Randy's Ramblings, August 2018

We were on vacation when I began a conversation with someone who was also vacationing.  In that conversation he told me about his work.  He owned and operated a company that had just won the contract for an interstate highway project.  He said they would be providing all of the gravel for a five-mile stretch of a 10-lane highway.  He expected to sell enough gravel to allow him to retire comfortably.

I asked him how much gravel that would be.  I don’t remember the total cubic yards/tonnage, but I do remember his explanation of why it was such a large amount of gravel.  There was a deep layer of gravel at the base, followed by a larger layer of asphalt, with a layer of concrete on top.  I don’t remember how many feet of each, but it was astounding to think of how much gravel went into every mile or roadway.

That’s when I began to pay attention to road construction projects.  As a driver, I knew when the top surface was in need of repair; but I hadn’t thought about the foundation of the roadway.  Now I see it every time I go down the road.  A foot or more of concrete on top of another foot or more of asphalt on top of two to six feet of gravel.  Sometimes the aging of a road from the weather takes its toll.  But when the base collapses or begins to fray, the top layer begins to fail even faster.  It amazes me whenever I see it taking place.

Whenever I see road construction sites, I also think about my faith.  I know there are things people can see, the actions I live by.  But underneath those actions are values and teachings that shape them.  I know that without a sufficient base there is nothing on which to build my life.  Without that bottom layer, what people see will begin to fail.

As a pastor, it is the base that I work on the most, even though it cannot be seen.  I do so because it makes the most difference in the quality of my life.

It’s also what I try to address in the lives of the people around me.

Two particular ways I’ll be working on the underlying layers of our faith include a series of sermons about the foundation for Christians under Construction in September and a long-term Bible Study that provides a key layer in our spiritual undergirding.  I see both of them helping make a significant impact on the way we live our lives because they address the layers below the surface.

I hope you’ll find a way to strengthen your spiritual life by taking time to tend to the foundation of your faith.  And if what we are offering doesn’t help you do that, let me know and we’ll find a way to help you maintain your faith in other ways because I don’t want your life to fail due to a crumbling foundation!

Randy's Ramblings, July 2018

I was mostly listening in on a conversation.

And I couldn’t tell if it was taking place because she knew I was a pastor or if this was her typical way of addressing the children she was with.

She was a young woman, probably 25 or 26 years old; the children were school age, maybe 8, 10, and 14, would be my best guess.  What was fascinating to me was her repeating what I would call wisdom sayings.  Aphorisms is probably the correct term.  (I’ll let you look that one up in your dictionary, if you want to correct me.)

It caught my attention because I had just been studying the book of James for a series of sermons I’ll be preaching in September.  James is a book filled with aphorisms.  It isn’t like any of the letters Paul wrote.  It feels more like the book of Proverbs than anything else.  As I was studying, I wondered how people hear those pithy sayings today and whether or not they connect with our daily lives.

And then this young woman spouts out a couple of things she has learned that she wants these young children to remember.  “Your word is the only thing you can take to your grave,” she said.  She then explained to the children that nothing else in life will last; so, it was essential for them to keep their word.

She also offered the observation that “God really will take care of you; all you have to do is trust him.”  There was no explanation offered with that one, just a statement of fact aimed at the children followed by silence.

It was a curious conversation to be overhearing.

The children were not asking for information.  They were not asking questions.  She was simply offering answers to some of life’s most difficult circumstances.

They are the kinds of things I see repeated on Facebook as memes, not really a conversation.  It made me wonder if she was a typical example of people her age and if I have been less than effective in my communication style because I don’t speak in those terms.

That’s when I began to wonder what would happen if I used that approach in my sermons.  It would be a radical departure from my typical style, but I wondered what it would sound like and how people might respond.

Would this young woman find those sermons more interesting than what I normally say?  Were the younger children really listening to and learning from her?

In the end, I decided not to change; but it was a curious exercise in paying attention to the people around me, something I know is critical to putting sermons together!


Randy's Ramblings, June 2018

A United Methodist Annual Conference is a unique animal.  It describes and names a geographic region as well as an annual gathering of the pastors and lay members who live and serve within that geographic boundary.  Geographically, the Great Plains Annual Conference consists of all the United Methodists Churches in Nebraska and Kansas (about 1,000 of them).  By our rules, the membership of an annual conference consists of an equal number of clergy and lay members from the churches within that region, with an equal number of clergy and lay members.  We have been rotating where we meet for our annual gathering, known as the Great Plains Annual Conference; this year we met in Wichita.  The members who claim West Heights as their church were Adam Denton, Shayn Guillemette, and Jim Megrail (Adam was elected as a young adult representative of the Wichita West District).

