Category Archives: Pastor’s Ponderings

Pastor’s Ponderings

Pastor’s Message
September 2020

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4
Have you ever seen in the word PRAISE is the word RAISE.
Today I will raise to the Lord….
My voice
My hands
My family
My Friends
My Claybanks Church.

It has been five plus months since our world has been turned around, over, under and through. We have worshiped on the radio, on the web, in our living rooms, on our porches and decks and too many other places to count. Now Claybanks UMC is able to worship in a relatively safe place for a number of our church family. As of this writing we have been able to come together twice to worship outside of our church building on the drives and on our lawn with great enthusiasm and our hands raised in praise.

I cannot express in words how good it feels as your pastor to look out and see faces and hear voices. I am deeply grateful to Anne Riegler, Mears UMC, and Shelby UMC as they have allowed us to be a part of their worship on the radio and live streaming. On our last Sunday together on August 2nd following worship we were able to track the number of computers that were connected to our webcast. It was 172 computers that were participating in our livestream. It is not possible to determine numbers of listeners from radio but when we combine the membership of Mears, Shelby and Claybanks United Methodist Churches knowing that there may be more than one person watching the live stream on devices and listing on the radio we were exceeding the combined total of all three churches by a good margin. We raise our hands in praise!

It is difficult during these times to be a “Church”, but God is using us to reach those who may not ever or may only infrequently attend worship in our churches. With the assistance of modern technology we are reaching far and wide to those on the margins. Praise the Holy Spirit!

Now that we have returned to in- person worship at Claybanks for the next few weeks outdoors and when we return indoors to our sanctuary, we at Claybanks can offer something new for those who want to connect but need to remain at a distance. We have now a working transmitter that will broadcast our worship service for 1000 yards. So if you feel that you want to worship with us, you can do it in the safety from your auto. We will save the north side of the parking lot for those who like to be present yet keep a safe space. When we return to indoor worship sometime in the fall, we will continue to broadcast on 103.9 FM for those who would choose to remain in their autos.

Our Worship Design Team has been meeting and continually evaluating our worship service and will try to bring a spirit lead worship experience to as many as possible in ways that meet their needs. Please let us know if we can do anything in our worship more safely, uplifting, engaging and Spirit-led.

Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

Returning to Worship Outdoor at Claybanks United Methodist Church

We have been blessed to worship with Mears and Shelby United Methodist Churches on the radio and on the web these past few months. It is believed now is the time for all three church to once again to gather with in person worship. Weather permitting August 9th into September we will worship outdoors at Claybanks United Methodist Church.

This is an alternative to returning to worshiping in the sanctuary during the present level of Covid-19. It is felt that with caution we can meet and worship outdoors. Worship will begin at 10:30 AM.

The drive between the building and lawn on the south side of the church will be where we are placing our Cross, candles, equipment, keyboard and podium.

Face coverings will be required all the time as we gather. When we arrive please keep physical safe distance. Please sit-down using lawn chairs that you have brought with you or folding chairs from our building will be made available. Look for markings for safe distancing.

Bulletins and music will be placed on tables to be picked up by those attending and wishing to do so. We would request those doing this maintain a minimum of 6-foot physical distance from those ahead of you as you pick up bulletins and music. Hand sanitizer, wipes and extra face coverings will also be available in the bulletin table areas.

Using the green space between our parking lot and the drive that goes along next to the building we will identify areas in which groups can sit keeping a six-foot interval between groups.

We can sing during worship temporary as we remain outside and given the particle airborne danger singing creates for spreading droplets beyond 6 feet even outside, face coverings need to be worn during singing. John Wesley normally encourages us to, “Sing with good courage” but he would be amendable for us during this time to sing with softer voices.

There will be offering plates placed in the area adjacent to the parking area on tables. Also baskets for prayer concerns will be on the tables.

The double doors of church will be propped open for those needing to use the restrooms.

Parking spaces along the north edge of the parking lot will be reserved for those wanting to stay in their vehicles and for those with physical limitations. We now have a limited distance FM Radio Transmitter so you will be able to tune your car radio to listen to the worship service. A station selection will be communicated to you at worship time.

Following worship those attending are asked to wear their face coverings as they leave the area.

These items of caution that we will be following are to help us have a safer worship experience and haven been determined and selected using an abundance of caution. The steps that we take now are being done to acknowledge that we care for one another. Because of the errors that have been previously made by opening too soon or not taking the correct cautionary steps have led us to places where we have unknowingly and unwittingly allowed the Covid-19 virus to spread. We are learning and planning not to repeat them. If you have any other possible concerns or ideas for safe gathering and worship, please bring them forward so that we can evaluate and place them within our structure to worship outdoors or when we move indoors.

