2020: How Did We Do?

2020: How Did We Do?

At the end of every January, we file our church’s End of Year reports.  And even though only a few months have passed since we filled out our Charge Conference reports, it is useful to look at some of the numbers and see how we did over the last twelve months.  I think that it may be particularly useful to look at how we did during such a strange and difficult year when many of those months we were grappling with the restrictions and changing demands of a global pandemic.

Among the first things that the report form asks are questions about church membership, and there we continue to see a significant decline due to the deaths of our members.  In 2019 we removed ten members from our membership rolls for this reason and in 2020 that number climbed to eighteen.  We mourn the passing of these members and we will, of course, remember them on All Saints Day.  But these losses challenge us as a church because even though many of them had not been able to actively attend worship, we feel the losses not only in the loss of our friendships, but also as we count attendance and in giving.

In this unusual year of largely virtual worship, we wonder about church attendance and understanding that number this year is a lot like trying to catch a greased pig.  On our Charge Conference paperwork, we reported our average attendance from January to March up to the point that we stopped meeting in person, and we will use that same number on one line of our End of Year reporting as well.  That attendance number (75) will look almost the same as the number that we reported last year (80), but only represents three winter months and, of course, doesn’t include any information about the last nine months of the year so, for most of us, that feels inadequate. 

We have kept track of our online presence and activity through various social media statistics, but because there are many ways that those number could be reported. Without going into too much confusing detail, every week I watch several numbers. 

Our online worship services on YouTube produce daily updates on viewers and traffic and, since it quickly became obvious that not everyone watches at 10:15 am on Sunday, I record our “official” traffic numbers seven days after each video goes live online.  That means that, unlike church worship where we simply count the number of people in the sanctuary, we don’t have a real count of our attendance for each week until the following Sunday.  With that in mind, when we first transitioned to online worship, Easter Sunday had an “attendance” of about 117, Palm Sunday had 123, and Christmas Eve also had 123. 

And while those number may sound a little low, compared to what we might have expected in person, in the online world, an attendance of 123 represents 123 different computers, not 123 people.  And, since we know that most of our congregation doesn’t join our online service to worship alone, we know that the number of people is much larger.  Among the churches in our United Methodist connection, churches are assuming that the number of computers should be multiplied by anywhere from 1.3 to 2.0 (or more) to arrive at what honestly is a guess at the actual number of people who are participating.  That means that if 123 unique computers connected to our Christmas Eve service, then somewhere between 159 to 246 (or more) were worshiping with us.  Our average, over 40 weeks of online worship, is about 78 “clicks” or “views” and 54 uniquely identified computers.  And, if you assume that more than one person is typically at every computer, that’s not out of line with what we might have expected in person.  The number on online worshipers that we reported on our End of Year report form was 81.

It is also worth noting that, over the course of the year, 7 more people have started following our church Facebook page (for a total 227), we have gained an additional 56 subscribers to our online sermon postings (for a total 393), and 57 people now subscribe to the YouTube channel where our worship services are posted (45 more than last year).   But all those numbers come with assumptions and guesses.  We know that all our members have not been able to join us digitally, we know that the numbers get confused when we have parking lot services as well as an online service, we know that some people are joining us online who live outside our community, and we have no idea how many people will feel comfortable enough to return to in-person worship, even when it’s safe to do so.  What we do know, is that since moving to an online format, the number of people who have been participating in worship since March has remained consistent. 

Not unexpectedly, we fell a little behind where we were financially in 2019.  Giving was off a little, there was no “loose” offering to count with a digital offering plate, we had no income from “Burgers in the Park,” and the economic uncertainty of these unusual times influenced giving.  But the changes that we made also led us to spend less, while also increasing our giving to missions.  While some churches are desperately struggling, the people of Christ Church have been incredibly faithful and with only a small infusion from our endowment, we have been able to remain current on all our bills, pay all our apportionments, complete several capital improvement projects in our building, and support all our missions at the same, or at an increased level.  I am incredibly proud to be a part of Christ Church and I want to thank all of you for your continued faithfulness.

