As our nation continues through a time of pandemic, the cold of January prepares to set in, and social isolation continues to take its toll on all of us, it can feel like our world is not a very "wonderful" place.
At least, that's how I felt most of the time while I was learning how to play "What a Wonderful World" on piano during the past few weeks. But then it struck me: this song isn't about declaring how reality is in a factual sense, it's about a change of one's perspective on life itself.
One of John Coltrane's protégés once asked him why as a professional musician he practiced his scales all the time? He replied, "To become a saint."
What I believe Coltrane meant was that he was fascinated with the beauty of the scale. It was to him a spiritual exercise to exist within the scale and behold its beauty. That which others took for granted and felt beneath them to practice, Coltrane understood to be profound. Music, after all, is the mathematical reorganization of scales into unique patterns which seem pleasing to the human ear.
"What a Wonderful World" calls us to behold the beauty of the present moment and exist within it. It is a perennial reminder to pay attention to even the smallest of details of our reality and revel in its grandeur. As people of faith, we can easily take but one more step and offer words of thanks to God for the blessings which surround us each day.
"I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world"
Did those roses really bloom "for me and you"? Of course not! But to Bob Thiele and George Weiss, songwriters, they perceived the roses to be given to them as a gift.
As I play "What a Wonderful World," I find that certain chords draw me into the piece in a unique way. In particular, near the end of the song, a Dmaj7 chord is used. There's something inherently magical about seventh chords: it's like the music just flows out of them without anything else being played alongside them. When I play this simple yet poignant chord, I think to myself (pun intended), "How incredible that these notes would come together in this way; what a blessing it is to me today!"
Our minds, if left unattended, can easily veer into tiring rehashes of the past, and seemingly endless worries about the future. Part of the goal of Christian meditation is to teach the individual how to exist more in the present and less in the past or future. This doesn't mean that we should ignore our problems; rather, it's a teaching that worrying about them all the time won't make them go away. I believe this is what Christ teaches us when he reflects on the beauty of nature in Matthew 6:26-30 -
"26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?"
Christ invites us as people of faith to find rest for our souls in the richness of the present moment. In so doing, we entrust the past and future aspects of our lives—which we do not ultimately control, even though we like to think that we do—into the hands of our Divine Creator who is always working toward the good of all things.
Music, I believe, is an effective way to condition the mind to remain within the present moment more regularly. Part of the process of becoming a jazz musician is to learn how to "lay back" into the beat. It means going just a fraction slower than the tempo, which allows one to better "feel" and "experience" the music. I invite you this day—even in the midst of many reasons to feel stressed—to take a walk, play through some headphones while you walk one of your favorite pieces, and exist in the beauty of the moment. Lay back into it. Within the vibrancy of that moment, perhaps you can then declare to God with conviction, "What a wonderful world!"
Thank you very much for your generous support of the Harvest of Goodness.
Together we raised $2,400. The food prepared was so graciously prepared and joyfully received. We are deeply grateful for all of our donors. The Church Council voted to allocate 50% of the proceeds to NSUMC Outreach during
this season of giving. The need is great for all of the organizations we serve and this will be such a help. The Harvest of Goodness was so much fun that we plan to offer a Spring Sharing Event in April! What will you be cooking or baking or eating?
~ Rev. Dr. Barbara Javore
During one of my morning devotional times, I recently reflected on the following excerpt from Psalm 25:4:5 (emphasis mine) -
4 Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Advent is a time of expectation; in particular, a fervent hope that the Messiah who came forth once into our world in the form of an innocent babe will return again at the time of Christ's second coming. In our waiting, we have hope of the good things that are yet to come from our God. Hope is part of what makes Advent such a refreshing part of the Church's liturgical year—and my goodness, do we need this hope of the Messiah more than ever this Advent season!
As I reflected on the Psalmist's words and how Christ is indeed my hope—and what's more, my hope *all day long—*I began to reflect on the various names from Isaiah 9:6 that we can use to describe Jesus' ministry, thus capturing in greater detail through these names why Jesus is our hope:
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
As I turned over each name in my mind and heart, I felt a greater connection with the Christ, the spirit of his transformative ministry, and the particular hopes that I have faith will one day be realized in our broken and messy world by the grace of God.
During this Advent season, it's my joy to share reflections on Isaiah's names for the Messiah. These reflections will be based on the book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study by Walter Brueggemann. It's a wonderful little book, and I commend it to you if you are so included to delve deeper into this topic and the sermons you heart this Advent season.
I provide below a preview of each week's message:
It is my prayer that the worship services this Advent season structured around these names will help the hope of the Christ to become more real and tangible for you and your family.
Pastor Scott S. Himel
Time can easily slip away from all of us,. In fact, managing time is a rather challenging thing to do for both humans and androids alike it would seem!
