Graduare – ‘take a degree’

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"Graduare" is the Latin root for the verb "graduate." Actually taking a degree from a teacher, professor, principal, or Superintendent is, of course, the last (and most celebrative) step of what is a long journey of study, testing, writing, reviewing, and grading; it is the investment of our very lives over the course of years. I am very glad we will have many opportunities to celebrate this joyous last step with several in our church.

Working backwards on the calendar:

  • Next week I will be blessing a number of our youngest disciples graduating from our Weekday Program in a ceremony here at the church.

  • This Sunday at the 8:30 a.m. worship service, we will lift up, bless and celebrate our high school seniors who have been a significant part of our ministry together.

  • And before that, on Saturday, May 18, a number of us will be in the Sanctuary at Highland Park UMC to celebrate Ed Volfe "taking his degree" – a Doctorate of Ministry from the Perkins School of Theology, SMU. Ed has worked long and hard to achieve this distinction. We on staff are ever so proud and happy for him. Several of us will be in the balcony at Highland Park for a good view and to make our presence known to Ed. All are invited to attend. If you come, plan to arrive no later than 1:30 p.m. After that, seats are single and sparse.

John Wesley reminds us that we are "going on to perfection" in love as we grow in grace. Learning is lifelong. However, it is important at points along the way to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Congratulations to all our graduates!

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Guest Writer Michael Smith, SPRC Chair

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Most of us grew up with the rhyme “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” In our church, the people include our congregation, our guests, and our staff.

Our church continues to undergo a transition with staff. Many of us, including those who serve on the Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC), have experienced sadness regarding the recent staffing reductions. Last week we announced the Rev. Diane Presley volunteering as the staff liaison for Mission and Outreach. SPRC will soon announce more part-time pastoral positions, and in the upcoming weeks we hope to announce where Pastor Ed Volfe, soon to be Dr. Ed Volfe, will be appointed. While the United Methodist Church practices itinerancy, it is not easy when someone so loved is reappointed and must move.

The bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” My hope is that as we continue to improve our financial situation, next year our church will be able to fund full-time pastors and bring on additional staff to help us Connect God and Grace to Self and Community even further.

Please continue to pray for our church and church family, especially our staff and their families, over the next few months during a time of transition in our church. John Wesley reminds us, “Best of all, God is with us.”

Yours in Christ,

Michael Smith
SPRC Chair

20%? How About 58%?!

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“What do you think God is up to?”

That is what one of my mentors, the late Rev. Bill Bryan, was fond of asking in the face of unusually compelling developments. Last week I talked about the Pareto Principle and how it is that when 20% of your church's active membership does something, the rest tend to follow. At our first Mission Together event Sunday, we had 467 people our one worship service (you always lose attendance after Easter and when you take away people's usual hour of worship) and 270 of those went out the door and into the mission field through a dizzying array of outreach opportunities. That was 58% of our people in attendance on Sunday. Even if you use our weekly worship average of 693, that is 39%.

I have rarely been so humbled and so grateful for so many. I am especially grateful for Mission Chairs Leslie Harris and Debbie Ison and clergy staff liaison the Rev. Diane Presley for recruiting and organizing this first-ever event. I toured the 5-6 sites on campus and 6 sites off campus and saw nothing but smiles and a few tears of joy for the grace we were connecting to community. It was an amazing day - almost a Pentecost sort of day where all came under the influence of the Holy Spirit and causing some to ask, "What does this mean?"

My friend Bill Bryan would just smile an impish smile and ask, "What do you think God is up to?"

Thanks be to God in this Easter season,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

P.S. Thank you all for your grace of words, cards, hugs and memorials on the occasion of my father's death on Easter. You have touched me deeply and I am grateful. We will be holding a memorial service in the Houston area where we all grew up. It will be on Father's Day weekend. Since people have kindly inquired, in lieu of flowers, gifts may be given to the Alzheimer's Association or the Saints of Light Fund. Cammy, Blaine and I are blessed by your love.

The 20%

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The Pareto Principle, a.k.a. the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Pareto developed this economic term pertaining to the distribution of income and wealth among the population. However, we all use this term to describe how and who gets things done - that 20% of the people do 80% of the work that really moves the needle in most organizations. The church is no exception.

