“Yes, but what can I do to change the world?”
I am asked this question a lot, and I’ll be honest—recently, it has been a difficult question to answer. In the midst of overwhelming oppression and injustice such as we have witnessed in our country in recent months, it is difficult to see how anything we do as individuals can make any kind of difference in the lives of others. Sometimes it seems like nothing we can do is big enough to bring about the kind of systemic change that is need to make the world a better place. And let’s face it, politically, socially, economically and environmentally, things seeminly are in a constant state of turmoil and madness and we feel powerless to do anything about it.
Still, we self-proclaimed followers of Christ claim as our own Jesus’ call to serve the least, the last and the lost. We remember Jesus’ when he said in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him, and whatever we withhold from others, we withhold from Jesus. As United Methodists, we are partularly interested in changing the world, because our own mission is to “transform the world” by making disciples of Jesus Christ through our witness and our love. But knowing what we’re supposed to do, and knowing how to do it are two different things.
I pondered this question recently as I was driving in the car listening to a new CD, which was actually a remix of an old CD I had loved in high school. I was struck again by these lyrics:
This heart still believes
That love and mercy still exist
While all the hatreds rage and so many say
That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire with the moisture from a kiss
And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me
(“The Change” by Garth Brooks)
I love this song! It reminds me that hope is a very powerful thing, and that one of the gifts we have to offer this world is hope— hope that today is not the end of the story; hope that in the end, love wins—not hate or war-mongering or power-plays—but love;
hope that God is still here, carrying us through, crying with us when the pain is too much to bear, reminding us that all things will be made right and that eventually, the world will know peace. Hope gets you through when all else has failed.
This song also reminds me that we have much work to do. The truth is one person cannot do much to change the world or to solve its overwhelming problems. But one person can change life for another person, by offering a helping hand, by caring, by standing beside them when they feel alone, by fighting injustice with them and on their behalf, by pushing back against the systems that threaten to destroy them. It might not seem like a lot, but to that person, it’s everything. And if each of us is willing to put our lives on the line for just one person at a time, we would see that together, our collective power is great, and that by each of us offering ourselves to one person, the cumulative effect would be greater than we can imagine.
At the same time, we’ll find that by living for others and by standing up for what’s right, we will be less moved by the hatred and oppression that we see all around us. Giving and loving will save our own compassion, ensuring that we remain moved by the pain of others, that we will not grow numb or calloused by all that we see and experience. Even if we can’t singlehandedly change the world, we CAN ensure the world does not change what is good in us.
So how do we change the world? By doing just this one thing: love your neighbor, all the time, selflessly, and on purpose. Do this, and together, we can make the world a better place.
Love, Pastor Becca
It is June! Wow! This means we are nearing the end of our first year together as pastor and congregation. When I first met with the leaders of St. Paul’s February of 2016, your hopes were loud and clear: we want to grow; we want to learn how to let go of past problems and face the future with hope and determination as we figure out how to be relevant in an ever-changing world. We have done some great work together this year, work we should certainly celebrate, but in terms of revitalizing our ministries and reinventing ourselves, we have just begun to scratch the surface.
The truth is, we have tried as a congregation and as a district to do things the same old way and achieve new results. This method of church revitalization and growth simply has not worked. Thus, we are going to try something new—community organizing.
In April, I had the blessing of attending training on how to be a community organizer. Organizers are ordinary people who learn how to leverage power, mobilize people, turn insurmountable problems into actionable issues, and help unite people around common passions and concerns that connect with their own self-interests.
As a result of the training, my conviction was strengthened that at the heart of progress is relationship. We spend too much time talking to each other without really hearing. We spend a lot of energy doing ministry and charitable work for the community without ever engaging with them in meaningful partnerships. Relational one-on-ones are the heart of community organizing. Relationship helps us to find where our passions align, and how we can support each other on the places where our individual interests connect. In order for us to grow, we must do more than try to figure out what the community needs. Instead, we must spend time getting to know our neighbors and invite them to join in the process of changing our community. This means we have to be willing to think of ourselves as partners of our ministries and stewards of our building, instead of owners of either.
We will start by engaging the organizational lifecycle as a part of our vision and practice in our congregation. The organizing lifecycle has four distinctive phases. The first phase is listening. We will be spending more time intentionally listening to each other, the leaders in our community, and the people who live in our neighborhoods. We will do this through one on one conversations and small group meetings where everyone is invited to share their perspectives, ideas, and passions. This is the most important part of the lifecycle, and we will spend a lot of time and effort on building relationships.
