The Wisdom of Autumn

Fall is here; there’s no doubt about it.  The leaves rustle underfoot as I walk the dog and the air has a chill to it.  I often need a jacket when I leave for work.  It’s easy to experience autumn as a time of loss; the trees lose their leaves, our flowers wither and die – and we know winter is coming.  But autumn can also be a time of growth, of renewal, of new possibilities.

Author Joyce Rupp puts it beautifully when she writes: “Each autumn can be a source of enrichment for us.  The season can invite us to pause for a while in our busy lives and to face the deeper issues of the future…. autumn can challenge us to change our present situation…. We can learn how to live with insecurity, develop deeper trust in the unknown of eternal life, and believe more fully in the promises of our faith.”

And it is in the autumn of each year that we pause, as a part of this congregation of faith, to consider our gifts to God for the coming year.  What will we give back to the gracious God who gives us everything?

How will we give our time?  There are so many opportunities to volunteer, both in our own faith community and in the community around us.

How will we give of our talents?  There is always room for another set of willing hands to do God’s work in the world.

How will we give of our financial resources? These are hard times for many people and it can be so easy to be afraid.  Afraid we won’t have enough, afraid of the unexpected… just plain afraid.  But over and over, we are assured by God’s grace and goodness.  Over and over, we have enough.  In fact, we usually have more than enough.

As you prayerfully consider your gifts to God for the coming year, I encourage you to see the blessings in your life.  When we begin from a place of ‘more than enough’, of trusting God to provide everything we need, it’s so much easier to give out of our abundance.

What will we give back to God with open hands?

With grace and peace,

Andrea Johnson, Lay Leader

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With Open Hands

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ:

Before getting into this article, I want you all to do something for me. Hold your hands out in front of you palms up and look at them for a moment.

Open Hands

In this position, our hands are prepared to receive. You might catch a ball or scoop water in your hands in this position. If you catch a ray of sunshine in the window, you can hold it briefly while it warms your hands. Metaphorically, I think this is the position we need to have our hands in to receive the blessings God offers us. In fact, like the water, God’s blessings fill our hands and run out so that blessings might overflow from us and become blessings to others.

This is also the position our hands are in when we are offering blessings to others. Think of washing a baby in one of those baby baths that fits in the sink. You scoop that water with your hands and pour it gently over the baby’s body. We might also scoop grain from a sack in order to fill a smaller one with our hands in this position. With our hands open, palms up, we are prepared, both to receive and to give, to be blessed and to bless others.

This describes the theme for Chapel Hill’s stewardship campaign for the 2016 budget year. We are calling it the “With Open Hands” campaign. As we prayerfully consider what God would have us give in the coming year, if we do so with open hands, we are equally as ready to receive as we are to give. This is the essence of stewardship anyway, isn’t it? God blesses us and we use what God has given us and in turn give back, so that God might bless others so that they in turn might give back. It is a cycle of giving that starts with God, continues with the first willing giver and then grows as others are blessed and called to be a blessing. For some, the gifts they receive from God through the Church help them recognize God as the source of things in their life and helps them begin to stand on their feet so that they might bless others. And for others, giving is something they have simply always done as they see the needs of others and are called to meet those needs.

Giving is one way the early Church demonstrated the kind of extravagant love Jesus showed us. Acts 2:44-45 says, “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” As we continue to work out being God’s Church and creating opportunities for God’s Kingdom to come on this Earth as it is in Heaven, generosity is one way we can express our gratitude for all the blessings we receive. Holding God’s blessings with open hands means we are as ready to give as we are to receive. Holding God’s blessings with open hands means we are leaving what we are given at God’s disposal so that God may work through us to bless others.

The Chapel Hill Stewardship Campaign begins October 11, 2015. On that Sunday, we will have stewardship packets available for folks who are able to be in worship that day. We will mail the others early the next week, so expect to receive one. What is asked of you is the same thing that is asked each week, “That you give as the Holy Spirit leads you to give, nothing more and nothing less.” You will have two weeks to consider what you will commit to giving in 2016 as we will receive the Faith Promise cards in worship on October 25. Faith Promises may be turned in any time after they are distributed and we will, of course, receive yours any time you are ready to turn it in.

In other years we have held an all-church potluck on the day the commitments are gathered in. However, this year, the weekend of October 24-25 is extremely busy at Chapel Hill, so we are going to gather on November 22, after the second service, for a potluck celebration and announcement of the stewardship campaign results. Please plan to celebrate the ways God has blessed Chapel Hill that day.

Stewardship is about holding all we have in such a way as to receive what is needed, leaving God room to work with what is given to meet the needs of others. May we all hold our hands open and allow God’s blessings to overflow from our hands that others might be filled. With Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds, and Open Hands, may we be available for all the blessings God has in store for us. And may God give us guidance to use all that is given to bring God praise, honor and glory!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chad

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We are the Church… but what does that look like?

