Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Excerpts from Church Conference report

Church Conference for JUMC
held at First Bethel UMC, 7 PM,

“…holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.”
– Psalm 93:5

It is a joy to be a part of the family of Jefferson United Methodist Church as we celebrate our 165th year of ministry. The congregation has a wonderful legacy of love and mission, and I feel blessed to be a part of her story. Our area is growing, and our circle of influence grows with it.

Some exciting things have been happening in our congregational family:

* While numbers are rarely a primary indicator of missional faithfulness, our average participation in Sunday worship has increased significantly in the past 2 ½ years; our baptisms and our new members are vastly outpacing funerals and transfers, which is a positive “turnaround trend”;
* We continue to get more visitors each week, and are retaining most of them;
* We have completed a bold building plan to improve and modernize our physical facilities, connecting our worship center with our education building and making some much needed repairs;
* Our new folks have been getting very active in the life of our congregation, in study groups, leadership opportunities and mission;
* We utilize our technological capabilities more efficiently, making use of power point and video in worship and in study;
* In the community, I have been meeting with area clergy in the hopes of gaining greater cooperation in ministry, and our West Jefferson Hills Ministerium continues to do wonderful things, from worship gatherings to collaborative missional efforts.

It has been a busy and positive year! And yet, there are even greater things in our future...

2009 will be my third full year in ministry at Jefferson church, unless our Bishop and his Cabinet determine that a change is in order (which is always a possibility in our connectional system). As I prepare for my third year, the number “3” has been running through my mind. With my love of music and respect for the great hymnody of the Church, the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy!” has been a frequent refrain. This beautiful classic, with an 1826 text by Reginald Heber, extols the glory of the Triune God:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
I have been reflecting on this hymn for the past several months, praying it several times a week as part of my devotional life. I believe we are being challenged by the Spirit to focus in 2009 on “holiness”…the holiness of God and our own calling to be holy for Jesus’ sake in the midst of a broken world. Holiness, after all, was a crucial aspect of John Wesley’s ministry and the early Methodist message, and is an important part of our faith heritage.

Holiness is more than just living simple, healthy lives (though that’s important); it is being fully devoted to Jesus. The Kingdom of God is described as ‘the Way of Holiness’…

“…a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness.”
– Isaiah 35:8

How might we be more holy? Spend more time in prayer with our Heavenly Father? Read and study Scripture more effectively? Be more intent about our marriage and family commitments? Serve the poor, the lonely, and the lost with greater passion? Be more obedient regarding our attendance and participation in congregational worship? Stand against societal sins such as racism and sexism with more vigor? Love one another and our neighbors with less compromise?

Rather than listing goals for the next ministry year, I will be urging us to reflect on the theme of holiness in 2009 - what it means to serve a holy God and what it means to be a holy people. My expectation is that as we reflect upon this theme, the Spirit will open to us new possibilities for growth and effective disciple-making. We serve a God who honors faithful, honest reflection!

My only goal, then, for 2009, as a pastor and a leader of this wonderful congregation, is that we “take time to be holy”, and seek Jesus’ holy character in our own lives. I believe that we will be transformed in significant ways, as will our community.

May God continue to bless the people of Jefferson United Methodist Church and all that we do to build Christ’s Kingdom.
Pastor Keith H. McIlwain
November 4, 2008

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