During my final year of seminary, I took a life-changing class called "Disability Ethics" with Dr. Amy Laura Hall. By reflecting on the nature of those who suffer with disabilities of all different kinds, Dr. Hall helped us better understand concepts such as compassion, the nature of humanity, and the need to free ourselves from an ethic that persons only have worth based on what they produce for society (i.e. a utilitarian philosophy).
Throughout September, we will be engaging in a 4-week sermon series entitled, "The Least Among Us," in which we explore how the L'Arche communities (i.e. interfaith group homes for people with disabilities) reveal to us an image of what it means to be a gospel-centric community of faith distinct from the world. This sermon series will be based on the 100-page book Living Gently in a Violent World, which is comprised of four articles written by either Stanley Hauerwas (theologian and Christian ethicist) or Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche. You are welcome to order a copy of the book from Amazon, but I am not promoting this book as a church-wide book study—my sermons will cover many of the key takeaways from the text.
Previews of the four sermons in this series:
A quiet hope I hold is that, at the least, this sermon series will help us as a community of faith to develop a deeper respect for those with disabilities through the process of becoming more in touch with our own inner vulnerabilities that we are all prone to overlook. At a more ambitious level, I wonder if this sermon series will cause members of our church to ask questions such as, "How can we do more to support the disabled community in our local context?"
We will see collectively where the Spirit moves throughout this sermon series.
God's abundant blessings of joy, hope, and love to each one of you this day.
Grace & peace,
Pastor Scott S. Himel
In the United Methodist Church, the clergy are appointed by the Bishop of our annual conference to serve each year on a July 1st-to-end-of-June period basis.
At the start of each appointment year, our congregation's clergy review with Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) progress made toward goals pursued during the prior appointment year, and also establish with the SPRC new goals for the current appointment year. After new goals are established, these are soon after shared with the Church Council, which offers further insight regarding clergy goals and how they intersect with congregation's broader mission, vision, and congregation-wide goals.
Pastor Scott and Deacon Barb have finished sharing their goals with both SPRC and Church Council. They would now like to share their goals and short descriptions of each with the broader congregation so that all know where they are trying to utilize their baptismal gifts to further the vital and life-changing work of our congregation!
Pastor Scott's Goals
Goal #1: Create a strategic plan for the church in collaboration with Church Council.
Summary: A strategic plan will allow our congregation as a whole to begin planning our future direction more intentionally, and thus avoid us falling into the inevitable trap of only focusing on the most immediate problem in front of our noses. Additionally, a strategic plan will help all of us better grasp the significance of what we are doing each day as a church spread across our full breadth of ministries. My goal is that, by the end of the year, to share the first iteration of the church's strategic plan with the whole congregation. Please look forward to more updates about this later in the year.
Goal #2: Increase the church’s online presence via implementing a multi-cam live-streaming setup, a redesigned website, and a greater presence on social media.
Summary: For the past two years, our church has steadily been improving its online presence; however, I'd like to dedicate my time in the year ahead to further realizing this vision. During the pandemic, the church's leadership was surprised to learn that our recorded worship services were reaching literally 2,000-3,000 people a week located within a 25-mile radius of the church. Additionally, about 20% of those views (~500-700 people/week) are watching our worship services from start-to-finish. In order to raise the production value of our online worship services, a generous donor has agreed to purchase for the church a multi-cam streaming setup that is very affordable due to new technology that has just come onto the market. When people watch our videos, about 10% of them are then going to our website to learn more about us. Thus, our need for a more refined website and overall social media strategy. When all of these elements come together, it's going to increase the chances that someone who encounters us online will decide to visit us in person.
Goal #3: Create a new approach to raising awareness with donors about the church’s inspiring mission/future direction and budgetary needs in order to fulfill this mission/vision via one-on-ones, a sermon series this stewardship season, and other publication materials.
Summary: Tying into the church's strategic plan currently being developed by Church Council and the clergy, I plan to share details of this strategic plan during this fall's stewardship campaign with the church, thus helping our congregation recognize the greater significance of how their giving is glorifying God and impacting people's lives in very practical ways. As was shared during our mid-year budget update this past June, our church is facing a modest deficit this fiscal year, and a larger one projected for next year; thus, the extra degree of focus that's needed on my part to ensure this fall's stewardship campaign is taken to a different level of quality and emphasis. A successful stewardship strategy and campaign this year will ensure that our church is financially healthy and resourced for vital ministry for years to come.