We’re back people of God! This Chapel Hill blog has been on a year + long hiatus as we got our electronic selves back together.  Look for differing voices to post in the months ahead… but for now, make sure to read (if you haven’t) Pastor Chad’s informative Voice on the Hill article about the area United Methodist Connections conversation and the First UMC and Chapel Hill Consolidation Team.  It will be helpful to understand the language as all of this moves forward.  And pray on, Chapel Hill, pray on…

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ:

Two years ago, Chapel Hill gathered with the other United Methodist Churches in Battle Creek and began conversations around doing ministry together. Over time, that group became known as United Methodist Connections Battle Creek. We have started some joint ministries, come together for worship, shared ideas, and really just gotten to know one another better. This group continues to meet. We continue to seek ways we can support each other in ministry. The Gleaning, an urban garden project on site at Washington Heights, is one of the ministries that started as a result of our gathering. The next collective gathering is planned for October 4, when we will gather for worship on World Communion Sunday in a single combined service at First United Methodist Church.

UM Connections continues to grow in scope. It is the intention of the group to offer a community calendar that will afford folks who are worshiping in one congregation to share study and fellowship opportunities with other congregations as their calendars allow. The name and the function of the group are intentional. We aim to be more connectional in the ways United Methodists are doing ministry together in this community.

Out of these gatherings emerged some energy and interest in exploring ways we might “connect” in more concrete ways. Words like merger and consolidation began to enter our conversations. We began asking questions about ways ministry might look different if we combined assets up to, and including, the buildings. To be honest, there were some conversation partners who didn’t feel like this was a direction their congregation wanted to pursue. For others, First UMC and Chapel Hill to be specific, the possibilities began to become a larger part of our dialogue. This created some tension in our meetings and slowed progress both in seeking shared ministry opportunities and in conversations around consolidation.

As a result, in June, a separate conversation began between First UMC and Chapel Hill UMC that focused more directly on exploring more concrete ways of coming together. Once again, this conversation includes every option up to, and including, becoming a single congregation. We are calling this group the Consolidation Team. Both Administrative Councils (Ministry Team at Chapel Hill) voted to move forward with this dialogue. There are six lay representatives from each congregation on the team and two pastors. Chapel Hill’s team consists of: Linda Grap, Dave Hawks, Dick Schlatter, Mark Crawford, Janet Evans, and Jeff Hovarter along with Pastor Dave and myself.

The Consolidation Team has engaged the services of a third party consultant to help guide our conversations and to insure that we can discuss the most difficult of issues in constructive and productive ways. The consultant can approach things without history, tradition and sentimental attachment to the physical things and encourage the rest of us to do the same. I am extremely pleased with the way God has brought our team together and am looking forward to working with these folks.

All Consolidation Team meetings are public meetings. Anyone is welcome to listen in. However, in order that we keep the group on task, we ask that observers share their input through appointed representatives. Meeting notices will be published on the Chapel Hill Calendar.  

In short, UM Connections and the Consolidation Team are not the same thing. UM Connections includes all seven United Methodist Churches: Birchwood, Chapel Hill, Christ, First, Maple, Trinity, and Washington Heights. (Convis Union is involved in Vital Church Initiative [VCI] and is currently not actively participating in Connections.) As of now, the only two congregations involved in the Consolidation Team are First and Chapel Hill.

I hope this provides some clarity around what is happening with, and between, the United Methodist Churches in our community. As we continue to discuss progress of these two groups we will do our best to distinguish UM Connections (all seven churches in community) and the Consolidation Team (First and Chapel Hill). Please keep both groups in your prayers as the desired outcome for each is reaching more people and making more disciples for Jesus Christ. We cannot do that without prayer support.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Pastor Chad Parmalee

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Messy in the Midst

A Beautiful Mess

 

I have to confess that,

certainly much of the time,

I am indeed messy.

 

While there is much to celebrate, many people to love, so much to be grateful for… there is also stuff.  Issues with aging parents and young adult children.  Tension in relationships.  The work of growing a new marriage.  Financial stress.  Too much to do all of the time.  Health issues… and really, have I gained more weight?

I also want to confess – really to remember – how much of a mess that I’ve been in church.  In the early years of my participation at Chapel Hill, I was a 40-year old woman with a marriage that was crumbling around my ears and two teenage daughters in ever-changing states of angst and joy, living in an increasingly financially-precarious situation.  I had lived a life apart from God for most of my adult life and was realizing that I was not going to be able to control, perfect, earn, or work hard enough, long enough to make it all right.  I was not vaguely OK.