I realize that is a lot of data, and while there is much murkiness and uncertainty due to both the numbers and to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, overall, I believe that our church will not only survive this crisis but thrive.  I hope that you are as proud to be a part of this church as I am, and that you will continue to tell your friends about the work that we are doing.  Tell them what great people attend here, how good it feels to be a part of this family, and invite them to join us online today, and in-person later this year.  I am certain that God has great things in store.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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2021, Blessing or Curse?

2021, Blessing or Curse?

December 30, 2020

by John Partridge

Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train?  And I think that my best guess is, it depends.

I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking.  We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things.  And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it.  Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.”  We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear. 

The same is true of much more mundane things.  I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city.  Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?”  He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk.  The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it.  Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin.  Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about. 

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways.  Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her.  Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son.  Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.

And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world.   If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention.  If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them.  But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead. 

If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves.  But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope.  And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see.  The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.

And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases.  Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love.  We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.”  Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…

…is almost certainly what we will find.

I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.

Will you?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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*Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Note: Recently, as he was going through our father’s files, my brother Steve came across a column that Dad had published in a newspaper in December of 1970. As we end our season of Advent in 2020 fifty years later, it seems just as important, just as relevant, and just as contemporary, as it was then.

Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Guest Post by Rev. Stanley Partridge

One of the most delightful stories told is the one by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle.  After his very long sleep, he returns to his native village which is supposed to be the most familiar place that he knows.  As was his custom, he goes to the tavern.  There instead of finding the face of King George on the swinging sign, he sees the face of a man whom he comes to know as George Washington.  Most people have enjoyed the story, but not everyone discerns the moral of it.  In truth, Rip Van Winkle slept through a revolution.

The American Revolution is dwarfed in comparison to the era in which we are now living.  The times of which we are a part is the greatest period of revolutionary ferment the world has seen.  Wherever we may turn, the fires of strife in one form or another are blazing, and far-reaching changes are under way.  Many political foundations which seemed so secure a few decades ago, are now shaking and sagging before our eyes.  The vast colonial empires, so familiar to the older generation, are now becoming an eclipse and who can tell the shape of the new world that is just emerging?

Tragically, too many people today are unaware or just do not care about this global war of ideas, and like Rip Van Winkle, they are sleeping through a revolution.  It was at a crucial point in the ministry of Jesus, that of the Sadducees and the Pharisees combined their forces against him.  They said to him, “Show us a sign from heaven that you are under God’s authority.”  Our Lord answers, “Why do you ask me for a sign? You are the experts in signs.  In the evening when the sky is red you say that it is going to be a fine day tomorrow.  In the morning if it is red and lowering you say we are in for a stormy day.  You know how to interpret the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”  They were like Rip Van Winkle too, in that they were asleep to the great potential of the man that was before them.  They knew all the “Tricks” of the Roman political games and missed the one who would tower above men of all history—unique, solitary, and majestic.

These searching words of Jesus, “You cannot interpret the signs of the times,” apply to us also, for there are many on business, industry, politics, economics, yes and even the Church who can read most of the signs of our times but cannot see, or refuse to see, what is obvious.  How long can the world seek for PEACE and refuse demands for “clean air” and “pure streams” and a better living environment when the only god they know and have known is a god created in man’s image.  This age of materialism calls us all to bow down to its demands and has lulled us into a peaceful sleep of lethargy.

Our greatest need today is to begin to bridge the yawning gap between our profession of belief in human freedom and justice and our lamentable practices that discredit us in the eyes of the world and one another.

This is the season of Advent, a time when we again take time to remember that there was a man who came to bring to the world a new lifestyle that wasn’t meant to be encumbered with the trivia of life.  He comes to bring to us the things in life that want most but won’t turn to him to find.  He comes bringing peace, love, joy, and contentment, but we go our merry way attempting to find peace, love, joy, and contentment in any other place than in him.