Goal #4: Create a new approach to adult education/spiritual formation using 15-minute videos and social media engagement.
Summary: Back in April at the start of the pandemic, Deacon Barb released two 15-minute teaching videos about the Lenten season which reached a significant number of people via the church's email list and social media. This has inspired me to begin preparing to release my own 15-minute "spiritual formation / biblical reflection videos," probably on a Wednesday evening, for the church to watch anytime. I think that this will increase the reach of such content beyond the typical 4-6 week church class. This isn't meant to replace small groups/classes, but become a supplemental part of the church's spiritual formation strategy. There may also be the possibility of releasing social media written posts that offer further guidance to our audience on prayer, mediation, engaging with Scripture, and greater awareness of social issues we should have on our hearts.
Goal #5 (Personal): Learn to play piano, eventually enabling me to play in church on multiple occasions.
Summary: For many years, I've dreamed of becoming a proficient piano player. I primarily play saxophone and a bit of guitar, but piano has always been a draw for me. Throughout the pandemic, I've had more time in the evenings to focus on personal projects here-and-there like many of us. Consequently, I've been dedicating part of my free time to learning piano and am really enjoying the experience! My goal is to play for the church in the relatively near future after I gain a bit more experience and confidence.
Deacon Barbara's Goals
In the coming year, shepherding the exciting and inspirational work of the Outreach Committee, begun in early 2020. Helping to expand, strengthen and nurture the efforts of the congregation in service to our community, our country and our world is central to my ministry as a Deacon.
In my work with Christian Education for Children and Youth at NSUMC, I am continuing to expand ways to strengthen relationships with our youth as they discover ways to be in fellowship. I will explore and enhance the opportunities for our youth to develop a deeper spirituality through participation in worship, service to others and establishing bonds with the NSUMC Family.
The Confirmation process has been a source of inspiration and creative possibility. In preparation for the next Confirmation class, I will be expanding and developing the NSUMC program that reflects our progressive Christian theology. I will be working on a publication that will help other congregations with a resource that can be uniquely responsive to the needs of their youth.
Developing a Spiritual Retreat for Adults in the Lenten Season will build upon the work of spiritual development that has been central to my work with seminarians for over a decade.
I will continue to build upon my research in anti-semitism and offer ways to share my work in various contexts. I will be working on a research proposal for the Religious Education Association this fall.
Every year during late August, our church always hosts an animal blessing service outdoors. This is an exciting service as it “changes things up,” allows us to connect with our surrounding community in a special way, and incorporates everyone’s furry and scaly family members! For many years, barring past occasional beach worship services, we have only worshiped outside for the animal blessing service.
Due to the pandemic, we now worship exclusively outside throughout the summer months barring inclement weather, in which case we’ll move inside for that particular Sunday. This transition to all outdoor worship has been an interesting one for those coordinating efforts behind-the-scenes. I believe that this unique challenge demonstrates beautifully our congregation’s ability to adapt and persevere through complex circumstances in order to continue realizing our mission: to reveal the love of God for all to see.
When worshiping outside, there are a plethora of items needed to make such an experience possible: chairs, tents, tables, altar items, tripod and equipment for video broadcast, little tables for ushers and the offering, offering plates, musical equipment, PPE supplies, and more! We now have all of these items organized and also reflected on a checklist, but it was quite a job trying to put all of our heads together and ensure that we weren’t missing anything for our first Sunday worshiping outside on June 21st (Father’s Day).
Then there are the many questions one has to consider: Who will setup the chairs, tables, and tents? How does the building need to be prepared if we have to move inside due to inclement weather? What do we need to consider to ensure we offer a quality virtual experience for those joining us by video? And more!
Systematically, the members of our Reopen Team (David Langenbach, Barb & Scott Javore, Bev Fetzer, and myself) have solved each of these problems in conjunction with others such as Rich Short, our janitor, Marjorie Kemp, and the members of Church Council. The beauty of challenges is that they have the opportunity to really pull everyone together in order to realize something new. The spirit of teamwork and joy of accomplishing what was originally envisioned is what I find I remember the most when looking back on experiences such as this one.
