Pastor’s Corner – Sept 3

Following Jesus is hard.

As your outgoing pastor, I am going to be as honest with you as I can. This Christian life we have decided to follow, and this way of knowing a God of love, justice and peace is not designed to be an easy path. We are called to “love God” and “love our neighbor.” The simplicity of this commandment found in scripture has a pleasant sound, but its consequences can deafen us unless we allow them to move us through our own awkwardness. My new congregation in Billings is fond of saying “And everything else is just a footnote” after this commandment.
 
Here is my footnote: when I came back to Helena 6 years ago, St. Paul’s called me to reach out to young adults (18 until you decide you aren’t young) in the community. Within the first year I had realized something, “Unless we shift our entire church culture, my efforts to meet and encourage young adults in their faith will be fruitless.” Shifting our church culture means we need to shift the culture, so that people of all ages can serve in leadership, grow in their faith and do it all side by side. In our world, the divisions of difference have grown, not on purpose, but by convention. Ages are separated by institution walls: Children in schools. Older adults in retirement homes. Adults by differences in culture, class, status, and even by the fact that you can go to work and home and never see a person outside either location.
 
The path of Jesus for the church is going to be breaking down walls to reach people with love. This isn’t complicated and I think these words embody this sentiment for the church, “It sounds trite but it is true: If you want to move from handout to ministry, if you eschew the world of “drive by charity,” if you are ready to stop “playing church” and want to “be the church,” then pray about it. If you belong to a local congregation that wants to make a difference, and you wonder what God has in store for your future, then pray about it. Pray for God to direct your congregation to ministry with, not to, the poor and marginalized. Pray for God to open your eyes and the eyes of your congregation to see those who experience marginalization among you.”
 
One of my favorite ministry moments in Helena is still one of the simplest. Leaving a coffee shop with a friend he said, “Can you pray for me?”
“Sure,” I responded.
(Awkward silence).
“Now?”
“Yes!” my friend urges.
“I haven’t done this on the street before.”
“Same as if you are doing it inside a church.”
 
Our communities in Montana, across the west are full of people who have no community of faith, and many are searching for meaning in a community who will help them remember Jesus’ great commandment. Can we get through our awkward and follow the hard path? God willing my hope is to prayerfully attempt this work in Billings. Will you join me in this work? Will you work with your incredible new pastors and do this work of the church in Helena?
 
 
Enthusiastic Peace,
Pastor Tyler
 
 
P.S. God likes awkward people, and most often is just waiting to work with us to change the world in love.


Pastor’s Corner — Aug. 27

“I Spy with my little eye something that is…red.” Did you play this game when you were younger? I played often with my brother (I think when my mom was trying to quiet us down!). One would spot something in the room and the other would try to guess what it was. The red button on mom’s blouse. The red light on the cable box. The red stripe on the table cloth. Until I would guess what Mike had picked out. When I was a young mom I discovered the I Spy  books. Pages and pages of pictures of random objects. My daughters and I would sit down and look through the pages. I’d “spy” a specific object on a page and they would look for it. We’d take turns spying objects. It was great fun and a good way to develop observation skills.
 
I played I Spy with the children in worship a few weeks ago. Then I asked them “How do you see
God?” If God is not a person, how can we see God? They came up with some great ideas such as seeing God in creation, in acts of kindness, in moments of beauty. How do you see God? It is a good discipline to train our eyes to “see” God each day, to notice. For truly God is present with us every moment of every day.
 
How have you seen God this week? I saw God on Tuesday afternoon at the Silver Linings tea at Covenant UMC. Silver Linings is a wonderful care program for people who are developmentally disabled. Their clients range in age from child to adult. All have significant challenges they live with every day. Each client was highlighted with the things they most enjoy, such as playing with water on a hot day, or hiking on a trail, or playing on the playground. Stories were told of the things each student has accomplished, like learning to make eye contact with others or walking independently. And we learned what makes each of them special. One young man has a gift for making people smile and laugh. A deaf and blind boy enjoys creating art and says that even though he can’t see it, the staff say it is beautiful. One young person used to keep to herself all the time and has learned how to interact with others and has discovered she likes that. Another young woman is learning how strong her body is and what it is capable of doing. The staff are very creative, have everlasting patience, and offer love and care each day. That is God in action. Those students know they are loved and valued. Those students have discovered a place where they are cared for, challenged, can learn and contribute. My heart was touched by the stories of these special people. I spy God at Silver Linings!
 
 
Pastor Patti


Pastor’s Corner – Aug. 20

A message from our Bishop Karen Oliveto, written 8/15/2017:

Much has been written about white supremacy and white nationalism since this weekend’s deadly violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, and rightly so. We must condemn this evil that is seeking to fray the beautiful tapestry of American society. The hatred and racism that sustain these movements are literally life-threatening and must be confronted and dismantled.

But it is all too easy to point fingers and not do the hard work of personal soul searching, to be honest about the “every day racism” we whites participate in and benefit from. As a white woman, I have to confront my privilege, and the fact that my walk in the world is much easier because of my race than persons of color. Every day, I must confess my racism. Racism is so deeply embedded in our culture and entangles all of us in its web of inequity. I have to consciously reject it every day and the main way I do that is through the power of empathy, listening deeply to how those of color have a much different experience of the world than I do. I must understand that doors that open up automatically for me because of my whiteness open with difficulty—if at all—for persons of color. My race affords me places of safety not granted to those of other races.

I am not frightened of police officers. I don’t worry that by putting on a hoodie, I will be perceived as dangerous. I have never given my nieces and nephews “the talk” about how they should behave if ever stopped by a police officer. I have never been followed in a store by the owner because he or she automatically assumes that I am a suspect for shoplifting simply because of the color of my skin. I have never had to look very far—in books, movies, television, or church meetings—to see people who look like me. In white America, the color of my skin grants me power and privilege.

Racism isn’t an inconvenient social construct.  It is a deadly way to control others.

Racism permeates all corners of American society. Even the church is not immune from its cancerous presence. My own denomination’s history reveals a theology once held that supported the outrageous belief that owning another person and treating them less than human was in line with Christian values. Racism fueled segregation in the church through the creation of an all-black non-geographic jurisdiction in order to preserve (white) “unity”.

If we are to effectively oppose and defuse the movements of white supremacy and nationalism, the starting point must be with our own collusion with racism. Until we do this hard work, we will keep in place the social fuel that will allow these movements to flourish.

My white friends, we can no longer remain silent. We can no longer pretend we live in a post-racial society. We can no longer deny the privilege we possess. We can no longer believe that racism no longer exists.

With eyes wide open, may we dismantle the sin of racism, in our own lives and in the systems and institutions of which we are a part. May Love guide our work, focus our anger and fear, and lead us all into the promise of Beloved Community.

 

Bishop Karen Oliveto, Mountain Sky Area

(Find her blog at karenoliveto.blogspot.com)



Pastor’s Corner – Aug. 13

From Pew to Canoe

The outdoor recreation industry employs and serves millions of people in the summer months. In areas such as ours here in Montana and western North Carolina, Sundays can be one of the busiest days of the week for weekend warriors and seasonal workers. Rev. Wayne “Wayner” Dickert and the Bryson City United Methodist Church decided to take the worship service to the river banks of the Natahala River, using a brewery building as a chapel. They gather, sing, hear scripture, pray for one another, and share in communion. Then, they enjoy nature.

Pastor Wayner shared that being out in the community was the most important part of his ministry. Outdoor guides are finding River Church their welcoming home. These River Church members are unable to drive to a surrounding church to attend a worship service and also guide a trip that same day. That means deciding either to attend church or to make money to live on. Many young river guides express gratitude for church being on the river because they can worship and work on the same day. Others have flocked from all surrounding areas over their love of the water and connection to a former paddler. For the outdoor sports enthusiast, the Weekend Warrior lifestyle and traditional church lifestyle don’t always mesh well. Bryson UMC is reaching beyond its walls to bring these two together.  “It’s just a place where people can come together and be exactly who they are and accepted and loved,” Anne Connelly, a former national team paddler explained.

Offerings from River Church go to clean water projects around the world. They have donated 16 wells in Haiti thus far. After worship, the community hit the water, making connections through going to work or enjoying a day on the river together.

Visit the River Church’s website for more information: www.nantahalariveroflife.org
 
Do you have any ideas for our community for reaching our Weekend Warriors here in the Helena?
 
Pastor Sami 
 


Pastor’s Corner – Aug. 6

Ecclesiastes 3:7b says, “There is a time to speak and a time to keep silent.” I know we all have regrets over times our tongues got away from us and words flew out of our mouths and hurt somebody. I suspect we all have regrets over times we did not speak up, and later wished we had said something. Imagine these scenarios:
 
You walk into a conversation at work or at school where a person is being ridiculed. You hear the deriding comments. Even see the humor in them. Do you speak up or keep silent?
 
Someone walks into a social situation and is very vocal about his/her political views. Would you speak up or keep silent? Does your answer change if you agree or disagree with their opinion?
 
A person is happily living in denial. It may be an issue around facing their age, the prognosis of an illness, or the reality of a mental illness. You can see through the denial to the true reality. Should you speak up?
 
There is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. Words have great power. They dig deep into our souls. Mother Teresa says, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” I would say the same is true for unkind words; they carry an echo as well.
 
How do you make choices about when to speak up and when to listen? How does your faith inform your choices? These are worthy questions to ponder. And we will reflect on what the Tiger Lily has to say to us about this topic of words and their power.
 

Walking on the path of grace,

Pastor Patti


Pastor’s Corner – July 30

Can We Help the Buzz?
 
These hot summer days have us all running inside to stay cool and dry. This abnormal weather can also help remind us of our brothers and sisters who cannot escape this heat or its struggles. Our friends in Brazil, in particularly but not exclusively, continue to fight with malaria and Zika Virus outbreaks. Women and children have been hit hardest with the outbreaks, according to Human Rights Watch. This is simply because of the work done within the home. Families are urged to avoid standing water in their houses because mosquito larvae thrive there, but most families don’t have reliable running water, and hold water in tanks. It is typically the women and girls’ job to stock pile water while the tap is running. Legitimate measurements to keep the water covered and repelled are also taken, but it isn’t enough. Most Brazilians live without adequate sewage and disposal. All of these factors are causing easy transmission of Zika, predominantly in pregnancy, and proper medical care for children born with Zika Syndrome is extensive and expensive.
 
Many things need to be put into place for malaria and Zika to be eradicated, many of which are government investment in infrastructure for sewer and water. But there are ways we can help prevent the spread of the virus. Imagine No Malaria, a United Methodist initiative, is continuing to work to eradicate the spread of diseases via mosquitoes across the world. Insecticide-treated bed nets and education about transmission are part of Imagine’s preventative work. More accurate diagnoses, access to medication, proper drainage systems, and training for community health workers are all part of their treatment work. Because of this continual work, malaria deaths are half what they were. This is God at work in our world.
 
If you would like to help this cause even more, visit www.imaginenomalaria.org for resources and ways to donate. And when you swat a mosquito on your arm this summer, say a little prayer for those whom a mosquito bite means so much more.
 
Peace,
Pastor Sami


Pastor’s Corner – July 23

Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
 
Creation reflects its Creator. How do you see God in creation? How does the spirit speak to you through nature?

This morning, as I was walking across the parking lot to work, a beautiful bank of light purple flowers caught my eye. I was enjoying their beauty when I noticed a lone bright yellow flower standing out amongst the purple ones. It reminded me to let my light shine today. To be me. Flowers speak to us when we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

The next 6 weeks in worship we will be exploring what flowers can teach us about life, faith, and God. Each flower is unique in shape, size, color, beauty, aroma. Each speaks to us in its own way. Come and reflect with us on the messages flowers speak to us.

I also encourage you, as you are out in nature, whether it is on a trail, or in your garden, or in a parking lot, to open your eyes and ears to what the Spirit might be whispering to you through Creation.

Walking in the path of grace,

Pastor Patti



Pastor’s Corner – July 9

When I was in college I took a public speaking class. One of my assignments was to write a short speech on a favorite saying. I chose, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I don’t know why I remember that, but it came to mind this week as I was reflecting back on my life and the joys and challenges I have faced. I guess I have always tried to see all experiences, whether good or bad, as opportunities to grow. Otherwise bitterness, anger, and resentment can take over my heart and joy eludes me. Perhaps the biblical equivalent is Romans 8:28, “in all things God works for good.”
 
I’m reading an inspiring book, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, by Henri Nouwen. The title is a good summary of his theme: spiritual formation is not so much religious practices we add into our lives, but rather paying attention to how we experience the spirit of God moving in our daily lives. In the first chapter he talks about time. We typically view time as chronos, the series of events that make up our days. And we never have enough of this kind of time! He encourages us to view time as kairos, which I’ve heard defined as God’s time.
 
When we view time as kairos then we train ourselves to see God’s hands at work in our everyday moments and every moment becomes a potential connection to God, whether we are doing chores, spending time with someone, resting, playing, or serving another. Each moment and each activity becomes an opportunity to receive the love of God, to be transformed by the love of God, and/or to share the love of God. Our days then, become a mosaic of God’s work in our lives. This sounds all too simple, but it is challenging for me. My “To Do” list tends to control my life. But, in the moments I can focus on kairos, and increase my awareness of God’s activity in my life, life becomes lemonade!
 
How do you see God at work in your daily life? I would love to hear your story!
 
Walking in Grace,
Patti


Pastor’s Corner – July 2

This Sunday we welcome our new pastoral team to Helena. They will be celebrating communion with us at both Covenant and St. Paul’s. They will be serving as the new pastoral team in Helena covering pastoral duties at both St. Paul’s and Covenant. This new pastoral configuration will allow both congregations to get to know Pastor Patti and Pastor Sami as their spiritual and faith community leaders. Pastor Tyler will remain with us through mid-September to serve in an interim capacity and support the new team.

MEET YOUR NEW PASTORS:
Rev. Dr. Patti Agnew
Patti Agnew grew up on the beaches of southern California, in Pacific Palisades. She got her bachelors degree in Mathematics, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, always intending to be a high school math teach. But God redirected her and she got her Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and was ordained as a United Methodist elder In the Rocky Mountain Conference in 1994. In 2016 she completed her Doctor of Ministry degree, also from Fuller. She has served rural and suburban churches throughout Colorado in her 23 years as a pastor.
 
Patti is a single mom with two daughters in college, Amanda and Natalie, who will both be here the last week of July. She also has a dog, Molly. Patti loves hiking in the mountains, she already hiked up to the top of Mt. Helena last Sunday. She is a Colorado Rockies baseball fan. She loves chocolate, gymnastics, and ice cream. And she feels closest to God when she is out in nature. She is excited to begin this new chapter of life here in Helena with the great people of St. Paul’s and Covenant!
 
Rev. Sami Pack-Toner
Sami grew up in Sheridan, Montana and then moved to Great Falls for college. She was a lifeguard through high school, college, and seminary. She moved to North Carolina for seminary, and worked at churches there for 3 years. After graduation, she was appointed to Choteau and Pendroy United Methodist Churches and have served there the past 3 years. Sami was just ordained this last month by our Bishop. Sami and her husband Shane enjoy golf, swimming, snowboarding, dirt biking, fly fishing, and hiking.


Pastor’s Corner – June 25

As I write this final Pastor’s Corner, I do so filled with gratitude for the past 23 years of ministry with and to you, the friends and members of St. Paul’s and Covenant United Methodist Churches. As you know, Rick Hulbert and I both preach our final sermons today as your pastors. Tyler’s final sermon will be in early September.
 
Over the past weeks, I have had several questions about ‘what’s next?’ for me and for my involvement with our churches. First, let me share that Lyle and I have decided to put our home of 23 years up for sale and to make a move – hopefully sometime this summer or fall – to Florida. We plan to live somewhat near my parents and my sister in central Florida. We both plan to stay ‘actively retired’ which will hopefully include some travel, some relaxation, and perhaps work on a book.
 
Part (though certainly not all) of our reason for making the move so quickly has to do with the ‘ethics’ required of departing pastors. These expectations apply whether a pastor retires or moves to another appointment, remains in town or leaves the area. Departing pastors are not available for any kind of pastoral services – preaching, funerals, weddings, etc. – for at least a year. We are also expected to be absent from any involvement in the life of the church community – including attendance at worship – during that time. This allows a new pastoral team time and space to get to know a congregation and to become immersed in congregational life. Pastor Patti and Pastor Sami will bring their own unique gifts and abilities to the life of Covenant and St. Paul’s – and they need time to get to know you and you, them. Change for all of us is difficult – and pastoral changes can be particularly hard. But I trust that both St. Paul’s and Covenant will discover new possibilities for growth and new opportunities to flourish as you embrace your new leadership.
 
Lyle and I are certainly both anxious and excited about our next steps. Please know that we will remain interested in the unfolding of life at St. Paul’s and Covenant. You will be in our prayers and we will tune in to your activities through the website, Facebook postings, newsletters and livestreaming. Most of all, know that you, HUMM and both churches will be in our prayers. Please hold us in yours.
 
 
Grace and peace – and with gratitude,
Marianne