Here is a goal for all of us: To follow in the footsteps of Christ our Lord who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, who kept loving men who hated him, who died for men who were unworthy of his sacrifice.  But you see, he released a Spirit in the world that alone can draw people together in the bonds of human love and peace under the over-arching care of an eternal God.


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* Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Light of the World HAS Come

The Light of the World *Has* Come

December 24, 2020

Pastor John Partridge

(Note: This is the text from the meditation shared at our Christmas Eve service. You can find the video of that service here: https://youtu.be/PCIT75HQFAk)*

As unusual as this evening has been, we attempted to make it as normal as possible under the restrictions and our desire to keep one another safe during this global pandemic.  I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to email us and tell us that you were coming so that we could light a candle in our sanctuary for you.  And I want to thank everyone who volunteered to help with our Advent wreath, or read one of our scripture for this evening, music team and our choir who sang extra songs, the volunteers that set up all our luminaries, or to recorded themselves lighting a candle, or for any of the other things that were needed to record, assemble, and edit this Christmas Eve service.  I especially want to thank Bob Wallace for his herculean efforts at video editing.  As much effort as it was to record dozens of short, socially distanced video clips, it was a gigantic task to assemble those short videos into one, understandable whole.

But beyond the thank-yous of the evening, is the importance of the message.  As we have come together in this virtual gathering for Christmas Eve, I hope that you will all remember that the message of the angels was that they had brought “Good News of great joy for all the people.”  The Shepherds watching their flocks were blinded by a great light and heavenly choirs announcing the arrival of the light of the world.

That’s why we came tonight to sing songs of celebration.  And that’s why we lit candles and passed them, as much as possible, from one to another. 

The light of the world has come.

But the light of the world didn’t come into the world so that we could read about it in a book.  That light was the Good News, indeed, good news of great joy.  And that good news was shared by the shepherds in the field, and the wise men who visited, and by everyone who had heard the story.  That good news was shared, from one person to another, until, two thousand years later, someone shared it with you.

The light of the world has come.

And that light isn’t just something that we read about in a book.  That light goes out into the world this evening.  You carry that light. You carry that good news.  The message of Christmas is that just as the light has been passed from one generation to another, and just as it was given to you, you must pass that light forward to the next person, and to the next generation, just as the flame of the candles was passed from one person to another.

The light of the world has come.

We have come here tonight, and we have heard Good News of great joy that is for all the people.

Let us go out from this place and share that good news with the rest of the world.

Merry Christmas.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/q5ywQknu4os

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Caring for Your Christmas Heart

Ohio has now raised our county’s COVID-19 alert level to “purple, or level four.  We are now, more than ever, feeling threatened by the pandemic as this invisible virus threatens to overwhelm doctors, hospitals, caregivers, nursing homes, and even the coroner and the county morgue.  Many of us had already felt isolated and alone, and now reason, good sense, and caution urge us to retreat even further from human contact.  We are staying in contact with our families and friends by mail, by telephone, social media, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and anything else that we can think of, but there are no handshakes, hugs, or kisses on the cheek but we can feel our hunger for human contact gnawing at us.

Our holiday traditions are being upset, upended, and overturned at every turn.  Certainly, no one has seen such an unusual Christmas season since the Spanish Flu swept around the world, twice, in 1917 and again in 1918.  Our company Christmas parties, as well as traditional gatherings at church, social clubs, service clubs, scouts, school, sports teams, and other groups that we normally enjoy, are probably all cancelled and, as a result, we’re spending more time at home than we have since we were in diapers.

But how will we use this time?

Some of us have rediscovered crafts and hobbies that we had left behind years ago.  Many have rediscovered a love for the outdoors and for anything that can be done, away from crowds, outside of our homes.  Stores were sold out of fishing tackle and kayaks for months because everyone was trying to get out on a lake somewhere.  And I’ve heard stories that this might be a banner year for Christmas lights because everyone had time to dig things out of the attic and put them up.