Next time you see Rich Short, our janitor for 12 years, please say a special word of thanks to him. He’s truly going above-and-beyond to arrive early every Sunday morning to setup our chairs, tables, and tents outside. Additionally, he returns after worship to tear down all of the heavy equipment (others help him put things away after worship as well). Outdoor worship would be much more difficult without his great support!
Turning to the other two stated problems: we have the sanctuary all ready to go if we need to worship inside during a bad weather day. All the pews are marked in terms of which ones should be left open and which ones empty in order to maintain social distancing. We’ll be ready to open the windows and increase the fans to facilitate higher air flow, and proper PPE supplies will be available.
While we have tried using ZOOM for the first few Sundays while worshiping outside, we’ve found that it’s not offering the quality experience that we would like. Consequently, we’ll be transitioning to using Facebook Live to broadcast our worship services beginning Sunday, July 5th and onward. A big benefit of using Facebook Live is that no one needs to be present to “manage” the call in terms of muting someone if they forget to silence their mics during worship.
One huge benefit of worshiping outside each week is that those passing by on their bikes, in their cars, and on foot take notice of us. I’ve seen people standing on the fringe of our gathering listening in. Perhaps a few visitors may emerge out of this experience—even several months down the line! You never know how a seed planted will be watered by the steady streams of grace of God.
I hope that years from now we can look back on these months of worshiping outside and recall them with a degree of fondness. I hope that we can remember how we as a congregation rose to the challenge before us to remain connected as a community of faith. Perhaps on the other side of the pandemic we will all emerge with a deeper appreciation for how needed are the bonds of Christian love which unite us. God’s abundant peace and grace to you all!
Grace & peace,
Pastor Scott S. Himel
Dear North Shore United Methodist Church,
The death of George Floyd last week shook our nation and broke our hearts as a people of faith who both work toward and dream of a day when all sisters and brothers may live in true equality with one another. Such is the Kingdom of God that Jesus prophesied and gave his life on the cross to better realize in our broken world.
Last week reminded us that we remain a far ways off from that reality. George Floyd's death must not be in vain. Will we as a nation finally be roused by this horrible form of violence to work toward a more authentically inclusive society? Friends, the death of George Floyd is not a one-off event or a "statistical anomaly" as some on the news have egregiously claimed. It is a symptom of a much deeper illness present in our nation--one that is ancient in origin and insidious in nature: the sin of racism.
What also broke our hearts were the outbreaks of widespread violence throughout several U.S. cities. These acts of violence are terrible and must be condemned. Jesus modeled for us that resistance/protest to the injustices of our world is appropriate and indeed required of people of faith who are called not to sit by and allow injustice to go unanswered. And, Jesus taught us that we must not cross into the realm of violence to offer resistance/protest. "Put your sword in its place, Peter," Jesus says when he is being arrested (Matthew 26:52). Indeed. the crucifixion itself is Jesus' refusal to respond to the evil of his day with violence, and also his refusal to "do nothing." It is the tough, middle road that calls people's attention to witness the injustices of our world without causing additional harm to others in the process.
This coming Sunday (June 7th), we begin a sermon series focused on claiming the promises of God based on the book "Unshakable Hope" by Max Lucado. My prayer is that this sermon series will help all of us to strengthen our faith by better recognizing how God has, is, and will continue to move powerfully in our everyday lives--just as God has promised to do countless times throughout the Scriptures! Given what has occurred in our nation, I'd like to begin the sermon series with God's promise of "overcoming evil." Please consider joining us this Sunday for a sermon particularly focused our nation's present events and how this connects to our Biblically-grounded hope that the Spirit of God is leading us toward a reality of true, lasting justice and peace--both in the present, and in the days to come.
In the meantime, I'd like to commend to you all the remarkably powerful message our Bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference, Sally Dyck, offered via video (found below this note) just yesterday morning. She explains how the many present issues at play in our nation can be understood from a Biblical perspective to be that an "apocalypse" which reveals a truth to us that we may otherwise not see clearly. I'm confident that you will be blessed by her words.
Scott S. Himel, Senior Pastor
North Shore United Methodist Church