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, April

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, March

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, 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.

Interruptions: January 15 Devotional

Jordan River, West Bank

Jordan River, West Bank

view from kitchen window, Mulvane

view from kitchen window, Mulvane

Heaven Was Opened: Interruptions...

Read: Isaiah 49:1-7, Matthew 3:13-17

I am a big believer in God made known through the rhythms and patterns of our natural world. Not in a crazy hippie, spiritualist way but I believe that our identity is rooted in being children of God and perhaps, just maybe, creation speaks to us about that. Take this weekend, for example, while I would never say that God sends storms or the such to cause suffering, I would say that being told to stay indoors presents us with an interruption in daily life and a space where we can choose to allow our plans to be waylaid. There will be people who will not let the weather ruin their well laid plans (please, stay safe), but for those of us sheltered inside, consider spending some time in Sabbath rest. The Hebrew meaning of Sabbath, after all, is STOP. It is an interruption, just like an ice storm on a Sunday morning.

Another great interruption occurred around two thousand years ago when Jesus was baptized. He has walked out to the wilderness to meet up with his wild and prophetic relative preaching salvation and damnation. It was time to start his public ministry. Among the hundreds gathered at the river that morning, John the Baptist spots his relative. Now those two guys have a bit of a misunderstanding or missed communication. Jesus is there to make public the start of his ministry by being baptized and John thinks that Jesus is there to take over. Jesus was ready for submission; John was ready to pass the torch. Awkward.

That’s not the interruption though. After the awkwardness is over, John agrees to baptize Jesus and Jesus takes his turn in the river. The interruption happens when as Jesus came up out of the water, heaven was opened, and God’s voice proclaimed, “this is my son, whom I dearly love, I find happiness in him” (Matt 3:17, CEB).

Many will say that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing being baptized and never doubted his mission and ministry for a moment. I would say for the sake of this devotion, let’s remember that Jesus was human. Humans doubt and wonder and question and are certain one moment and not so certain the next. Maybe Jesus wondered if all that he had been told was true. Maybe Jesus needed a sign that he was on the right path, a nice affirmation that this was the step he needed to take. In that moment, God stopped the line of people getting in and out of the water to be baptized, took a moment of personal privilege and spoke words of identity. Jesus was the son of God, dearly loved by God.

This interruption is remembered in every baptism in the church. When the community welcomes another into their midst, God declares, “this is my child, whom I dearly love.” As the water is poured or sprinkled over the individual’s head, we are reminded of our own identity as a beloved child of God, and the calling that we have to spread that good news throughout creation. We too need a little affirmation at times. Living as children of God is not only a personal but a very social calling.

In this season of Epiphany (of the revelation of the incarnation of God) we are reminded that our God works through the material world. God works through the fleshiness of humanity to bring reconciliation. God works through the simple element of water to restore the world. This is good news. This means that God’s grace surrounds us in a very earthy, incarnate and tangible way. God can work even through interruptions in our lives.

The two pictures above speak of baptism to me. One is a picture of the Jordan River in the West Bank where myself and a group of my fellow seminarians travelled and remembered the story of Jesus’ baptism. The other is the view from my kitchen window this morning. The trees and grass of our backyard are covered in ice. Creation is weighed down by water, frozen water, bathed in the grace of God. I am reminded to go slow today. My soul needs rest after all. All of our souls need rest. May rest find your soul today; may the grace of God be incarnate in your life and may the waters of your baptism renew you for the interruptions of life. Amen.

 

Pray:

God of light and life, who has called us your beloved children, we give you thanks today for the waters of our baptism which renew us and remind us of our identity. As we take rest today, guide our souls toward you. We celebrate your revelation and yet forget to take note of it each day. We want to be your light in the world, but first we must welcome your peace and your interruptions into our spirits. Thank you for your continued presence and grace. May they be made known in our lives this week. This we ask in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray... Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Reflect:

  • Do you remember your baptism? If not, have you been present for someone else’s? What do you remember about it?
  • What does it mean to you to be a child of God?
  • Where do you see the revelation of God today?
  • What does rest look like for you? Have you experienced it lately? What might restore your soul this day?

Act:

  • Call and check-in or pray with several members of the church.
  • Talk to your spouse, children or important people in your life about your baptism story or ask someone to tell you about it (if you were an infant when it happened).
  • Make a picture, collage, display or playlist that reminds you of your identity as a child of God.
  • Spend some moments in meditation/reflection on God’s revelation in the world.
  • Write a prayer for the week.

Listen: