In the River of Love

In response to the news… to the world.. to the last post by Bishop Bard … Chapel Hill writer, Johanna Durrett, offers her journey and challenges with the idea of ‘other’.

In light of current events, as the media focuses on the stories of  immigration and travel visas,  I think it is time to examine this issue in light of our beliefs and values as followers of Jesus.  Let us turn first to the Word of God.  In Leviticus 19: 33-34, God gave a mitzvah, or command to his people:  “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you  in your land.  Treat them like native born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself.”  I was once told by a rabbi that this command is repeated about forty times, more than any other command in the Old Testament.  And Jesus certainly reinforced it.

So first, who are the foreigners (or as some translations read “strangers”) who live among us?  I like to think that this term has a very broad meaning.  It is anyone who different from me in culture, education, race, and life experiences.  Think about that.  When you think of it that way, there are so many.  And many I have come to know and love.  Extending love to the foreigners becomes an ever widening river or lake or ocean.

The love that God has for me is endless. The love that God has for you is endless. His love is freely given.  No matter what we do, how we react, what we say, or don’t say does not change the fact that God loves me, God loves you, God loves all people.

So how do we extend God’s love to others?  Well,  first I think we should examine what holds us back from extending love? I think there are many reasons.  In my own life I have held back on reaching out in love to others because of fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of judgment, fear of being misunderstood, fear of saying the wromg thing,  to name the most obvious.  There are probably, or I should say there are definitely deeper reasons that I have yet to see, that hold me back from fully extending God’s love to others.  More than likely, these fears are tied to basic desire for survival. But I will also say that the more I dare to step out the more I seem to be blessed by His love.  It seems to flow like a gently moving river around me and I am along for the ride.

So if fear of “whatever” stands in my way to fully extend love to all the “strangers/foreigners in my land”, what can I do today to counter that fear and move out in love?  The fear is in me.  Something more moving, more powerful must be awakened in my heart to move me to action.  And consider your own heart.  Is there a fear, a hurt, that blocks you from thinking, acting, talking like a disciple of Jesus?  Is there a fear that by stepping out in faith, that can be washed away by the grace and love of God?

Back to the news surrounding our immigration policy.  What I see on the news disturbs me.  Why?  I see in the eyes of the individuals that are affected  by the enforcement of our laws, the pain, the desire, the desperation that all of us feel, the desire to be accepted, not only in our land, but by our people.  These are the powerful images that touch my heart.  These are the people I want to hug.  These are the people I want to love.

I am not a lawmaker. I am not a politician.  I do not have simple answers to complicated laws that exist in our nation.  But I am human.  I am child of God and as such I want to extend God’s love to all people.  Moving in the river of God’s love, the scenery that we see today, will change.  I do not know what it will look like.  Moving in the river of God’s love affects the shorelines and the lines drawn in the sand, so laws and policy will be affected.  It is the nature of creation and change.  And God is always creating us in His image.

Johanna Durrett



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Refugees and Aliens

Dear readers of ‘formingtogether’,

As the pastor of Chapel Hill UMC, I work hard at remaining politically neutral in messages and in most settings .  It is my responsibility to speak Biblical truth regardless of politics.  Most often, I remain silent on matters of politics, as I understand my position is one that carries a great deal of implied power and sway.

However, when policy encroaches on Biblical principle, I believe it is our responsibility as Christians to speak out.  As ambassadors for Christ, under his mandate, we are to love our neighbor(s) as ourselves; act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God; and demonstrate the grace and generosity extended us by God through Christ.  We must challenge ourselves to, as Bishop Reuben Job has written, “Do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God”. 

When the policies under which we are asked to live are inconsistent with Biblical principles and we do not say anything, we support the policies in our inaction.  Please pray that our leaders will see clearly to the compassionate treatment of all people regardless of the national flag and circumstances under which they were born.

Pastor Chad Parmalee

 Dear Friends:

In these times of deep political divide, we struggle with the conflict between political views and our beliefs as followers of Jesus Christ.  Our church struggles with how to speak about, and to, our wider world.  Yet, as followers of Jesus, we are invited to speak, to think more deeply and to reflect more broadly about our world.

John Wesley often addressed the significant issues of his day including slavery, alcohol abuse, and the political situation in the colonies. In our reflections, we should not
be limited by binary red and blue thinking.  Instead we are invited as Christians to think with and through our Scriptures which provide us with our primary images and metaphors for engaging the wider world.  We are invited to use the resources in our tradition and to listen to the breadth of human experience. We need to offer theologically rooted moral reflection on the wider world in which we live and to which we minister; in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ.