Here's one quote I have always liked concerning the management of time: “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.” – William Blake
William Blake was a 18th century poet, painter, and printmaker who became a creative powerhouse in the world of poetry.
Reflecting on Blake's quote, the point he's making is that certain tasks are more easily accomplished at certain times of the day. One can even more broadly apply this to the flow of a week: it's better to accomplish certain creative tasks earlier in the week when one is freshest than toward the end of the week when one's energy level tends to be reduced.
Many clergy fall into the dynamic of trying to write their weekly sermon at the end of the week leading up to Sunday and then taking Mondays off as their day to "recover" from Sunday. One article I came across recently written by a long-time senior pastor explained that this dynamic is inefficient because the pastor is trying to accomplish one of the harder tasks of the week (i.e. create and rehearse an original message each week) at the "end" of the week instead of flipping the whole equation around, taking Friday's off, and then leveraging Sunday afternoons into Mondays as the primary time to research and write the weekly sermon + handle other creative-oriented tasks.
Prior to reading this article, I had been taking Mondays off, and—for the most part—writing my sermons Thursday afternoons into Saturdays. I never liked this flow, but didn't feel like there was an alternative. For the last two months, I've instead been structuring my week as outlined by the article and have found the sermon writing process to be much easier and less stressful, thus making the flow of time throughout the whole week more pleasant.
All of this is a lead-in to me announcing the general way that I am now structuring my time. The following isn't meant to be set in stone, but rather "guidelines" or "boundaries" that I adjust as is necessary:
A key takeaway for the congregation is that, whenever possible, I'm trying to meet with people for non-administratively-oriented meetings on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. For urgent pastoral care situations, this is of course adjusted; however, this provides me with a guide so as to avoid having meetings chop up other blocks of time when I'm otherwise immersed in writing, research, or project-work.
I would love to hear from others in the congregation about the flow of your week and what works well for you. I believe everyone has a different "flow," and the key is figuring out what works best for each person. Thus far, this has really been helping me (when I stick to it!).
As the Vulcans say, "Live long and prosper!"
Grace & peace,
Scott S. Himel, Senior Pastor
During the second through fourth Sundays of October, our church will be starting an exciting new sermon series called, "Our Church's 'Why.'"
Every organization needs a 'why.' When it's lacking, the organization will experience a loss of engagement and a lack of overall clarity of direction.
Rev. Jeffry Bross, District Superintendent of the Aurora District, tells the story of what happened when his children's local PTA board lost it's mission. When he first joined the PTA as a board member, an energetic board chair helped the team remain focused on why their work was vital to the school, children, and families. Membership on the board was highly sought after among the parents, and the fruit borne by the board's efforts was respectable and consistent. Then, a new chair took over the PTA who didn't have a focus on mission. The board's activities began to feel mundane to the board's members, and attendance at meetings began to drop.
Rev. Bross' conclusion from this experience was that we live in an age today where people have so many organizations vying for their attention and/or engagement that if an organization lacks mission, then people will drift elsewhere in search of it. Mission is the magnetism that keeps drawing people back leading toward increased engagement and passion to accomplish the organization's vital work.
Since late summer, North Shore UMC's Church Council has been engaged in the first stage of a new strategic planning process. The end goal of this process will be to provide the congregation with a one-page summary of our church's mission, a one-paragraph vision statement of where we want to see ourselves in 5 years, the values that define our church, and one-to-three organization-wide goals for the next year. Church Council hopes to present this document to the congregation during the first half of 2021.
The good news is that the first step of the strategic planning process is done: the creating of our church's mission statement! Here it is:
"To know God and experience a place of belonging centered on the teachings of Christ through revitalizing worship, transformative relationships, impactful outreach, and spiritual formation."
This mission statement has two parts: the first emboldened part is the actual mission statement; the second non-emboldened part highlights the "strategic pillars" which our church will leverage in order to realize our mission. In time, we hope that the entire congregation can memorize at least the emboldened part of this statement, if not the whole thing.
This October's sermon series will provide us as a congregation with the space to reflect on the Scriptures which undergird this mission statement, and how our church has and is going to continue living into this mission statement in the years to come!
There's an old saying, "Don't let a good crisis go to waste." I believe that one of the 'redeeming graces' of this pandemic is that it has caused our church to take a step back and clarify the overall direction of our organization. This statement may feel like just one sentence on a piece of paper, but if we as a whole church truly internalize this mission statement in our hearts, then it is my belief that the Spirit will move in ways none of us can fully anticipate to bring forth more fruit and blessings through our vital-and-loving congregation. God's peace to you all this day.
Grace & peace,
Pastor Scott S. Himel
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