Welcoming the Stranger

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. -Leviticus 19:34

MattMusing.jpg

Senior Pastor Rachel Baughman of Oak Lawn UMC in Dallas received 55 asylum-seeking people from Central America last week. They will stay for a few nights of care and nurture before they move to their sponsoring families elsewhere in the U.S. where they await their respective hearings.

Our Church Council agreed unanimously to stand by to assist in ways that are helpful, including the collection of toiletry items to give to other UMC’s like Oak Lawn. The Rev. Andy Lewis, our Bishop’s assistant and a part of our church, is keeping us apprised of helpful next steps. I am grateful for his keen coordination at the Conference level and the Rev. Diane Presley’s coordination at our local church level. This is one example of how our North Texas Conference is mobilizing to receive the immigrant into our lives. Stay tuned for how you can assist in this border and humanitarian crisis.

To be clear:

  • These asylum-seeker families are completely vetted and lawful and coordinated at the border by Customs and Border Patrol.

  • Most of them are fleeing crushing poverty and violence in Guatemala and Honduras.

  • These sisters and brothers are families; there are no unaccompanied children or youth.

  • Their stays at local churches, mostly in Dallas, are brief.

Thank you in advance for your prayers for pastors like Rachel and churches like Oak Lawn who, like us, are “wired” to open their hearts and doors to those in need. It is opportunities like these that make me proud to be part of this Wesleyan connection, always seeking to spread, “scriptural holiness” across the land and across borders, uniting people as God’s children.

Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community,

Mattspacer.jpg

One Church - a Glorious Inheritance

MattMusing.jpg

80, 100 and 1.

For me, these were the significant numerical takeaways from Annual Conference just completed yesterday.

80% was the approval vote of both laity and clergy for our Conference to act as a One Church Conference, giving each church the permission to behave in ways regarding LGBTQ persons the way that church and pastor deem appropriate to the gospel and their mission field. 

100% of the delegates elected to General Conference from our North Texas Conference, both laity and clergy, are of the centrist position that seeks to keep all persons at the table in the vital discussions to be had at General Conference in 2020. We are the only Conference thus far to be this strong in this centrist stance.

1 is the inheritance given to all by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul speaks passionately about this in Romans 8:14-17. He is partially addressing the question by Jewish Christians about those deemed outsiders to their long-held customs and beliefs. In writing this letter (his last and most developed theological thought) Paul makes the case that NOTHING can separate us - any of us - from the singular love of God in Christ Jesus. I will be talking more about that this Sunday, but for now I offer God thanks for being part of a Conference who believes it, and of a church who lives it.

Grateful to be your pastor,

Mattspacer.jpg

Covering Bases and Self Care

MattMusing.jpg

In softball and baseball at all levels, teams relentlessly practice "covering the base." This means that when one defensive player gets pulled away from a base, e.g. chasing a fly ball, another player knows that she or he must cover that base in order to get the opposing player out. The same is true in the church.

When one pastor is out, the other knows it is her or his responsibility to cover the pastoral responsibilities. I have practiced this for years with my colleagues on staff because it is important that each of us take time away from the "base" called the church in order to retreat and renew before returning. As Ed transitions to McKinney and another pastor transitions in, I will be covering bases variously through the summer to preach, teach, administrate, conduct funerals, counsel for weddings, visit hospitals, and more. I will also take short breaks away to memorialize my father in Houston and spend snippets of time away with family for retreat and renewal before returning refreshed. I have also automated our financial giving because the work of our church goes on whether I am physically here or not.

Camps, mission trips, choir tour, Vacation Bible School, Pops Concert, and refurbishing the Sanctuary all make the church a busy place throughout the summer. Covering the bases with our support by stepping up while practicing self-care at the same time is essential for a balanced and winning life. I wish both for you and yours this summer.

Grace, peace and prayer,

Mattspacer.jpg

Working as Missionaries

LeadershipPlano.jpg

After graduating with my Plano Leadership class Tuesday night, I was talking with classmate Lori Schwarz who is the Director of Neighborhood Services for the City of Plano. I thanked her for her department’s cooperation with us in the Love Where You Live program that was part of our Mission Together three weeks ago. Her eyes went wide with excitement as she explained that there are any number of older/disabled adults who have trouble keeping up with their houses and yards and benefit from assistance from groups like ours. In fact, that work of partnerships occurs the second Saturday of every month all around Plano. I told Lori that I assumed she might make an exception and allow us to do that on a third or forth Saturday in conjunction with our next Mission Together weekend.  She assured me that the answer was YES.

Thanks to the work of Alan Johnson, Leslie Harris, Debbie Ison, and the Rev. Diane Presley, people have asked, “When are we going to do that again?”  By that, they are quick to say, they mean months – not a year away. That is exciting. We are embracing the theology that mission is not an event, but a way of life, and that not a committee but a whole church are missionaries, just as Jesus and his disciples were. It is a shift in our way of thinking and it is a shift closer to the kingdom of God as Jesus preached and lived it.

Thank you all for your leadership as missionaries. Stay tuned for the next Saturday and Sunday when we all work together Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community!

Mattspacer.jpg

Graduare – ‘take a degree’

MattMusing.jpg

"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!

Mattspacer.jpg

Guest Writer Michael Smith, SPRC Chair

MichaelSmith.jpg

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%?!

MattMusing.jpg

“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,

Mattspacer.jpg

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%

MattMusing.jpg

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!

Mattspacer.jpg

Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Grace Travels

MattMusing.jpg

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,

Mattspacer.jpg

Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor

Wash My Feet ... Seriously?

MattMusing.jpg

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,

Mattspacer.jpg

Matt Gaston
Lead Pastor