But what will you do for your heart?

I’m not talking about walking or running, or any kind of cardiovascular exercise.  In the middle of our physical isolation from other human beings, I’m talking about doing what we can to prevent spiritual isolation.  In a normal year, and in a normal Advent and Christmas season, we can often rely upon our patterns of living, our habits, and our traditions to help us feel Christmas-y.  Even if we aren’t regular in attendance during the year, we often return to church in the fall, or at least after Thanksgiving, so that we can get into the spirit of Christmas.  We know that seeing the church decorated for Christmas, hearing the music, and singing the songs of Christmas stir something inside of us that we need to be stirred.  I have often been deliberate in listening to Christmas music after Thanksgiving to help me feel less like Scrooge and more like Bob Cratchit.  At church we can rely upon our Sunday school teachers, our pastor, and even our friends wearing festive sweaters, to help us feel a stirring in our souls and a closeness with God?

But all the tools that we have used throughout our lifetimes are being taken away from us as we stay home and insulate ourselves, and others, from a virus that wants to do us harm.  And so, what will we do to feel Christmas?  What will we do to feel a familiar stirring in our souls?  What will we do to draw closer to God without parties and Christmas carols?  What will we do without seeing the decorations at church, or hearing the pipe organ, seeing a parade of ugly sweaters, or lighting a candle on Christmas Eve?

Don’t panic.

Remember that while your church may not be doing things in the same way that we’ve always done them, we are trying to bring Christmas to you in other ways.  At Christ Church we decorated the church so that you can see it in our videos and we’ve already begun recording portions of our Christmas Eve service and invited you to record yourself so that we can all “see” one another, our Sunday school classes are meeting online via Zoom, and we’re doing whatever we can to make Christmas as normal as possible. 

But that may not be enough.

Many of those folks who bought kayaks discovered that to get across the lake, you may need to paddle a bit, and sometimes paddling can be hard work.  Likewise, although your pastor, church staff, and volunteers are doing what they can, much of what you feel at Christmas is up to you.  But that’s always been true.  When I started to feel too much like a Humbug, I knew that it was time to start listening to Christmas music.  What will it take to move you from Scrooge to Cratchit?  What will it take to stir your soul?  What will it take for you to draw closer to Jesus this Advent and Christmas?

Just as we bought board games, kayaks, and fishing equipment in the spring, we may need to invest something of ourselves this Christmas.  For me, it may be listening to Christmas music and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  But it will also mean joining with our church family on YouTube and singing hymns, sharing communion together on Zoom, and opening my Bible to the book of Luke and reading the Christmas story for the hundredth time.  Be prepared to go out and do whatever it is that you need to do to stir your soul and draw closer to Jesus this Christmas.

As much as we are starving for human contact, our souls are starving for closeness with Jesus.

Don’t push away from his fire and allow your soul to grow cold like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Do whatever you need to do to stir your soul and draw close.

As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us… every one.”

Merry Christmas.

Blessings,

Pastor John


And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!


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Reframe, Restart, Re-imagine

As I write this, we are less than two weeks from Thanksgiving.  When you read this, it will likely be almost, or already, December and we will be counting down to Christmas.  We, both individually and collectively, have been trying to manage, and cope with, the constantly changing restrictions on our lives brought on by the Coronavirus since March.  And the latest resurgence and new peaks of COVID-19 are forcing change on us yet again. 

As I met with our Worship Committee and our staff, I had hoped to find a way for us to hold on to some of our Advent and Christmas traditions.  We talked about a drive through service, and even began designing a Christmas Eve service that would travel from station to station, in small groups, through the church and still light candles in the sanctuary.  But with the latest surge in virus cases, and the newest recommended restrictions, I doubt that we will even be able to do that.  Instead, we will pivot, again, and try to find a meaningful way of celebrating Christmas Eve together while we are apart. 

