From the Pastor… March 2021
During the Ash Wednesday service on the first day of Lent, I invited you all to observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word. While you may be aware of this season leading up to Easter, you may wonder how you might “observe a holy Lent.”
There is no one prescribed way. Instead, we are each encouraged to find our own method of confronting our sinfulness, remembering our mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation we receive through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the more common practices is to give something up for Lent. Some abstain from chocolate, social media, shopping or something else through the season. This is a religious practice we know as fasting. We fast to reorient ourselves away from the distraction of those things, and back toward God.
Another way to reorient your life toward God, is to focus on devotional practiceslike Bible study and prayer during the season.
Many do not know where to begin when reading the Bible. May I suggest reading from a devotional such as Upper Room or downloading a free Bible app like “You Version” to help guide you in this pursuit. The nice thing about the Upper Room Devotional Guide is it provides a scripture passage and wonderfully thought-provoking and spirit-enriching material to read and think about each day.
In the busyness of our everyday lives, prayer can sometimes get squeezed out. Lent is a wonderful time to intentionally work toward finding more time in your life for prayer. You can experiment with different ways to pray during the season, or really delve into a new-to-you way of praying. Enriching your prayer life is a great way to spend Lent.
Another way to observe a holy Lent is to take on a new way of serving. Throughout the forty days of the season, you can adopt a new habit of volunteering in the community or making special financial gifts.
An important practice with which many of us struggle is the spiritual discipline of rest or Sabbath. We don’t have to rest on Saturday, the traditional Sabbath day, or even Sunday. You can instead find moments during an ordinary day to be still in God’s presence. You might choose to spend a few minutes during lunch with a desktop meditationor listen to sermons during your commute. Each can be a great way of enriching your Lent.
Our church offered services on Ash Wednesday to begin Lent, and there are plans of offering other special services during Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. There may also be special times of prayer, study, and other gatherings that will help you continue your journey throughout the season.
Observe a holy Lent
This 40-day journey called Lent is a wonderful opportunity to grow in your faith. Find your path of self-reflection and spiritual discovery, and invite others to join you as you seek to observe a holy Lent.
February: From the Pastor…
Did you know that on average, three or four families contact our church every month seeking financial assistance? It may be that they need help with paying their rent or utilities and sometimes they need help with purchasing food, gas, or clothing. Between the Resale Shop and the Food Pantry, we are normally able to provide assistance with clothing needs or food items, but when it comes to financial assistance, what we do is offer these people phone numbers of local organizations like the New Durham Trustees office which offers assistance to those in need. There are a couple of places that offer financial aid to those that live in our community and we make sure that they are able to connect with these places so they could possibly get the help they are looking for.
In November, I was approached by a very young mother of 2 children that were suffering from a medical condition. She swallowed her pride and came to me in search of help. She had lost her job due to cutbacks related to the pandemic and was struggling financially. She was unable to pay her rent and her NIPSCO bill had reached $175.00. What was I supposed to do? I gave her the contact information of the places she could go to get assistance and she informed me that she had already contacted them and was unable to get any help from them. The first thing that came to my mind was the first century early church. What would they have done if someone came to them in need?
The scriptures say in 1 John 3: 17-18, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” Now I’m not saying that the church is approaching the needs of the community with “no compassion”. We are compassionate in directing those in need to places that can help. But my question was, “Why can’t we be the place that helps?” The easy answer is that we don’t have the funds to help people out financially. I would like to change that.
I recently learned a new word…Benevolence. It is the quality of being well meaning, kindness. A disposition to do good; an act of kindness; a generous gift. I am excited to announce that your Church Council Members recently voted on and approved a “Benevolence Fund”. As an integral part of the ministry of the Westville United Methodist Church and in accordance with our desire to be the missional church in our community, the Benevolence Fund will provide financial assistance to individuals or families who are experiencing financial hardship.
There has been a couple of times when people in the church have approached me wanting to help someone out. These people give regularly to the church through their tithes and offerings but wanted to give a little extra above and beyond their normal giving. Now, we have a fund set up for just this purpose. If you would like to make a donation towards the Benevolence Fund, please indicate that on your check or envelope. If you would like to know more information about this fund, a copy of the policy will be available in the church office. Again, I cannot stress enough that your donation towards this fund should be in addition to your regular giving so that we can continue to pay the bills.
What else does scripture say about helping out our brothers and sisters?
Proverbs 19: 17 – “If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord – and he will repay you!”
Deuteronomy 15: 7-8 – “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.”
Hebrews 13:16 – “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”
Matthew 25: 34-35 – 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
Thank you so much for being such a loving and generous church with a mind for local and global missions. You are making a difference – and now we are able to do a little bit more!
From the Pastor…
Hello church, and Happy New Year to all of you! Have you ever welcomed in a New Year – and hopefully, a new start – more than the way we have been looking forward to the end of 2020? As we enter into this new year with hope and anticipation of things to come, let us not completely forget (not that we can) all that has happened in this past year.
We welcomed 2020 with open arms like we would any other year…not knowing that this would not be like any other year we have experienced.
In February, we showered Bill Olson with birthday cards from everyone in the congregation as we recognized and celebrated his 90th birthday. His family would surprise him by showing up to church for worship followed by a party with cake and punch and a menagerie of photos from his life. We would have an Ash Wednesday Service, kick off the Lenten Fish Fries, and add one extra day to the calendar as we observed Leap Year!
March would be the last time the Men’s Breakfast Club would meet at the Greenway Café. As we were all preparing to celebrate Easter, on March 15th, Jan Buchanan would deliver the last service in the sanctuary titled, “Jesus Stepped In”, where she showcased stories of hope and faith from those who attend our church. On March 16th, the decision was made to cancel in-person church services, the fish fries, and the operations at the Resale Shop due to the announcement of a global pandemic known as coronavirus or COVID-19. Realizing the need to stay connected as a church family, we introduced a temporary solution that became known as “Bag-O-Church” where bags were passed out in a drive-thru fashion that contained scripture readings, coloring pages, crafts, and pictures. As we began to receive more information about the virus and wanted to keep everyone safe, the distribution of bags ended after a couple of weeks. Our church partnered with the Westville Schools to assist with passing out meals to the families of children that would not be receiving breakfast and lunch due to school closings.
In April, in-person services continued to be cancelled and we started to worship virtually through weekly online video messages posted on YouTube, Facebook and links sent out by email. We were making weekly phone calls to our parishioners to stay connected in a time when it was unsafe to be together physically.
Our Care & Share ministry continued to operate in May and in addition to the Backpack Ministry, our church supported 7 Westville families with weekly grocery boxes including staples such as eggs, butter, bread, meat, potatoes, etc. Kay Tetzloff played a huge roll in this expression of love and compassion and we are so grateful for her missional heart. Drive-In church services began to be our “new normal” way of worship. At the end of May, I was invited to visit Bill Olson in the hospital. It would be the last time I would visit with him. I would officiate at his funeral in June.
In June, we recognized that Drive-In Services and virtual worship was working really well for us and found ourselves sitting outside on lawn chairs in the sun listening over portable radios on 91.3 FM thanks to the multi-talented and gifted Jerde Family to whom I am forever grateful. We awarded Joey Stark with a church scholarship and wished him luck as he prepared to leave for college at Mount St. Joseph. We also offered well wishes to David and Sunny McKee as they picked up and moved to Chicago where they could be closer to their new grandson and offer their assistance in caring for him.
In July, after going back and forth on when we would return to the sanctuary and following Governor Holcomb’s 5-part plan – we took on a new attitude of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We also shifted our focus from the Governor’s plan to that of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and his 3 Simple Rules that state, “Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God.” In July, we would host a blood drive that would end up having 26 donors with 7 of them being first time donors. In an effort to connect with the community during this time, we hosted an outdoor movie night in partnership with Jimmy’s Grub & Pub where we showed the animated movie “Toy Story” on the south lawn of the church.
August provided more opportunities to reach out to the community of Westville by continuing the annual tradition of offering the Free Farmers Market on Mondays. We would also host Power Lab One Day Vacation Bible School where our children and volunteers would be wearing masks and sanitizing and washing their hands often throughout the day. Steve Swanson would approach me again about him wanting to be baptized by full immersion. This time, he offered a great location to be able to do it. We would pack up and head out to Clear Lake for a Service of Baptism at the lakeside property of a very generous and welcoming couple. Unfortunately, Steve would need to be in quarantine on the day of this service but would later be baptized at a separate service. However, we would have 60 people in attendance and 6 people inspired to be fully immersed in the lake as they renewed their baptismal covenants. The generous family that owned the property has offered their space to us as an annual off-site service location. Continuing to keep our focus on being active and present in the community and looking for new ways to serve – Rob and Sue Klett built, installed, and stocked a Blessings Box on the South side of the church. This blessings box contains non-perishable foods, literature, and a place for people to leave prayer requests. It continues to be used by people in the neighborhood. What an amazing gift.
We did make our way back into the sanctuary in September and celebrated World Communion Sunday together. It was not long before we learned that a couple of people from our church had tested positive for the virus and the decision to go back to drive-in and virtual services was made. The virus hitting so close to home is what led to our decision to cancel Trunk-or-Treat on the Halloween weekend. You have no idea how thankful I am that those infected with the virus have fully recovered and that their cases were relatively mild. God is good, all the time.
Keeping with the tradition that was just started the previous year, we provided Thanksgiving food baskets to 4 different families in our community and delivered turkeys and all the trimmings to their homes.
As I am writing this, I am also preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with our first Drive-In Christmas Eve service at 11p.m. The weather forecast suggests that it will be about 23 degrees as I am standing out in the parking lot delivering the message. I am actually hoping for snow. Wouldn’t that be nice?
While this past year has been full of…let’s say, “surprises”, I passionately believe that it has created memories that will stick with us – and also it has created opportunities for us to reimagine how we can be the church. How we can continue to be missional in our communities. How we can continue to be together – connected by the Holy Spirit. How we can do all the good we can – do no harm – and stay in love with God when our circumstances may call us to question His very existence.
As we enter into this new year, I pray that you all stay healthy and that you never forget that – God loves you – and I love you – and there is nothing you can do about it.
Peace, Pastor Toby
Pastor Toby Guill