That’s a lot of introduction to how I wanted to start this month’s Ramblings. 

I just returned from Annual Conference, where the last act was the “fixing” of the appointments, the United Methodist way of saying that pastors were given their missional assignments.  I am happy to report that I will continue to serve as one of the pastors at West Heights, and that Rev. Bev Baumgartner was appointed to serve here as well.  It’s going to be a great year!

During the conference, we made several decisions, some of which have more significance than others, including the decision to ordain clergy and close churches and set a budget for 2019.  What appeared in the newspaper after we were finished, however, was something we did not decide on!  In addition to making decisions, we heard reports.  Most of them are reports from places where our budgeted funds have been spent, informing us about the fruitfulness of the various ministries we support.  We also heard some presentations from scholars and teachers.  In addition, we had some great worship services – something I always look forward to.

What made the news, however, is the ongoing conversation about how our church responds to people who identify as LGBTQI.  What was unique about this year’s discussion was that we only heard a report.  There was no decision to be made … at least not yet.  No action was taken, and yet it was reported as the headline in the Wichita Eagle, “Methodists Consider Rules about Same Sex Marriage, Gay Clergy” (June 17, 2018).

In July, I will preach a series of sermons (July 8, 15, & 22) where I hope to provide information on what we really talked about and what it might mean for us.  What I know is that the decisions are yet to be made and that we are not the ones who will vote on the issues.  But we can be informed; and we can be prepared for our response.  I hope you’ll join us for this important conversation.

Randy's Ramblings, May 2018

You may or may not have noticed the basket in the Narthex.  I put a sign on it that says, “If you fear change … leave it here.”  In the basket are coins I’ve taken from my pocket over the course of the past few weeks.

 You see, we moved Melissa from Sabetha to Wichita on May 1.  The move has meant lots of changes for her and for us.  Some of the change is welcome – we get to see her a lot more frequently now, for example.  But some of the change is very scary.  She is in a home that has far less staff than what we had before, and there are fewer legal protections in this new home because we moved from one level of care to another.

So, I keep emptying my pockets into the basket.

The same kind of thing is happening in our church.  We are making changes, and some of them are welcome, but others can be frightening.  In worship on April 29, I referred to a chart.

It shows the average worship attendance of our church from its “birth” in 1956 to the present.  I was not able to find all of the data, so there are gaps, but you can see a trend.  Last year was the shortest bar on the chart; it is about 100 fewer in worship than we had just 6 years ago.

I suggested that we have a choice of changing and finding ways to invite new people or to continue as we are and make plans for closing the doors within 20 years.

If you were not there, check out our website and listen to what I said, because I also said I have great hopes for the future.  But that future will require change.

So, I put out the basket.

And I find myself emptying my pockets every time I think about how I will have to change in order to help the church change.  I don’t know what I’ll do with the money; that isn’t what is important at this point.  But if you’re one who is fearful of change, maybe you want to leave yours there with mine.

Together, we can do this!  As we seek God’s guidance and direction, we can make the future a story where we are the catalyst for change in our world. 


Randy's Ramblings, April 2018

Wow.  Thank you!  Thank you to our donors who offered to match any increases in pledges and new pledges; and thank you to those who have responded!  I am amazed by your response!  (We will make a full report in worship on Sunday, May 6, after all the pledge cards have been returned.) 

Wow.  And an apology.  I realized some people wanted to look again at the list of my own personal hopes and dreams; but since I had them put on the back of the pledge cards they were given back to us.  Oops. 

Here is the information I had distributed: 

Pastor’s Dreams 

Continue looking for ways to invite new people to hear and respond to God’s grace by: 

  • Developing Children’s Ministry that intentionally includes neighborhood children

  • Providing an alternative, informal worship service (an idea named at the Church Council Planning Retreat in January)

  • Creating new events to draw attention to our ministry (such as Party in the Park)

  • Inviting non-church connected people to participate in mission activities

     Expand the concept of Neighboring by: 

  • Encouraging engagement with businesses on north side of Central (nearest the church), maybe an Ash Wednesday service at Verita Coffee, for example; or perhaps a Pet Blessing Service with or at the Pet Shop

  • Connecting in more ways with Peterson School, adding to our already growing relationship

  • Becoming active in the Westlink Neighborhood Association, beyond hosting their meetings

     Reframe discussions, so that we are thinking in terms of creating a new church within and alongside our existing church; looking for ways to attract new people into our church by sharing the good news of God’s grace to the people in our immediate neighborhood

     Those are my dreams.  I look forward to conversations about them, and I look forward to hearing what your hopes and dreams might be!