Few of us imagined a Christmas quite like this one in March and, if we’re honest, we’re having a hard time imagining it now.  But as we rush toward the end of what has probably been the strangest year any of us has ever seen, we also struggle to imagine what the new year will bring us.  We have hope that new vaccines will successfully conclude their clinical trials, be approved, and begin distribution but, at this point, we are told that widespread availability probably won’t happen until mid-summer.  Sigh.  That means we probably should prepare ourselves for Coronavirus to dampen our plans for yet another Easter.

But a new year still encourages us to image a new beginning.  A new year now, as always, presses us to reflect on the year we leave behind and envision a better, brighter, bolder, future.  Perhaps this year, more than ever, we look forward to leaving 2020 behind and hoping for something better.  But as we do, let us also grapple with what lessons, however difficult, that we have learned. 

I believe that this pandemic has taught us, or at least boldly reminded us, that “church” is not a building and “mission” is not what happens inside of that building.  We are learning that “community” and “family” are bigger ideas, and stronger ties, than just the people with whom we can shake hands each Sunday and we are finding ways to stay connected to the people we care about, the people in our church family, and the people in our communities in other ways.  We are learning that the “reach” of our church, and our worship, is bigger than just the people who show up in person, on Sunday morning and we are learning, I hope, how to reach out to, and to connect with, the people around us in ways that we hadn’t considered before.  We are already seeing “new faces” in our church that have joined us on the internet and haven’t yet attended a single “in-person” worship service, and despite not having what we might have, a few months ago, considered to be an essential element, they now consider themselves to be a part of our church.

And so, as we hurtle toward the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I hope that we will continue to reframe our ideas of what some of these words mean.  For some of us, words like church, mission, outreach, community, and even family will never be the same even after things return to “normal.”  As we grapple with these new meanings, and with our new knowledge, and yes, new skills, let us also continue to re-imagine what we could be, what we can be, and what God is calling us to be as individuals, as a people, and as a church.  Clearly, the situation that we have is not one that we wanted, or even one that we ever imagined, but I am certain that through it, God is trying to teach us something incredibly valuable…

if we are willing to listen… and learn.

I pray that, years from now, rather than mourn over the things that we lost during the pandemic of 2020, we would instead rejoice over the things that we learned, and what that new knowledge, and that new understanding, allowed us to achieve.

Blessings,

Pastor John

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We Need YOUR HELP for Christmas Eve

As I mentioned in the announcements yesterday (if you missed them click here), we are working on several things to make our Virtual Christmas Eve service as special, and as “normal” as possible.  But to do that, we NEED YOUR HELP.  Both of these things are a part of the candle lighting that we traditionally have at the end of the Christmas Eve service.

  1. Each Christmas Eve we look forward to seeing our sanctuary fill with light.  But, if you can’t physically BE there, how will we do that?  Let’s just say that we have a plan and we intend to light a candle in the sanctuary for EACH ONE OF YOU in a way that you can watch.  But to do THAT, we need to know how many of you will “attend” our Christmas Eve service.  So, whether you have attended our worship services in person, or if you’ve been worshipping with us virtually from wherever you live, or if you have visited for Christmas Eve in the past, or if you intend to visit for the first time on Christmas Eve, please DO THIS:  a) Send an email to Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org and tell me that you are coming.  b) Tell me how many will be with you, and c) tell me their names, or at least a name for your family group (ie. “the Schultz family”).  Names may not be strictly necessary, and we may not use them for anything, but it will help me to keep track so I don’t count people twice.  Then, when we record the candle lighting portion of our service, we will light a candle for EACH ONE of you to represent that you ARE THERE with us.
  2. This one is harder but I hope that you will try.  Record a ten second (more or less) video of you lighting a candle.  Maybe even dress up a little like you would if you were there.  Start with a lit candle in front of you on a table (or chair, or whatever you have) and then, holding a second candle, light it from the first one and hold it in front of you.  Click here to see a short video from Bob Wallace demonstrating what we have in mind.  If there are more than one of you, feel free to make a video for each of you or, record everyone taking a light at the same time or, pass the light from one person to the next just like you would have if you were standing in “your” pew at church.  The plan is to edit all of your videos together so that on Christmas Eve we get to SEE one another lighting our candles.  I hope that we will get to see ALL of you.  If you need help, ask a friend of help you, but PLEASE send us a video.  When you’re done send your completed videos to: rlwallace@mac.com and put <Candle Light Video> and YOUR NAME in the subject line. 
  3. DEADLINE: In order for us to have some time to record and edit these videos, please try to send your emails and videos by DECEMBER 15th.

