Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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Teamwork

In this message, recorded on Sunday February 17, 2019, I explain to one of our youngest church members how a piano can teach us about working together.

 

 

 

 

Or, if you prefer, you can watch the video on YouTube.

 


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2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.

 

Mystery Revealed!

Mystery Revealed

January 06, 2019*

Epiphany

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 60:1-6              Matthew 2:1-12                     Ephesians 3:1-12

 

Have you ever read mystery stories?  Honestly, there was a long time during which, although I was an avid reader, I never had any interest in reading mysteries.  But at some point, I took a class that studied the genre of mystery stories for a required credit in English literature.  For that class we were required to read, and study, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a dozen others.  But in studying this subject, we learned a new word that stuck with me despite being a word that is a little uncommon.  We learned the word, “denouement.”   Here’s an official definition.

Denouement (pronounced Day-noo-mawhn)

noun: denouement; plural noun: denouements; noun: dénouement; plural noun: dénouements

The final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together, and matters are explained or resolved.   The climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear.

synonyms: culmination, climax, conclusion, solution

What this means, at least as we discuss mystery stories, is usually the part of the story where the detective calls everyone together and points out the guilty person, or explains how the mystery happened, and clears up all the confusion that the reader has been wrestling with during the story.  This is usually the climax of the story and from then on, most of the story is just housekeeping and explaining how everyone lived “happily ever after.”

But by now you’ve noticed that this morning’s message is entitled, “Mystery Revealed” so I’m sure some of you are wondering what that’s all about.  In reply, I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while because before I get to the end, it will all become clear(er).  We begin 800 years before the time of Jesus in the writings of the propher Isaiah where we hear these words that describe the Messiah that was to come (Isaiah 60:1-6):

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you  and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,  and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Even in such a quick reading, we can immediately see several things that sound familiar to us from the Christmas story: a messiah that brings light to the world and dispels the darkness, nations that are drawn to toward the light of the new messiah, wanderers, expatriates, and captives that return to Israel from afar, kings of other nations who worship him, and who send gifts of gold and incense.  And we see the fulfillment of many of these prophecies in the coming of the magi in Matthew 2:1-12.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Nations came to the light of his star to worship him and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And while all of God’s lost children have yet been repatriated into Israel, we remember that Jesus often said that his mission on earth was to rescue the lost sheep of Israel. And if we continue reading the scriptures, we also find Paul’s explanation of the mystery of Jesus Christ as it relates to Isaiah, Jesus, and the coming of the magi in Ephesians 3:1-12.

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Paul says that the mystery of the messiah was revealed to Paul, and the mystery is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been invited back into the family of God.  And once this mystery was revealed to us, then we realize that we can see that revelation from the beginning of the Christmas story.  We realize that the genealogies of Jesus, found in the gospels, show us that Mary and Joseph came from a family that welcomed in foreigners and strangers, and we realize that the story of the magi is a story about gentiles and foreigners being among the first worshippers of the newborn messiah king.

The revelation of Paul, the mystery that is revealed, is that not only is the Christmas story a beautiful story, not only is it “good new of great joy” but that the messiah Jesus came “for all the people” and it wasn’t just all the Jewish people or for all the descendants of Abraham.  The story of Christmas is good news of great joy for all the gentile people, and that means all of us.  The arrival of the magi in the Christmas story is the part of the story where we show up.  While the shepherds were the Jewish outsiders, the magi are the aliens, the strangers, the ultimate outsiders.  This is one of the reasons that the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas in January, today, at Epiphany.  The arrival of the magi is the part of the story that includes us, it is the gentile denouement, the climax of the story where everything is revealed. 

Epiphany, and the arrival of the magi, is the part of the Christmas story where we are invited in and where we become a part of God’s family.

Epiphany means that Christmas isn’t just a Jewish story.

It’s our story.

And we are invited, in fact, as the church, we are commanded, to tell the world so that the story of Christmas, and the love of Jesus Christ, can be everyone’s story.

How’s that for a Christmas present?

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 


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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.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Scandal of Christmas

Note: This was originally a Facebook post back in 2014 and I’ve repeated it there occasionally, but I thought that it was also worth sharing here.

 

We’ve made Christmas pretty with twinkly lights, shiny decorations and well dressed characters in the nativity but we forget that Christmas was and is a story of scandal.