Randy's Ramblings, March 2018

For nearly 30 years, I made an annual mission trip.  But it wasn’t just any mission trip.  I went to a variety of places, sometimes returning to the same location.  I never went with anyone from the church I was serving, though.  In fact, some people did not understand why I called it a mission trip, because I always went as a Navy Chaplain who was serving the men and women who serve our country.  But I always thought of it as a mission trip when I left for my two weeks of annual training in the Navy Reserves because I was going as a representative of the church carrying the message of grace to people in a different location.  I made my last trip in 2009.

Ever since, I have sought an opportunity to bring people with me, or to join others as they went on their own mission trips.  That is why I was so excited to participate in our Sager-Brown trip over Spring Break.  It was unique for me in a variety of ways.  First, I did not go alone.  This time there were 14 people who made the trek to Baldwin, Louisiana together, including a few people from another church (First UMC, Wichita).  Not only that, but I did not pack my uniforms this time, although we did have special T-Shirts that set our team apart from the others.  And, thanks in large part to our team leader, Dave Glover, I was not the pastor or chaplain of the team, I was a team member, doing the same work everyone else did.

At the same time, it was very much like many of my experiences with the Navy.  We didn’t know exactly what we would be doing when we arrived.  And I had to wear shoes other than my sandals.  (Ugh.)  We ate common meals with the others who were there.  (We were one of 7 different teams from a variety of places, some teams were larger, some smaller.  In total, there were 70 volunteers on campus!)  Like my experience with the Navy, there were many, many mundane tasks that needed to be accomplished.  And, if we were looking, there were amazing insights and what many people call God-sightings.

In many ways, our experience was more akin to my experiences at church camp than my time with the Navy.  When I was a Navy Chaplain, I always preached about my experience on the Sunday I returned.  This time, there will be a presentation during the Sunday School hour when we make the next Mission Presentation in May.  Our team members bring home shared memories that will bind us together for many years to come.  There are stories that will find their way into conversations over the next few weeks and months, I’m sure.

And that leads to one of the most profound observations Ronda and I made.  We tried to sit with members of the other teams during meal time.  We introduced ourselves and asked them to introduce themselves.  But most of the conversation that happened was related to their church or setting.  We were left out.  It wasn’t intentional, but they knew each other’s stories and were more interested in the people they knew than the new people at the table.

We tried to break into the conversation, but we soon realized it is really hard to make room for a new person in a group.  My hope is that Ronda and I at least, learned to watch for that tendency when our group starts to tell an inside joke about sponges, for example.

It’s a lesson maybe we all need to work on whenever we see visitors in church!


Randy's Ramblings, February 2018

For some people, a church budget is a set of numbers that makes their eyes glaze over.

For some people, a church budget is a straight-jacket that limits what they can do.

For those reasons, some people see no reason to establish a church budget, let alone approve one. 

Fortunately, our Finance Committee sees the budget as a tool for being effective stewards of the resources available to us, a powerful method of prioritizing the work of our church, and a critical tool for making decisions that affect what we can accomplish together. 

One means of “translating” the budget into a meaningful tool is to limit the numbers in the presentation, and instead to talk about what the budget is inviting us to do before we ask your approval of the priorities it names.  The budget we are working on includes:  Ministry (the things we do at West Heights), Mission (the work we support in other places), and Mortar (the building and its upkeep).  For the past several years, we have lived within the expenses of the budget, ending the year below our target. 

Unfortunately, we ended last year with less money than we had anticipated receiving, even after the successful Fireworks Stand and Golf Tournament.  Most of the shortfall came from pledges we had received and planned on that were not paid in full. 

As we begin 2018, the Finance Committee is in a quandary.  Our pledges are significantly lower than our anticipated expenses, creating the unfortunate dilemma of not having a budget to propose – even though we are about to start the third month of the year.  The committee has been trying to find a way to resolve the dilemma without making without significant cuts on the expense side.  Unfortunately, one has not yet been found that is acceptable to all of the committee members.  There are too many wonderful and amazing things we do, things we don’t want to reduce or eliminate.  In fact, there are additional things we’d like to do! 

If you are willing to serve on a fundraising committee to explore possible revenue sources, or if you would be willing to be the primary contact person for a fundraising event such as a Fireworks Stand or a Golf Tournament, call Donna Bridges, who has agreed to help get the committee started. 

In the meantime, we will continue to do amazing things in ministry.  We will continue to make a significant difference in the lives of the people who attend here.  We will continue to explore ways to reach into our community and to reach across the globe as we support the work of others.  We will continue to be a witness of God’s light and grace in West Wichita.

Randy's Ramblings, January 2018

This year the calendar is playing games with us!  Really.   