Obviously, we’ve never done this before, so it may not turn out exactly like we planned, but if it’s going to work at all, we will certainly NEED YOUR HELP.

We literally cannot do this without you.

Blessings,

John Partridge

Pastor

Christ United Methodist Church

470 East Broadway Street

Alliance, Ohio 44601

www.CUMCAlliance.org

www.PastorPartridge.com

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Thanksgiving Overflow?

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Thanksgiving Overflow?

November 26, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 8:7-18       Luke 17:11-19       2 Corinthians 9:6-15

In the middle of a global pandemic, we are taking a day out of our schedule to give thanks.  For many of us, our traditional celebrations have been dramatically changed, reduced, or even cancelled, and yet still we pause to give thanks.  And that’s a good thing.  Despite all the weirdness, difficulty, hardship, and yes, even death, when we pause long enough to reflect, we remember that we are, indeed, blessed.  That busyness causes us to forget our blessings is not new.  Almost as soon as the people of Israel had escaped their 400 years of slavery they already knew that once a  better life came, that they would begin to forget just how blessed they were to have a better life.  In Deuteronomy 8:7-18 we hear these words:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

God tells the people that once they had arrived in the Promised Land, and once their lives were better, they needed to occasionally pause from their busyness and remember that it was God who had given them that life.  Despite their sweat and hard work, they would not have been where they were had it not been for God.  Yes, they busted their guts, and  yes they invested their sweat and their hard work, but if it had not been for God, they would have been doing all those things for the benefit of Egypt’s Pharaoh, and not for themselves. 

They were indeed blessed.

And God simply asked them to occasionally pause and remember that it was God who gave them the ability to do the things that they did and to have the things that they had.  But Jesus tells us that thanksgiving is more than something that we put on the calendar to do one day each year.  In Luke 17:11-19, we hear a story that should resonate with us during a pandemic, as Jesus meets ten men who were afflicted with an incurable disease.

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

God has given us gifts.  God has granted us health, and healthcare workers who struggle to make us well when we fall ill.  But how often do we say thank you to those to whom we are indebted?  Do we return to God and give thanks?  Do we appreciate, and give thanks to our healthcare team?  Do we bother to simply say “thank you” to the people around us who work to make our lives better, and easier?

It isn’t a question of setting aside a day to give thanks.

But do we live lives of thankfulness?

And, as you consider that, let us also remember Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Corinth that we find in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Paul reminds us that if we are to truly live lives of thankfulness, then we must also live lives of generosity.  Our generosity is not a fee that we pay for God’s continued blessing and it is not a tax on the blessings that we have already received.  Instead, our generosity should come from a heart that overflows with gratitude. 

Generosity is a visible sign of genuine… thanksgiving.

And so, as we take time out to give thanks for the gifts that we have been given, as we give thanks for our homes, our lives, our health, our families, and everything else, let us remember to let out thanksgiving overflow into the lives of the people around us.  Say “Thank you” to the people who make your life easier, say thank you to God for his indescribable gifts, and let us not insulate, segregate, and isolate our thanksgiving in one single day.  Let us instead live lives of thanksgiving and allow that thanksgiving to overflow as gratitude and generosity.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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* Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Pastor’s Report 2020

(Note: What follows is a copy of my report included in this year’s Charge Conference paperwork)


Pastor’s Report – 2020

If you wanted to deliberately turn the life of the church upside-down, you could not have imagined a better tool than COVID-19.  Virtually everything changed.  And yet, they didn’t.  Our committee meetings changed, but once we got comfortable with Zoom, and social distancing protocols, most of our committees are still meeting.  We aren’t using our church building on Sunday, and yet, we’re still “having church” every week.  Sometimes via YouTube, sometimes in our church parking lot, sometimes both and two out of three Sunday school classes are still meeting weekly via Zoom (and it’s the younger group that isn’t).  We can’t pass offering plates on Sunday morning, and yet, our offerings are often as good, or better, than they were last year.

