Pastor’s Corner July 8, 2018

New Hires:
 
Here at St. Paul’s, we have a strong sense of community. But that does not stop at the church doors. Our missions have reached out into the community and far afield into the world.

Helena has seen some real challenges lately. One of those challenges was the closing of Helena Industries. Luckily, Family Outreach of Helena has stepped up and helped many adults with disabilities find jobs in our community.

From their website:

“The focus of our program is to teach families and friends how to teach skills to children and adults with special needs. In addition, the families and friends often request education regarding the disability and information about resources and services available. We work hard to ensure that children and adults in the Family Outreach program have the same opportunities that all Montanans have in education, in the community, in friendships, and in life.”

Family outreach serves children and adults with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays. Their service programs provide developmental training, education, behavioral assistance, social skills and job training. They were founded in 1977 and added adult services in 1994.

St. Paul’s has been on the receiving end of this mission this time.We are proud to announce the hiring of two amazing men, Thes and Charlie, who will be doing the janitorial work in the church building and the Susanna Wesley building. They are already hard at work for us and are doing a great job.

Thes and Charlie both used to work for Helena Industries. Charlie loves all kinds of machinery and enjoys tinkering with engines. Thes is very friendly and outgoing and likes to test out equipment and electronics.

You might see them in hallways or offices with their job coach working diligently to make our church home shine. Both of them are very thankful and happy to get back to work.

Please stop and introduce yourself and get to know these great guys!



Pastor’s Corner July 1, 2018

Divergent Church
 
I recently read an article about Tim Shapiro and Kara Faris’ new book Divergent Church: The Bright Promise of Alternative Faith Communities. The book focuses on doing church differently, and, even though the ways seem unconventional, they are rooted in deep faith practices.

The typical Christian life is going through changes. Our country has changed. Communities of faith need to take risks and be innovative in making Church relatable again. This book explores some possibilities for offering several ways to experience God at work in the world.

Two quick lessons I learned in my first church internship involved unconventional church and fear around risk: The first involved an existing contemporary service on Sunday morning. It was decided to try the service downstairs in the fellowship hall to help with interruptions by the other two services and to have worship in a space that wasn’t the typical “church” feel in hopes to reach people uncomfortable in a church. After about a month, the senior pastor had received so much anonymous criticism letters he moved the service back upstairs to the sanctuary. The contemporary service continued to be the “middle child” of the congregation, never receiving the support or respect it deserved.
The second involved my intern church reopening a closed UMC in a neighboring town. The church sat in a Hispanic neighborhood with Spanish as the primary language. A team was put together to lead Sunday worship and then cook and serve a free dinner on Tuesdays. Over 120 people ate on Tuesdays. Families who may have otherwise gone without were given food. Sunday worship did not grow. Soon, the elaborate home-cooked meal turned into cheap alternatives and quick meals with little prep time. Sunday worship did not grow. The new church shut its doors. I overheard the original team talking right before it closed, and their reason for stopping was because they were fixing nice meals, and all “those people wanted was food” and didn’t come to our church.

Traditional church is still very needed. Also, new, innovative ways of doing church are still very needed. Just as we all learn differently and through different means, we all experience God in different ways. These divergent churches explored in Shapiro and Faris’ book are nontraditional, possibly unusual, but are serving as people’s main congregational gathering, providing spiritual formation, connection, and a sense of identity.

I share these stories not to point and scoff, but because they have shaped my ministry and affected my theology. I will never forget that conversation I overheard or the drastic effects those decisions had on that church community. I also learned the importance of holy risk-taking, or also how we like to say, following the holy spirit. It can lead us down paths that seem not worth our energy, money, and time. But, introducing someone to God’s love is the name of our game.
Come talk to me about your holy risk-taking ideas!

Pastor Sami
 


Pastor’s Corner June 24, 2018

A response to immigrant family separation:
 
Dear brothers and sisters, siblings in Christ,
In the news, we have seen disturbing reports and pictures of children being taken from their parents and placed in detention centers by our government. Their crime was fleeing their homeland due to violence and threats of death, to make a perilous journey over harsh geography to seek safety within our borders.
 