In case you haven’t noticed it yet, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day; and Easter falls on April Fools’ Day!  It isn’t the first time, but it’s been a LONG time since that has happened.  I checked it out.  Easter Sunday last fell on April 1 in 1956, the year West Heights began!  But that was a Leap Year, so Ash Wednesday fell on February 13.  The last time Easter fell on April 1 and Ash Wednesday fell on February 14 was 1945.  (By the way, it also happened in 1714, 1725, 1866, 1877, 1923, and 1934.) 

So, the calendar really is playing games with us this year!  Easter is not on the same day every year because of how we determine when to celebrate it (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox). 

While it may feel a little strange to some people, we will continue our practice of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday.  It is a day to remember our mortality, to remember our creator, and to remember that we are loved.  So maybe it’s the perfect date to hold an Ash Wednesday Service!  Join us on February 14 at 6:30 pm. 

The hardest part may be that many of us fast for Lent.  Some give up chocolate, for example, as a form of fasting through the season of Lent.  And it seems a little strange to start that practice on a day when many people will give and receive chocolates. 

At the same time, it feels like an appropriate start to Lent, because this year we will focus on loving our neighbors by learning to be good neighbors.  Each Sunday in Lent we will offer some specific suggestions for how to reach out to the neighbors who live near you.  We will also offer classes to help us dig deeper into the idea of neighboring.  Check out the information elsewhere in the Logos or on our church website and find a way to join the conversation. 

We will begin Lent with a sense of Love and end the season with a sense of Joy! 

What could be better than that?


Randy's Ramblings, December 2017

Many of you know that Sam Muyskens has been travelling to Haiti on a regular basis for many years.  When he goes, he has been working at the same location, with the same people, in the same church.  Some of you have been there in person; I hope to go some day myself.   

Last fall Sam came to my office with his colleague, the pastor of the Lambert Evangelical Baptist Church.  Pastor Fred and I had a great conversation. 

During that conversation, we came up with an idea, an idea that we thought might connect our congregations in a unique way.  The idea is what we are calling a prayer partnership.  How it works is that any time either of our churches gathers and prays, we will pray for the other congregation.  It’s a simple idea that Pastor Fred took back to Haiti and I took to the Church Council here. 

Their church has agreed and is already praying for us.  Every time they gather in worship, every time they gather for a meeting, every time they gather for a dinner, they include West Heights in their prayers.  (Isn’t that cool, knowing there are people in Haiti praying for us?) 

The Church Council here also agreed to enter into this prayer partnership, beginning January 1.  We will have a short video presentation and then begin modeling it during our worship services on December 31. 

My invitation to you is to put the Lambert Evangelical Baptist Church on your prayer list.  And whenever you pray during Sunday School, or in a committee meeting, include Pastor Fred and all of the people who are a part of their congregation. 

We have no way of knowing how God will answer our prayers and no way of knowing how God will answer their prayers.  What we know is that God answers prayer.  And since there are people of faith in both congregations who will be asking God to bless the work in the other church, I know we will become witnesses to as well as participants in God’s amazing work. 

I can’t wait to see how those prayers are answered in the coming year!


Randy's Ramblings, November 2017

Somewhere in the midst of planning for, or taking part in, our Trunk or Treat, I found myself remembering the first time I participated in a “trunk or treat” event.  I realized that someone, somewhere came up with the idea and others blatantly copied the idea because they liked the idea. 

A similar thing happened nearly 800 years ago when a pastor created a live, outdoor Nativity as a part of his church’s Christmas celebration.  Other people liked the idea and copied it.  Then artists found ways to capture the idea in miniature form. 

I don’t know what you call those artistic portrayals of the Christmas story.  Some people refer to it as a Crèche, a French word; others call it a Krippe (German), or even Nacimiento (Spanish).  I call it a Nativity Set.  I do know that St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the origin of the crib scene, or Presepio as he called it in Italian, in 1223 or 1224. 

I also know that Ronda and I began to collect them several years ago.  It started by accident when we mentioned to my parents that we’d like to have one.  I finally found one; it’s a clay Nacimiento made in Peru.  While it only has six pieces and the baby Jesus looks too large – almost as if he were an adolescent in a crib – we liked it.  When my folks came to visit again, I was delighted to show them our “find;” but the look on their faces told me we’d made a mistake. 

Unbeknownst to us, they made one for us as a Christmas gift.  It was a large set, complete with a teak wood stable.  That began an annual tradition of finding a new one (or two or three).  We now have so many that we cannot display them all at once.  We will not set them all out, but many of them will be included in our church’s “At Home in Bethlehem” display during the first week of December! 

Among them will be one that I think is our favorite.  It was hand painted by Judy Taylor of Bellingham, Washington.  The characters she painted remind us of a church Sunday School program with all of the characters, including Joseph who didn’t want to dress up like a Shepherd.  But if you look closely, there is a special surprise – one of the magi is in a wheel chair. 

Judy didn’t want to sell it to us, though.  It had become a part of her life as she gave of herself in this piece of art.  But our daughter’s wheel chair finally convinced her to let go of it.  Her reluctance to part with it reminds me of how hard it must have been for God to part with Jesus; but God did so, out of love for us. 

What a wonderful gift we have received!  I hope you cherish it as much as I do.  And I hope the thought of that gift will add joy to this season in which we find our way home for Christmas!


Randy's Ramblings, October 2017

Earlier this year I participated in a meeting where people “arrived” in a variety of forms.  Some of us walked into the room.  Some of us appeared via a video conference feed.  Others showed up on laptops via Skype.  Still others “came” to the meeting via voice on a telephone. 

Even if the sound levels were the same, and even when the video feeds were working well, it was a strange experience as we tried to conduct business using so many different media forms.  When I left the meeting, I was thankful that I had arrived in person.  But I was also thankful for those who were not able to be present who found a way to participate. 

It made me wonder if we could find ways to incorporate more people in worship by using a wider variety of media.  Our primary audience shows up in person.  But some watch the sermon online.  (You can usually find the last week’s sermon on our website by Wednesday morning.)  Others read the sermon.  Not only are those very limited extensions of our worship service, but there is much more to worship than the sermon. 

At the same time, I recognize that some of us come more prepared for worship than others do.  Some of us spend time praying on our way to church.  Others are frantically trying to make it in time.  Some of us carry heavy burdens as we approach the sanctuary, burdens from our daily life that others may not even know.  Those factors all contribute to make our individual worship services very different from one another. 

And if some of us come to hear a word of comfort and some come to hear a word of encouragement and some come to be surrounded by friends and associates and some come to share music and some come out of habit, it feels very much like the meeting where each of us had our own experience.

Meanwhile, God is meeting us where we are and calling us into a future only God can fully envision.  My hope, my prayer, is that each of us will find our way to live into that future as we learn to become partners in the ministry that Jesus began.

Randy's Ramblings, September 2017

As many of you know, I went to Alaska in early August where I met my dad and my brother and his son and sons-in-law.  We had a great time together.  Each day began with breakfast together and ended with dinner together.  In between, we went on two different boats and went fishing. 

The captains of the boats we were on knew the waters and understood the migration routes of the various fish we were seeking.  So, all we had to do was get on the boat and put the bait in the water when Bobbie told us to start fishing.  It many ways it was simple. 

Our primary target was salmon – either King or Coho.  And we all had fun catching some of each.  But we also caught other fish because other fish are drawn to the same bait and swim in the same ocean.  Most often, we found ourselves catching halibut in an area where we were not allowed to keep halibut; so we returned lots of fish to the sea.  It was “catch and release” even though we were not intending to catch them.  I think I returned at least seven nice size halibut. 

One our third day out, we met our legal limit of salmon.  So, we went to an area where we could keep the halibut.  And we couldn’t catch any.  The irony was not lost on any of us. 

But that day I caught three skate.  (For those who don’t know, skate is a fish that looks like a sting ray.)  No one else caught them. 

We also caught a yelloweye rockfish.  But those fish are on the endangered species list.  So we had to send them back.  The problem is that once brought to the surface, their internal organs bloat and they often die at the surface.  I watched with sadness when the other boats around us caught them and saw these yelloweye rockfish floating on the surface of the water. 

So, it was especially fascinating to watch Bobbie find a way to put a weight on a line and “pull” the fish back down to the appropriate depth (about 250 feet).  When the fish began to put up a fight, he let it go. 

After our second accidental catch of yelloweye, we moved to another location, rather than taking a risk of harming any more fish. 

I left the boat every day with a deep appreciation for the knowledge base of the captain of our boat, Bobbie.  He was able to remember what the limitations are on the fishing in various places we went, as well as how to operate the boat and navigate the seas, and how to find and care for fish.  And it’s why I will probably ask to be on his boat again the next time I go fishing in Alaska! 

And I came home wondering how often I have changed my approach to my job, knowing that different people respond to different aspects of God’s grace.  I don’t know the waters in Wichita very well, yet.  But I’m learning!  Thanks for being patient with me as I learn! 

Randy's Ramblings, August 2017

If you were to come to my office in the past week you would have noticed construction going on.  If you didn’t come down the hall to my office you may not have noticed it.  But we’re installing an elevator! 

