, you can go directly to the UMCOR web site or give through Brighton First.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Building a Place for People to Grow

When the Stewardship Team met in May, they discussed the mission of our church, our growing ministry and our strategic plan. The team concluded that at Brighton First we are building a place for people to grow in their relationship with God. 

As the Stewardship Team developed their annual financial commitment campaign for 2017, they've used the faces and words of congregation members to celebrate what Brighton First is building.

I shared the following in the August Newsletter:

The congregation of Brighton First is committed to building a place for faith to grow. In 2017, we are redesigning our children’s Sunday School area in order to strengthen disciple making. We are intentionally growing small groups and other opportunities for adults to grow in the faith. In this last year, we have seen over 10% growth in adult faith formation participation. In worship, we have grown in devotion and praise with a new band-led worship service and greater participation of laity leadership. Our average attendance for the first 6 months of 2017 has increased from 2016. This is the first change in attendance decline since 2009. Brighton First is a place to grow and we are growing!

In 2018, our strategic plan calls for a remodel of the library and the continued emphasis on small groups. Our outreach to the residents of Mill Pond Manor Apartments is bearing fruit and this summer we begin a partnership with the Torch Food Truck, a non-profit that will deliver food to Mill Pond residents.

This October we begin our 2018 financial pledge campaign. The financial support of the congregation allows Christ’s work to continue through Brighton First. It supports us as we build a place for people to grow.

Each year, our church community offers personal commitments for God’s ministry through the fellowship of our congregation. Through regular attendance and daily prayer, we grow our capability to Know God. With joyful witness and heartfelt compassion, we continue to demonstrate our eagerness to Love God. By our volunteering and caring missions, we show our eagerness to Serve God. Our financial gifts will demonstrate our commitment to being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Participating with a financial commitment is an important step. You will be receiving more information by mail about “Building a Place for People to Grow.” We’ll ask that financial pledges be turned in by October 25 and on October 29, we will celebrate the total pledges we have received. 

Power of Connection Cards

I was moved by a story that Karen, a member of our welcome ministry, shared with me recently. It concerns the power of our Sunday morning Connection Cards. Every attendee at Brighton First receives a Connection Card when they enter the sanctuary. Our worship hosts ask that all fill out the cards each week. Approximately 40 -50% of attendees complete the cards.

We would like the return rate to be higher. I know that some feel their participation is redundant. "The church already knows all my contact information. I don't need to fill out a card." However, Karen demonstrated why filling out a card, as a model for others in worship, can make a difference in growing disciples for Jesus Christ.

Here's a portion of her story:
Because Carol faithfully fills out her Connection Card each week, Marie filled hers out when she came to visit. This allowed me to write her cards of welcome, which she appreciated so much that she asked Carol to introduce us the next time she visited. Now I get hugs every week and "I love yous," too. 
Because Carol and Marie faithfully fill out their Connection Cards, Kim filled out hers when she came to visit. This allowed Pastor Sherry to send her welcoming emails which helped her connect to Brighton First. Carol and Marie introduced me to Kim and now I am able to connect with her, as well. Kim's grandmother was an avid quilter and Kim wanted the fabric to be put to good use and thought of the Prayers and Squares quilt ministry. Today, she saw the musical prints she donated on a prayer quilt and was moved to tears.
Because Carol, Marie, and Kim faithfully fill out their Connection Cards, Karyn filled out her Connection Card without hesitation, which allowed me to send her a card of welcome.
After worship today, Carol, Marie, Kim, Karyn, and I sat around a table in the Community Room, eating a snack and sharing pieces of the stories of our lives. It was wonderful. I felt blessed to sit and share with these incredible women.  
Completing the Connection Card is a simple act of service. One that is done for others just as much, if not more, than yourself. How did I arrive at that table on this day? It all happened because Carol Baker faithfully fills out her Connection Card each week.
Thank you Karen for your ministry and thank you to all who serve by filling out your Connection Cards!

Invitation to Impact the Future

In January 2012, our congregation determined to pay off our mortgage by 2022. Since then, we have significantly reduced the balance on the mortgage, moving from $1.1 millions to $550,000. We accomplished this by paying an extra $1,000 on the principle each month and with a “13th payment”. Each year congregation members have given for an additional mortgage payment ($8,723). We continue to exceed our annual goal. We give thanks to God for the generosity of the congregation. We are on track to reach our debt retirement goal or even surpass it.

We have designated August and September as 13th payment months. We give thanks for those who have contributed to the 13th payment in the past and hope that you will continue this generous practice. We are also thankful for those who will prayerfully consider being part of this special giving for the first time. It is our goal to reach $8,723 in 13th mortgage payment giving by the end of September.

All gifts given to this special project benefit our ministry today and are a gift to future generations. When reduced interest costs are calculated, every $100 given for debt retirement is like giving approximately $128.

Participating in making the 13th payment is saying “yes” to the future ministry of First United Methodist Church. You are invited to mark your gifts, “Mortgage”.