Chapel Changes, Progress and Growth in the New Year

As we continue to slog slowly toward a final settlement with our insurers on the repair and remediation work to be done in our Sanctuary, we are moving ahead on other fronts. We near completion of the work in our Gym and will begin the window repair and remediation in the Chapel in two weeks. This work should take about two months. So, this Sunday our 9:45 Contemporary Worship will meet again in the Chapel before that work begins.

While quiet and behind the scenes, these movements of progress are indicative of the drive forward we are making with our Healthy Church Initiative prescriptions to reach younger people in creative ways. Growth can be seen with the baptism of Adelynn Galvan last Sunday, the fifth in the last eight weeks. It was a beautiful moment for me.

And this Sunday we will kick off our Sunday Night Life programming with a chili cook-off followed by activities for children, youth and adults. Click HERE for more information on the weekly SNL schedule. The fun and excitement begins this Sunday at 5 p.m. followed by a brief celebration worship together led by our own Nigel Eastman.

Certainly these are reasons to make Church a priority this Sunday, both morning and evening. It is, after all, the day God called sabbath and holy for the purpose of resting in God's presence. I really look forward to seeing you here for our renewal in baptism, covenant and life together. As the contemporary Christian song says, whether in the Chapel or Sanctuary:

Here I am to worship;
Here I am to bow down;
Here I am to say that you're my God …

Here's to a great new year together,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Turning Over a New Leaf

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It's an old English idiom of unknown origin, but we all know what it means.

Moving from Colorado to Texas as a child, it took me awhile to understand that not all deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall; some shed their old leaves in the spring - oaks for example. I would wait as spring progressed to finally see oak trees begin dropping their leaves. Why? Because it was cold? No, most of the cold had passed.  Rather, it was because the tiny green head of a new leaf was pushing up from the branch and displacing the older leaf that had had its season. Raking leaves in the spring at first seemed odd to me but I understood why it was necessary: the tree was turning over a new leaf.

2019 will see a number of new leaves emerging as prescriptive from our Healthy Church Initiative process - new classes, new membership and discipleship processes, new worship experiments, new missional focus point,s and new outreach initiatives that will involve all of us. The first of these will be our Covenant Renewal and High Attendance Sunday, January 13.  We are encouraging everyone to be talking it up and inviting all members of our church to attend. It will be a festive day of worship and celebration of our "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5-6). It will also mark the turning of some leaves in 2019.

Held with you in faith,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Your Grace Abounds

When John Wesley prescribed fasting to the people called Methodist, I wonder if he did so during the Christmas holidays. After all, it was during the Christmas Conference that established Methodism in the U.S. beginning on Dec. 24, 1784.

Your grace toward your church staff has filled our office with words of great appreciation in the form of cards, lunches, and homemade cookies, candy and cakes. I know I speak for all of us when I say you have made us feel loved. We are both humbled and thankful.

In like manner, we love working side by side with you in the mission God has given us in this new year. We wish you every traveling mercy and blessing with family and friends as we again celebrate the coming of the Christ child together.

Held with you,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

The Final Turn Toward Christmas

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Our total attendance this past Sunday was 1089, including over 200, standing-room-only attendees in the Chapel for the Christmas Rocks! contemporary worship at 9:45. This was a record for a Christmas Cantata Sunday. Kudos to our staff, the Crossfire Youth Choir, Chancel Choir, and orchestral members who made Sunday's musical offering as meaningful as it was memorable.  

I think worship Sunday generated anticipation for our Christmas Pops Concert for the community this Sunday, Dec. 16. Your staff and a small army of members along with plenty of parking will make sure everyone is indeed welcomed as soon as they arrive. Cookies, punch and giveaways will mark an evening of great fun. Wear your holiday fun stuff for this casual evening as we make the final turn toward Christmas.  

These events are foreshadowing our Covenant Renewal Sunday on January 13.  But why wait?  Invite a neighbor, friend or even that inactive member to come find some Calm and Bright this Sunday. After all, Christ is coming!

Comfort and joy,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Signs of the Apocalypse

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It looked like the closing scene of the movie Field of Dreams when the camera takes you up for a bird's view of a darkened horizon at dusk. Miles of bumper-to-bumper headlights zig-zag down every available road to come see the little baseball field in the middle of the cornfields.