The elevator shaft has been hidden behind the sheetrock and paint, waiting to be born since this part of the building was new.  We have opened the wall and are making it happen! 

Why?  Well, we have plans for the portion of the basement under the offices that is currently unfinished.  Those plans include a room for the choir to rehearse in, a room that may serve as a meeting room.  A visioning team, led by Ellan Muyskens, has been meeting on and off since I arrived here a year ago.  The specifics of what that “unfinished basement” will look like when it is finished is still not completely determined.  But if we want people to have access to that part of the building, we’ll need an elevator, no matter what purpose that space will serve when it is complete. 

One of the ideas the vision team has considered is to have a recording studio, complete with state of the art sound and video equipment.  Another idea has been to make it a versatile room with movable or semi-movable walls.  One idea was to make into a youth music center.  Still another idea has been to make a larger meeting room where we can meet without having to heat up large portions of the church in winter or cool them in the summer.  That room would also be available for the choir can warm up and the bell choir can rehearse.  Depending upon who you talk to on the visioning team, there are a variety of answers to the question.  All of the concepts at this point include restrooms and office space.  We have asked an architect to help us sort out the possibilities within the existing budget.  We are waiting for their suggestions before proceeding. 

What is clear is that we will need an elevator, no matter what the room will look like.  It is far enough away that the other elevator will not adequately serve the space.  And having ready access near the office door also allows us to provide better security when we are using the room. 

The Trustees knew that the Visioning Team was not ready to begin construction on the room yet, but the elevator would be less expensive this year than next.  So, the Trustees authorized the use of existing Capital Improvement funds to complete the elevator, an elevator that has been waiting to be born for several decades. 

And that’s why the hallway outside my office has looked like a construction zone for the past few weeks!

Randy's Ramblings, July

Randy’s Ramblings ….


It was a typical summer rain squall.  You know the type.  It began with a growing sense of humidity.  Then there was a rush of wind.  Followed by pelting rain, some thunder and some lightening.  Then it was over.  The storm passed and the sun was shining again. 

Most of the time when I am watching a rain storm unfold, I think of the words of the Psalmist.  Next time it rains, open your Bible and read Psalm 29.  It’s a perfect description of a storm squall, complete with the way lightening makes it look like the world is jumping.  Seriously.  Read it out loud and see if you can’t hear the storm rolling through: 

The Lord’s voice is over the waters;

    the glorious God thunders;

        the Lord is over the mighty waters.

The Lord’s voice is strong;

    the Lord’s voice is majestic.

The Lord’s voice breaks cedar trees—

    yes, the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon jump around like a young bull,

    makes Sirion jump around like a young wild ox.

The Lord’s voice unleashes fiery flames;

    the Lord’s voice shakes the wilderness—

        yes, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The Lord’s voice convulses the oaks,

    strips the forests bare,

        but in his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the floodwaters;

    the Lord sits enthroned—king forever!

Let the Lord give strength to his people!

    Let the Lord bless his people with peace! 

But the particular rain squall that caught my attention was one I hadn’t seen coming.  I was doing something else and my mind was occupied.  I didn’t notice it building until it was pouring down rain.  What I realized was that I didn’t hear the first drop of rain.  I didn’t hear the second one, either.  It wasn’t until it sounded like low rumble on the roof that I realized it was happening.  It quickly changed from a rumble to a roar before turning into a background static. 

But I found myself pondering the first rain drops that I didn’t notice.  The precursors. 

In society, I know there are those voices, those solo voices that begin naming something.  Not many people notice at first.  And then there is a crowd.  And the voices become deafening before change takes place.  It’s the voice of the women at the tomb and Paul in Corinth and John Wesley in England. 

One voice that begins to make a change.  My hope, my desire is to hear that first voice, that one drop of rain, and help change the world. 


Saying Farewell

Wow, time does fly! Where has the last two years gone? As many of you know, I have accepted a position as pastor at Anthony United Methodist Church which is about an hour southwest of Wichita. Brian and I are very excited for the new opportunities and adventures which await us. We are also sad to be saying goodbye to West Heights. I came here two years ago with only one year of ministry under my belt looking for a community to love me and help me grow. You all have been that community. You have also been the faith community who celebrated with Brian and myself our budding relationship and our eventual marriage last November. This is the first faith community where we put down roots and now we find ourselves uprooted and moving on. We all experience times of change and uprooting in our lives. Nothing stays the same. I hope, however, in the coming month, that we can all celebrate the ministry we have done together and the joyous future which remains for Brian and myself and for West Heights as we go our separate ways.