I remember another time a family crossed a border for similar reasons. When Jesus was born, Herod—who was in power—became threatened by the news of his birth since some were already calling Jesus “King of the Jews.” He sent the Wise Men to see the boy. Herod told them it was so that he could honor him, but he really wanted to know his whereabouts so he could kill him. The Wise Men, after laying their gifts before Jesus, were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and Jesus’ father Joseph was also warned in a dream to flee with his family. They became refugees in Egypt, where they stayed until it was safe to return home. When Herod learned that he had been outwitted, he ordered the murder of every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two.
 
This event is known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Matthew describes the scene with a quote from the prophet
Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” -Matthew 2:18
 
Can you hear Rachel weeping for her children?
 
The horror that is happening to children in our country was multiplied when government officials used scripture to justify these actions. We who follow Jesus know that God keeps widening the borders of who is in and who is out through Jesus’ life, teachings and ministry, Paul’s Emmaus road experience, and Peter’s vision. If the law is not rooted in the Love Ethic of Jesus, who keeps expanding our understanding of who is our brother and sister, it harms and invites death rather than reconciles and brings life.
 
Can you hear Rachel weeping for her children?
 
Scripture reminds us over and over again to welcome the stranger:
Exodus 23:9 — “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 19:34 — “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 1:16 — “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 — “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
0Deuteronomy 24:17-18 — “You shall not deprive a resident alien…of justice.”
Matthew 25:31-46 — “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Hebrews 13:2 — “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
 
Some of us learned a lesson about how to encounter the Bible when we traveled to Cuernavaca last fall. For the members of the base Christian community we visited, bible study is more than just reading and reflecting on God’s word. It requires action that is transformational. The Word of God should intersect with the lives of God’s people, so as they read the Bible, they look around at what is happening in their community, then think about what the scripture is compelling them to do. This is followed by action. The community then evaluates what they did so they could learn more. And then they celebrate.
 
May the cries of Rachel be heard in your sanctuary. As scripture is read and prayers offered, may you listen for what God is asking of you and your community. May you respond as faithful followers of Jesus, who calls us to create Beloved Community—that place of love, compassion, connection, and justice for all of God’s children.

Blessings,
Bishop Karen P. Oliveto



Pastor’s Corner June 17, 2018

On this Father’s Day, I think back to when I was eleven and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Though I had no idea what profession in which I would end up, I always knew that I wanted to be a father. I have been sure of this fact since I was three years old and playing house with my sister. I used to pretend to change diapers and play with her dolls much more than she played with my G.I. Joes or Transformers. It made me feel accomplished to be a caregiver.

That continues today. I have been blessed with a wonderful marriage that bore two fantastic children. Turner, my oldest, is a sensitive and sweet boy that makes me proud every day of his emotional intelligence and positive demeanor. He cares so deeply for others and tries to do his best always. Nia, my five-year-old daughter, is brilliantly feisty and powerful. She can look you in the eye and tell you “no” with certainty in her position or cuddle for an hour during family movie nights. She is sweet and strong and carries a confidence about her that makes me a bit jealous.

They both bring such an immense amount of joy to my life it is hard to put into words. I watch them as they sleep and cover them with a blanket when they are cold and my heart fills with life. We tell terrible jokes around the dinner table and I marvel at how their laughs sound just like mine. We sing songs in the car and I look at them in disbelief, (mostly because they know all the words but can’t remember to feed the dog). I pick them up from school and relish the moment when I take them into my arms and squeeze them. We wrestle and I tickle them until they squeal.

I know this does not last forever, and when times get tough, I tell myself about the wonderful things that I get to experience with them every day. Turner will be in fourth grade next year and he is already leaps and bounds smarter and more precocious than I was as a child. Nia will be in kindergarten and she already knows her numbers, letters and can write several words.

I am so proud to be their dad. I try not to cling too tightly to their childhood and make sure they have the room to grow and become the man and woman they were meant to be. But it is hard. I know these moments are fleeting. Yesterday, I was changing diapers and cleaning bottles. Tomorrow, I will be going to graduations and paying for college. And before you know it, I will be Grandpa Hank.