That was the scene Saturday night as hundreds if not a thousand cars tried to make their way toward our church's modest witness of the birth of Christ on our own field of dreams ... and then Facebook blew up.

An outstanding, collaborative Journey to Bethlehem, planned and coordinated by the Purpose Seekers Sunday School class, was designed to accommodate a few hundred cars of pilgrims. This year’s event was simply no match for the over 1000 cars that backed up on Parker Road and Spring Creek Parkway, spilling out from Collin College and the surrounding neighborhoods, all the way back to the exit ramps off 75! It was stunning and unprecedented in 12 years of this offering. To watch the comments on Facebook, one would have thought we had brought on the Apocalypse ... and maybe we did.

For "apocalypse" does not mean the end; it means "unveiling" or "revealing." From my vantage point, as I thanked our visitors in each car and invited them back, I could only smile as I thought of the prophet Isaiah, "The mountain of the Lord's house ... shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it."(Isaiah 2:2).

For me, the streaming of so many toward our modest offering revealed a great hunger that is out there among so many in the darkness - a hunger for light and goodness and warmth and hope and kindness - and we humbly gave that to them. I am so thankful for every child, youth and adult who sang, towed, built, tore down, herded, dressed, fed, acted, directed, welcomed, and loved the hundreds who came and experienced the hope of the Christ.

But our work has only just begun.

Our church is now on the radar of literally thousands and an unknown many will come for the first time to our Christmas Pops Concert and our Christmas Eve Services of Candlelight. Theirs will be a first impression if they did not get in to see our Journey to Bethlehem. What of the Christ will we "reveal" for them from the moment they pull into the very parking lot they could not reach last Saturday night? The best apocalypse will be for them to experience love, humility and a servant's heart in each of us. It will take all of us bringing our best offerings of:

  • presence and service in the parking lots and hallways to greet and engage;

  • financial gifts to host, reach out and connect the newcomers;

  • prayer for what the Holy Spirit will do for others through our loving efforts.

This is an apocalypse of a different kind - the kind Jesus intended: to make Christ known in all our ways, words and actions. I am proud and excited to stand with you to witness for others that "calm and bright" which people are streaming from afar to find.

Held with you by Christ,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

A message from our Lead Pastor

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Dear Friends,

This past Saturday night over 150 volunteers from our church came together to share the birth story of Jesus with our community. About 250 cars drove through the Journey to Bethlehem Live Nativity. Unfortunately at least three times that many were unable to experience the journey. The turnout was, to say the least, overwhelming. It felt as though the prophesy from Isaiah came true in our midst, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established … peoples will stream toward it” (Isaiah 2:2).

I know many traveled long distances to make the Journey to Bethlehem, some as far away as Oklahoma. I also know many were in line for over two hours only to have individuals cut in line in front of you, and then be turned away by one of our church volunteers or by the Plano Police Department who intervened for safety concerns around the traffic our event generated. It pains my heart that not everyone who drove to Plano could experience our event, for it was meaningful to the many who were able to drive through. It would never be our intention to say, “There is no room in the inn” to anyone coming to our church.

For the past 12 years, one Sunday School class has planned, organized and produced our Journey to Bethlehem event. This year’s response through Facebook went far beyond our most optimistic scenarios based on those 12 years of history. While we were thrilled with the response, we regret deeply that we were unprepared and unable to accommodate the flood of yearning that your coming represented Saturday. Rest assured that meetings are already in place to discuss lessons learned and how we will re-work Journey to Bethlehem to accommodate many more next year.  We will be better equipped to resolve traffic issues next year.

To hopefully ease your disappointment, I would like to extend a number of invitations to you this Christmas season in order to experience the joy of the Christ child’s birth:

  • On Sunday, Dec. 9, our choirs orchestra will present a Behold, A Savior! Christmas Cantata at our 8:30 and 11 a.m. services. At 9:45 a.m. our Contemporary Worship Team will have a Christmas Rocks! concert with sing-along carols and a visit from Santa Claus himself.  

  • On Sunday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. we will have a Christmas Pops Concert with contemporary and popular music of the season for the entire family, and Santa Claus will make another appearance.

  • On Tuesday, Dec. 24, at 3, 5, 7 and 10 p.m., we will host Christmas Eve Candlelight and Communion Services for the whole family. 

