Advent – Christmas Day –Witnessing Wonder – Every Character

FullSizeRender 3I woke up to the sound of my phone vibrating on the nightstand.  It was Christmas Eve the full workday for Pastors.  I always take the morning off, but it still means at least 8-10 hours of work with all the services.  I am not complaining, I just want you to know where my head landed.  Then from the other room I heard my oldest daughter say in one of those excited whispers, “One more day.”  My wife and I both laughed out loud, in a whispering way.
Jim Harnish in our study this week talks about the question he is asked by people each year.  He is asked if it is hard to come up with material for the Christmas Eve service at his church each year.  For Jim Harnish he does not because this Christmas story, the one we have been journeying towards is one of the mystery of God born into the world.  There is a sense of wonder in telling the story each year.  And just like my daughter I think Pastors, despite the sense of a long day coming, wake up and think, “One more day.”
One more day and Christmas will be here.  For some of us when we were children the anticipation was too much.  Presents and all the excitement of Christmas would keep us up until Santa almost couldn’t come.  Others of us may not have had a great childhood, didn’t feel the anticipation on that Christmas Eve night with Santa, but perhaps you have felt it when you have anticipated God’s presence being born into moments in your life: moments of healing, joy, deep peace, presence of God in heartache, or even the miraculous.
Christmas comes more than just December 25th, it can come when ever God is born into our lives.  We conspire with God when we look for those moments.  In the anticipation of those moments our heart flutter, our minds focus and God feels all the more present.  Christmas moments focus life and helps us to live more fully the life we are called to live in Christ.
God did not come down to earth in Jesus Christ to make life just a little bit better but to save us from existence that is less than life into real life itself.  God came down in Jesus not to prepare us for the next world but to set us free to live in this world the way Jesus lived, which was the costly way of reconciling love, relentless hope, reverberating joy.  (Jim Harnish, When God Comes Down, pg 44)
As you enter this Christmas day, as you see the anticipation of this day on Children’s faces, as you see anticipation on other people’s faces I pray that you can see where God is being born into the world.  And remember that small excited whispering voice that came to all of our characters, “One more day” and God will be born again.

Advent – Week 4 – The Inn Keeper – Our Character

FullSizeRender 2This weeks character is the Inn Keeper.  Let me start by saying that the origin of this character comes from the Gospel of Luke in chapter 2, but there is really no mention of an inn keeper.  Even in the greek there is no character described as an inn keeper.  This character has been added by us, as a useful character to help show the challenge it was just to find a safe place for the Christ Child to be born.
In my sermon at Covenant on Sunday, I highlighted the reality that we have created this character because the inn keeper is realistic and we can empathize being this character.  Tired after a long Christmas season of trying to be nice for everyone we feel our own batteries drained.  One more present, one more performance, or one more batch of cookies.  Then we feel the knock on the door.  We go to the door and find Mary, Joseph and their donkey.  This would be an odd site on my front porch in Helena.  “Hello, we are looking for a place to stay.  Mary is about to give birth to Emmanuel, God with us.”
“But I just gave my last energy by giving some food to the food bank!”  This thought runs through your head, but you don’t say it.
“Oh my God(literally)!  Come inside I have a guest room upstairs.”  As you say it you remember the guest room is actually been transformed into your wrapping paper station of the season.  You realize you have to give up one of your rooms.
The story could go on, but the reality is that inviting God into our lives can seem overwhelming especially this time of year.  There are so many things that can crowd God out.
The inn keeper becomes a useful character to us, because it is a reminder that even offering the most lowly place we have is a way God finds a way into our lives.  God comes as a child and grows with us through the experiences of life.   This holiday season our invitation is to find simple ways to provide a small and humble place for God’s love to be born in us.  The risk to us, is that God can change our lives.  The good news of this season is that God’s change brings with it the hope of a future where all people may feel God’s love.

December 20 Pastor’s Corner

Welcome to this year’s Christmas Choir Sunday! Today you will be treated to hearing the Christmas choruses of Handel’s Messiah. This is a wonderful way to enter the spirit of the season during this final week leading to Christmas. I am hoping you will take a minute to thank Tanya Anderson, our Chancel Choir director, for her work in making this possible. She has done an amazing job leading our awesome Chancel Choir this fall. She and Dave Buness have worked hard to make the transition from Dave’s leadership to her leadership a smooth one. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such great talent and I know today’s music will be a blessing to us all!

Tomorrow night, we will be celebrating our annual Solstice Service featuring the Wilbur Rehmann Jazz Quintet. This has become one of the most popular events of the season as we simply spend time listening to wonderful music, reflecting, praying and learning together. We have traditionally shared this service with the Helena Jewish Community and this year will be no exception. Together we will reflect on the theme Leaning Toward the Light, which seems especially appropriate as we all deal with the challenges in our personal lives and in our world. This year’s Solstice event will again include the young fiddle player and singer Brigid Reedy and her Dad, John Reedy. I am told Brigid’s younger brother will also be joining them.