The weekly community dinners have changed but have never stopped.  The first week after the lockdown, one sponsoring church cancelled, but the people of Christ Church immediately stepped up, improvised, and prepared a carry out meal so that those who rely on us were fed.  Since then, our regular church hosts, as well as few others, have all stepped in, and stepped up, and our weekly Tuesday meals have continued, and have… grown.  In the last month, the lines have been longer, and the number of guests has increased.  Occasionally, the food has run out, but the word has spread, everyone is adapting, and more food will be prepared for the next meal.

Obviously, there are things that we can’t do.  Our mission trips to Harrisburg, Liberia and Big Creek, Kentucky have been postponed until it is once again safe to do so, but we have already collected an enormous pile of things to take with us to Kentucky simply because our members have taken advantage of this time and used it to do some Spring cleaning.  Similarly, gifts in support of our trip to Liberia are continuing to appear in our church offerings so that, when the time comes, we will be ready.  And, as our Outreach Committee discussed these changes, they deliberately looked for how the needs of our community might have changed and how we might be a part of caring for new communities or new areas of need that were caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.  And so, while some planned and budgeted gifts are not needed, we have shifted gifts, and fund-raising efforts to new places where the needs are great.

Although things sometimes seem to have turned upside down, the mission never changed, and the church has continued to be the church.  We have changed, we have adapted, we are learning new things every week, but we are still here.  Our membership has remained connected in new ways, and we see new names participating in our online forums.  In short, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are housed, and we continue to look for ways that we can be the church, and places where we can be Jesus to the people around us.

The church is still here.

The mission continues.

We continue to seek Jesus Christ and to share his love with the people around us.

We could do nothing less.


I hope that all of you remain well.  I encourage you to continue our mission, continue to be the church, and continue to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Just Do The Next Thing

Some years ago, when I was still working as an engineer, I used to listen to a Christian radio station in Cleveland, Ohio and would often hear a program hosted by Elizabeth Elliot. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that name, Elizabeth Elliot was the widow of a missionary, Jim Elliot, who was killed by Ecuadorian natives from the Huaorani tribe– also called the “Auca”, along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint in 1952. Their story spread around the world and was recorded by Elizabeth Elliot in a best selling book “Through Gates of Splendor” as well as subsequent movies and other books written by Elliot and others.

In any case, in a conversation with a caller on her radio show, Elizabeth Elliot noted that there were many times, particularly after she was widowed with small children, as well as other crises later in her life, that she would remember and recite to herself an old poem entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” On that show, on more than one occasion, I heard her recite it, at least in part, and remind her listeners that when life is hard, when we are struggling to understand how we can possibly move forward, her advice was simply to put one step in front of the other, and just “do the next thing.”

Although I didn’t need that particular wisdom on the day that I heard it, my brain filed it away somewhere. And, there have been several occasions since then that I found myself reciting parts of it to myself, looking up the entire poem online, or just reminding myself to just “do the next thing.”

It occurred to me today that some of you might not have heard it and during the turmoil caused by the Coronavirus, or for a host of other possible reasons, maybe you needed to hear it today. Here it is:

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.
– Elizabeth Elliot

Hang in there friends.

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Television pastor and writer Rev. Robert Schuller used to say,

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. ”

I said it before, but I’m going to say it again anyway…

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just…

Do the next thing.

God Bless.

____________________________________________________

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