The best I can do is continue to be the consistent force in their life that teaches love and compassion, grit and toughness, and confidence in what they are and who they are. Because being the father of these two children in partnership with my wife is exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Happy Father’s Day
Matt Hankins


Pastor’s Corner June 10, 2018

The Third Place

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. — 1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV

 

The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference published an article written by Kristina Gonzalez, Director of Leadership Development for an Inclusive Church for the PNW Conference. The article, titled What Can Methodists Learn From Starbucks?[1] discusses the approach the corporation Starbucks has taken to systemwide unconscious bias and racism. The company took a day-long pause on May 29 for a systemwide training and reflection time in response to an incident in a Philadelphia store earlier this spring when a store manager summoned law enforcement to confront two Black men simply waiting for a friend to arrive. Starbucks apologized to the men, and the manager was fired.

 

This came in the middle of many public dismissals: perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace immediately fired without question, public social media rants becoming grounds for immediate cancellation and dismissal, and many more cases of strict and swift (thankfully!) consequences. For myself, I see this as relief in the midst of severe leniency and ignorance from the past decades. Gonzalez writes about the absence of systemic responses to issues that allow discrimination or abuse to go unchecked. Starbucks, though may not be everyone’s favorite coffee shop, has taken significant and unpopular steps to address bias systemwide.

 

Starbucks was founded on the principle of Third Place: a gathering place outside of home and work. It is to be a place of relaxation, interaction, meeting, debating, reading, enjoying coffee and tea in community. The training, along with reflecting on bias in our society, staff dreamt about how to create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong. Then, Starbucks made their training materials public, providing model ideas for others.

 

Check them out here: https://starbuckschannel.com/thethirdplace/

 

What are your Third Places? Is the church one of your places? Where are our embedded biases? Gonzalez points out the reality that the people called Methodists have had countless moments in our history similar to Starbucks’ moment. How did we respond? Often, it has been to split or segregate. What if we didn’t? What if we did something different? What if we reflected on our biases and then dreamt of how to create space of Third Places…where everyone feels like they belong–because they do?

 

Peace,

 

Pastor Sami

[1] http://www.pnwumc.org/news/what-can-methodists-learn-from-starbucks/



Pastor’s Corner June 3, 2018

Hidden Meanings
 
When my girls were in elementary school, they loved playing hide-and-go-seek in our house. They had great fun. Though, what I never understood at the time was how they always hid in the same place. The seeker would look casually all over the house, but pretty soon, she’d look in the pantry and squeal in delight when she found someone in there. And someone always hid in the pantry. As a competitive adult, it never made sense to me. Why did they always hide in the same place? Why not find a more challenging place so you weren’t so easily found? Then one day I got it, it’s because the fun is not in sitting hidden in some obscure location forever while people are looking for you. The fun is in being found! The squeals of delight taught me that.

Jesus teaches in parables. Riddle-like stories that in a round-a-bout way teach truth about the kingdom of God. Why didn’t Jesus just come straight out and tell the truth in simple statements instead of hiding it in an obscure story about common experience? One reason is the parables draw us in and cause us to think. Then when we figure it out and discover the truth within, it’s like finding your sister in the pantry. There is joy in discovering what is hidden!

The parables of Jesus are simple statements or short stories drawn from common experience with a surprising twist. They are designed to make us think and to see things in new ways. The point of the parable lies in the reversal, the unusual image, or the new twist. The problem is we are so familiar with the parables and we are so distanced from the ancient near eastern culture, the parables lose their shock value.

This summer in worship we will be revisiting the parables of Jesus. We will explore the original cultural setting and see how they capture the mystery of the kingdom of God. Along the way we may even squeal in delight as we discover what is hidden! Parables are not intended to be nice comfortable stories to memorize and keep in our heart. They are designed to capture our imagination, to make us think, to make us squirm, and to cause us to respond.

If you would like to go deeper, join me and Sami in discussion each Sunday beginning June 17th (at 9:00 am at Covenant and at 9:30 at St. Paul’s). Each Sunday we will address the parable we are preaching on, drawing on Jill-Amy Levine’s book Short Stories of Jesus. The book is available for $10 and each week is independent, so drop in when you can!

 

Walking on the path of grace,

Pastor Patti



Pastor’s Corner May 27, 2018

The Bold Energy of God

 

Harriett Jane Olson addressed the attendees of the United Methodist Women (UMW) this last week at their annual assembly with the declaration that the bold energy of God resides in us. This is a message that can be easily stated but harder to believe sometimes. Our actions or words can feel empty in the shadow of pain and injustice. But, just as the group has strived from their inception, UMW continues to back up words with actions and movements.