The second phase is discerning and planning. We will gather together to share the things we learn by listening, focus on issues that align with the needs and interests of all involved as well as our mission, and then determine the best way to act for change. Part of this will be choosing to focus on issues (actionable, solvable challenges) instead of problems (big, depressing, overwhelming situations that are beyond our control to change.)
The third phase is action. Based on our discernment and planning, we will do something that is intended to bring results. This is the hands-on part of the life- cycle. This is the place where we will work together with members and leaders of our congregation as well as those in our community who have a stake in the outcome of projects and programs.
The final stage is celebration and evaluation. We will spend time evaluating the actions we took, deciding where we can improve, celebrating the work we did together, and figuring out next steps. Then as those next steps become clear, we will begin the lifecycle all over again with a new listening season.
We will begin our first organizing cycle this summer as we roll out a Summer BBQ project. This is an exciting series of events that will run 5 weeks, beginning July 5. We will provide a free meal for the community (using a recently-awarded from District Vital Ministries grant), a family activity, and some fun giveaways. At the same time, we will begin getting to know our neighbors in new ways. Church members will engage in conversation with guests and ask specific questions that will help us learn more about what people see, what they want and need, and what the define as spiritually relevant in their lives and our community.
In order for this even to be a success, YOU must participate! We are all busy, most of us are tired, and many of us feel uncomfortable engaging in conversation with strangers. Yet, our Christian faith calls us to engage those around us in love in order to build relationships and spread the hope of the Gospel message. As followers of Jesus, friends of this church, and members of the Milwaukie community, we have to all be willing to step a little bit out of our comfort zones and risk meeting new people and making new friends.
Together, we will step into a new era here at St Paul’s UMC. We will create new spaces for new faces and catch the spirit of a new vision, the full reality of which we are just beginning to discover.
Love, Pastor Becca
Stronger Together—United Methodist Connectional Giving
One of the first things my family did when we were preparing to move to Oregon last year was reevaluate our budget to make sure that we were living within in our means. We budgeted basic living expenses first (like housing and food) then added all of our standing obligations (car payments and tithes). Then we budgeted for the things that are important to us but are not necessary (like saving for a vacation and entertainment). Finally, we allocated what we could to friviolous things (like eating out once in awhile and renting movies). Having a well-planned budget helps us be good stewards of our resources, make sure we are meeting our responsiblities, and helps us decide what is most important with the money we have leftover.
Just like budgeting is important to my family, so is it an important aspect of the financial health of the church. Each year your finance team asks you to make a best-guess estimate of how much of your charitable giving will go to St. Paul’s, then we use that data to plan a responsible budget that will allow us to live within our means. Most important in that budget are our standing obligations—like upkeep of our building and paying for a pastor .
One of our standing obligations is Approtioned giving. Apportionments are based on a forumla that considers our income, pastoral salary, and other factors set by the conference. This year our portion is $30,000.
Apportionments are a method of giving that proportionally allocates the churchwide budget to conferences and local churches. Together, through our connected congregations, we accomplish what no single church could hope to do alone. In this way, each individual, each family, each congregation gives a fair share for the church’s work. We combine our prayers, presence, gifts and service to make a significant difference in the lives of God’s people. Apportionments pay for our connectional ministries and ground-level mission work here in Oregon, and across the global church.
In order to accurately reflect the money pledged, balance our budget and be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us,
we made the decision to remove apportionments from our budget. Even though it is not a part of our line-item budget, paying our apportionments is still our responsibility. In order to be faithful to the connectional obligation that comes with being United Methodists, we are going to dedicate the month of May to celebrating connectional giving and learning more about where our apportionments go. You will hear stories about how giving has changed people’s lives. You will also receive in the mail a pledge card for our special apportionment fund drive, and instructions about how you can do your part to help us fulfil this important obligation. I will ask you to commit to contributing towards our apportionment fund what you are able—and what the Spirit leads you to give.
Then, on Pentecost, June 4th, I invite you to attend our special Miracle Sunday culmination of the special fund drive, where we will consecrate our giving and celebrate meeting our obligation in full for the first time in a few years.