Next Sunday will be an opportunity to celebrate the joy of the season by remembering the many ways we have been ‘going in mission’ this past year. If you think about it, the service on Dec. 27 is the last service of our first 150 years of ministry! I sometimes wonder what those pioneers who began the community that would become St. Paul’s would think of what we have become and of all we have done. I personally think they’d be amazed and proud. I also think they are some of the saints in the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who are cheering us on and supporting our ever expanding mission.

May the joys of Christmas be yours! If you are traveling this season, may your journey be safe and your time blessed. If you are here in Helena, I hope to see you at one of our Christmas Eve services. The Christmas pageant – the service especially geared toward families – is at 5 PM. That will be followed by the Christmas candlelight services at 7 and 9.

May the blessings of the coming of the Messiah be yours in abundance!

Grace and peace,


Advent – Week 3 – “le point vierge” – God Experiences

FullSizeRender“A French phrase caught my attention in the writings of Thomas Merton. Even poorly pronounced, le point vierge sounds better in French than its English translation ‘the virgin point.’ Merton defined le point vierge as the ‘point at which I can meet God in a real and experimental contact.’ He said, ‘This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us.’” (Christine Bochen, Thomas Merton: The Essential Writings, pp. 60-61)
Jim Harnish points to the story of Mary this week as we explore the characters of the Advent story.  Mary is usually described as the Virgin mother of Jesus.  This distinction often carries with it a strange scientific inner debate about what exactly this means.  Virgin as a term carries with it a strange idea of purity, a sense of something un-touched, innocent, or somehow more pure than that which is the opposite.  On a snowy morning the “virgin snow” might be the snow that is untouched by creature or vehicle, somehow better because it has not been reached yet by something which disturbs it.
Yet, the le point vierge that Harnish uses as described by Thomas Merton somehow changes that understanding.  The virgin point somehow becomes this interaction with God that is experimental and new.  New and experimental contact is often messy and not some perfect interaction.  Mary’s story is anything, but perfect in the sense of how a king should come into the world.  An unwed young woman finds herself pregnant and not in a place of wealth, and with a significant other who has to decide whether he still wants to be with her.  Yet, the story of Mary focuses on this virgin point by showing Mary’s willingness to be open to God’s love entering the world through her.  The story of God enters the world in the all the wrong ways, and yet the gospel writer uses the word for purity to describe it.  I think the gospel writer uses the word not prove Mary’s sexual purity, but her willingness to be part of God’s working in the world.
This past week I was in Denver.  I love riding public transit when I am in Denver, it makes for great people watching.  A young man strolled up to me at one of the stops, in a way that made me think he was trying to sell me something.  He pointed to my clergy collar and asked me if I was a priest.  I clumsily shared that I was a pastor not a priest(as if it mattered to him).  He asked me, “Does drinking make me a bad person?”  I had to stop for a minute.  I immediately thought in my head, NO!  However, he asked me as a clergy person, so he must be looking for guidance.  I responded by asking, “Is it causing a problem for you?”  He shared with me that it was not and then shared the gentleman shared he was looking for something deeper in his life.  I shared with him some resources for faith community connectional and he went to the other side of the train platform to go on his way.
Le point vierge can be as simple as this interaction I had was.  I almost got caught up in who I was, what my title was, but instead I felt the tugging to listen.Being willing to share love with others is what it means to touch God in an experimental way.  By being open to how God might use us, we get out of the way enough for God’s love to be present through us.
Pray this week for the young man I met and seek ways to find yourself at le point vierge.  
When is a time you found yourself at  le point vierge?  Share your story.

ACEs Awareness … for Good!

St. Paul’s, we have been faithful for 150 years and in turn God continues to call us to help bring healthy change to our community.  This fall as a part of our 150th celebration we partnered with our long-time ministry partner Intermountain and their educational organization Child Wise to explore ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).  These 10 ACEs describe events that might happen in a child’s early life that can impact their physical, mental and social health for their entire life.  The studies show that the higher ACEs score the greater the likelihood the child will face adversity in their life.


In our work we shared the gospel message through the words “adversity is not destiny.”  St. Paul’s and our partners believe that adversity does not determine a person’s destiny and that we can reduce the likelihood of adverse results of their childhood experiences.  We facilitated two events and recorded three videos that will continue to share ACEs as a language to understand adversity, so that we can learn to prevent and overcome the challenges facing children and adults.  I want to especially thank our three speakers for these events: Todd Garrison, Director of Child Wise, Schylar Canfield Baber, Board Member of Child Wise, and Dr. Elizabeth Kohlstaedt, Ph.D.,Clinical Director at Intermountain.  To learn more about ACEs in Montana go to


Due to our efforts and the amazing work of Intermountain and Child Wise, our community has taken up this gospel message of hope.  A coalition of non-profits, schools, individual citizens, and hopeful entrepreneurs is uniting under the name Elevate Montana – Helena.  On January 25, at the Helena Middle School auditorium there will be screening of  Paper Tigers, a movie about how working intentionally with the knowledge of ACEs transformed an alternative high school in Walla Walla.  The coalition hopes to get 800 people to the event and then from that event get 100 people to be trained in the language of ACEs to help begin to transform our community.


