A Community of Christ-followers committed to being the continuing presence of Jesus in our community and world.
St. Mark's United Methodist Church
Friday, November 16, 2018
Come Follow Christ

Pastor's Narrative

Pastor’s Narrative

 

Greetings,

In the Peace and Grace of Jesus Christ, to the Saints of St. Mark’s UMC:

The varied ministries supported through the saints of St. Mark’s serve both the local as well as a greater global community. The following ministries have been established and in operation for at least two years, and in many cases much longer:

Local ministries:

 

The Great Giveaway - A biannual event which attracts 75-100 persons from the community each February and August to participate in a giveaway of donated goods, ranging in variety from knick-knacks to power tools, and just about everything else in between. Complimentary food and drink are given, and an invitation to come to the Community Dinner is extended to all who attend the Great Giveaway. 

The Community Dinner - A time of food, fellowship, and worship, held the third Monday of each month, with attendance averaging between 35-40 persons. A diverse group comprised of St. Mark’s members, members from other churches in the community, the unchurched, and homeless come together for faithful fellowship at this dinner given free of charge to the community.

Fox Trail Ministry - A small contingency of faithful saints of St. Mark’s continue to share the Good News of Jesus Christ during Lay-led Sunday worship with our brothers and sisters at Fox Trail, home for the elderly.  This opportunity for caring for the residents of Fox Trail is extended to a larger segment of the St. Mark’s congregation through the special days celebrated at Fox Trail. Such activities include the giving of Valentines, Easter Baskets, and Halloween treats. Caroling and gift-giving during the Christmas season, special cards given for Grandparents Day, and a summer cookout are ‘freely’ given to the residents of Fox Trail, to celebrate life and let our aging brothers and sisters know that they are loved and not forgotten.

Emergency Food Pantry and Emergency Financial Assistance – These ministries are provided on an as-needed basis. These ministries are supported by the generous donations of food placed in collection bins at the church, and monetary donations given to the Pastor’s discretionary fund.

Vacation Bible School (VBS) - This is one of our most vibrant ministries that reaches so many families in the community. Preparing for and executing the VBS program takes considerable planning, time, and effort. It is truly a ministry of love to our children and the community, with over 20 children attending our VBS this summer. Dedicated teachers and many youth leaders helping guide the younger children made for a successful event. Parents and grandparents attended worship on VBS Sunday to see and hear what the children had learned. VBS serves to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of the church to the greater community, in a fun and joy-filled way, which brings the community together in His name.

Fun in the Park – This has become an annual event held at the local community park in the Spring. It is a day of celebration for the church with face painting, games, prizes, live music, moon bounce, balloon creations, popcorn and a cookout. This awareness-raising event is open to the community at no charge.

Fall Art & Craft Sale – This annual event, held in November, offers the opportunity for local crafters and artists to present their wares and creations to the surrounding community. A bake sale is also included with this event.

Un-Trim-A-Tree – Each year, the saints of St. Mark’s generously contribute to the children in need in our local community by participating in the Christmas gift-giving ministry.

Community Care – a group of committed people from our Care Team ministry conducts visitations to shut-ins. They also send birthday cards, thinking-of-you cards, get-well and thank you cards to not only members of the church but also to others in the community with whom they have made contact. Persons in this ministry make hospital visits and voluntarily make arrangements to take persons to their much-needed doctor’s appointments.

Beyond the Local Community:

The Heifer Project – Congregants are encouraged to purchase animals to start or sustain small family businesses around the world by putting donations in our tipped cow. We continue to “tip” the cow each year at St. Mark’s during the season of Advent.

Operation Christmas Child – Under the auspices of Samaritan’s Purse, each year, the saints of St. Mark’s generously contribute to children in need around the world by participating in the Christmas gift-giving ministry. The number of gift-boxes contributed in 2017 increased nearly 40% over last year for a total of 50 boxes.

Kits to Annual Conference – Each year the saints of St. Mark’s contribute approximately 30 kits to support the health requests put forth by the annual conference. (This year, St. Mark’s also participated in the effort to provide hurricane relief through UMCOR by donating “flood buckets.”)

Apportionments – We faithfully pay our Conference and District apportionments at 100% to support the following missions and ministries: Conference Mission & Ministries, Conference Services, District Superintendents Fund, Equitable Compensation Fund, Church Extension and Development Fund, Education Fund, Conference Health Plan, Retired Clergy Health, General Board of Pensions, Episcopal Fund, World Service and Conference Benefits, General Connectional Fund, Ministerial Education, Black College Fund, African University Fund, Interdenominational Coop Fund, Alexandria District Fund, Highroad Program Center Fund, and Board of Missions Fund.

Worship, Education, Spiritual Formation and Prayer

We have two Sunday worship services, an 8:30 AM traditional service, and an 11:00 AM blended service, with praise songs. Lay participation in worship includes serving as acolytes, ushers, scripture readers, and Lay Servant worship leader. The Chancel Choir also makes a musical offering during the 11:00 AM service.