A baby born to poor, unmarried parents who were themselves descended from prostitutes, foreigners, adulterers, murders, and the absolute WORST king that Israel had ever had, a man who was describes as more evil than Israel’s enemy the Ammonites.

His birth was announced to shepherds, people at the very bottom of the social order. The rich, the important, and the popular were excluded.

Everything about the story is aimed at reminding us that God uses the weak, the small, the outcasts, the unpopular and the people that others call failures to do his greatest work.

The coming of the the Messiah was not the triumph of the establishment, but an invitation to everyone who has ever felt like they weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or just simply not “enough.”

The scandal of Christmas is that God came to earth to invite us all, regardless of wealth, race, popularity, nationality, or even goodness. He came to redeem and transform us, at his expense, so that we could *all* be invited into his house.

Never forget the scandal of Christmas because it was that very scandal that invited us in to become sons and daughters of God.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

 


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Peace through… What?

Peace Through… What?

December 09, 2018*

(Second Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

Malachi 3:1-4             Luke 3:1-6                  Philippians 1:3-11

 

Peace.

In our modern world, we have often heard the phrase, “Peace through strength.”  Nations, from ancient Rome, to Hitler’s Germany, to today’s military-industrial machine, have all claimed to bring about peace through having a powerful military, but it has rarely worked out that way.  Peace through strength only works when that strength is used to threaten the peace of others.  Granted, used rightly, and justly, that same strength can be used to rescue people, and nations, from abuse by other nations or from terrorists.  But God’s story leans in another direction.  God’s story bends the claim of “peace through strength” into a different shape entirely.  In Malachi 3:1-4, God says:

3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

God says that he will send a messenger to his people and this will be the messenger that Israel has desired, and has prayed for, for thousands of years since the time of King David.  But this promise also comes with a warning.  When God’s messenger, God’s Messiah, appears, he will prepare the way for God by refining and purifying his people.  God’s message is that there is strength through purity and strength through righteousness.

But let’s look a little deeper and understand why this is a warning.

Malachi says that God’s messenger will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and will purify the Levites, the priests of God, and refine them like gold and silver.

Why is that a warning?  It is a warning if you understand how silver and gold are purified.

When silver is refined, the silversmith places the silver over the fire, in the middle of the furnace, where the fire is the hottest and waits while the fire burns away all its impurities.  During this process, the silversmith can never take his eyes away from the silver or it might overheat and be destroyed.  But the silversmith knows the precise moment when the silver has been purified, because at that moment, he can clearly see his reflection in it.  God’s warning is that that he intends to purify his priests, and purify his people, by burning away all of their impurities so that they will reflect his image and his glory.

Peace through purification. 

Peace through trials.

Peace through the refiner’s fire.

We await the return of Jesus.  We are expectant.  But we are warned that, for us, his return may not be easy.

John the Baptist reinforces this same image in Luke 3:1-6, where we hear these words:

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

John preached that God’s people must busy themselves preparing the way for the arrival of the Messiah by repenting of their sins.  “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked roads shall become straight, the rough places smooth”, and only then… “all the people will see God’s salvation.”

Peace through repentance.

And finally, we come to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Philippi and prays for them as we see in Philippians 1:3-11.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Right off the bat, Paul begins by saying that God has begun a good work in his church and prays that God will continue the work that he has already started.   And, just in case you missed the importance of this, I want to restate it.  Paul tells the church that what they are doing is good, but that God isn’t finished with them yet, that there is more work to do, that we are a work in-progress, and he is praying that God would continue to move us in that direction until we have accomplished everything that God has intended for us to do.  Second, Paul reminds the church that whether we are together or apart, we share God’s grace and we share God’s work.  And finally, Paul’s prayer is that the love of the church may grow greater and greater, that the people will grow in the knowledge of God and in depth of insight into the mind of God so that  we might be able to discern what is best, so that we might be pure and blameless on the day of Christ’s return, and so that the church will be filled with the fruits of righteousness, so that God would be given praise and glory.

And if we boil that down, we find Paul’s prayers for the people of Jesus Christ are these:

Peace through the perfecting work of God.

Peace through the grace of God.

Peace through love.

Peace through the knowledge of God.