St. Paul’s is most definitely following its calling… for good.  I am excited to see where the next 150 years take us.


Enthusiastic Peace,


Pastor Tyler


This video comes from our November event at the Art Walk, Design a Child’s Destiny.  It covers the clinical and biological realities behind ACEs and also how one person’s story relates to these statistics.

This video is art by 406 Youth United(our youth group) inspired by their work understanding ACEs.

For more videos on ACEs go to and to learn more go to

Advent – Week 2 – Obedience=Radical Reorientation

If you are ever driving east down 11th Avenue in Helena, look in your rearview mirror at Mt. Helena.  This reorientation of our view of the mountain makes it appear to be more of a wave, about to crash down.  It appears in the mirror as if a small earthquake, like many of us felt last night, would complete a eons old flow of land and rock like the crashing ocean surf.    When you see the mountain that way your brain almost wants to imagine a huge change is coming down.
This week our study of stories turns to Joseph.  The Joseph we know from scripture as a “righteous man,” but to which I heard recently referred to as “Jesus’ step-daddy.”  Matthew 1:18-25 tells of Joseph’s interaction with God that changed his life.  Joseph’s description as a “righteous man” means he followed temple law and lived his faith by the book.  Which means when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy without his being a part of it, he had every right within law to be done with her.  Instead, Joseph takes Mary and adopts Jesus.  Through this adoption Joesph’s life is tied to Jesus and through it Jesus’ lineage is tied to the ancient King David of Israel.  Joseph’s choice to make Jesus family in turn made it possible for him to be the Messiah told of in ancient days.
Obedience is a word often tied to Christianity, and a word that many people hate using in reference to their faith.  “Obedience to God” often sounds too much like we are somehow pets to a larger being with the power to make us “heal” even when we want to run out ahead.  Our struggle with the word sometimes gets in the way with the concept it presents. Think for a minute about the moments in your life you define as big moments, radical reorientations that changed your future.  How many of those moments happened because you listened to a calling or a deep feeling you had about what should happen next for you?  A big change to make you healthier, a relationship deepened through commitment, a change in career based on a talent you have, or perhaps just the idea to do something new are all examples of a calling to do something differently.
Joseph’s active obedience resulted in a radical reorientation of his life.
Being the “step-daddy” to Jesus would have radically altered Joseph’s life.  By making the choice to stay with Mary he would be intertwined in Jesus’ support from child to adulthood.  This man who followed the law chose to listen to God that night and to that calling on his heart.  Joseph would take Mary as his wife and in turn Jesus’ as his son.  Not a perfect pairing, but a match made in heaven.  Joseph’s faith was more than a legal agreement, but an obedience to the authority of a God that brings new life and big change through the smallest things.  How can we practice obedience this week?
Don’t look in the rearview mirror too long expecting Mt. Helena to finish its wave motion or you might hit the car in front of you.  However, take a glance in the mirror.  Sometimes it is through glancing in the mirror that we see the possibility of what is to come.  Take a chance this week and see where God is calling you to reorient your life to make more space for God to be born in you.

A note from Meg White

My cherished St. Paul’s Family,

After much contemplation and prayer, Joe and I have decided that it’s time for me to pass the torch of Youth Ministry on to someone else. This has not been an easy decision for us, however, the peace in my heart and the yearning to be more present with family, tells us that it’s what we need.

When we lost Joe’s Mom unexpectedly in April last year, we were given a new appreciation of how precious time is. I want to be able to work with Joe in our electrical business, so that we can enjoy time together as family. I want to help Taylor and Kaiti navigate high school and begin looking at next steps. I want to spend more time snuggling Alyssa and volunteering in her classroom. I want to continue working toward good health for her with our doctors.

I want to be able to enjoy Wednesday Night Dinner and not rush out at 6 PM to get ready for Youth Group. I want to attend classes on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights so that I can continue to grow in my faith. I want to slow down enough to cherish the memories along the way.

When I say “pass the torch”, I truly do mean that. Youth Group will continue to function. We have an amazing structure of volunteers and a talented youth leadership team who have committed to help with Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings throughout the year. I intend to help mentor throughout the next year, in any way that is helpful. This is by no means the end….just another beginning!