There is a Children’s Church during the 11:00 AM worship, and parents may choose to leave their children in our supervised nursery while they attend worship. There are several special worship and worship-related events that occur throughout the year. There is a candlelight Christmas Eve service recounting the Christmas story. The Sunday, before Christmas, a special Children’s Program is offered in which a play conveying the Christmas Message is interspersed with Christmas carols sung by the children, and accompanied by our Music Director. There is a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner and an Ash Wednesday service with the application of ashes as a reminder of our mortality. The Maundy Thursday service includes foot-washing to remind us to love each other as Jesus loved us. We offer our customary Tenebrae service on Good Friday, re-telling the story of the Passion, and nailing our sins to the cross. The joy of our risen Lord is celebrated at daybreak at our Sunrise Service on Easter morning.

The sacrament of Holy Communion is offered on the first Sunday of each month at St Mark’s, and on the second Sunday of each month at Fox Trail.  At St. Mark’s we celebrate Holy Communion by intinction (breaking the bread and dipping it in the cup). All who love the Lord, earnestly repent of their sins, and seek to live in peace with one another are invited to experience the grace of Christ in the midst of this sacrament. Children are encouraged to stay in worship on Communion Sunday to partake of the sacrament and participate in worship. There were seven baptisms this last year, and two professions of faith. We practice the sacrament of baptism by sprinkling, pouring, or immersing, at the discretion of the recipient.

St. Mark’s offers age appropriate Sunday school for children, teens and adults. Emphasis in children’s Sunday school education has always been of great importance at St. Mark’s. With the formation of the Equipping Team in 2016, signaling the continued importance of children’s Sunday school curriculum and bible knowledge, children are not only learning the amazing stories found in the Old and New Testaments, but are also being taught and challenged to learn such Christian touchstones as The Lord’s Prayer, the names of the Disciples, the Fruits of the Spirit, the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the books of the Bible. The Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Golden Rule, may also join the list of expected biblical knowledge to be learned. For adults, there is a class which delves into issues of theology and doctrine, and what it means to be a Methodist. Another adult offering on Sunday mornings considers how to deal with feelings and life challenges from a biblical and faith perspective. If you are seeking to deepen your understanding of spirituality and Spirituality, to gain a better understanding of scripture, and what it can mean for your daily living, then St. Mark’s is the place to be.

There are three Bible study groups that meet each week, throughout the year. There is also a small group meeting held on Tuesday evenings, periodically throughout the year, which offers a different time slot to receive the teachings discussed in the Sunday school class on dealing with feelings and life challenges.  

Committed to being a Covenant Prayer church, St. Mark’s has a Wednesday night prayer meeting. The prayer meeting is open to everyone, and consists of a period of silent reflection, the naming of persons maintained on the prayer list, a prayer for healing, praying the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer from the UMC Book of Worship, and a collect from the Book of Common Prayer. All prayers are prayed in unison. The prayer service ends with the singing of the Gloria Patri in the tradition of the early church following the praying of the Psalms.

Saints at work

Hats off to the Trustees who have begun work on revamping the playground, fixing up/repairing the bathrooms and have replaced the H-VAC system. Also thanks for many other improvements about the church, not the least of which is keeping the church clean and welcoming on both the inside and outside. The decoration of the church throughout, and especially in the sanctuary has really added to the feeling of warmth and celebration, reflecting both seasonal and Christian themes. Thanks to the trustees and crew. “a New Thing” 

St. Mark’s had established a team to consider how to best use our resources in looking toward the future, and project a grace-filled legacy for the local church. The idea was to draw up a 5-year strategic plan, and then, step-by-step, execute the plan to accomplish our projected goal. From the efforts of the team, the passion for serving others through focusing on children and youth was explored. We have seen some of the fruits of this passion set forth by the Equipping team in our Sunday school offerings, as well as in the structuring of Sunday school classes to accommodate the age and personal needs of the attending children.

In reflecting upon Bishop Lewis’ call to make disciples, the conference theme of “A New Thing,” encouragement toward strategic thinking over strategic planning by a colleague, and the new direction toward being Kingdom Builders rather than Church Builders expressed by Jeffrey D. Jones in his book, Facing Decline, Finding Hope: New Possibilities for Faithful Churches, the intentions of the planning team, while laudable, were off the mark. The desire to serve others and focus on children was on target as a valid ministry of the church, but the goal of establishing a legacy for the local church was somewhat misdirected.

As purveyors of the Word, as ambassadors of Christ, as Christfollowers as we want to call ourselves here at St. Mark’s, we are to be about participating in the building of the Kingdom, more than the building of the Church or the preserving of a legacy. To build a living “kingdom legacy” rather than preserve a local church heritage is the direction to go. The Church is the means by which the Kingdom comes, not the end goal. I suppose one might argue that as the Church, the body of Christ grows, so grows the Kingdom, and at times the Church may certainly be an emanation of the Kingdom rather than the purveyor of the message, alone.

