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November 2014

Pastor's Message 
November is an important month in the congregational life of First Church.  Each Sunday throughout the month has a special emphasis that is important to us all.

November 2 – is All Saints Day.  
Eric’s article gives a historic perspective about ‘why’ this celebration of life is important to the community of faith.  Acknowledging the transition from this life to life everlasting is important for every congregation!

November 9 – is a Baptism Sunday.  We have 6 baptisms scheduled so far!  PLUS … our Stewardship Campaign for 2015 kicks off on the 9th on the theme “Am I Extravagantly Generous?”  Join our Methodist Connection brothers and sisters at 5 pm for our annual worship service and pie social at First Community AME Church. 

November 16 – is week 2 of our Stewardship emphasis.  Pastor Tish will be preaching and I will be the speaker at the 175th anniversary celebration at a former pastorate in Mason, Michigan.  A Different Kind of Christmas Fair will be held throughout the morning in Wesley Hall. 

November 23 – is not only the Sunday before Thanksgiving with the ‘Ingathering,” but it is also Consecration Sunday.  It is when we bring in our ‘Estimate of Giving’ card for 2015 so that the Finance Committee can build the budget for next year. Brunch will be held in Wesley Hall.   This is vital – in order for us to set the ministry direction for the coming year!  Please begin praying about the role YOU play in giving your time … talents … and treasures for 2015.

And …

November 30 – is the First Sunday of Advent!

What a GREAT month!  However … what is NOT included in this edition is also important for you to note as we look forward as a congregation.  So please take the opportunity to put the following dates on your calendar.

December 1 - at 7 pm is our Annual Church Conference.

January 10 – 9 am - 12 pm, will be a Congregational Vision Dialogue to hear and interact with the findings and planning of the Vision Team who have been working for over a year.  They are getting ready to roll-out a three-year strategic plan – that is exciting for First Church!

January 18 – is our Ecumenical Sunday with Father John Geaney preaching.  Father “G” (as he is affectionately called by his parishioners), is the Rector at The Cathedral of St. Andrew who is a marvelous preacher and friend in ministry!

February 8 – Rev. Neil Davis, Senior Pastor of the Southfield Hope United Methodist Church, and former District Superintendent of the Kalamazoo District, will be our pulpit guest.  Neil is a good friend and colleague who will bring an African-American presence to worship.

March 14 – 15 – Dr. James Forbes will be with us for the weekend to teach classes and preach on the topic, “What does it mean to be a ‘Progressive Christian?’  For twenty years, Dr. Forbes was the Senior Pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City and has been named by Time Magazine as one of the finest and most influential preachers in America.

What a GREAT November … and what a promising beginning to 2015 for the ministry of First Church.  I invite and encourage each person to come and be a part of our journey … and invite someone you care about to come and be a part too!
Pastor Bob
Senior Pastor
Table of Contents
Radical Hospitality  
One of the beautiful and wonderful things about being part of a church family is its vast potential for diversity. Each one of us brings something unique to the body and, as in every family, we grow as we learn to appreciate and support one another.  You never know whom you might encounter on Sunday, but with an open heart you just might be a radical blessing.
Someone who is struggling to care for an elderly parent during the week may come to church seeking the ear of one with a similar experience. Radical hospitality would lead us to be receptive to this person’s needs: to ask, “How is your mom doing?” when it appears that he is ready to talk, or to squeeze his hand and smile warmly so he knows you are there to support him. In turn, he will do the same for you. 

Someone who was just accepted into the graduate program of her dreams may come to church excited and nervous about what is to come. Radical hospitality would lead us to congratulate her, invite her over for a home-cooked meal mid-semester, and remember to pray for her. In turn, she will do the same for you, and for the next nervous grad-to-be.

Someone who brings a gaggle of children to church may be there because he recognizes the importance of teaching and showing children the value of worshiping together.  When his children talk loudly, drop the hymnals repeatedly, and continue singing after the song is over, radical hospitality would lead us to smile, never judge, thank the Lord for their presence in our church, and ensure that the entire family feels welcomed and loved. In turn, they will do the same for you and for another young family. 

Radical hospitality means looking outside of ourselves – making room for the other. It is not an easy practice, to be radically hospitable, but it draws each of us closer to Jesus and to each other. This Sunday, I challenge you to try greeting three people that you are not familiar with; you just might be a radical blessing.
Audrey Kawel
Director of Children’s Ministry
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Passionate Worship 
“For All the Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest”

For me, this time of year brings a certain nostalgia, or remembrance.  Seasonal changes bring colorful and falling leaves, and evoke a turn inward, both physically inside to the warmth of a fire, and metaphorically, toward interior reflection on life and death.  The church as well seems to sense this pattern and celebrates three days:  All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.  

For many years now we have celebrated All Saints Day, in which those who have died in the past year are remembered with their name and picture as family or representatives are present to light a candle.  A bell is tolled.  

A United Methodist’s understanding of the saints differs from that of the Church of England, out of which came the Methodist revival or movement in the 18th century.  United Methodists do not have a system in which saints are elected or “canonized,” do not pray to the saints themselves, or expect saints to act as a mediator between themselves and God.  “…There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself, a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6a)

John Wesley encouraged reflection and learning from the lives of the “saints,” but did not encourage the worship of the saints, and said that “most of the holy days were at present answering no valuable end.” United Methodists call people “saints” because they demonstrate the Christian life, and in this way, all Christians can be considered saints.

And yet, as United Methodists, we can still celebrate the saints; celebrate those in the faith who have gone before us, and embrace the mystery of their presence still in our lives.  We can celebrate the sainthood that we all share, and we can all strive to “run with perseverance the race set out for us.”  

In religious practice, a triduum is a three-day period of prayer and highlights important observances in the life of the church and in the life of our relationship to Christ.  The “great” triduum refers to those three days that Christ lay in the tomb before his resurrection on Easter morning.  Another triduum is found in the three days observed at the end of October: All Hallows Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day, and All Souls day.  Halloween is a complex mix of both religious and non-religious traditions, some very ancient, and these traditions continue to evolve.  I’m reminded of the old Scottish prayer that goes “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!”  Perhaps you can think about that as you pass out candy this Halloween.

“O blest communion, fellowship divine!  We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!” (Stanza 4, Hymn 711)

One consistent feature of saints hymns is the frequent and repeated use of “Alleluia.” Alleluia is the song of the angels. In this is recalled an ancient Christian prayer, often used at funerals, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”  Come, let us worship.
Eric Strand
Director of Music and the Arts

Table of Contents
 Intentional Faith Development
Faith Developed

Why does First Church focus on Intentional Faith Development?  
Why does my faith need developing?  What does ‘developed’ faith look like?

I’d like to share a glimpse of what developing faith, fruitful faith, might look like:
  • Developing faith looks like students studying Jesus’ life.  Then, as a result of these studies: working to include everyone (no exceptions!), caring for the poor, being kind to outcasts.
  • Developing faith looks like young adults extending Christ’s love through sandwiches and friendliness at Veterans’ Park. 
  • Developing faith looks like my 6-year old son saying “God is with us,” every time he blows out a candle. 

Developing faith also looks like 60+ volunteers at our ArtPrize Lot Party, even though the weather was dreadful!  The weather was so bad, that it even hailed on us!  But our volunteers were real troopers.  They stood outside and welcomed in the stranger, offered kindness and coffee to the damp visitors to 
Grand Rapids, included children in the creation of art.  I call that faith-producing fruit, ‘frozen’ fruit for those who helped outside.

Despite the crazy Lot Party weather, we also had the opportunity to share in communion under our cold and breezy tent.  Our communion table, on World Wide Communion Sunday, was extended beyond the sanctuary by Rev. Dick Youells, who offered communion to over forty people in our tent before the picnic.  It was amazing to share in the Lord’s Supper with so many of our Heartside neighbors! 

First Church offers so many ways to develop your faith, but leaves the intentional part up to you.  How might you be intentional in your faith development?  Is it time to sign up for a Sunday school class?  Join an Advent group this fall?  Intentional faith development leads to wonderful fruits of change in our community and beyond.  Now is the time to get developing! 
Sami Marasigan
Director of Youth and Young Adults

PS – A BIG THANK YOU to all the Lot Party Volunteers!!!

Risk-Taking Mission and Service
A Different Kind of Christmas

Have you ever hunted for a Christmas gift for someone who has more than they need? Do you tell yourself that you’ll cut down on the craziness of the mall frenzy only to find yourself drawn back to the shops (or the internet) one more time? Do you ever feel a bit disappointed after all the gifts are opened? You are not alone. I have struggled with these very feelings. The hoopla of a commercial Christmas so easily overshadows the simplicity of the story of the birth of Christ. 

Years ago, my husband Dick and I struggled between a desire to dazzle our young children on Christmas morning and a nagging feeling that we were emphasizing the wrong thing.  We talked about what values we wanted our children to have and decided to spend less on gifts for them (and ourselves!). We tried to take the amount of money we spent on our family and give a matching amount away. Our family Christmas shopping always included purchases for families at Henry School (now MLK Leadership Academy). The adults in our extended family chose to give to our favorite charities instead of buying gifts for each other. We focused our family time on the nightly lighting of our Advent wreath candles, decorating our home, baking cookies, participating in church activities, regularly attending Sunday morning worship, and attending services on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve services were always followed by special treats, laughter, and Christmas movies. 

One Christmas season we were struggling to help Dick’s father through a difficult illness. Many of our Christmas traditions were set aside and very few family gifts were purchased.  One of our daughters said, “That’s okay Mom.  The only thing I care about is going to the Christmas Eve service together.  That is what we do on Christmas!” Her statement was the best Christmas gift I received that year. 

