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December 2014


Pastor's Message 
Can anyone believe that it is nearly December?  We are a few weeks away from Christmas… and then, a few days later, we will be entering 2015.  It hardly seems possible to me that time is moving so swiftly.

Of course, December means lots of activities are on the schedule of First Church. Advent is the anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ that is celebrated on Christmas.  There are so many ways to be involved and invested in living through the preparatory season of Advent. You will read about all of the opportunities to participate in the life of our congregation… from reading a daily Advent meditation resource… going caroling… attending ‘Blue Christmas’… being in worship… or serving in the myriad of outreach and mission ministries of First Church.

Our theme for Advent, 2014 is Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room!  Our preaching texts will focus on the Epistle Lessons for Advent, which is seldom ever done.

November 30 – The First Sunday of Advent!  The sermon title is Let the Preparations Begin with the text from I Corinthians 1: 3 – 9.

MONDAY, December 1 – at 7:00 pm is our Annual Church Conference.  District Superintendent, Bill Haggard, will be with us to review our ministry progress in 2014 as well as to begin the preparations for 2015.  EVERYONE is welcome!

December 3 – Wednesday at 7:00 pm is our monthly Taizé Sung Prayer Service. Join us to connect with God in the midst of a busy week.

December 7 – The Second Sunday of Advent!  The sermon title is Christmas Expectations!  The scripture lesson is II Peter 3: 8 – 15.  We will also celebrate communion. AND… the Blue Christmas Service is at 5:00 pm.

December 14 – The Third Sunday of Advent!  Christmas Fairy Tales is the sermon title based on I Thessalonians 5: 16 – 24.

December 20 – Saturday at 6:00 pm is our annual Jazz Lessons and Carols service featuring MacNaughton Boulevard. 

December 21 – The Fourth Sunday of Advent! There is ONE worship service this morning (10:00 am) as we enjoy an all-church family focused service of Lessons and Carols. The meditation will be titled Christmas Calls Us Home.

December 24 – Christmas Eve begins with the Community Breakfast that will be served once again along with the giving of “Casey’s Socks.”
  • 5:00 pm is The Christmas Story family-focused service.
  • 7:00 and 9:00 pm are identical services with the title of Making Room for Christ. (Luke 2: 7)
December 28 – is the First Sunday of Christmas and once again, we will have ONE morning worship service at 10:00 am.  The title of the sermon is Savoring Christmas based on Luke 2: 29 –  30.

Please make every effort to join us this Advent and Christmas Season.  Invite a friend or relative as, together, we prepare for the coming of Christ.

So… Join us this Advent season as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. Lose yourself in the beauty of worship. Find the true meaning of the season. Restore your soul. We invite you to be free and to be present.

Pastor Bob Hundley
Senior Pastor
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Radical Hospitality  
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

When I learned that was the theme for this Advent season, my mind immediately went to two thoughts:
 
Hebrews 13:2 – “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Mother Teresa – “Everyone you meet is Jesus in disguise.”

I have talked about entertaining strangers previously as part of our need to continuously improve our hospitality.  But this time, I’m thinking of us (the church) as the body of Christ.  And the heart of that body needs to prepare him room.

We have no idea where the people who come through our doors have been or what they have encountered, but we need to be the Body of Christ to them. We each have to use our individual gifts when greeting visitors and those seated around us, those we know and those we don’t.  I wonder how you were greeted the first time you came?  What made you feel welcome and comfortable as you worshiped?  May I suggest a few things you might try this Advent season?
  1. Look through the bulletin for things that a visitor might not understand or be unsure about, such as communion (offer to go with them), coffee can offering and  blue friendship pads. Stand with them during the greeting time.
  2. If you see that they have young children, talk to them about the opportunities for the children to go for Children’s time and then Faith Travelers or FISH. Then offer to help them find their children after church!
  3. Invite those around you to join you in the between/after church coffees.  Or if we are having a program or event, invite them back and offer to meet them and sit with them.

“Let Everyone Prepare Him Room” by using your personal gifts to enhance the Body of Christ to all.
Patsy McGillivray
Director of Invitational Ministry
 
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Passionate Worship 
Music surrounds us at this time of year. The 24/7 “Christmas” music on radios and in stores bombards us. It seems to come earlier and earlier each year, often on the heels of Halloween. Forget Thanksgiving and Advent (“what’s that?); they are not part of this picture. It seems that the rhythm of “church” is increasingly out of sync with market trends and commercial interests.  Of course, this is nothing new; it’s likely been this way from the start, and just as likely, the way it ought to be.  We can, like John, be the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of The Lord.

How do we prepare?

Silence. A meditative practice involving a time of silent reflection is one of the best antidotes to the seasonal “craziness” that can infect our lives. Pick up an Advent Devotional, written by our congregation and staff and set aside some time for daily reflection. The Taizé Sung Prayer Service on Wednesday, December 3 at 7:00 pm is a great opportunity as well. 