Parking and seating are plentiful for all of these. As much disappointment our church family feels for our not being able to host many of you last Saturday night, we feel hope, eagerness and honor in being able to host you in the coming days. I hope you will give us that chance. 

Grace and Peace to you in this season of peace and hope,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Couldn't we all use a little more "Calm and Bright"?

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After a long year in 2018, Advent is finally here. With it we invite you to celebrate the beauty and history of Silent Night as part of our Advent theme entitled Calm and Bright: 200 Years of Silent Night.

Thanks to some excellent planning and preparation on the part of our worship team, Lynette Little, Randy Jennings, James Donaldson, and our Yardbirds, beginning this Sunday we will all be treated to a very different experience in worship and feel in our church. Opportunity for prayer, song and contemplative thought will be offered so we might all slow down perhaps just long enough to allow the Holy Spirit to embrace us. The coming Christ is greater than all we faced in 2018 and all we will face in 2019.

I pray daily in December that you will experience all that is "calm and bright" this busy Advent season.

Blessings,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

People Power and the Power of Prayer

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As I mentioned Sunday, I thought the outpouring of voters last week was a win for our country. Apathy? Nope. Engagement? Yep.

A surprising theory I have heard for below average attendance and giving in our churches this fall is the many people who have focused those resources on their preferred candidate/campaign. Following that theory, our churches should see a post-election uptick in attendance and giving. What was true for so many grassroots campaigns around the country I know can be true for our local churches as well; namely that many small participants lessen the load carried by all and can carry the day in victory! This is true in attendance, financial resources and prayers; participation by many makes ALL the difference … by mere single-digit percentage points!

You will soon receive by e-mail and snail mail a letter from the chairpersons of our Church Council, Finance and Staff-Parish Relations Committee. If you are a member of our church, you will want to read it. It is daunting, but no more daunting than a similar situation for our church two years ago. We strongly prevailed then and can do so again. As in the recent elections, the difference will be the level of turn-out: turn-out for generosity in 2018 and turn-out for generosity through our Estimate of Giving Cards for 2019. God needs both of these from every one of us, regardless of how small, to do what God has in mind for our mission and vision.

As we step through this season of hope, I challenge you. Do not stay on the sidelines; there is so much coming that requires the power of your participation and prayer. This will bless all of us and those we reach for Christ.

Power and prayer to the people of FUMC Plano,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Women of Hope

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Although November 22 has not arrived, Thanksgiving is already in my head because it’s a time when food, family and hope are consistently found around the table hosted by amazing women in my life. For me, it was my Mom; it was my grandmother; it is my mother-in-law; it is my wife.

Your experience may be similar. Therefore, for three weeks as we head toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, I want to highlight three biblical women of hope: Ruth, Hannah and Elizabeth – women of determination, resourcefulness and honesty – characteristics I have seen in amazing women who shaped my life.

Who are those women for you?

Over the next three weeks, I invite you to grab a Sharpie and write a name, a prayer, or a few words about an amazing woman (or two or three) in your life. You will find the Sharpies next to the paper-covered columns in the Gathering Area. Tell a story of an amazing woman with her name, a prayer, a thanksgiving, and we will all be enriched for the sharing because isn't that what this season is about – sharing? And who primarily taught us that, especially this time of year?

Thank you Mom, Grandma, Joyce, Cammy; I love you.

To God be the glory,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

All Saints Sunday, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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This Sunday is one of my most beloved. The pictures, the candles, the chiming of the bell - all take me to a place of sometimes teary remembrance and thanksgiving, and well they should.

I see with yesterday's clarity Sam Perrine standing tall on the front row singly loudly. I see Betty Vilven planning her next trip from her hospital room at Medical City Plano. I see Ann Gray in her green choir robe and Mardi Gras-colored hair smiling with that teenage impishness from the choir loft. My life is so much richer for having known them, and I am thankful. I feel the responsibility to step up in their absence and offer to others what they gave to me.

This Sunday we will all be given an Estimate of Giving card to bring to the railing when we come for communion. Your response will drive what we are able to do in ministry and mission in 2019. It is our opportunity to step up for a rising generation and do what Sam, Betty, Ann and all our saints have done for us.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I look forward to celebrating them this Sunday.

Grateful,

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Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor