Pastor’s Corner – March 26

It has been quite a month here at St. Paul’s! As the Yellowstone Conference UMC Cabinet has been about the business of making plans that change the transition process in which we have been involved, it is important to remember that our ministry has continued.
 
We have finished a series of classes and started a new set of amazing offerings. Lent began and we are well into our Wednesday Lenten services. We began a new sermon series titled The Unexpected Lessons of Lent and Tyler and I have been reflecting on what are hopefully some new and challenging insights from some old and well-known Bible texts. We have been working on plans for a celebrative Easter service. (As always, the chancel choir will sing at both services.) Our choir director, Jillian, brings new and exciting ideas to our planning table. The Lenten Children’s choir has been rehearsing and today will sing at the 11:00 service. Today we will also commission some of the members of our next Mission Trip to Brazil.
 
We have also hosted and been involved in the Women’s and Men’s Walks to Emmaus on the first and second weekends in March. Marianne led the Spiritual Director team for the Women’s Weekend and Tyler led the Spiritual Director team for the Men’s weekend. Many of our members and friends were involved in the weekends as part of the team. As all of this has taken place, our staff has done an amazing job doing their normal work and offering hospitality to the many groups who know St. Paul’s to be a welcoming and accessible community. We have hosted funerals and Tyler and retired pastor Lyle Hamilton and I have been called upon to lead several memorial services over the past several weeks.
 
Why do I tell you all of this? Though we are in the midst of change and though that change affects our pastors, staff and church members deeply, life and ministry has continued. We are a vibrant and active faith community with much to offer Helena and the world. Today you will learn the name of your new Lead Pastor and soon a new Associate will be appointed. Their leadership will be important – but no more important than the ongoing commitment and ministry of our staff and of all of you who call St. Paul’s home. Together, we will move through this time of transition and, all the while, we will continue to be an active community of faith and hope.
 
I love this quote from Philippians 1:6: I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Very likely, Paul thought the end was coming soon – thus, the term ‘the day of Christ Jesus.’ He was wrong about that, but his confidence that the work of love and grace and hospitality would continue – indeed needed to continue – among the followers of Jesus was right. And it continues to be true among us, in our time. We are not alone – the one who has loved us into being continues to love us and live in us and lead us. And that is good news that will sustain us as we go forward.
 
Grace and peace in the journey ahead!
Marianne


Pastor’s Corner – March 19

Today, as we listen to the unexpected with one another, I would invite us to open our hearts to what God is doing in the story of our church and our own lives.  For the past month I have been struggling, even fighting, with the announcement you will hear at the beginning of worship today.  “We had plans together,” kept going through my head.  The danger of abrupt change is that sometimes we hold on tightly to who we think we are supposed to be, instead of letting change work on us.

 

Change brings with it challenges and is always scary.  If I have learned anything in my work here it is fear of change never really goes away, even if you are the wisest and most reflective person.  Jesus took time to reflect and pray every time deep change was coming his way.  Jesus also didn’t avoid the emotions that come with deep change, he embraced them and lived through them.  However you are feeling today I invite you to not bypass it for a feeling of “being ok,” but instead embrace it as your authentic self.  We are called by God to be our authentic selves, and letting go of who the world tells us we should be at any certain moment.  I will join you in these emotions, because I believe that in letting emotions live and die that we will find new life. 

 

I wonder what new life is forming in this amazing place we live and how our church might be a part of helping people live authentic lives.  As I drove across the state this week I saw solar panels going up, I had conversations with a family that moved to Montana for the connected environments of our communities, and I jumped on trampolines at a Trampoline Park.  All of these new things are happening through people taking risks on new relationships and new ways of thinking.  If we are to embrace change, we have to live through some risks together and be willing to invite in new partners in God’s work. 

 

In the coming months I hope to be in conversations and prayer as a community about what God is doing among us.  However, you feel at the end of worship today, I hope you know one thing, “God is with us.”  God is with us in the pain, the fear, the sorrow, and God is with us now and always. 

 

I am thankful for the ministry of each of you.

 

Pastor Tyler



Pastor’s Corner – March 5

“Follow Jesus, and expect the unexpected”
 
These are the words shared at our Ash Wednesday service last week as people received Ashes on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday began our season of Lent, the season we share in each year as Christians to help us prepare for Easter. In the ancient church, this season was used to prepare new Christians for the baptism on Easter, a ritual that invited them into the church. It also served as a way for Christians to recommit to the faith each year by re-learning the practices of faith alongside those who were new.
 
Ritual is a practice that opens us and our senses to the environment around us. Christian ritual invites us to be aware of what Jesus calls us to be and what God is doing in the world around us. When we take a moment to pray in tense situation, we feel God’s calm that gives us the peace to move ahead. When we stop our lives for an hour of reflection in worship, it opens us to see new opportunity to make our world better. When we relax into a practice of focused meditation, it develops the discipline of our minds to handle more complex problems. Taking time for ritual is like exercise, the more we do it, the deeper we can go with God in our lives.
 
To expect the unexpected is about allowing ritual to open us to receiving what God is doing in our lives. It may help us notice problems that need our community’s assistance, it may invite us to spend more time with someone who needs our company, or we may need theirs. If we open ourselves to God this season, and listen to the lessons of Jesus, what might happen?
 
As you enter this season I invite you to take part in one of our many practices: Sue McNicol is teaching a class on receiving God through photography. Join the God Hunger prayer group that meets Wednesdays at noon in the balcony. I will be teaching a class on discovering God and faith through full emotional living. Listen to each sermon this season as Marianne, Rick and I unfold the stories of Jesus the give un-expected lessons. Take part in the challenge to daily offer some resources to Intermountain found at stpaulshelena.org/lent2017.
 
Pick at least one ritual and use your church as a resource to open yourself to God’s unexpected love this season.
 
Enthusiastic Peace,
Pastor Tyler


Pastor’s Corner – Feb. 26

Intermountain here in Helena is an unexpected lesson.  This organization offers incredible gifts of healing and guidance to children and families living through mental health challenges.  Intermountain grew out of a need at the turn of the century to provide a home for children who were left to fend for themselves.  Behind that history is the story of Rev. Brother Van Orsdel who is said to have been in tears pleading at the Annual Conference for the Methodist churches in the region.  The public tears of a grown man and the vital work of women deaconesses have become the hope of more children and families than we can count. 

Hear the words of one parent who has seen hope in the work of Intermountain:

“I am a single parent of two adoptive children, one of whom has suffered with the emotional/behavioral chaos of attachment disorder since early childhood.  At one point I was having to call our local police to help restrain my daughter during her violent behavioral outbursts.  I was at the brink of losing my family (and possibly my life). 

Now, after 18 months of residential treatment at Intermountain, we are an intact family ready to thrive.  My daughter is returning home with the skills to manage her feelings and behaviors long before they get to the rage that previously overtook her mind and body.  We as a family have learned important skills for success.  This program not only changes lives, it literally saves them!”

Last year Intermountain treated 1334 children and youth, and made a difference in the health of Montana communities.  This Lent we are asking members, friends and you as the disciples of St. Paul’s to make a difference by financially supporting Intermountain through a spiritual practice.

Our Lenten focus is “Unexpected Lessons: The Journey of Discipleship.”  We will be learning from the great stories of the gospels to remind us how God can surprise us with unexpected lessons from the stories in our lives.  This is no ordinary path we follow.  In this spirit you will be given the opportunity to fill blessing cans for Intermountain.  These cans will be accompanied by a Blessing Guide to a Lenten Thank Offering.  Unexpectedly we are using a retro St. Paul’s guide from the 1990’s, so enjoy the throwback information on it.  Each day there is a practice on this guide that will ask you to consider your blessings and invite you to give from your abundance like “10 cents for each slice of bread in your house, pray for those who scavenge for food.”  It is a simple activity to do with friends, family or kids. You can find the Lenten Guide here:  Lent Bag

 

We invite you to journey with us through the unexpected.



Mission Accomplished!!!!

Re-entry into the US atmosphere is imminent as this is being written. Before we peel off our flight suits and go through the post-mission debriefing with Mission Headquarters, it seems fitting to reflect on a few snapshots from this maiden Montana mission to Cuba.

* During the final stage of our launch to Cuba we endured a Mission “hold” of one day in Newark due to a “Nor’easter” snow storm. No flights were then available from Newark for two additional days. Fortunately, our Mission Navigator (Eric) established contact with Houston (… “HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM”…) and rearranged final launch from Houston. Thus an extra flight stage and night in that Texas city. Hence our Mission time in Cuba was shortened by several days.

* From Houston, gliding over the blue expanse of the Gulf, we spotted Cuba!! Surrounded by a turquoise patchwork quilt shallow sea sifting into sand and green shore vegetation. Touch down! First the asphalt of the Havana Airport, then the chaotic motions of the Cuban baggage claim and Customs…. Finally!!!….on Cuban soil!!

* Havana is ruggedly handsome in it’s old age and patina, with stewardship apparent in it’s historic buildings and vintage automobiles, yet it’s people are youthful regardless of their age!

* Church services in Cuba resonate with enthusiastic and passionate worship. Booming amplified voices of Pastors, colorful young dancers with tambourines, music and songs that literally vibrate your heart. Via con Dios!!

* Astounding contrasts are everywhere in Cuba….rusted-out holes in sidewalk utility covers (watch where you step!), juxtaposed with the beautiful old, old, buildings dripping with the romance of Spanish architecture, shortages of staple foods (two weeks of rations per month), but the absolute best ice cream (Coppela – from Havana) that you will ever eat.

* Cubans share among friends, guests, and strangers with Christ-like action, backing up their faith through their service – as the hands and feet of Jesus. On the day we left, Oscar told us, “Christ is in Cuba, and He has grace for his people, and He will be with us forever. They (the people) do not have much money, but when we ask, He does not fail.”

* Friendships in Cuba are like bread — flour, water, salt, and yeast mixed with love patted, and rolled and allowed to rise baked to perfection and savored. Jokes and laughs, hand slaps (high fives are now universal), hugs, exchanges of gifts, food and mementos, promises of emails to come, vows of remembrance, and many, many prayers. God has been our cook and baker.

* Our governments may have differences, and we may be separated by tariffs, blockades, diplomatic exclusions, executive decisions, and legislation from souls who have not yet set foot in both countries….but, we remain neighbors only 90 miles apart – brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandparents….all of God’s family – drinking the same Earth’s water, breathing the same Earth’s air, warmed by the same Sun, and held in the same comforting and nurturing hands of God, guided on the same paths by the teachings of Jesus. Our intentional sameness is overwhelming.

* As we glide to a touch down on US soil, and the wheels of our craft are stilled, baggage is reclaimed and we disperse back to familiarity, the Mission travel is concluded….but the Mission continues. Each of the twelve pioneer Montana missioners to Cuba must now spread and share the great images, sounds, tastes, smells, touches, music, worship services, friendships, occurrences, and spiritual wealth that God has endowed on us from our Cuban experiences. This is our Quest. Our prayer of thanks to all who supported us in the name of Jesus thank you!!! Via con Cristo!!!! Amen.

2017 Montana Methodist Mission to Cuba



Pastor’s Corner – Feb. 19

In just two weeks, March 2 – 5, our church will become a beehive of activity as the team members from the Women’s Walk to Emmaus move in and set up what promises to be an amazing weekend of spiritual growth. The following weekend, March 9 – 12, the team members for the Men’s weekend will host a similar weekend, designed to foster spiritual reflection and community. For 30 years, St. Paul’s has provided a home for these amazing events that, every year, touch many people deeply.

So, just what is a ‘Walk to Emmaus’? You might remember the story from Luke’s gospel. After the death of Jesus, we are told that two disciples walk from Jerusalem to the small town of Emmaus. They talk about the events of the past days and their fears and concerns about what the future held. And, “while they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and walked with them.” (Luke 24:15) The story then relates how, in conversation with each other and with Jesus, they came to new understandings and new insights about their life and their call. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful stories from the Bible.

Rooted in that story, the walk to Emmaus weekend is an experience of Christian spiritual renewal and formation. Through times of prayer, talks, great food and community experiences, participants have an opportunity to meet Jesus on their road of life in a new way as God’s grace and love are shared through other believers – clergy and lay alike. The weekend begins on Thursday evening and concludes on Sunday late afternoon. Following the three-day experience, participants have opportunities to join with others in small groups to support each other in their ongoing spiritual journey.

The overall objective of the Emmaus experience is to inspire, challenge, and equip the local church members for Christian action in their homes, churches, communities and places of work. Emmaus lifts up a way for our grace-filled lives to be lived and shared with others. If you have never participated in a Walk to Emmaus weekend and are interested in considering it this year, please call our office so we can put you in contact with the lay leadership of the weekend.

And, most of all, thanks people of St. Paul’s, for your warm welcome. You have always helped us make room for these important weekends, even though it is sometimes a bit inconvenient. This is one of the ways we make good on our mission of being ‘grounded in hospitality’ so we can help provide a place for people to ‘grow in faith, give in service and go in mission.’

Grace & Peace,
Marianne



Pastor’s Corner – Feb. 12

 
Ubi Caritas
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Christ.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Amen
– Mary Daly, Theologian
 
Last week in my sermon, I mentioned that I have been in conversation with people who are struggling with the current political environment in which we live. There are many people who are part of minority groups who are feeling deep fear. I believe they are scared for good reason, in December we saw white supremacists in our own state begin to target the Jewish communities with anti-Jewish propaganda and a statement that they wanted to carry out an armed protest. The community of Whitefish and many others in our state took an appropriate stand and said, “Not in our state!” I thank God for the success of these stands to put an end to this hate for the time being.
 
These conversations with people who are struggling happen because they know I am a safe person to talk to, and this is all due to St. Paul’s reputation of working to be open to all people. When people find out I am a Pastor at St. Paul’s they have a sense of trust that we can be asked questions about how to stay safe in our community. First, I want to thank each of you for continuing that legacy in Helena. Second, I want to invite you to not be afraid to identify yourself as a member of St. Paul’s in the community. People are looking for safe spaces and it provides them an opportunity to share openly their concerns about our world and country.
 
During the 11 O’clock service today, the choir will sing the words of Ubi Caritas in Latin. The chorus, printed here, is a part of an ancient chant of the Christian Church. It is often used as a prelude to the time in the Christian year we celebrate Christ kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet. It reminds us that God comes to serve us, and we are called to serve God. As you read or listen to these words today, say a prayer for the people in our community that are feeling fear. Remember, whenever there is fear and we offer our sincere heart to those in fear, it will root those present in the Love of God. We, as Christians, are called to believe God can help us overcome fear and conflict, and in this moment of history I believe this is what we are being asked by our neighbors to help them do.
 
Enthusiastic Peace,,
Pastor Tyler


Pastor’s Corner – Jan. 29

Today at St. Paul’s we celebrate both a Baptism and New Member Sunday. For today’s Pastor’s Corner, I thought I’d share just a bit about what these two important events are all about.
 
For infant or a child’s baptism, our custom is to have interested parents contact the office. From there, they meet with our Coordinator of Children’s Ministry, Lynn Van Nice. She reviews the baptismal service with them and then schedules the baptism. Families can choose either service on almost any Sunday. (We do not offer ‘private’ baptisms because baptism by nature is not a private sacrament. It is the public act of welcoming a child into the Christian community.) We also make scheduling a baptism as simple as possible because, as we say in the ritual itself, ‘baptism celebrates God’s free gift of grace, offered to us all.” Our hope is that the parents of the ‘baptizee’ commit to raise the child in the church, learning to follow Jesus – either with us or in another Christian community.
One of the things many people do not realize is that baptism is the one sacrament almost universally recognized across Christian denominations. Most mainline Christian churches do not re-baptize. In fact, contrary to the ways we sometimes talk, people are not ‘baptized Catholic’ or ‘baptized Methodist.’ When we are baptized, we become part of the Christian family and subsequently choose to live that out in a particular community or congregation – Episcopalian, Presbyterian, United Methodist, etc.

So that leads to the concept of membership. What does it mean to become a member of a church? First of all, membership presumes baptism. Membership presumes that somewhere, at some time, a person was baptized and that now he or she is choosing to live into that baptism by joining with a particular group of people (like the people of St. Paul’s). For me, membership is about choosing to live and grow my faith with a community that challenges and nourishes me. Frankly, I don’t think membership is something God requires so much as it is something we need. We need each other as we struggle to do the hard work of living faithfully as followers of Jesus. The one thing we ask of people who wish to join St. Paul’s is that they attend an Amazing Grace class. It is a one evening class taught by one or both pastors during which we share some history of Methodism, and more specifically, how we at St. Paul’s live into our faith. It is a good way to meet other people, share insights, ask questions, and get just a bit more familiar with this church community.

I extend a warm welcome today to Cassidy and her family and to our new members, Maggie and Lee Tickell and Dennis and Laurie Mock. Their commitments remind us of our own. Together may we live into the vision of Jesus, becoming the beloved community, committed to loving and serving all.

 

Grace and peace,
Marianne


Pastor’s Corner – Jan 22

 

Each year, retired UM Bishop Woodie White writes a “birthday letter” to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in which he offers his perspective on the current state of race relations. The first general secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race of the UMC, he held that post until his election as bishop in 1984. Retiring in 2004 he then served as bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta until May 2016. In today’s Pastor’s Corner you will find excerpts of Bishop White’s timely letter. 

 
Dear Martin:
This letter almost did not get written this year. I needed more time to sort out the meaning of events during this election season and the election itself …
 
… Sadly, the election season and presidential campaigning were filled with ugly rhetoric of a racial and ethnic character. The emergence … of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups has been more prevalent. Our racial conversation has been polluted by prejudice and racist words and behavior. Increasing acts characterized as hate crimes are reported across the nation …
 
Martin, the power of racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia, in the minds and hands of politicians and the shapers of institutions, is proof such animosity can be institutionalized.
 
Ideas can become policy, policy can become law and law regularized behavior. It is what, at least regarding race, is called institutionalized racism. Individuals don’t have to act on their racism; institutions do it for them! …
 
That’s why democracy is important. That’s why elections are essential. That’s why who is elected makes a difference at every level of governing — local, county, state and national!
 
Sadly, there are those who would undo progress, who prefer exclusiveness and division to inclusiveness and unity, who prefer to erode the principles and ideals of American democracy itself.
 
Thanks to you, Martin, and countless others, we moved from a less than great America to … one more true to its ideal: “One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
 
However, it is increasingly clear; there is still much work to do — more protesting, marching, organizing, registering people to vote, and being more politically engaged. We must bring people of good will, from all races and backgrounds, to find common ground.
But Martin, our goal, of course, is not merely a better, more just America. We Christians strive for a more beloved community, for what we sometimes call the reign of God. It is where love and justice prevail and where we embrace a common humanity, not just as citizens, but also as brothers and sisters … It is a place where we seek to make God’s will real in all we say and do, and how we live together in … the world.
 
While I was trying to navigate an array of emotions, Martin, I came upon a little book by John Lewis, now a congressional representative, who caused so much anxiety during the March on Washington on that hot day in August in 1963. In Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change he wrote: “The most important lesson I have learned in the 50 years I have spent working toward the building of a better world is that the true work of social transformation starts within. It begins inside your own heart and mind … Thus to truly revolutionize our society, we must first revolutionize ourselves. We must be the change we seek if we are to effectively demand transformation from others.”
 
Oh, how I needed to hear that, Martin! … The morning following the election of the new president, I arose very early, having had little sleep, and offered a prayer to God, emptying myself in unedited emotions. I concluded that prayer with these words: Forgive me, dear God, if I, even for a moment, placed more trust in nation, party, candidate, than in you. For YOU are my rock, my strength, my hope. Amen.
 
Committed to continue the struggle and the journey with the assurance,
We shall overcome,
 
Woodie


Pastor’s Corner – Jan. 15

This week I am struck by courage. I am struck by the courage of members in our faith community: Those facing disease and injury who continue to demonstrate courage in the midst of their hardship. Those fearful, anxious and disheartened by an increasingly divisive political reality who instead of being paralyzed are moved to courageous action. Those who face personal challenge that many of us know nothing about, but instead of stepping back, step forward in courageous faith.
 
This coming week will take courage for many of us to face. We do not run this race alone. We run it with giants of faith and history who have reminded us again and again that the dream of a world full of God’s love is worth every ounce of life in our bones. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we celebrate this Monday, reminded us of the courage we need from the steps of the Lincoln memorial more than 53 years ago. From those steps he called us to be a nation who fought for the ideals of Jesus, ideals built on courage, and ideals built on equal rights and justice for all people.
 
Perhaps as people who study, pray, and work to embody the life of Jesus, we should call ourselves “people of good courage” or even “people of good couraging.” This week I invite us to find ways to courage. Perhaps it is in your personal life, by taking a deliberate step toward healing and wholeness. Perhaps it is in your prayer life, by taking intensive time to find where God is calling you to courage in your life situation. Perhaps it is in our community life, by taking part in efforts like the “Women’s March on Montana” to demonstrate that our communities and state can come together to be a place where all people are respected, represented and have a voice (www.womensmarchmontana.com/).
 
I invite you to join me in “couraging” this week as a way to live your faith.
 
Enthusiastic Couraging and Peace,
Pastor Tyler