My last Sunday in worship (and preaching) will be June 11. Brian and I hope to see many of you there on that day! After both services there will be small receptions where we can say our formal goodbyes and have some last laughs (I hope!). We have been so blessed by our time here at West Heights and in Wichita, and while I will no longer be your pastor after June 30, I know that you will be blessed by Rev. Bev and the continued ministry of Rev. Randy and Rev. Ron and will show them all the same love and grace we have experienced here.

-- Pastor Brenda and Brian


Randy's Ramblings, June

You may have noticed it.  I sniffle quite often these days.  I sniffle because of an allergic reaction to what is happening all around me.  Just look outside and you can see evidence of change.  The tree I planted last spring has grown new leaves and branches.  The days are getting longer and the air is getting warmer.  The flowers are blooming and birds are singing.  Change is everywhere; but change is not causing the allergic reaction.  It is simply a side-effect of the pollen that comes out in this season. 

But it got me to thinking about how some people almost seem to have an allergic reaction to change itself.  We don’t like it, and so we tend to resent it if we can’t reject it.  We spend hours in traffic because of road construction, for example, and we resent it.  But if we didn’t drive so much and so often, we wouldn’t need the roads to be maintained or improved.  We don’t like the change demanded by our own choices! 

In the church, we have the same concern.  We have so appreciated watching Brenda grow in her role as an Associate Pastor and have come to depend upon her insights and her wisdom.  Some of us cannot imagine what it will be like without her in our midst.  And yet the change is coming.  Since she was appointed here two years ago we knew that as a TiM Associate she would only be with us for two years before being assigned as a solo pastor.  It is a change we had been told was coming, even if we have been resisting it.  Her last Sunday with us will be June 11. 

Some have also noted the changes taking place in our youth program.  After we announced that Becca would not be returning, we saw an opportunity to reshape our staff.  Rather than bemoaning the changes taking place, we found a way to take advantage of it.  At a special charge conference last month, we approved a plan to hire a full-time Associate, rather than a TiM Associate.  The job description calls for someone who will be responsible for both Youth and Young Adult ministries.  And the good news is that we found someone who will join our staff and help us make that plan a reality! 

In July, Bev Baumgartner will join our staff.  (She has written a brief article of introduction you can find elsewhere in this issue of the Logos.)  Those who have met with her are excited about the possibilities in store for us.  It is the kind of change that makes some people nervous, but it also brings with it a great deal of excitement! 

We will be finding ways to introduce Bev to you over the course of the next few months.  But I want to remind you how helpful it will be for everyone to wear your name tags so she can get to know us!  (If you don’t have one or can’t find yours, please let us know!) 

I hope my sniffles go away soon.  They usually pass with the change of the season.  And that helps me look at change as a gift from God.  I hope you can see that, too!

Randy's Ramblings, May

Last fall we bought and planted a tree in the backyard of our house.  We planted it with a vision of what it might look like several years from now.  You see, it’s not very big.  At least not yet.  But we know that in time it will become a source of shade.  It will also provide a sort of privacy screen between our house and our neighbor’s. 

For that to happen, though, it will need to grow.  So, I have been watching it carefully as new buds began forming and growing beginning in March.  Ronda teases me about going out and talking to the tree, coaxing it to grow.  Knowing that, you might find what I did a couple of weeks ago counter-productive.  I cut off some branches.  In fact, most of the tallest branches are now missing.  It was taller in February than it is now.  But it will be taller in October because of what I did than it would be if I had left it alone. 

Anyone who has ever pruned a tree knows what I did and why I did it.  It might look like I was inhibiting growth, like I was making it shorter, but I was actually fostering growth.  I spent several hours cutting off all “dead” branches, branches that had experienced severe frost damage during the winter, branches that had not produced any new buds this spring.  I cut them off in order to help the tree grow. 

I confess that I made a few mistakes, though.  I cut off some branches that probably should have been kept. 

As I was cutting those branches, I found myself wondering about the church.  I wondered if there are any dead branches that need to be cut out in our church so that growth can take place.  I wondered if there were things we are doing simply because we’ve always done them before, without considering how they help us achieve our purposes, how they help us reach our goals, how they help meet the needs of the people in our neighborhood and in our church family.  I also wondered if there were things we were cutting out that should be maintained.  I didn’t have anything in particular that came to mind, but I decided if it becomes hard to recruit people for a task, I will be asking if the task is one of those things that needs to be pruned. 

We can keep doing those things and it won’t hurt us.  But if we want to experience growth, we may need to do a little pruning.  We need to make room for new branches to grow. 

I also know that in the life of the church, it’s sometimes hard to tell what is essential and what needs to be pruned.  Sometimes we cut out the wrong things.  When that happens, there is good news.  You see, unlike the tree branch, we can always start something back up again if we decide it needs to be included rather than concluded!