God led me to Chapel Hill and a pew in the praise service.  There, almost weekly, for months at a time, He spoke to me.  He spoke to me in worship songs of praise about our weakness and God’s strength, of love, and forgiveness.  He spoke to me in messages and scripture that taught me a grace I had never understood. And He spoke to me through kind words, hugs, prayers, and tissues handed me from someone near who noticed that I was in full-blown tears at some point in nearly every service.

And, honestly, it didn’t get less messy for a long time.  Divorce was followed by cancer, which was followed by the failure of my business and the loss of livelihood, which was followed by bankruptcy.  The daughters left for college and life beyond.  My heart broke and healed and broke again.  Life just kept happening.

What I learned, over time and as God intertwined my life with other people with whom I could be vulnerably and authentically messy, is that it was OK to be wherever I was.  That God not only tolerated my messy self, but loved me enough to breathe life and beauty and love into my mess as He walked along with (and sometimes carried) me.

I’ve learned that there is always some level of mess.  That it’s OK to show it in public and talk about it with others.  I’ve learned that it’s important to accept and love others in the midst of their own messes.  I’ve learned that listening and offering kind words, hugs, prayers, and a tissue are some of the greatest gifts that we can give others in their vulnerably messy moments.

I’ve learned that all of this happens in the midst of this messy church in the midst of God’s amazing grace.

And isn’t that just the most beautifully messy miracle?

With blessings on your mess,   Janet

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Messy Spirituality

Greetings from Pastor Chad,

I am excited about this upcoming sermon series! As we get ready to engage with Mike Yaconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality, I want to whisper a word of warning. If this series does not make us all a little uncomfortable, I have failed to preach the material. I hope not to fail, so expect to be met with ideas and concepts that press against some comfortable sensibilities. Yaconelli was, as his book describes him, “a wild man—passionate about life and grace and Jesus.” He was not a guy who pulled punches or cared too much about political correctness. Mike started a church for people who didn’t feel there was a place for them in other communities that called themselves “church” and it was filled with people who were encountering all kinds of life’s troubles and were not afraid or ashamed to share them in community because it wasn’t a secret that other folks in community were facing the same or similar things.  

Answering the question, “What does Messy Spirituality look like?” Michael Yaconelli writes, “This may sound shocking, but spirituality is a home for those who don’t have life figured out, who don’t know the Bible as well as they could, and who don’t have their spiritual lives all together—the rest of us who thought there wasn’t a ‘rest of us,’ Christians who are trying to follow Jesus the best we can.”

For me, this means that no matter what we think church should be or how church people should act or look or dress or smell or talk; church must be and really has simply always been a place for messed up people who need Jesus. And people who need Jesus act, look, dress, smell and talk in every kind of way. Jesus attracted and still attracts people who need

Jesus. But somehow church has in many ways become a gathering of people who share, but are generally unwilling to reveal, their need for Jesus. On any given Sunday there are people next to you in the pews who smile and tell you they are fine when indeed they are dying inside, seeking peace in the midst of the things life has chucked at them through the week, people who are messed up. Yaconelli didn’t really do anything different when he invited messed up people to church except give them permission to be messed up even in church, where he knew Jesus would show up in the form of messed up people just like them who would walk with them.  

Mike Yaconelli’s writing resonates with me. His realistic picture of the church and how it could function in our lives is refreshing. I am inspired to be the mixed-up, messed-up guy I am who struggles to follow Jesus the best I can but fails on a regular basis. I am, in the historic language of the church, “set apart” as clergy for life-long service to God in ministry, but I am every bit a human being who is looking to be a part of a community of believers who are struggling to follow Jesus the best they can right alongside me. As someone who both seeks God’s grace and seeks to extend it, I hope I can inspire others to expect grace for all circumstances in a community of believers.  

I am called to walk together in faith striving to follow Jesus, encouraging one another when we fail. I am called to be a part of a community where grace abounds because each individual in the community understands that the grace extended us through Christ leaves no option but to extend grace toward others, all others. I am called to walk together with people who extend and receive grace so often that it becomes our first impulse. If we are truly to be followers of Jesus, we must have grace ever at the ready because we understand that we and the people around us are ever in need of it. I am called to follow Jesus with people who, like Jesus, choose love even when met with all the unloveliness life with other people brings.

As a leader God has called to this place at this time, if this is the kind of community I am called to walk with, this then is the kind of community I am called to lead us into. I am called to lead from within a community of followers of Jesus who expect life in the church to be Unrefined, Unfinished, Uncomfortable, Unconventional, and sometimes even Unacceptable but always Irresistible. Those are the key words in the upcoming sermon series. Jesus faced all of these things and without fault, met them with kindness and mercy and GRACE. May we learn to do the same as we learn to walk together in spite of all our messiness, trying to follow Jesus the best we can.

 Yours in Christ,

Pastor Chad

 

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Pot Roast for Vegetarians?