 

“I believe United Methodist Women is as needed today as it has ever been,” Olson said. “We are in a position to make a change; we are everywhere; and we are connected.” Coming after a week of frustration and confusion over failed amendments dealing with gender equality[1] among the United Methodist Church, Olson and other key leaders, including bishops, exemplified the bold energy of God by standing up for the much-needed work the UMW completes each and every day. They called everyone to believe the words, and to then live into that energy.

 

“This is not who we understand The United Methodist Church to be,” Olson said. Many bishops stood with Olson and the UMW as well. Bishop Cynthia Harvey from the Louisiana area stated “We need to tell the stories of our work,” Harvey said. The assembly focused on four main social justice topics: economic injustice, climate justice, maternal and child health, and mass incarceration with an emphasis on stopping the crib-to-prison pipeline.

 

These are difficult topics to discuss and form plans to eradicate them. When hearing statistics about any of these topics, it is easy to get overwhelmed and not believe that the bold energy is working.

But it is. I believe the UMW Assembly is proof of that. Like Olson said, we are in a position to make a change, we are everywhere, and we are connected. This week is Peace with Justice Sunday for the wider United Methodist Church. We are needed now more than ever. Our message of love over fear, our story of justice over vengeance—our dream of a better world—it is all needed now more than ever. These gifts on special Sundays are also proof of the bold energy of God at work through our connection and our influence.

When you give today, you will help Methodists spearhead a peace ministry uniting Arizona border communities, equipping United Methodists in Liberia to implement the denomination’s Social Principles to address social-justice issue, helping Pennsylvania students educate their community about sex-trafficking at home and abroad, plus much, much more.

May you believe in the bold energy of God working within your life, and may you share that truth with others.

Peace,

Pastor Sami

[1] http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/women-grieve-amendment-failures-vow-to-work-harder



Pastor’s Corner May 20, 2018

Pastors Corner

When I arrived in Helena just 10 short months ago, I was impressed by this incredible staff team. We have had some transition already as positions became open and we found new people to join our staff. We now have three more positions open. (see their notes below)

First, I want to express my appreciation for Jillian, Dave, and Sue. Each one has made invaluable contributions to this congregation over the years. We will have a reception on June 10 during fellowship time to express our gratitude to each of them.

Second, I want to assure you that I am working closely with our Staff Parish Relations Committee to assess our staff structure and hire new staff. We will continue to seek amazing people to lead and serve us. We have posted the job descriptions for the Choir Director and Worship Director on our website at www.stpaulshelena.org/jobs. If you know anyone you think is perfect for the job, spread the word. We are working to create job descriptions and an application process for the remaining positions. Keep posted.

I’m confident God is continuing to guide us as we walk on the path of grace,

Pastor Patti

 

A Note from Jillian Newton

When I came to Helena, I never could have imagined that I would have an opportunity to work with a choir that has the caliber of singers we enjoy here at St. Paul’s or that I would find congregation as welcoming as this one. The joy and confidence I have gained from this community have inspired me to take the next step in pursuing a lifelong dream. This fall, I will be attending Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey in order to earn a Master’s Degree in Choral Conducting. My goal is to one day teach at the university level, training the next generation of choral performers. While I am sad to be leaving my St. Paul’s family, I am so grateful for the outpouring of love and support I have received and I look forward to making music with you all for the rest of the year.
 

A Note from Dave Buness

Dear Family,
Yes, you certainly have been family to Fay and me for the past forty-five years.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that George Harper and Annie Wix approached us as we were unloading our U-Haul and asked us to take over the music program at St. Paul’s.  It has been a wonderful place to raise a family and become a part of the St. Paul’s community.  Fay plans to continue as pianist/organist but I have decided that I am most comfortable singing in the choir, so I am resigning as Music and Arts Coordinator.  We are saddened that Jillian Newton, our choir director is also resigning to pursue her graduate program in music.  We hope to fill these positions quickly.
 
