"I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now." -- Phil. 1:3-
Well, here it is, my last newsletter article as pastor of Clarks Mills United Methodist Church. I know how Paul felt when he wrote this letter, his happiest, to his brothers and sisters in the church at Philippi. He didn't get the privilege of sharing 11 years with them in close fellowship and ministry as we have had together. But I agree wholeheartedly with what he describes as constantly praying with joy for all of you because of the way you have shared in the work of the gospel from the first day I arrived here until now.
My family and I have been truly blessed in the years we have lived here. For Sarah and Joanna, Clarks Mills will always represent home in a way Conneaut Lake or any subsequent location God sends me never will. We will take with us a lot of great memories of Lydia grabbing for the microphone whenever she was up in front of the church with the other kids for a program. And to Donna and the Drama Disciples, thank you for bringing out the "ham" in me, which also allowed me to open myself up more in my preaching and teaching. Special thanks also to Bob McGhee and his crew of Trustees that first year who heard Martha's and my concerns about the parsonage and made it into a home we quickly grew to love.
There are a lot of very dear saints who are now in glory who have given me memories I will always treasure. Thank you Dahlia, Art, Dale, Alberta, Skip, Jay and Bev, Owen, Evelyn and Bob, Jan, Vern and Nancy, Bessie and Bernice, Howard and Barb, Hazel, Rhoda, Jean, Ted, Junior, Kathryn, Bruce, Irene, Jimmy, Jim, Elsie, Iza, Betty. Homer, Ruth, Butch, Catherine, Duane, and Clair. Forgive me if I have forgotten any names. I certainly haven't forgotten the blessings these dear folks have given me.
There are far too many of you dear saints who continue in ministry here to thank by name, but I want to thank you all for putting up with me and some of my crazy ideas (like the "fire rags" SueAnn). You have worked with me faithfully as a team to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the work of preceding generations and pastors at Clarks Mills. You have allowed me to test ideas and dream dreams. Through you, I have grown tremendously as a Christian and especially as a pastor. Trinity UMC will benefit tremendously from the lessons you have taught me. I know you will continue to work just as faithfully with Rev. Dayton Mix and his family as they become part of the Clarks Mills family.
Now for the tough part. From July 1st on I will always be your brother in Christ, but I will no longer be your pastor. I know you will accept Dayton as your pastor as you accepted me in July 2000. But I do need to be clear in explaining a basic issue. I will not be available to do any more weddings or funerals here, so please don't ask me. If Dayton should ask me, and if I have nothing on my schedule at Trinity, I may be willing to take a small part in the service but would prefer to attend these events as a guest and friend.
Next month Dayton will be offering his introductory article in this space. Maybe his desk won't be as "cluttered" as mine has always been; but if it is, I know he'll get all the help he needs from all of you. Thank you for a wonderful 11 years!
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." ...John 13:8
You know the story ... Jesus and his disciples met together in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem according to the Jewish tradition. But almost immediately, Jesus instituted a radical change in the proceedings. At the beginning of a feast it was traditional for the host to provide a servant, the lowest ranking servant in the household, to wash the feet of his guests. Foot-washing was both cleansing and relaxing as the guests were ushered from the outside world into the festive or, in this case, reverent atmosphere of the feast. Astonished, the disciples watched as Jesus took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash their feet.
Peter, who seemed to always take the wrong approach with Jesus, quickly spoke up to protect Jesus' dignity as Jesus prepared to wash his feet. It was unthinkable that the Messiah stoop so low to perform this most humbling of service. Peter tried to forbid Jesus, boldly declaring, "You will NEVER wash my feet." I can picture a pained expression on Jesus' face as, once again, Peter was completely missing the lesson Jesus was enacting for them all. Jesus' stinging rebuke again fell hard on Peter's ears and conscience: "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me -- you have no place at my table, you have no place in my kingdom."
You see, until we accept Jesus' ultimate humiliation, execution as a common criminal on a cursed cross, accomplished for us to be forgiven of our sins, redeemed from judgment, and raised from death to life, we have no place at our Lord's table. We have reduced our observance of Good Friday to little more than an asterisk between Palm Sunday and Easter morning in part because we really don't like to be reminded of Jesus' suffering and death. We don't like to be humiliated and, like Peter, we don't like to think of Jesus being so humiliated -- especially because of us and for us! So we try to jump from the "Hosannas" to the "Hallelujahs" without plumbing the depths of Good Friday.
But there is another reason why we are so prone to skip past the Last Supper and the Cross. Jesus was teaching his disciples his most valuable lesson: the Messiah, the Son of God, did not come to be served but to serve. He powerfully demonstrated his service by washing the disciples' feet. He even more powerfully demonstrated his service by willingly going to the Cross in our place. And he was teaching his followers, including all of us, that service is the route into his Kingdom. No one is too high and mighty to serve others. No one is so down and out to be unworthy of being served.
Some scholars believe there was a time in the early church when foot-washing was as much a sacrament as Holy Communion, celebrated perhaps even as a preparation for Communion. Over the course of years foot-washing fell out of liturgical fashion, perhaps because priests or congregations (like Peter) felt it was too humiliating. Oh, for Maundy Thursday the church preserved the rite but now so ritualized as to be more performance than genuinely humble service. Returning to the practice of foot-washing isn't the cure for what ails the church. Reviving the sense that God has put us here in this community, in this congregation, not to be served but to serve, willingly and joyfully, will definitely have an impact on both those who are too proud for and those who think they are too unworthy of the kind of service Jesus has performed for all of us on the Cross.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...
As most of you know by now, my family and I will be leaving Clarks Mills at the end of June. On January 26th I got the call that I knew would come one of these days. Rev. George Porter, our District Superintendent, and Rev. Pat Harbison, the Erie-Meadville District Superintendent, were on the other end of the line on a speaker phone to tell me that the Bishop and Cabinet believed I was the right choice to fill the pulpit at Trinity UMC in Conneaut Lake. On February 2, Martha, Lydia, and I met with the Pastor/Parish Relations Committee at Trinity and after that meeting I was sure it was time to make the move.
First and foremost in my reasoning is that I have always trusted God to answer the when and where questions for my ministry. I wasn't sure about Trinity as I was about Clarks Mills when I first talk to the District Superintendents. But as the next week passed, each day God added something in the way of confirmation. If I didn't believe this move was God's will, I would have turned it down. Clearly there are some benefits to accepting the move to Trinity: it is a growing church that is hungry for God's Word just like Clarks Mills was when I first came here in July 2000. Martha will be able to keep her job, which is a definite plus in this economy. Sarah, Johanna, and Lydia will still be close to their friends from Commodore Perry. Another important family consideration is that I will still be close to my parents.
What I want to make as clear as I possibly can is that we would have been more than content to stay at Clarks Mills if I believe God wanted me to stay here. You folks have brought more to my life and my growth as a pastor than you will ever know. You accepted me not only as your pastor but as a person and embraced all my foibles and quirks with a gracious love and appreciation that made me fell part of the family. You helped provide a safe, healthy environment for our daughters to grow up and and become spectacular people they are(I am a very proud father!). You have been open to new ideas, embraces visions and challenges, been flexible enough to adjust when plans have not worked out perfectly, and have worked together with and without me to witness Jesus Christ faithfully in this community. I am deeply grateful for these past 11 years!
Rev. Dayton Mix has been announced as the next pastor to help lead Clarks Mills UMC forward in ministry. As I told him when he and his wife Gay looked over the parsonage the night he met with our Staff/Parish Relations Committee, he should consider himself blessed as he is getting appointed to one of the best churches in the Annual Conference. I know you will all welcome him, love him and treat him as fairly as you welcomed me 11 years ago. While the Bishop appoints Rev. Mix here, don't ever forget that God is in charge, God is placing him here come July, and is answering our prayer for the kind of pastoral leadership who can keep this church growing in our faith and witness.
The scripture above says simply "For everything there is a season..." and this season I've been call by God to serve as pastor at Clarks Mills has been truly a blessed season for me. Seasons change, pastors change, but God and his work in and through our lived is changeless. We still have four months and a lot of work yet to accomplish together but I want to take this special opportunity to begin saying than you for a most wonderful season for me and my family.
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