In my family, it is a great joy in knowing that our financial obligations are met. Likewise, there is great joy in store for our congregation as we faithfully support the United Methodist connection and use that with which God has entrusted us to make disciples and to transform the world for Jesus Chrsit! Together, we are, indeed, stronger!
Love, Pastor Becca
Spring is in the air
Wow, it has been a long winter, hasn’t it? It seems that we have had endless days of snow, ice, wind and rain, and even now that it is officially spring, the rainy days continue. Even in the midst of the rain, however, we are beginning to see signs of hope! The sun is peaking out behind storm clouds and rain drops. Flowers are breaking through the muddy flower beds. People are preparing their gardens for planting, and every once in awhile, it’s warm enough to venture out without a jacket.
Even though it is still wet and cold, this truly is my favorite time of year! Everything is renewing and opening up. There are a few birds in the sky, and I saw a couple of goslings in the back yard. Bit by bit, the sky is getting bluer, the sun is shining more, and the breeze, while not yet warm, is bringing with it the scents of spring. I also love the lengthening days.
My family is certainly enjoying the changing season. We have been enjoying walks in our neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, we’ve broken out the BBQ grill, and we’re doing yard work and spring cleaning to clean away the dust and dampness of winter.
Just when I felt like winter would last forever, I was reminded that seasons change–spring replaces winter, and new life waits just under the melting snow.
What a great reminder of the new life God offers us through Jesus Christ! Just like icy covered trees will soon be budding, and green shoots are peeking through the soil in our flower beds, and caterpillars will soon become butterflies, God is making something new out you and me too. Slowly but surely, God melts our hearts and opens our eyes to the many blessings in our life and, at the same time, the many needs that surround us. God is making all things new, in our world AND in us.
This Easter, pray that God will mold you into something new. Ask for a heart that is receptive to the needs of the poor in our community—eyes to see their pain, hands that are willing to work, and the right words to offer hope, share God’s love, and talk about your faith. This is what it means to be a disciple: to serve the poor, love your neighbor, and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Enjoy the warmer weather and the signs of Spring, and remember the reason for this— and every—season: Jesus.
Love, Pastor Becca
Even as the snow flurries outside my picture window, I look at the calendar and the upcoming “Spring Forward” time change and realize that spring is coming soon! I like spring and the opportunity for renewal, restoration and restarting that it offers each year. In my house, spring starts with decluttering, dusting, rearranging and a number of other “spring cleaning” tasks.
In the Christian calendar, the season preceding Easter is known as Lent. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays which are considered glimpses of Easter, and not days of penitence. Lent is a season of preparation. We prepare for Easter by fasting, praying, and practicing spiritual discipline during this time – to reflect on the sacrifices Jesus made, and to make more room in our hearts and lives for Christ. Basically, Lent is a time for “spring cleaning” our lives while giving thanks, strengthening our faith and renewing our relationship with God. read more…
It has been a busy new year already, hasn’t it? It seems we have more to do than we have the hours or energy to get done, and we are always finding more things that need our attention. We’ve also experienced unusual weather that has complicated our ability to get our and accomplish our “To Do” lists.
At the same time, the political and social unrest in our country weighs heavy on our hearts, and we want desperately to act with justice and mercy as scripture requires, but we aren’t sure how to respond. All of this together makes souls weary and begs the question, “How are we caring for ourselves in the midst of chaos?”
This means it is a good time to remind ourselves about “Sabbath.” Remember, that after God did all the creative work of designing and forming the universe, the oceans and continents, the animals and plant life, and human beings, God then spent a whole day at rest—a day of renewal and reflection on how God had spent the first six days of the week.
“No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” (Author unknown)
Happy New Year! It is 2017, a brand new beginning, and here we are with a brand new calendar and a brand new set of resolutions.
What are your New Year resolutions? I have four: 1) Walk 10000 steps per day, 2) spend more time as a family interacting and less time in front of the TV, 3) do a random act of kindness every day, and 4) bookend my day with time with God through prayer and devotions, every morning and every night. read more…
It’s December, and the holiday season and Christmas is coming soon! This past weekend Jeremy, Araina, Liam and I put up our Christmas lights and decorated the tree, did all of our Christmas gift shopping, and started our annual “watch every Christmas movie we own” adventure. In the weeks to come, we will bake a lot of cookies, spend time with family, and celebrate this wonderful season.
Because, after all, it is the MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.
Only, for some of us, it’s not.