Dear Partners in Ministry,
♦ STORMS, STEEPLES, SERVANTS AND THE SAVIOR When the storms and tornados hit central and western Massachusetts June 1st, United Methodists were immediately on the move. The steeple people, who "serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today," mobilized as the servant people in their communities. And it didn't even take the Bishop or anybody from the conference office to organize them!...they were way ahead of us....doing what followers of Jesus do! On Sunday, June 4th, my wife and I visited and worshipped in some of the areas that had been hardest hit. Our Director of Communication, Alexx Wood was also there collecting many of the stories I hope you have already read on our website. Here's some of the things we saw and experienced:
The Savior: In Monson, MA, the church organist's home had been "totaled." As we walked by it, we wondered how anyone could survive. But there Ellis was, Sunday morning, sitting at the organ in his choir robe. In the devastation, he and others had found physical and spiritual refuge in the church building. He sang a solo as we prayed and worshipped: "His hand is on my shoulder through the storm." During the worship people shared their stories of trusting God through the storm, knowing that even if the storm would bring the end of their journey on earth, through Christ, God's love would carry them into eternal life. A Savior in the storm...what a gift...what peace.
The Steeple: This sign of the church had been blown off the roof of the Monson Methodist church some 58 years before this tornado. The joke in town was that they were the church without a steeple for all those years, until last year when they put a new steeple on their church.....and now they are the only church in town with a steeple still standing... God does have a sense of humor. This sign of the church stood tall above all the rubble around it as an invitation to come and find hope and help. Every day following the tornado the church was open, offering shelter, food, breakfast every morning to residents and relief workers, and a "sanctuary" for the wounded spirit. People were coming and going constantly from that steepled "launching pad for ministry and mission." Isn't that what every church should be....all the time?
The Servants: When we arrived at the church we met Shannon and Elizabeth, two members of the confirmation class (called the "God Squad")who had been at the church since 7 a.m. (and the days before) taking water and food in their wagon out to people in need....."Mrs. so-and-so needs some spaghetti," they announced to some other servant-helpers standing there. The Director of the town Senior Center (and Lay Leader of the church), the town treasurer (and Sunday School teacher), and the town Manager (key leader in the church and helping to lead worship that day, in spite of very little sleep since the tornados) were all there to share with us the devastation of their community and the strength of their faith. It is no surprise that these active disciples of Jesus Christ are also leading servants of their community.....and also teaching their young people to be servants of Christ and others. How is your church doing in this regard?
When we got to Springfield in the afternoon we visited with teams of United Methodists from Trinity Church who were out with chainsaws and food and hope helping victims of the storm. At one site, a 93 year old man whose home had also sustained a fire after the tornado said, "God really showed up with these people!" At another site a young couple were amazed at the caring of the church. Other United Methodist churches also started arriving to help as soon as the tornado was over. These are churches large and small in membership, but all great in spirit. Some have part-time pastors but they are all full-time Christians. These stories are just few of the examples of hundreds of people in our conference who have been helping out after the recent tornados in Massachusetts and floods in Vermont, and the thousands of followers of Christ in hundreds of our churches who reach out and share the love of Christ with others all year round. I pray that you and your church are among them.
♦ "ANNUAL CONFERENCE WAS AWESOME" exclaimed a first time attendee to the New England Annual Conference held at Gordon College June 8-11. She was one of 1300 who prayed, sang, voted, helped make 50,000 meals for "Stop Hunger Now," ran 5K for "Imagine No Malaria," celebrated 121 new pastoral appointments, saw six new elders ordained and 31 pastors retire, debated (not just legislation, but "will it be chocolate or vanilla ice cream tonight?"), met up with old friends and made new ones, and even slept some (not during sessions, of course). There were also thousands who followed the proceedings of the conference through live-streaming on the website. The rich diversity of backgrounds, experiences and opinions contributed to the sense of "holy conferencing" which John Wesley called a "means of Grace." Most importantly, as this "first attendee" said, "you could feel the Spirit of God moving."
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow!
It is a joy to see what God is doing among us, and through us, as we serve as partners in ministry here in New England.
Grace and Peace,