We say that if you want to change the culture in your church, you need 20% buy-in from your congregation and the 80% will tend to follow. Why do I share this? We average worship attendance of about 700. For our Mission Together this Sunday, we have 200 people registered to reach out to our community in a whole host of ways. Do the math. That is 29% of our average worship attendance.

As a church who knows that her future is tied to reaching out to our neighbors, it would seem that in addition to moving the stone with our risen Lord, we are ready to move the needle as we follow Christ out of our tombs and into the world. Thanks be to God! Join this Sunday at our ONE worship service at 10 a.m. in the Sanctuary followed by a great day of service uniting our faith community with our neighbors in need. Learn more at sign up HERE.

He is risen; He is risen indeed!

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Grace Travels

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Many have been kind to ask about and pray for my dad John, who at the age of 86 suffers from Alzheimer's. His once strong body is now breaking down. Your prayers have meant much, and I thank you.

We moved Dad from one facility that provided grace of care and attention to another facility that provides that same grace plus in-house, long-term hospice care, mainly for pain-management, as Dad banks into his final glide pattern. Along this journey I have discovered that grace does not remain static; it travels. It is given from one to another. In fact, if it does not travel, if it is not given, then it is not grace.

God so loved the world that he GAVE. Grace traveled from heaven to become human so that grace might still travel on earth and be given to God’s children that God so desperately loves. We tried to pin that Grace down on a cross and stop it but could not. Grace refused to stop traveling. Grace refused to stay locked in a tomb. It rose and walked and welcomed and taught and fed and kept traveling and giving. Grace did not stop.

Grace will arise again this Sunday, and we will celebrate that resurrection. And Grace will not stay confined in the walls of our celebrations. Grace will move on and walk and welcome and teach and feed and keep on traveling and giving … and so will we on the 28th and the days after because that is the nature of love, hallelujah!

See you in the traveling place Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Wash My Feet ... Seriously?

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Unless I wash you, you won't have a place with me.  - Jesus (John 13:8, CEB)

These are Jesus' words to his right hand man Peter when Jesus insisted that he wash Peter's feet. 

The late Bishop Rhymes Moncure brought a hush to our Annual Conference a dozen years ago when he faced the class of women and men he was about to ordain as pastors and said, "Before I ordain you, I must wash your feet."  It was a holy ground moment for all of us in attendance and incredibly awkward and humbling for the candidates as they took off their shoes and allowed their bishop to kneel, touch, wash and dry their feet over a basin of water. A poignant picture of the same hangs in our Conference's chapel named for this bishop who came as a servant. 

Photograph of Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure, Jr. taken at the 2006 North Texas Annual Conference in Plano, Texas, by Rev. John W. Dillard.

Photograph of Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure, Jr. taken at the 2006 North Texas Annual Conference in Plano, Texas, by Rev. John W. Dillard.

To wash other's feet is what we "must" do if we are to be followers of the One who came as servant. In small numbers we will rehearse this literally on Maundy Thursday with a foot-washing, followed by communion, just as Jesus did according to the Gospel of John. 

In much larger numbers we will rehearse this servanthood the Sunday after Easter, washing the feet of our community by visiting shut-ins, painting homes, making small home repairs, and trimming yards for those who cannot. There will be awkwardness and embarrassment by some that we would do this kind of "foot-washing" for them. But like Bishop Moncure and like our Christ, we must. Christ came in human form to be the least for us, even to death on a cross so that we might live. What choice do we really have?  

See you as the washing place,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

"Come and See"

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From John 1:39-41, this is Jesus's response to some people seeking him and asking, "Where are you staying?" It was as if the people had a God-shaped void inside that they knew needed filling and they sensed rightly that Jesus could fill that void. In fact, they were hungry for him to do so.

There are a lot of people in our world seeking, searching for something. Theirs is a gnawing knowing that something is missing in their lives and they are not sure what it is. Consequently, they go chasing after a lot of things hoping to fill that void. The problem is that so much of what we chase after (take your pick: success, money, being liked, food, entertainment, social media, self-medication, sex, etc.) cannot fill the God-shaped void that God built into every one of us. Only God can fill that void.

For the next two Sundays, we will make two-sided cards available for you to give with an invitation to someone you know - someone you sense would benefit from being exposed to Jesus in both worship and service.

