Week by week we gather at First United Methodist Church in San Diego. I learn more about this good congregation and the ministries they provide. The photo shown here is of the church shortly after it moved to the Mission Valley area over 50 years ago. At the time it moved to a place of dairy farms and orchards.
Today, it can truly be said this is a place that reflects the old hymn “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.”
This past Sunday we spoke of the importance of leaders who serve — HANDS OF THE STRONG. Little did I know when I chose this topic back in June that it would also be a week of indictments, guilty pleas, new disclosures of the abuses of Catholic clergy or the tragic misguided leadership at Willow Creek Church, the well-known and influential mega church in Illinois. Nor, did I know that this would be the weekend we would grieve the passing of Senator John McCain. In the sermon preached on 8/26 we spoke of leadership and remembered the remarkable life of integrity and humility lived by Senator McCain. It can be read here: HandsofStrong BLOG 8-26-18.
So, what of the future? The photo to the right was taken last week. It is image of the church taken from a department store parking lot across the busy I-8 freeway. Elaine, my spouse, is pictured here. As I consider our future and the leadership that will be required, my prayers go out to the people who will continue the great ministries of this congregation long into the future. As the United Methodist denomination seems to have lost its way — and is caught up internal controversy — in what Bishop Ken Carder has rightly described as “tacky” (with attribution to Will Campbell). It is places like San Diego FUMC — and hundreds of churhes across the nation — in the middle of the busyness all around that offer hope. Here the vision of a world beyond the corrupt present will endure. In such places.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Exploring, this time, lands me in the pulpit at First United Methodist Church in San Diego as Interim Pastor. I have preached in this great church in the past; however, this time is different. This time, I will have a weekly assignment. To show up, listen, learn, study and then seek to share truths about the transforming love of God.
This is not an easy task in any season. Yet, as I face the task now, it seems more challenging than any time in my 52 years of ministry. Attached is the sermon entitled “Simply Beginning” preached on August 12, 2018.
Prayers are appreciated for this fine congregation — and for the “weak reed” who will be giving his best in the year ahead.
We are off to San Diego in August. Interim lead pastor at San Diego First United Methodist Church, I am nervous and excited. Well-meaning friends upon hearing these plans say, “Oh, lucky you, it is such a beautiful city with great weather, you are really going to enjoy it. You will probably get out there and not miss us at all. You’ll not want to return.”
Well, at this age and stage in life, I know that although my friends mean well, they are both right, AND they are wrong. Yes, we plan to enjoy San Diego to the full, make new friends, discover great culinary and cultural experiences and share ministry with the good folks. As much as we are looking forward to this odyssey, we also know that there will be things we will miss. I have made a list the top ten things I suspect I will miss:
1. Indiana grown, Non-GMO sweet corn, fresh from the field, available at our GRAND farmer’s market each week. Yes, I know they have fresh sweet corn in California. I have lived there, twice, and loved it. However, nothing brings back my childhood like field fresh corn (along with watermelon). And, for Elaine, she will miss fresh from the garden Indiana heirloom tomatoes. Each one of these is “summer candy” and a rare delicacy on hot, humid Indiana days.
2. We will miss friends made and nurtured over the decades who are a lot wacky and all the more to be loved. Do they know how to party! There are dozens of them — we have stood by them in times of joy and sorrow — and they have stood by us. It is a dangerous thing to start listing Indiana friends — so, I won’t. It is sufficient to say that Elaine and I would be lost without their laughter, wisdom, patience with my mistakes and willingness to forgive. And they know too many secrets to allow them to think we wouldn’t return!
Each year we host our annual “Trifling Picnic.” About 75 to 100 friends normally show up. Yes, we will host the picnic again this year, just before we head to California. What is a “Trifling Picnic? Well, John Wesley counseled that pastors should not be triflingly employed. We offer an opportunity for folks, clergy and lay, Methodist or not to break this rule.
3. We will miss new friends like Maria Gonzelez, Bory Colin, Joshua and Isaiah. This was the dedication of their new home on June 30th. Monroe County Habitat for Humanity will build and dedicate its 200th home later this summer. We will miss that and I will miss the wonderful friends I have on the staff and board of this affiliate!
4. I will miss colleagues in Ministry. Pictured here are Revs. Metheny, Mather, Moman and Beck. We are friends who worked together at Broadway UMC,Indianapolis in the 1980s. What a team! What memories! These colleagues inspire, challenge and allow me to grumble much about the church, particularly our denomination. They know that I refer to the Indiana Annual Conference as the “Northern Dixie Conference” (with apologies to my southern friends). Yes, I will miss grumbling about the foolishness of the latest church development techniques while our congregations are hungry for relationships and respect for the gifts they bring.
5) We will miss the GREAT MUSIC! In Bloomington, much of it free or very reasonable in cost. There are literally hundreds of concerts each year at the Jacobs School of Music at I.U. We recently heard the Student Pops Symphony Orchestra. It was FIRST RATE. Over the holiday week there will be a free concert in the park by our friend and marvelous musician Carrie Newcomer. Then, next week it is violinist Joshua Bell who is in concert on campus. This fall will be the Lotus music festival we will miss. And if you are lucky, our friend ,the incomparable, Sylvia McNair will be featured in a fundraiser for a local charity. Wow… I will miss all of this — and I haven’t mentioned the live theater or the restaurants or performances at the auditorium all in walking distance from our condo!
6) We will miss cheering for the World Champion Chicago Cubs. (Hey, I know that was back in 2016 but we waited a century for this win and should be granted a few years to claim to be champions out of respect for the suffering of Cubs fans over the years.) The Cubbies are looking good in 2018. We will miss what should be an exciting pennant race at Wrigley Field. Elaine and our daughter Lydia Murray in picture — the Cubs won that day!
7) We will miss our fine pastors, Mary Beth Morgan and Jimmy Moore at St. Marks UMC in Bloomington. We will miss all of our friends in the congregation as well. What a great congregation and place filled with fond memories.
8) I will miss GREAT HUMAN BEINGS in so many categories: carpenters, plumbers, farmers, janitors, teachers, physicians, service folks, lawyers, barkeeps, administrators, and a few rogue preachers. I will especially miss our great civic and judicial leaders. Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker is among the BEST. We have many other such fine civic leaders — Mayor John Hamilton and his uncle, retired Congressman Lee Hamilton.
Indiana also has folks I consider to be less than worthy of admiration (no names please). However, I will miss working for the election of some good folks to replace them. We have persons running for election this fall more committed to creating the beloved community than practicing the fear laced demagoguery evident in our national body politic these days. Some of the demagogues are, sad for me to say, “fellow Hoosiers.” Hopefully we can offer them a free ticket home from Washington this fall. Yes, we are keeping our residence in Indiana as our votes are needed here.
9) I will miss places like New Harmony a wonderful retreat, place for long walks and great educational experiences. There are many such places in the state…. Indiana University in Bloomington is one I count as among the best.
AND # 10 on the list?
Okay, I confess, I am going to miss snow — not the slushy grey-February-type snow. I will miss the bright snowy days of fall and spring when our streets and fields are festooned with new garments of white. Such snow is often gone by afternoon or the next day and that is alright with me. In the meantime — I will enjoy the sunshine of San Diego!