In recent days as policy changes on immigration and refugees have been announced, I have reflected on them using Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.  As I listen to the Scriptures that encourage us to do justice, that enjoin us to welcome the stranger and alien, that call us to do all in love, I cannot help but think that the recent actions are not in keeping with the best of our faith and the deepest soul of our country.  As I listen to the voices of students in our colleges, professionals with loved ones who live overseas, and families seeking only the safety and opportunity missing from their country of birth, these actions trouble my spirit.  The stories of our faith are in so many cases stories of wandering people: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his family, the Israelites led by Moses and Aaron and Miriam.  The Law enjoins us to “love the alien as yourself,” and the aliens or immigrants of the time were not only people who were ethnically different, but who were also religiously different.  The life of Jesus was, in part, the life of a refugee as he and his family fled political violence in Roman occupied Palestine.  These stories of our faith provide grounding for moral principles of hospitality, compassion and care for the stranger and foreigner.  I am grateful to live in a country where such theologically grounded moral principles have been an important part of our moral fabric.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

To be sure, security matters.  “All nations have the right to secure their borders” (The Book of Resolutions, “Welcoming the Migrant to the US”).  At the same time, “the primary concern for Christians should be the welfare of immigrants” (“Welcoming the Migrant to the US”).  In securing our borders, we need to make sure that we keep intact the heart and soul of the country we are wanting to protect.  These recent actions threaten our heart, our soul, our character.

I invite you to continue to think with me about how our nation’s policies might more adequately reflect the heart of our faith.  I invite you to pray and work for a world that more adequately embodies justice, kindness, compassion, hospitality and love.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop David Alan Bard

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Leaning into the Future

Greetings in the Name of Jesus the Christ:

As we begin the New Year, we are thinking about direction, momentum, mission and vision.  God continues to move here at Chapel Hill.  New leaders are in place and a renewed sense of purpose is emerging.  This is an exciting time in the life or our congregation.  That said, I have been working with the Nominations and Lay Leadership Ministry Team, and the Administrative Ministry Team to develop and adopt new guiding statements for Chapel Hill.  There are two major contributors to the formation of these statements.  First, we have spent more than two years asking important questions about who we are and who we believe God is calling us to be.  Our work in the Consolidation Exploration process helped us to lean into mission and vision in new ways.  Secondly, as a congregation of the United Methodist Church, our mission is well defined by our denomination.  Additionally, Chapel Hill has a strong connection with the church’s existing mission statement which has emerged as the congregation’s identity.  That said, the new guiding statements for Chapel Hill as presented by the Leadership Development Team and accepted by the Administrative Ministry Team and the broader leadership at the recent visioning session are as follows:

Mission Statement:  Our mission as a faith community of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Vision Statement:  Our vision is to be an authentic, inclusive Christian Community actively connected to neighbor and world.

Identity:  As a community of Christ’s followers, we worship God daily as we witness, grow, teach and serve.

Having a statement of identity is not necessarily standard practice.  However, it is a statement that helps identify the means to our goals.  By our witness, through our personal and collective growth, by teaching and serving those in our midst as a church and in our greater community we will become the kind of community we seek to be.  There is a strong current toward diversity and inclusivity at Chapel Hill, strong enough that the leadership has chosen to clearly articulate our intent.  Making disciples of Jesus Christ requires us to make disciples like Jesus Christ, unconditionally welcoming people and pointing toward Christ and his unconditional love.  If we press our ministries, all the ministries of Chapel Hill, through these statements we will see God’s transforming power in the world.

At the end of the week long intentional prayer experiences we engaged in this month we held a visioning and dreaming session with people currently serving in key leadership positions at Chapel Hill.  At that session, we began to gather the ideas for ministries and initiatives that reflect our collective understanding of God’s direction for Chapel Hill.  But we asked more than the leadership to engage in prayer and to listen to God.  In the coming week, we are asking you to tell us what you have heard by adding your dreams, your vision to the mix.  In the hall outside my office we will post the ideas we have received thus far and provide the materials you need to add the things God is telling you.  We will then combine the ideas into areas of focus and seek to take action on the things God has spoken most clearly.

May God continue to bless our efforts as we seek to become the community we are called to be.

Pastor Chad



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House of Prayer

Friday, January 20 – A House of Prayer

We invite you to be part of the House of Prayer on Friday, January 20, from noon to 8 p.m. The first scripture reference to a house of prayer is found in the Old Testament in Isaiah 56:7, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

When we gather each week at Chapel Hill for worship, we come together for teaching, learning, singing, socializing, supporting, nurturing, leading, following and perhaps, most importantly, praying.

We pray for one another and ourselves, for our leaders, for our community, state and nation, for the world.  We give thanks and we intercede for others.  We praise God for God’s mercy and grace and we ask God’s blessing on the people and the concerns we care about the most.

The goal of a “House of Prayer” is simple; we want to offer space for all to meet God and connect with God through individual prayer and worship.  For many of us, quiet space is a rarity, and our House of Prayer offers time and space to sit with God, to pray, meditate, read scripture, and seek God’s will for our individual lives and our life as a community of faith.

