Friday, March 31, 2017

Children's Ministry

Congregational Pledge 2 at Baptism of Children (from former Methodist Church) found on page 44 of United Methodist Hymnal (UMH):  With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ that these children, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
Communion Confession UMH page 12:  We have failed to be an obedient church … Free us for joyful obedience. 
Sacramental Importance

Baptism and Communion are our two sacraments. Other denominations have more, but United Methodists, just has these two. They are important statements. Both have community implications.
In infant baptism, we pledge to “so order our lives after the example of Christ” to help confirm and strengthen children. During that ritual, I often remind the congregation that we are making a community commitment to this child.
Communion without confession should be rare. Confession isn’t to shame us, but to offer a thought or seven about the example of Christ and an acknowledgement that we are works in progress, inspired by Christ. The ritual includes the idea that through Christ we are forgiven.
Joyful Obedience

I want to write to you freeing some of you to respond in joyful obedience.
We need adult participation in our Children’s Ministry. As a community, we are not being obedient to our baptismal covenant. We are not, as a community, so ordering our lives to establish, confirm and strengthen our children. We are limping along here in our fulfillment of our sacramental responsibility, when this ought to be a core strength.
The current situation is not new. When we look over the minutes of children’s ministry back to 2004, variations on this theme are revealed: we need more, reliable, and not stop gap temporarily patched on volunteers.
I have had more than one volunteer in this area urge us, sometimes quite strongly, that every family who has a child in Children’s Ministry should be told it is an expectation that they help in this ministry.  I frankly have resisted that because I think every situation is different, and I traditionally resist one size fits all, cookie cutter solutions. I know there are powerful volunteers in the areas of church music and scouting for example who have children in our Children’s Ministry program. Do I have to tell them to sacrifice their choice of using their spiritual gifts in music or scouting to devote time on Sunday morning? That is just one clear example; others abound. The covenant we entered into through baptism doesn’t say the parents will do this, it says the church will do this.  We sing:  “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”  The baptismal banners we hang are to remind us of our community commitment, not solely the parents commitment.  

Children's Church

We are declaring, briefly I hope, a pause in Children’s Church at the 10:30 service. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact one reached only after much discussion, prayer, anguish, and many invitations to the congregation. We are mindful that there is potentially an impact on evangelism and worship attendance, but we needed to make the failure here a shared failure and to stop limping along without a coherent or clear strategy for fixing this. I said in my April Newsletter that I am a person of hope, and I am.  But I am also pragmatic: I think we need to fail, in order to build the elements of success.
I have instructed Caitlin Collins, your staff member leading in the area of Children’s Ministries, to receive volunteers into Children’s Ministries within the current structure, and to examine over the summer the very framework of how we provide this service. At this point, I do not wish to entertain good ideas while trying to address a fundamental shortfall in volunteers. I am prepared to believe that a different model might be beneficial in the long term, but no model is going to work without volunteers.

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Seeing Beyond by Stepping Up

1st Corinthians 13: 11-13.   When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The April theme scripture is 1st Corinthians 13: 12 (italicized above) in Paul’s great ode to loving each other like God loves.  What comes before and after our theme verse does matter.
The verse before verse 12 calls us to spiritual maturity.  The verse after reminds us of the three key spirituality words that bind us together:  faith, hope and love.  The dominant word of the trio is love. 

Spiritual Maturity

Your leadership in January and February took a bold, loving, approach in calling us to move to spiritual maturity.  Our spiritual maturity invites a redefined vocabulary in how we define our faithfulness at Hilltop.  We engaged in a short, but intense, campaign to ask the congregation to “Step-Up” for Hilltop to ‘see beyond’ ourselves into a mature, loving future.  We have redefined the vocabulary around how we talk about our church finances.
For too long, we have been reluctant to name an issue many knew was present:  We are under incomed.  We are now, in maturity I believe, willing to name that and speak to that reality.  We discussed and wrote about how we are the lowest per capita (attendance being our per capita unit) Anglo church with a full-time pastor in Utah.  We must do better here, and we got ourselves started.
I wish we could report that we got our $100,000 true objective.  We did not.  We came closer to $35,000 and about 50 families/individuals ‘stepped up’ here in faith, hope and love.  Thank you to those who stepped up.  We will, have to cut expenses, to make the numbers work, but not as much as we would have if we had not had these fifty sets of families and individuals “Step-Up.”  Again, thank you, and we are not finished here.  There is still much to do.
Faith, hope and love

I am a person of faith and thus, as a direct result of that faith, a person of hope.  Faith and hope are two sides of the same coin.  Hebrews 11: 1 phrases it far better than I:  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  We still “see” in a “dim mirror” but even in that “dim mirror,” I am a person of faith, and thus hope.  I am confident we are emerging into a place and time where we can see beyond the now, into a faithful, hopeful, and love filled beyond. 

Seeing Beyond

As Jesus journeyed from the Transfiguration Mountaintop to the Calvary hilltop, he was seeing beyond Calvary to Easter and the Empty Tomb.  Part of the message of Easter is getting unstuck from grieving over Good Friday and remembering the Empty Tomb.  We are resurrection people, ‘he is risen, he is risen indeed.’  To see beyond our current state, is to embrace the promise of Easter, and also the uncontrollable explosion of Pentecost. 

Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  On that day, fifty days after Easter, the nascent church was able to fully grasp the call to go out into ‘all’ the world and transform it.  The result was an explosion of growth.  How did those early and first Christians do it?  They did it in faith and hope, and they were propelled by the engine of God’s love fueled through the resurrection.  Yes, we are Easter people, but we are also Pentecost people, filled with God’s Holy Spirit and powerfully blown out into our world.  Following the Holy Spirit, we are propelled, almost involuntarily, through seeing beyond ourselves to serve God in our world.  We do it by recognizing maturity in God’s call and seizing the opportunity to make a difference, now.
We are called to make a difference now, through, our faith, sustained by our hope, and demonstrating and reflecting God’s love.  We must continue to “Step-Up” in order to accomplish this mature and exciting chance to “See beyond” ourselves to God’s hope-filled future.

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

True to Jesus

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
Psalm 122, Verse 1, King James Version
Roy Goodart in his congregational moment speaking about our “Step-Up” campaign on February 19th reflected on a young adult who told him that the high point of his week was Sunday morning worship at Hilltop.  A contemporary statement of the psalmist: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”  We try to make that Psalm opening true for everyone. 
Worship is a critical element to the beautiful transformation we pray and hope happens every week at Hilltop. 
There is a lot of thought that goes into each service.  We spend time discussing the theme, and how best to frame it in poetry, readings, prayer and proclamation.  Our goal is of course transfiguration or as I introduced last week, beautiful transformation. 
But the beautiful transformation isn’t entirely in the hands of your worship leadership.  Each of us has a role in this transfiguration.  Making ourselves vulnerable to the word(s) of God mean we have to let our guards down.  Some of us have to let them down a lot. 
All of us – all – of – us -- have to check our egos at the door.  At the symphony there is a coat/hat/umbrella check, a closet where we can leave those things so they don’t interfere with our enjoyment of the music.  There is sadly no ego check at the doors of the church.  Do you think maybe we should consider a capital campaign to properly deal with that need?  I think not.  That is an expense we don’t need to pursue, but we do all need to perhaps to lower the personality guards we all carry around with us.  We hear it:  “I’m just being true to myself.”  We of course aren’t called to be true to ourselves, we are called to be true to Jesus. 
Lent is a perfect time to intentionally pause from the world’s values and plug ourselves into exploring what it might actually mean to be beautifully transformed by the truth of Jesus.  Part of how we might accomplish beautiful transformation is to make ourselves vulnerable to the word of God in poetry, readings, prayer and proclamation.  I know that vulnerability will require each of us to check in something we are holding onto so that the beautiful transformation message washes over us.  What we hold onto might be anger, forgiveness offered but not received, forgiveness hoped for but not offered, frustration, a feeling of being under appreciated.  I could go on.  I am sure the list can be built quickly and easily if we just get ourselves started.  For worship to possibly “take” and make us “glad” we need to be prepared to be vulnerable. 
I return to Roy Goodart’s story.  That young man was prepared to open his heart to the worship experience and allow it to roll over him and carry him to a new, transfigured place.  That could not have happened without vulnerability. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Step-Up Conclusion


Last week I focused on the threefold fullness of health:  grandparent, parent, and child.  I want to conclude our weekly conversation with some comparative analysis, but Before I do that, I want to re-re-refocus briefly on our why
This last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday.  Jesus emerged from that experience with a clear focus.  I suggested that transfiguration is a positive, beautiful transformation.  The express purpose of the church is transformation.  I have written recently:  “Transformation is an intense process and it requires us to stretch. But, a critical element of that transformation, that stretching, has already occurred here:  Hilltop is reaching, stretching, beyond itself.  That is transformation.  Let’s continue that change.  Change like that requires rare people.” 

No Guilt!

I want to share with you a comparative analysis of Anglo United Methodist Churches in Utah that have at least one full-time pastor.  As you look at this, I ask that we read and study in order to understand, rather than to formulate a reply.  I also do not want any guilt to emerge from this conversation.  Ready? 
The next chart shows where Hilltop is ranked if we use per attendee income for 2016 from the congregation as our ranking metric (tool).  We are in last place
Congregational Giving per Attendee:  2016

Your church leadership is 100% mindful that Park City is in a different economic base than us.  I suspect SLC Christ is demographically older; see the sixteen deaths, than Hilltop.  I confess, I am surprised at the disparity between Hilltop and the two Ogden churches.  This disparity was true in 2015 as well. 
If our congregational giving on a per attendee basis was at the level of Ogden Community our income would increase by over $220,000.  If we were at the level of Ogden First, it would increase by nearly $80,000.  I find that stunning. 
Again, no guilt, right?  No guilt, please. 
The first question that comes here is “can you explain why?” 
No, I cannot satisfactorily explain why.  I think the answer is composed of many variables all working at the same time.  History, demographics within the congregation to where we have many with youth in college, some proportion of fixed incomes, and a general unwillingness to talk about money because of the dominant culture and its high expectation on financial support of the church.  There are a lot of variables.  But on a compare of like to like, if we add in Mountain Vista in West Jordan to us and the two Ogdens, I suspect our demographics are more alike than we are different, and again, the compare is stunning. 

Three Closing Thoughts

Here are three thoughts that have been mentioned earlier:
  • “We are under-incomed, not over-expensed.”  I offer we are not under-led.  Your lay leadership at Hilltop is bold, because our vision is bold. 
  • Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message offers this glimpse at Luke 12:48b: "Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!"  We need to respond in a responsible way to the gifts we have been given. 
  • We quoted an unnamed black preacher in the February Newsletter:  “God is not a monument, but a movement.”  Methodism was called a movement in our early days.  We can recapture that by focusing on our transformation purpose.  

What is our “bottom-line?”  We need to have our resourcing match our mission and purpose.  We need this in order to transform the world:  Our world

Selah, Pastor Dennis