And we hear the united voices of Malachi, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul saying,

“Peace through the righteousness of God.”

The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be easy.  We must work diligently to live up to the high calling as a kingdom, and as priests, of Jesus.  We are being refined and purified into something better.  We must daily work to move toward the perfection of Jesus, to struggle daily to be more like Jesus, so that we can love others like Jesus.

It is no accident that Isaiah 9:6 describes the Messiah this way:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We are a kingdom of priests, be he is…

The Prince of Peace

No matter the strength of a nation, or it’s swords, horses, and armies or navies, peace through strength will always fail… without the Prince of Peace.

There can only be peace…

            …through Jesus.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Pastor’s Report – Charge Conference 2018

Every fall, our church has a “Charge conference” in which we present our slate of officers for the next year and next year’s proposed budget, we also vote on staff salaries, and turn in paperwork that is intended to satisfy our District Superintendent, Bishop, Annual Conference, the IRS, and other end of year housekeeping.  As a part of that, I am asked to submit a “pastor’s report” outlining our activities for the year and my expectations for next year.  It’s a lot like the “What I did last summer” reports that we wrote in the fall as school children.  In any event, I wanted to share that report with you, so what follows is the report that I turned in at Charge conference last month.


 

Pastor’s Report

Charge Conference 2018

Having arrived at Christ UMC only three months ago, I really don’t have a lot to reflect upon.  But I can, at least, share my observations.  Christ Church is a busy church with almost constant activity.  We are deeply involved in the community at many levels, from our association with Habitat for Humanity, Men’s Challenge, and the Alliance of Churches, which have office space on our first floor, to our participation in local food pantries and “flight pack” food programs for school children, to the professional involvement of our members in the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, and other organizations.  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet here, are strongly supported and our own youth group, though small, has the deep and enthusiastic support of every member regardless of age.  Not only does Christ Church host the weekly community dinner (which is averaging well over 100 people, and often 150), our church isn’t content to simply feed people, it is active in teaching life skills, such as cooking, so that many of those same people can become more independent and self-sufficient.

We have also found, that the people of Christ Church are not just supportive of local outreach efforts but are incredibly supportive of missions nationally and internationally.  Two members of our church volunteered for our planned mission to Kentucky when we had only just arrived here, and they had hardly done more than met me.  There were several others who expressed a sincere interest in going with us but who had scheduling conflicts that prevented it.  I have no doubt that we will be successful in returning to Kentucky with another team at least once next year, and we are exploring the possibility of doing so cooperatively with the chaplain at the University of Mount Union.  What’s more, since we arrived in Alliance and at Christ UMC so close to our planned mission trip to Liberia with the East Ohio Conference’s Farmer to Farmer mission, Patti and I understood that our ability to do fundraising would be limited.  But what we found, was a church family who had already sent their lay leader to Sierra Leone, who was so incredibly supportive of our trip that they repeatedly asked us to do informational presentations, and who raised more support for our trip than we imagined possible even if we had done more extensive fundraising.

As if these things weren’t enough, despite everything that Christ Church and its people are doing, their passion, compassion, and enthusiasm are regularly causing them to ask, “What more can we do?”  As such, this year Christ Church is taking over the Thanksgiving meal that had formerly been spearheaded by the United Church of Christ.  Since last year’s project distributed approximately 1,500 meals, this is an enormous undertaking, but the evidence is that Christ Church, and our Alliance community, are rising to the challenge.

So, even though I have only been at Christ Church for a few months, several things seem clear.  First, although the people of Christ Church sometimes seem a little weary, their enthusiasm, faith, compassion, and heart for Jesus fill them with an enthusiasm that other churches might envy.  Second, as we see with people, and with churches everywhere, although there is a fondness for doing things that “we have always done,” the people of Christ Church are unafraid, open, and even eager, to try new things.  Third, it is apparent from conversations in our community, that Christ Church is viewed by the people in and around Alliance in a very positive way.

Taken together, these things, and others, tell me that God isn’t done with Christ Church yet.  There is much to be done, and the people of Christ Church are interested, and ready, to discover what God is calling us to do next.  I am sure that, working together, we can find a way for Christ Church to be healthy, vital, and vibrant as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of Alliance, Ohio… and the world.