Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 Charge Conference

We had our 2010 Charge Conference at Anderson Memorial UMC in Gretna. The Mount Airy Charge was three of the nine churches represented at the conference. Our group mission project for the whole group was to collect non-perishable foods for the Northern Pittsylvania County Food Bank. The food bank had a truck waiting as we were arriving, so we could drop off our things before going into the meeting.
Larry Davies, the District Superintendent of the Lynchburg District, was meeting members of the district as they arrived.
Larry has a way of telling stories to make a point. This time he called folks up to the front to make his point. It was a call for the churches to be more intentional on reaching out to those outside the church and even those who may be antagonistic to the church.
Each church or charge was asked to give a report of where their church or churches are in ministry. The following is the report I read for the three churches of the Mount Airy Charge.

We have emphasized our call to be in ministry to Jerusalem, Judea, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The three churches are and have always been very good at watching over and caring for the members of their congregations, whether they are ill, homebound, or in nursing homes. Republican Grove UMC has a tradition of delivering bags of groceries to area shut-ins during the Christmas season. Prayer time on Sunday often becomes reporting time on conditions and visits. That is their Jerusalem.
They also reach and support organizations in the community the minister to people. All three churches supported area charities such as; the Halifax and Pittsylvania County food banks, The 640 Rescue Squad, God’s Pit Crew, the Society of Saint Andrew, and Mill Stone Meals on Wheels. The congregation of Saint Andrews UMC started a “Community Help Fund”, through which they donated over $500 to area families and individuals in need. They raise funds for the help Fund by selling hot dogs and drinks at a Pumpkin Patch owned by one of the members. This is their Judea. The United Methodist Women, with only three members, supports a child in the Dominican Republic and collects item for a prison ministry. Members of all three churches came together for a Haiti Support Service. We collected two truckloads of items to deliver to “Gleaning for the World” to be sent to Haiti. They also raised $400 that was sent to long term missionaries serving in Haiti. They also supported the Lynchburg District in its effort with “Stop Hunger Now” to pack over 100,000 rice packs to be sent to Haiti. This was their work for the uttermost parts of the earth. The Mount Airy Charge has expanded its vision and its call well beyond the doors of its churches.

In our bulletin each week it starts by saying that “We’re small enough to know you and large enough to love you” and it ends by stating “You are now entering the mission field”. The churches of the Mount Airy Charge have taken both of these statements to heart and continue in service to their church, their community, and their world.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks for the Thorns

I found this story in my email today. Happy Thanksgiving, in all things give thanks.


Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren't enough, her husband's company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose annual holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come.

What's worse, Sandra's friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. "She has no idea what I'm feeling," thought Sandra with a shudder.

"Thanksgiving? Thankful for what?" she wondered aloud. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?

"Good afternoon, can I help you?" The shop clerk's approach startled her.

"I...I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra, "for Thanksgiving?"

"Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving Special?" asked the shop clerk. "I'm convinced that flowers tell stories," she continued. "Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?

"Not exactly!" Sandra blurted out. "In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. " Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."

Then the door's small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, "Hi Barbara...let me get your order." She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped...there were no flowers.

"Want this in a box?" asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer's response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers!?! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

"Yes, please." Barbara replied with an appreciative smile.

"You'd think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn't be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again," she said as she gently tapped her chest.

"Uh," stammered Sandra, "that lady just left with, uh... she just left with no flowers!"

"Right...I cut off the flowers. That's the Special... I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.

"Oh, come on, you can't tell me someone is willing to pay for that?" exclaimed Sandra.

"Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling very much like you feel today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery."

"That same year I had lost my husband, "continued the clerk," and for the first time in my life, I had to spend the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.

"So what did you do?" asked Sandra. "I learned to be thankful for thorns," answered the clerk quietly. "I've always thanked God for good things in life and never thought to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I always enjoyed the 'flowers' of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God's comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we're afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others."

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. "I guess the truth is I don't want comfort. I've lost a baby and I'm angry with God."

Just then someone else walked in the shop.

"Hey, Phil!" shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

"My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement... twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems!" laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

"Those are for your wife?" asked Sandra incredulously. "Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?

"No...I'm glad you asked," Phil replied. "Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord's grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from "thorny" times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific "problem" and give thanks to Him for what that problem taught us."

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, "I highly recommend the Special!"

"I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life." Sandra said to the clerk. "It's all too... fresh."

"Well," the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God's providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don't resent the thorns."

Tears rolled down Sandra's cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please," she managed to choke out.

"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute."

"Thank you. What do I owe you?" asked Sandra.

"Nothing." said the clerk. "Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year's arrangement is always on me." The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. "I'll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you'd like to read it first."

It read: "Dear God, I have never thanked you for my thorns. I have thanked you a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to you along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of your rainbow look much more brilliant."