I’ve been SO blessed these past eight and a half years to work with all of you, and to have your love and support. (I expect that to continue by the way!) I treasure all of it. My plea is that you will hold all of us in your thoughts and prayers as we work through this transition, to ensure that the flame of Youth Ministry does indeed continue to burn brightly here at St. Paul’s.

Here’s to another step in the journey!
Love and Blessings-

Meg White
Youth Coordinator

BUMP Boxes Sent

Sunday, NovembIMG_1852er 29, Helena United Methodist Ministry in cooperation with Clancy UMC packed 130 shoeboxes for thboxese Blackfoot United Methodist Parish(BUMP).  The day was a huge success with United Methodist Men(and one amazing woman) from St. Paul’s providing the chili for lunch, Covenant UMC for providing our rolls, and Clancy UMC bringing dessert.  People need great sustenance for mission work.  Lunch was followed by a coordinated effort of all in attendance(all ages) packing and wrapping shoeboxes from the supplies we had gathered, and at the end the ceremonial “loading of the truck.”
For many children on the reservation this is the only gift they will receive this time of year. – Craig Cleveland, BUMP Lay Member
Thank you to JoAnn Hanson(Covenant) for helping manage the kitchen and dish washing, Carol Bruderer(St. Paul’s) for helping organize the supplies for our process, and Patti Wilbanks(Clancy) for giving us support and direction to complete the boxes.  This truly was a project of United Methodists connected in Mission.

A special thanks to Craig Cleveland for coming down and transporting our shoeboxes. Below is a thank you he had for the shoes and clothes we have also provided for their clothing store.  Craig’s dedication to the ministry at BUMP is making a huge impact in sharing God’s love there.


Advent Study – Week 1 – Silence

silence-390331_960_720“When was the last time you experienced silence? Real silence.  The living silence of the earth or sea”(13),
Remember the words to the hymn Silent Night, that enchanting melody that is the bookend to many Christmas Eve candlelight services.  In a sanctuary full of people there is a moment right when the song ends where there is the real silence.  In the darkness with candles(electric for many) are ablaze in a room full of hopeful people, people seeking calm before the busy Christmas day.  Welcome to our Advent journey together.  We will be journeying with Jim Harnish as he explores different characters in the gospel Christmas stories and how they can help lead us to spaces where we might experience God born in us this season.  We will journey from now until Christmas, seeking moments where we can experience the real and hopeful experiences of God’s presence.
The moment at the Christmas candlelight services is one of my favorite as a pastor.  When Silent Night ends there is a truly silent moment right before myself or others share our final words of the night.  The people in room seem to be in anticipation of some hopeful good news.  No one moves because it feels like any sudden movement might shatter the fragile moment, and yet to let the moment pass without ending it in a hopeful moment would seem to waste it.  It is almost as if all the singing, music, preaching, readings, and work of the service lead up to that moment of silence.  We have to end that silence with hope or else all of it seems would be for nothing.  Have you had moments of silence like this in your life?  Moments of silence that seem like your travel, work, or journey has brought you to and it would be a shame to waste?  Perhaps after a long hike on a mountain top, in a recliner after a long day of work, or even sitting in your living room staring at a lit Christmas tree after decoration completion?
In the first chapter of our study, Jim Harnish shares the story of Zechariah, we will call him Z.  Z is a priest in the temple.  Each year the priests draw lots, draw straws.  The person who draws the short straw gets a rope tied around their waste and they enter the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies is the center of the temple separated by a curtain where no one enters except certain priests, and where God is said to dwell.  The rope on his waste is to pull Z out if God’s presence knocks him out or even kills him.  Z’s job was to go and spread incense and prepare the space for God.  It was probably pretty silent in the space when suddenly an Angel of the Lord appears to Z.  The angel explained to Z that he and his wife Elizabeth would be having a baby, named John(AKA John the Baptist.  This child would bring people closer to God and prepare the way for someone greater(We know this to be Jesus).
Z’s response was to laugh.  I actually don’t blame blame him, when I am faced with new and surprising news I sometimes do this too.  Elizabeth and Z were not young and the thought of a child was a lot surprising.  Z shared his doubt with the angel and in turn he was told, “You will remain silent until the things you have learned about come to pass.”  This seems like a punishment, but I think it was an opportunity.  The angel granted Z an extended perfect moment of silence.  After preparing the space for God, Z got an extended moment of silence in preparation for some very good news of hope.
Here in lies our spiritual practice for this first week: silence.  This can be challenging in the chaos of Christmas activities, so here is a little advice, “Start small.”  Over the next week take a deep breath each day.  One a day is a good start.  When you take that breath notice the small moment of silence you receive.  As you experience your moment of silence ask yourself, “What hope do I feel in this moment?”
God enter the silence prepared for you,
help us to seek the hope you offer.
As we live out our lives,
we ask you to live through us
that out of silence may be born hope.
And when things seem hopeless, 
may we find hope in those around us and in you.