Randy's Ramblings, April

If you were in worship on Sunday, March 19, you heard me make this announcement.  I decided to repeat it for those who were not able to attend the service, as well as those who were present but for whatever reason may not have heard what I said:

"Some of you already know, others have wondered if it is just a misguided rumor.  The truth is that I have taken the role of interim Youth Director.  As a result, Brenda will be fulfilling most of the Senior Pastor functions, including taking the primary role in preaching.

After much prayer and conversation with Becca, I encouraged her to take a 60 day leave to take care of personal concerns, and she is doing so.  I informed the Staff Parish Relations Committee and the Youth Sponsors the day her leave began; I shared the news with the youth two days later, the day before my vacation began.  Since it was something that came at my initiative, it didn’t feel right asking Brenda to make the announcement last week, even if that created an environment in which rumors start.

Today (March 19), I am making it officially public knowledge.  

When the time comes for Becca to return, I will do what I can to help her make the transition back into the role of Youth Director before resuming my primary role as Senior Pastor.

In the meantime, I ask for your prayers for Becca.  And for me.  And for our Youth program.  As you are no doubt aware, we are entering a busy season for the youth and I want to make sure it works well for all of us."

What that means is Pastor Brenda will be preaching most Sundays and attending any of the meetings that I have been attending that don’t need my personal presence.  It does not mean I will no longer help lead worship; nor does it mean I will stop making hospital calls.  I will continue to lead the small groups I’ve been leading.  But most of my energies will focus on making the preparations for Caravan, including making all of the arrangements for where the youth will be staying and the activities they will do.

We are planning to have Becca return to work on the first weekend in May.

Randy's Ramblings, March

I don’t know about you, but for me Lent is a time to focus on spiritual disciplines.  Sometimes it is a new discipline practiced in a new way; sometimes it is a discipline I have not been practicing for some time; sometimes it is a short-term commitment to a particular discipline.  Always it is a season in which I make myself available to grace. 

I often practice a form of fasting in that I remove something from my life for the 40 days of Lent.  Sometimes I refrain from drinking caffeine, for example.  Frequently I take on a new discipline that I have not been doing.  One year, for example, I intentionally wrote 40 different thank you notes to 40 different people during Lent. 

As Ash Wednesday gets closer, I find myself reflecting on how best to make myself more available to grace this year, how best to allow God to speak to me in a new and different way.  I haven’t decided yet what my Lenten disciplines will be.  While considering what to do, I came across this reminder from William Arthur Ward: 

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ indwelling them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.

Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.

Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from worry; feast on divine order.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal Truth.

Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.

Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.

Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.


Randy's Ramblings, February

Over the course of my Navy career, I had the privilege of working with and for some wonderful people.  But there were also a few times when I worked with and for people who were – how shall I say this? – difficult to be around.  As a Chaplain, for example, I remember coming to a new assignment.  When I met my new Commanding Officer he told me, “I am an atheist; and quite frankly, I think Chaplains are a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

He was the exception, not the rule.  But he was my boss for a period of time. That meant he was the one who would be evaluating my effectiveness and determining the likelihood of my next promotion.

What I had been taught was to adapt to the style of leadership of my superior officers and to carry out the assignments whether I agreed with them or not. And so I did just that. We didn’t agree on lots of things; but I also knew I had a job to do. I reported to work on time and did my job. I reported to him what I was doing and carried out the orders he gave. I adapted to his style of leadership and did what I was asked to do. (By the way, when he left, he acknowledged that I had made a difference in the lives of his troops, and because of that, my work was appreciated – and in fact, I was promoted the next year.)

There are people who question the legitimacy of our current President. There were people who questioned the legitimacy of our last President, too, including the current President. There were people who questioned the results of the most recent election, just as people questioned the results when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of George Bush in 2000.

But as a citizen of this land, I have been blessed by the amazingly and historically peaceful transition of leadership from one administration to another, something we’ve been doing in this country for a long time. I have also learned that my role as a citizen does not change simply because I don’t agree with or might question who is in the Oval Office. Nor does it change if the Congress impedes the work of the President or simply gives a rubber stamp to every proposal coming from the White House.

My role, as a citizen, is to make my opinions known; to work for what I believe is best for our country.

My role, as a Christian, is to pray for those who lead our country.

My role as a pastor includes the task of reminding people of the values that are at the core of our beliefs, the values of justice, and compassion, and cooperation, and equal rights based on the belief that all of us are created in the image of God (even those who disagree with us).

As we head into the first 100 days of a new administration, you can expect to see me acting as a citizen and praying as a Christian. Don’t be surprised if, as your pastor, I remind you of our values and invite you to act on them as well.