Chapel Hill staff and leadership receive a weekly Albion District UMC e-newsletter that usually contains a reflection from Tamara Williams, our District Superintendent.  We found last week’s particularly interesting and challenging…and thought it might be a good way to re-inaugurate the Chapel Hill blog.  Look for more thoughts on faith, life, and culture coming weekly!

Dear Friends in Christ,

One of the questions I have been asked so many times during the past five years is, “How can we get young people to come into our church?”  I usually just sigh, because the answer to that question isn’t a brief one!  But this morning I had an inspiration that I want to share with you.  I hope it makes sense, and I hope you find it helpful.  Here goes:

My parents, who are in their upper 70’s, LOVE POT-ROAST.  They cook up a pot-roast at least every other week, and enjoy the leftovers for days. They grew up in homes where meat and potatoes were the basis of the main meal almost every day.  It would never occur to them to not have meat and potatoes.

My husband Jeremy and I, however, rarely have pot-roast.  We cook one up maybe twice a year.  It’s not that we don’t like it – after all, we grew up with it.  But for reasons that we can’t fully explain, we find it kind of boring.  It always tastes the same to us.  Which is exactly the reason my parents love it – it always gives them the flavor they love! 

And then there is my son Caleb.  He never eats pot-roast – he’s a vegetarian!  Needless to say, although he loves his grandparents very much, he just can’t relate to having pot-roast every other week.

I think that “church” is often like my family.  The faithful Christians who have been active in their churches for decades are much like my mom and dad and their love of pot-roast.  They know what they like, and they’re very comfortable with the familiarity of it.  They know every nook and cranny of the sanctuary.  They’ve sung every hymn, and know their favorites.  They know the stories of the Bible, and have outlasted a lot of pastors over the years.  They sit in the same spot every week (pretty much always have!)  They’ve given sacrificially in so many ways – time, energy, money.  And they have a hard time understanding why young people aren’t coming to join them.

Young people, on the other hand, are much more like my son and his choice to be vegetarian.  From the day they were born, their world has been full and colorful and fast.  They learned early that they have a wide variety of everything to choose from – cereals, video games, clothes, phones, cable channels… and churches.  They learned early that the even though the world is a huge place, they can be connected in an instant to any part of it, and any person in it.  They learned early that change is a constant part of life, even in families.  Families change because of divorce, and again because of re-marriage.  Families change as parents get new jobs, causing young people to live in multiple places and attend multiple schools.  They love variety, and are very comfortable with change.

Truth is, there is nothing at all wrong with having pot-roast every other week.  And there’s nothing wrong with choosing to never eat pot-roast.  But clearly, there will be a clash of values and choices and lifestyles when the two try to come together.  And that’s exactly what happens between many of our churches and the young people we want to reach: they just aren’t interested in our pot-roast!

Which leads me to two conclusions.  If we want to keep things the way they are in our churches, we can – but then we need to stop asking where the young people are.  And if we want to reach young people, we need to be willing to make some changes with them in mind. Gotta go.  Jeremy just made a delicious Shepherd’s Pie for supper!

God bless each of you as you follow and serve the Lord,

Tamara

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First Things

Image

In Psalm 90, “A Prayer of Moses,” the Psalmist is dealing with his own mortality and the brevity of life.  In verse 10 we read Moses’ words about measuring life to 70 years or 80 if we are fortunate and verse 12 asks God to, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)  The Chapel Hill Staff shared a devotion this week written by Joe Stowell in which he considers these two thoughts and talks about his chronic tendency to overcommit in an effort not to disappoint people who asked for his time.  I like, Pastor Stowell, have a tendency to say yes more often than is healthy for me and for my family, and also like Pastor Stowell, often so as not to disappoint others. 

Stowell’s reflections have kept me thinking about time and commitments and the obligations of being a pastor in a new context.  I could allow the demands of serving in a new place in a much different capacity to simply move into the space in my life completing seminary has left.  However, perhaps it would be healthier for me to re-examine my priorities and carefully make room first for the things that God helps me to discern need to be first in my life.  Perhaps?!?!    

The combination of transition leave and vacation that I was able to take in the month of June was a tremendously helpful season in my life.  I was able to spend some time prioritizing, and some time with my girls and time acclimating to our new surroundings.  At the end of the day, I have to admit that I was ready to get back to work, but ready and rested in ways I could not have been without the time allotted. 

My days are numbered and if I seek God in prioritizing my time and the activities with which I fill it, I believe I will “gain a heart of wisdom.”  At the very least, I will spend my time, that rare commodity with which we are all blessed with the same amount of each day, more wisely.  A heart that seeks after God and God’s timing is truly a heart of wisdom.  May God help me to use my gifts, God’s grace and the time I have allotted to show others a wise discerning heart especially where time is considered. 

Peace be with you,

Pastor Chad Parmalee

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