Embrace the Darkness. We are gradually moving toward the longest night of the year, which I think holds much that is sacred, holy, and mysterious. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s recent book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, she argues for a new and more positive understanding of darkness, as it relates to the Christian message. “The great hope in the Christian message is not that you will be rescued from the dark, but if you are able to trust God all the way into the dark, you may be surprised,” says Taylor. Darkness is often a holy place and time in the Biblical narrative: it was at night that the angels announce to shepherds about the birth of Christ.

Choose music that supports reflection and simplicity. I find early American music of Appalachia to be particularly refreshing and grounding. It hearkens back to another time that did not include the over-wrought sentimentality which marks much of today’s commercial offerings.

Give good gifts one to another,
Peace, joy, and comfort gladly bestow;
Harbor no ill ‘gainst sister or brother,
Smooth life’s journey, as you onward go.
Broad as the sunshine, free as the showers,
So shed an influence, blessing to prove,
Give for the noblest of efforts your pow’rs;
Blest and be blest, is the law of love.

What a marvelous message that is found in the Shaker hymn. May you offer and find a blessing of peace, joy, and comfort in this holy season. 
Eric Strand
Director of Music and the Arts

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 Intentional Faith Development
First Church has a long history of discussing and carefully working through challenging issues.  Based on the current political and religious contention that seems to exist on human sexuality, we believe it is time to study, discuss and prepare to take a stand regarding the civil rights of marriage equality as well as full inclusion of the LGBTQ community within the church. There are regular media reports of what are now 32 states that have affirmed marriage equality. It appears that the current Michigan law (based on a recent decision of the Court of Appeals) will be challenged with a hearing likely to be heard by the Supreme Court. There is regular conflict reported of United Methodist clergy who perform same-sex union ceremonies, which violates the current Book of Discipline. Clergy trials across the denomination are numerous. We have had two clergy in the Michigan area brought before our Bishop after presiding at same-sex unions. A ‘just-resolution agreement’ in both cases has settled the complaints without trials. All of this has led to talk of division within the United Methodist Church.  

Earlier this year, a book entitled Finding Our Way: Love and Law in the United Methodist Church was published by Abingdon Press. It is edited by Bishop Rueben P. Job and publisher Neil M. Alexander. They begin the book by stating in the introduction:
 
We have choices to make. We make important choices in how we honor God, follow Jesus, live together, work for justice, love mercy, and treat each other. We make choices when we search for, live out, and bear witness to the truth.

Of late, we see an increasing preference for polarizing declarations about what is and is not consistent with Christian teaching. We hear competing appeals to strictly follow or completely abandon some dictates of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. In these and other ways people are drawing lines in the sand and demanding that folks choose a side on which they will stand.



For more than forty years, deep conflict and struggle have marked our dialogue and governance about the church’s teaching on same-gender relationships and the celebration of marriage. The application of the church’s teaching affects the qualifications for the ordained ministry. And now some say the time for holy conversation is over and it is time to rally around various viewpoints and stand their ground. (Finding Our Way, page 1)

First Church has always prided itself on being a church open to all people.  Believers and doubters, rich and poor, female and male, and racially diverse members and attenders are all welcome!  We have also welcomed straight and gay and lesbian and bi-sexual and transgendered persons. When we say all are welcome, we mean all! There are no exceptions!

Beginning in January, we will offer at least two (and hopefully three) class times to discuss this important book along with the issues of division that are threatening the church today.  Rev. Dr. Bob Hundley will hold classes on Wednesday evenings (January 7, 14, 28 and February 4) at 6:00 p.m.  I will lead a class on Sunday evenings, 5:00 – 6:30 pm, January 11 – February 1.  Rev. Dick Youells and Mr. George Bob will offer a class on Sunday mornings, 9:30-10:30 am, January 11 - February 1. We invite and encourage everyone to prayerfully consider joining in on this important conversation.
 
Pastor Tish Bowman
Associate Pastor

Risk-Taking Mission and Service
Helping Homeless Children and Their Families

The volunteers, supporters, and community leaders at First United Methodist Church have made an incredible impact for children and their families facing homelessness in Grand Rapids.   While the spiritual impact of First Church’s compassion and hospitality is priceless; the dollar value of First’s service to its urban neighbors is an estimated $497,365!

In 1997 First UMC became one of the 15 founding congregations of the Family Promise of Grand Rapids Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN).  Over the past seventeen years, First Church members have bettered the lives of children and families in ways as diverse as its membership.  More than “just” providing emergency shelter for families, First volunteers have cooked meals, comforted babies, lent a friendly ear, provided clothing and supplies, donated funds and even served as leaders on our board of directors. Here’s how it adds up:   
  • First Church volunteers contribute 1,200 volunteer hours a year, totaling more than 20,400 hours since 1997.  The conservative value of those total hours is more than $374,952!
  • First Church’s ministry with Family Promise includes 420 meals served per year, nourishing struggling families with 7,140 meals since the beginning, valued at over $30,000
  • First Church has sheltered over 7,000 bed nights since the beginning. The value of those bed nights is nearly $75,000 in total.  