First Church offers many opportunities for us to prepare to celebrate a different kind of Christmas this year by: Attending the Advent Conspiracy class beginning on Sunday evening, November 2; exploring how to give alternative gifts through A Different Kind of Christmas Fair on Sunday, November 16; attending worship every Sunday during Advent; using the Advent devotional to spend time in prayer and contemplation each day; giving the gift of time to others by Christmas caroling with the Methodist Connection on December 6 and to our church homebound members on December 16. 

I must admit, I am now tempted to buy too many gifts for my grandchildren! I continue to remind myself that Christmas is not about the gifts we give and receive.  Join me in examining how to create the right balance between Christmas fun, ministry to others, and acknowledgement of Christ’s holy birth.  Join me in celebrating a different kind of Christmas this year!

“When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy…. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew: 2:10-11
Laure Mieskowski,
Director of Mission and Outreach

Table of Contents
 Extravagantly Generous 
Our Annual Giving Campaign will soon be upon us once again. For most churches, this is a really uncomfortable time of year, and the whole topic of church giving is treated as a dreadful necessity. At First Church however, the Finance and Stewardship Committee truly looks forward to our annual campaign. You have probably noticed that we work hard to interject some of the truly inspirational stories of our active ministry that are enabled by our generous giving, and we even try to have some fun with our campaigns.

Throughout the year, we discuss the spiritual context of Christian Stewardship. We do this so that when it comes time to make the Estimate of Giving for the coming year, we are centered in our faith such that giving is simply an extension of our commitment to Christ’s church.

This year, we have chosen the theme… “Am I Extravagantly Generous?” Our goal with this campaign is to challenge each of us to look at what we give, and ask…are we truly “all in” as Christians?

There are unbelievable acts of Extravagant Generosity that take place within our church every day. We have those in our church family who literally balance the need for groceries with their giving. There are those whom most of us would never suspect who quietly and regularly make generous donations to various programs and ministries every week - in addition to their already generous weekly giving. There are those who respond with their time whenever a plea is made. These wonderful folks do not crave recognition, nor do they respond because they are coaxed. They are Extravagantly Generous because they have allowed God into their hearts in very personal and meaningful ways.

So as you begin to contemplate your giving for 2015, spend time praying about not simply what you will give, but about where God stands in the various priorities in your life. For those I mentioned above, glorifying God comes first…and everything else follows. Are you there yet? Could 2015 be the year that you put God first? Just think of the power of our ministry if we were all Extravagantly Generous!
Chris Hawkins
Finance Committee
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Compassionate Care
When I joined the church in 1998, it was the compassion our church showed in its outreach programs that attracted me most. I quickly joined the Social Concerns Committee and have been actively reaching out to others through our ministries ever since. 

Over the past two years I have been able to experience that compassion first hand. In May 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was Katrina’s senior year of high school and I was extremely busy with all of the end-of-senior year activities. Then I was totally floored by the diagnosis. But then again, this kind of diagnosis never comes at a convenient time. While undergoing further testing, Marj came to Lemmen-Holton to pray with me, and the senior high youth staff offered their prayers and help not only for me, but also for both of my children. Then before my surgery, Marj once again came to offer prayers for me and one of the pastors was there afterward for a visit. Katrina’s open house was two days after my surgery. Some friends and a couple of church members stepped up and did a wonderful job decorating The Vine for the event.

A couple of weeks after my surgery, one of the pastors came to my home for a visit and brought me a beautiful prayer quilt. I have taken it with me for every chemo treatment and it calms me to know that I am covered with the love and prayers of the congregation. Earlier this year, I found out my cancer had metastasized and I had to go back on chemotherapy. Both times I was on chemo, I received many cards from members of the Caring Connection, the staff and various members of the congregation. Some were from people I knew well, while others were from members I had never spoken with before. 

Our meals ministry was a Godsend. Both times I was on chemotherapy, we received healthy, generous meals a few times per week prepared by members of the church congregation and family friends. Neither my children, nor I, while feeling poorly, had to do much to prepare these meals and I did not have to worry about what my children would be eating. I had people calling stating they wanted to bring a meal but the meal list was full and could they bring something anyway.

You’ve heard the term, “It takes a village.” Well, I was overwhelmed with the caring support of our church staff and congregation.  I had rides to appointments, to chemotherapy and even shopping; I received encouraging words of support on my carepage; books were given to me to read; and a family from the congregation along with my children and a few friends put a new roof on my house at a greatly reduced cost.  This greatly reduced the stress that comes along with having cancer and I will forever be thankful.

I have felt so very blessed to be a part of this congregation and grateful for all of the compassionate care I have received during my time of need. My extended family was amazed at how much support was given to me during these difficult times. It comforts my family and me to know that when God puts unexpected bumps in our paths that we have a church family whose compassion and support are never ending. 

Lynne Beals