We invite you to be part of the House of Prayer on    Friday, January 20, from noon to 8 p.m.   God is always speaking to us.  Sometimes we just need a quiet time and space to be able to hear what God is saying.  Stop by Chapel Hill and find your quiet time with God.


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Into the World

Thursday, January 19 – Walking, Driving, Watching Prayer

 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.
For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas
and built it on the ocean depths.  Psalm 24: 1- 2 (NLT)

 Certainly a part of having our listening ears tuned to God’s voice, is fully recognizing that God is looking not just at us and at our church, but at a world full of need, hurt and possibility.

Today, we are very purposefully paying attention to that world – to our neighbors and neighborhood, to the Battle Creek community, the state of Michigan, the United States of America, the world beyond and the planet itself.  Haiti, Guatemala, Zambia, China… where is God needing the ministry we can offer?

  • Take a walk (or a drive) around your neighborhood today. Think about the people who live there and what their needs may be.
  • Walk through Meijer, WalMart, Lakeview Square Mall and notice and listen to the people around you.
  • As you read the paper, watch the news or follow your news feed today, what situations break your heart or call you to action?
  • Consider our amazing planet Earth – it’s complex eco-system, a demands of an ever-increasing population, the food chain and all creatures, great and small. Where can we make a difference?

At the end of the day, reflect on those experiences in the world today.  Offer your prayers to God.  Spend some minutes in quiet and stillness, listening for God’s call and words to you.  Write them down.  Ponder them in your heart.


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Come to Pray

Wednesday, January 18 – Corporate Prayer Experience

             “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”   (Ephesians 6:18)

 Join us for a time of prayer and reflection on Wednesday,   January 18,  beginning at 6 p.m.  There will be a short prayer service, where you will have an opportunity to join in prayer with others, followed by a time to practice alternate ways of praying.

A Prayer Service will be held from 6—6:30 p.m. in the Worship Center.  Praying together is one way God can use to unify our church family and create a shared vision for our future. The same Holy Spirit who dwells in the hearts of every believer is able to knit us together in unique bonds of fellowship when we lift our prayers as one. Whether praying out loud together or sitting quietly together listening, the practice of corporate   prayer can be a meaningful way to experience God speaking to us as a congregation and leading in new ways.

Then, from 6:30—7:30 p.m., you will have the opportunity to experience some ancient and new ways of praying on your own. There will be a variety of prayer stations you can try including Centering Prayer, Coloring or Journaling Prayer, Using a Finger Labyrinth, Prayer Beads and more. Each station will have someone available to offer some guidance if that is helpful.

If you are unable to be present at the church on Wednesday, you can still join us in heart and spirit by lifting your own prayer wherever you are during this time. In the Holy Spirit, we are all joined as one!


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Twitter Tuesday?

Tuesday, January 17  – Fixed Hour Prayer

Fixed-hour prayer, also known as “the divine offices” or “the liturgy of the hours” is an ancient prayer tradition, perhaps the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline.  At the core of this practice is a desire to infuse our lives with prayer from the first moment of awareness in the morning to our last conscious thought as we drift off to sleep at the end of the day.  This tradition is deeply rooted in Judaism where we find the origins of Christianity.

In Roman commercial life, the devout organized their days around their prayer life.  The day begins with early prayers and the work bells ring, indicating first hour and the start of the work day. A mid-morning break, third hour, is followed by a noon meal and siesta, sixth hour.  At the ninth hour, or 3pm, work begins again, and vespers at 6pm bring the work day to a close.  At each of these hours, work stopped and prayer began.  Prayer continued in the evening and at bedtime.

In the Bible, we see many examples of fixed-hour prayer; David prayed seven times a day (Psalm 119: 164) and Daniel prayed three times a day           (Daniel 6:10).  The disciples continued to pray at set times of the day after Jesus’ death (Acts 3:1, 10:3, 9, 30).  In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we are told to pray continually, without ceasing.

How can you observe this traditional form of prayer today?  Pick several times during the day, perhaps on the hour, and set your watch or phone alarm for these times.  The specific time is not important.  When the alarm rings, stop what you’re doing and pray.  It doesn’t have be an elaborate prayer.  God receives all prayers, spoken and unspoken, written out or improvised.  Even a few words, “Thank you” or “God, I praise you for this day” are sufficient.  If you have a Twitter feed, follow Chapel Hill’s Twitter account, and when you receive a tweet, take a moment to pray.

Why is this practice important?  It is so easy to get caught up in our busy schedules that we become overwhelmed.  We may start the day with prayer and a devotion but before we know it, it’s bedtime and we’re too tired to do anything but fall into bed and hope that sleep comes quickly.  By committing to prayer at regular times during the day, we make space in our lives for daily worship.  We make it a priority to stay connected with God and remember our true priorities.

~ Andrea Johnson

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