 

A Note from Sue McNicol

Beginning May 29 I will venture two blocks from St. Paul’s UMC to start employment with another of Helena’s remarkable non-profit organizations – Prickly Pear Land Trust. I’m excited about this opportunity to work with an expansive group of volunteers and staff dedicated to connecting land and people. While I’ll be leaving my employment with St. Paul’s, I remain committed to the mission of this vibrant faith community and the work of Helena United Methodist Ministries. St. Paul’s has been a place of healing and growth for me these past seven years. I’m grateful for the many opportunities and relationships St. Paul’s and Covenant UMC have offered me as well as guidance and support from these congregations and staff on the path to becoming a Local Pastor. I intend to continue steps toward becoming a Licensed Local Pastor serving in the Helena area. Thanks for being my faith community, co-workers, friends and mentors. I so appreciate you

 



Pastor’s Corner May 13, 2018

“Trust the wait.

Embrace the uncertainty.

Enjoy the grace and beauty of becoming.

When nothing is certain, everything is possible.”

This has been a rough couple of weeks. It seems everywhere I turn there is chaos tossing me about. National headlines continue to shock, hurt, and anger me. Flooding from spring run off is disrupting people in our community. Progress feels slow in coming for our divided denomination. And on and on.

This morning I was reminded of the ocean. As a girl growing up on the beaches of Southern California, I went to the beach often. God met me on the beach time and time again, filling me with peace. As I looked out over the expansive Pacific Ocean I was filled with a sense of God’s awesomeness which gave me assurance that God was bigger than whatever I was experiencing in my life at the time. The beach became a place for my spirit to connect with the spirit of God.

I also spent a lot of time swimming in the ocean. I found it exhilarating, experiencing the power of the ocean. I loved the calming sensation of floating on the swells of the waves. I enjoyed the thrill of catching the power of a wave and riding it onto shore. But, you can’t enjoy all of that without getting caught up in a wave and tossed about. Being pulled underwater, thrown about in all directions, rolled around by the power of the wave. Those moments are scary. My instinct is to pull my head above water and thrash about fighting the wave. But, I was taught in those chaotic moments, instead to dive deep, to get underneath the chaos of the wave. It was counterintuitive, but it worked! For under the chaos of the crashing wave is a space of calm. Diving deep is the way you get to that place of serenity.

My instinct these past few weeks has been to work harder, to push through, the thrash about, getting all caught up in the chaos. Instead, I should be diving deep. Diving deep in prayer, through scripture reading, taking sabbath, and getting out on the trails. For in those spaces God will meet me and God will meet you. When we dive deep, the Holy Spirit will grant us serenity amid the chaos. Next time you feel like chaos around you is tossing you about, remember the ocean and dive deep. I’m certain God will meet you there.

 

Walking on the path of grace,

Pastor Patti



Pastor’s Corner May 6, 2018

The Holy Spirit and Social Justice

 

We talk about the weird coincidences in our day of hearing a favorite song, or we recognize a nudge to call a family member and chat. But, what about those Holy Spirit nudges we feel that arch us toward social justice? One of our favorite characteristics of the Holy Spirit is that she is unpredictable just like the wind: flying and rushing into crevices and corners unnoticed and forgotten. This is true, much to our dismay some days.

 

Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III recently wrote an article in Plough titled “Powers and Principalities: King and the Holy Spirit”. Rivers claims that it was the Holy Spirit at work in and through Martin Luther King, Jr, which made much of the civil rights movement possible. But, also, Rivers adds that it was King allowing the Holy Spirit to move through him. And it was that Holy Spirit movement that made King the most influential voice and conscious of religious and racial freedom from the United States in the twentieth century.

 

It is a daunting task to think about, especially as the church in our modern world. The same Holy Spirit that powers our worship services powers us to march, to respond to injustice, and to fight for love over fear. The United Methodist baptism liturgy calls us to these exact things; to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and reject evil powers of this world; to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. These are the kinds of tasks that can make us stand out, or even be ridiculed and mocked. These are the kinds of tasks that become heavy and emotionally draining.

 

This discipleship life is daunting but not impossible, especially because we have one another. We have community. We have grace and the Holy Spirit to power us. In the next week or so, I invite you to look within your realm of influence: what ways can you resist injustice? What ways can you resist evil? Can you allow the Holy Spirit to move in and through you?

 

Peace,

Pastor Sami