From under your roof, you have faithfully changed the future for almost 350 families, especially their children.  Through First Church’s combined and sustained efforts, 90% of our families find a home on leaving shelter and 87% are still housed a year later.  This is how First Church’s long commitment with our families has sustained change for families, and increased the stability that children need to thrive developmentally.  We are grateful that the leaders and members of First Church are walking with our families in their time of need.
Thank You, 
Your Friends from Family Promise


An Invitation

Over the past few years we have found it increasingly difficult to find enough volunteers to staff our host weeks.  Our Family Promise coordinators, Social Concerns Committee, and staff are having  discussions about the feasibility of continuing this ministry. We are committed to host families again during the week of January 18, 2015. 

Please contact Laure Mieskowski at laurem@grandrapidsfumc.org or 616.451.2879 if you would like to learn more about this ministry, discuss Family Promise’s future at FUMC, or volunteer. 

Laure Mieskowski,
Director of Mission and Outreach

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 Extravagantly Generous 
Year-end Strategies

Year-end gifts to the church keep me very busy.  Please keep in mind that year-end checks mailed to the church must be postmarked by December 31, 2014. Please indicate in the memo section of the check what the check is for: General Fund 2014, Tower Fund, pre-pay for General Fund 2015, etc.  

If you are planning a year-end stock gift, check with your financial advisor as to the timing of the gift so that it will be in the church’s possession by December 31, 2014.  With the holiday season, there are days that the Federal Reserve is closed and this can affect the timing of electronic stock transfers.  Once the decision is made, please either call me or send me an email to let me know what stock to expect, and where you want the proceeds applied.

Here are some strategies to consider before gifting stock. Consider a gift of appreciated securities instead of cash whenever you prefer not to incur capital gains tax, as in the following circumstances:
  • When a takeover is imminent, rather than tendering the securities, donate them to First Church.  The church does not incur capital gains tax when it sells the security.
  • When you are upgrading your portfolio, donate appreciated, low dividend stock. Use your cash to purchase stocks, which pay higher dividends.  
  • When you want to increase your total cost basis in a stock that you intend to hold, gift your low cost basis shares of this security to your church.  Use your cash to purchase more of the same stock at the current market price and thereby increase your total cost basis without incurring any capital gains tax.  
  • When a security has depreciated, it may be best to sell the security and donate the proceeds so that you can take advantage of the loss.  The church is not able to recognize the loss from securities that are donated.  

Before taking advantage of the strategies listed above, keep in mind that your portfolio is unique to you.  Talk with your financial advisor and/or tax advisor to see what is the best strategy for you.
 
Sharon Sorensen
Church Treasurer & Legacy Administrator
 
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Compassionate Care
One Tuesday

I begin Tuesday morning at 6:15 am at Meijer Heart Center with a man who is undergoing major surgery. His family joins me in holding hands and circling his stretcher while I pray. It’s going to be a very long day for all of them. From the pre-op area, I go to cardiac ICU to peek in on the grandfather of one of our members who had heart surgery last week. No family is present at this early hour but I stand at his bedside and pray for him. From ICU I head over to the maternity floor where I visit 7-hour old baby Grayson and his mom. What a joy it is to hold him and hear the wonderful story of his birth! I pray with them, welcoming him into this world. All this before 7:30 am on a Tuesday morning!

I head into the office and start recruiting donors for the November 24 blood drive. I have 36 people signed up who are willing to spend an hour at a busy time of year to help save a life.
After lunch, I head over to one of our dear 90+ member’s home. He hasn’t been able to come to worship in quite some time but loves to hear what is happening at church and with his friends. I bring another staff member with me who gives him chocolate cupcakes. Within a couple hours after the visit, I hear from his daughter saying how much we have brightened his day.

I stop by Clark to deliver a prayer quilt to one of our ailing members. She has cards from our Caring Connection on the desk in her room.

At 5:00 pm, I deliver a meal made by another member of our congregation to someone who is home recovering from surgery. She and her husband are so grateful for this help at a stressful time for them.

In the evening I call one of our Stephen Ministers to see if he is willing to meet with a man who is struggling. I then call and talk with two of our members who are undergoing chemotherapy to see how they are doing and if we can help with meals or transportation this week. A woman calls with concerns about a wayward child. I listen, pray with her, and refer her to our Church Assistance Program (CAP) for counseling. 

It was a pretty typical day for me but I couldn’t do what I do without you! You are the ones who provide compassionate care by making booties and prayer blankets for our newborns, training as Stephen Ministers to provide extraordinary care, sewing prayer quilts, providing meals for new parents and those recovering from surgery or undergoing cancer treatment, giving rides to chemo or doctor appointments, donating blood to save lives, financially supporting our CAP program, and sending notes and cards to those experiencing a loss or health challenge. 

Unique opportunities to provide compassionate care in December include inviting someone who has experienced a loss to our Blue Christmas service, Christmas caroling to our homebound and hospitalized members, and sending Christmas cards to our seniors.

God has blessed us so that we may be a blessing and comfort to others.  Thanks be to God!

Peace and joy,
Marj Timmerman RN
Parish Nurse