We want to first invite people to experience the risen Christ on Easter, April 21. Then, we also want to invite them to experience the risen Christ going out into the world on our first-ever Mission Together on Sunday, April 28, right after our one worship service together at 10 a.m. By inviting people we know to both experiences, they will experience the two-fold nature of our calling (love God and love neighbor) and the emerging focus of our church of Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community.

So grab a card (or two or three). Be in prayer about who the Spirit is nudging you to invite and then be bold to go to that friend, that family and say ... Come and see!

See you at the inviting place this Sunday,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

What Are You Doing for Self-Care?

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This is a critical question that we asked candidates for ministry as we interviewed them Monday and Tuesday. The religious and legal professions have some of the highest rates of burn-out in this country; one cannot give what one does not have and replenish.

This self-care and replenishment is certainly spiritual in nature, but it is also physical. We must take care of our bodies if we are to be effective for the long-run, regardless of job or age. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, knew this 250 years ago and made recommendations for self-care that he published. It is striking how far ahead of his time he was in his thinking. I will share some of those this Sunday as we discuss, "Healthy Living" as a "Means of Grace." In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul writes of the importance of recognizing our bodies as “temples” given to us to “glorify God.”

Lent is a time of self-examination, repentance and focus. I hope that your self-care, along with daily prayer and scripture time are all helpful in fully experiencing the grace God, pouring into your life every minute of every day.

Breathe peace (John 14:27),

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Prayer, Healthy Living and Fasting – all in eight days

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We rejoiced when our son Blaine came home from the hospital after 8 days being diagnosed and treated for Ulcerative Colitis. This was a learning curve for our family. During those eight days we prayed, Blaine had to fast, and we all learned a lot about healthier living. The cousin of Crohn’s disease, UC cannot be cured, only managed by a combination of steroids and diet control, something that is a challenge for most of us. With UC, one is better off with more frequent, smaller portions of balanced meals rather than less frequent and larger unbalanced meals. It requires thought, advance planning and self-discipline. Turns out this is good for all of us and quite concurrent with our Lenten series on spiritual disciplines.

Over the next three weeks we will explore prayer, healthy living and fasting as “means of grace” – ways by which we more fully experience the grace of God in both our spiritual and our physical lives. We are simply healthier in these categories when, with a little thought, advance planning and self-discipline, we build habits of prayer, healthy living and fasting into our daily rhythms. My belief is that like our son, we can die to some old ways of thinking and being and be made well during this Lenten season of spiritual diagnosis and treatment. Here’s to YOUR health ...

Breathe in peace; breathe out love,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Guest Writer: Tommy Lawrence, FUMC Plano Lay Leader

Tommy Lawrence, FUMC Plano Lay Leader

Tommy Lawrence, FUMC Plano Lay Leader

Dear FUMC Family,

Two weeks ago, the delegates to the General Conference of the global United Methodist Church voted to retain the language in the Book of Discipline regarding persons who identify on the LBGTQ spectrum. As your Lay Leader, I can report that your Church Council discussed this topic many times last year. The two goals in our discussions were, 1) to inform the church of the impending vote and to allow for questions and dialogue and, 2) to plan our response to our church family and to our community.

Your Church Council met this past Monday to discuss this monumental vote and to have dialogue on how we will proceed in our mission field of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the for the transformation of the world” by Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community. The council wholeheartedly agreed on the need to communicate to our community that we are a body of Christ who welcomes and accepts all people. The Council was presented with a plan by over 100 clergy from the North Texas Conference to publish a full-page letter that will run in the Dallas Morning News this Sunday. This letter echoes the same theme as our Crossfire Youth Choir’s anthem from two weeks ago - Mark Miller’s I Am a Child of God. A simple question was asked of the Council, “Do you want to attach the name of FUMC Plano to the letter along with our clergy and many other churches?” 100% of the attending council (13 attendees) voted to attach FUMC Plano to the letter.

FUMC Plano has been my church home for over 40 years, and I’m confident we will continue to reflect the Light of God in our community. FUMC Plano has been and will continue to be a welcoming community to all those who are thirsting for the redeeming Grace of God.

Yours in Christ,
Tommy Lawrence