Nonetheless, by limiting one’s vison to Church expansion (or “growing in numbers” as we call it today), one may miss “a New Thing” that the Spirit is revealing in the in-breaking of the Kingdom in our midst. Our hope lies in the coming Kingdom, and rallying about to do God’s work in the world where we find God at work in the world. If our focus and goal is the Kingdom, is the “thy kingdom come thy will be done,” then discipleship and universal church growth will be the outcome. While a specific instance of church (with a small “c”) may benefit from this Kingdom building, to focus solely on the preservation or growth of a specific instance of church (with a small “c”) is to misplace one’s hope. This provincial focus foster’s a perspective of operating in survival mode, and carries the likely result of closing oneself off to “a New Thing” that God is doing.

[The above ideas regarding the role of the church, making the reign of God more fully present (Kingdom Building), and properly directed and misdirected hope are attributable to the discussion of such issues by Jeffrey D. Jones in Facing Decline, Finding Hope: New Possibilities for Faithful Churches.] 

So what is “a New Thing” that God is doing and how are we responding to it? 

In the Garden – Inspiration to connect with the community through biblically related “growth and garden” teachings, led to the initiation of a community garden ministry this year. While the possibilities seem endless, first things first; so, planting boxes were made, filled with soil, and planting took place. While still in its infancy regarding the role the garden will play in connecting with the community, the harvest was bountiful, and shared with the congregation and those who attend the Community Dinner. God made this connection; it was not on our radar – a New Thing!

 Sandwich ministry – a desire to serve the homeless, directly, emanated from those in the youth Sunday school class. As a result, about 30 sandwiches were made in the class on a fifth Sunday, and distributed after church to homeless persons living near Sudley Road and the day laborers near by – on receiving the gift of sandwiches, one of the homeless guys was so happy he put his arm around me and gave me a hug; this was an unexpected community connection – a New Thing!

Old is New Again – Each year we offer Vacation Bible School to the children in the community hoping to share the love of Christ with the community. Once again, a family having that VBS experience now occasionally attends Sunday school and worship as a result of our reaching out to do God’s work where God is at work. VBS, a longtime tradition continuing to bring a new perspective to families in the community. – a New Thing!

 The Budget – Though our revenues aren’t necessarily growing, the church voted to add the Rising Hope Capital Campaign to the budget. Further, over $1,000 was collected on one Sunday in an unannounced special offering to support an emergency assistance request, as well as contribute flood buckets for UMCOR hurricane relief – a New Thing!

Community Dinner – We had made efforts to spread the word of the community dinner on the internet and we had extended an invitation to the outside support groups that meet in the church, such as NA and OA. we had extended an invitation to the outside support groups that meet in the church, such as NA and OA.  One week, two persons attended the community dinner for the first time. They were visiting from out of town, and just dropped in, because they had seen a new banner about the Community Dinner which had recently been displayed out along Route 28. The next week two more new faces came to join us. These two new guests were not directly from the support groups, but they were family members of those attending those groups. Who knew God would invite these persons to the feast? – a New Thing!

Worship – children on the first Sunday of the month participate in worship roles; and, want to participate.  While some merely tolerate the interruption of children in the service, one adult congregant commented that they find the service more meaningful when the children participate – a New Thing!

Communications – We prayed for someone with professional expertise to be sent to this small church in Manassas to expand our digital footprint and get us on track with electronic communications. We thought we would have to wait and wait and wait. A candidate with experience and skill beyond our expectations was sent to us, and we are now well on our way… – a New Thing!

Mission – The Go Team takes on the big challenge of planning, making, and serving the Community Dinners. Rather than remaining fixed on the demands this effort places on the team, there is a yearning expressed to establish a relationship with missionaries outside the immediate community – a New Thing!

Here are some other New Things that are happening, inexplicably: - A man attending St. Mark’s faithfully, for decades, is moved to baptism and membership after all these years. - Children and adults with special needs seem to find St. Mark’s especially inviting. - Persons, not particularly affiliated with St. Mark’s, somehow become connected to the care team during critical life and sometimes end of life events.

I encourage all of us, whether the chair of a committee, the leader of a small group, the member of a team…I encourage all participants in the whole priesthood of believers, to look for “a New Thing.” Perhaps it is a new opportunity for mission, a new opportunity for teaching, a new opportunity for spiritual formation, a new opportunity to be involved in mercy and justice in the community, or maybe something new or unexpected that happens in the midst of our ongoing ministries that gives us a nudge and brings us that much closer to the kingdom. Consider what that New Thing is calling us to do or inspiring us be, as a disciples, as the Church, and as children of God living into the Kingdom.

 

 

Grace and Peace to all, Pastor Kurt