Please be in prayer as you consider whether to return to group worship. I am praying for all in this matter. Health concerns, comfort levels and your personal wellbeing are our concern. We will not make any judgement nor pressure anyone to return to worship until they are ready to do so. Know that we will pray for all our Claybanks Family each and every Sunday.
Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

I am writing this message to you with a deep concern for the physical health of our congregation and the need to be spiritually fed. Over the past two weeks our Worship Design Committee and our Administrative Council have looked at the possibility of returning to worship once again in the Claybanks United Methodist Church Sanctuary. We were carefully looking at returning to worship in the first part of July along with other churches in our area. It has been decided during these past few days that our community is not ready for us to return to worshiping together. With the recent increase of Covid-19 cases in Oceana County and the rising trend in our country, we are not ready to gather together safely in our church building. When the time is right for us to gather together additional communications will be issued by phone, email or postal mail to confirm our re-engaging in worship. To do this we must meet the requirements set before us by the State of Michigan, follow guidelines developed for the re-engaging of churches by the Michigan Conference of United Methodist Churches and the determination to do so by our church leadership. This will not be an easy process and some practices will not be what we have done before as we worship God, in the image of Christ through the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Please hear and understand when I say this: you must decide for yourself and possibly other family members as to how comfortable you will be in returning to worship in the future. Some of us for health reasons must refrain from gathering together because of the possible health risks Covid-19 poses to those with pre-existing health conditions and other at a greater risk. For those who are just not ready to return to worship and all who will not be with us in worship as we gather together please do not let peer pressure, the habit only of being in worship on Sunday mornings or any other possible influences that might make it uncomfortable for you to be in worship be your only deciding factor. I assure you that we will not judge anyone or place a negative value on your decision to gather in common space worship until you feel comfortable. God knows your heart and wants nothing but safety and your well-being to be his desire.

If and when you so choose to return to worship, please evaluate your health each and every day including Sunday mornings prior to attending worship. People with Covid – 19 have a wide range of symptoms and if you have any of these please stay-at-home, contact your local medical providers and evaluate your current health. Some of the Covid-19 symptoms are: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficult breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, feeling nauseous or vomiting, and diarrhea. Should you have any of these symptoms please error on the side of safety for yourself and others that you might come in contact with.

For Sunday morning worship and any time we gather at Claybanks United Methodist Church we will practice safe social and physical distancing. We have developed policies and procedures in which to meet these requirements as much as possible. Wearing of face coverings is required for all with this one exception: those who because of health reasons are not able to where a face covering. We asked that you contact Pastor Gary prior to arriving at church so that we can make accommodations to keep you safe and others safe. All are welcome but certain restrictions will be in place. The entrance and exit to our building will only be through our double door entrance into the Fellowship Hall. As you approach and enter the church building please respect and use safe distancing. The entrance being used is wide and will allow the safest entry into our building. When entering and leaving safe distances are required. Hand sanitizer, sanitized wipes and face coverings will be available at our entrance area please use them. We will have a noncontact thermometer available should it be needed. In the entryway you will find baskets in which you may place your offerings for the day. We ask you to minimize your contact or touching of surfaces within the church. As you approach and enter the church building please respect and use safe distancing. Ushers will be available to seat you in the Sanctuary or in the Fellowship Hall if you prefer and we will use Fellowship Hall as overflow when needed. Please follow the directions of ushers and sit where direct (be open to the new and different perspective from your usual sitting location). We have determined the best possible seating to maximize the number of seats available in the sanctuary keeping safe distances. Bulletins will be placed in the seating areas where the ushers will guide you to. During our worship when we use a call and response, we ask you to respond in soft voices. For the immediate future we will not be singing, Suzanne is selecting music for worship that will touch our souls. To lift up Joys and Concerns we ask you to write them out prior to attending worship or use the forms provided in the pews which the pastor will collect and offer up during our prayer time. To minimize contact our Scripture Readings will be done by our liturgist and should you want to read along we asked that you bring your own Bible to worship. The touching of Bibles and our hymnals in the pews we are asking you to keep to a minimum. At the conclusion of worship, we will dismiss those in the Fellowship Hall first and then working from the back of the church towards the front you will be directed to leave by pew using safe distancing. We asked that you leave the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall and proceed outside so that others can be directed to leave in a timely fashion.

Please be flexible and aware of the changes being made and any adjustments that will be made in the future are to protect you and the others as we gather together in community. It is our prayer that the precautions that we take will be effective in allowing us to continue to meet together in worship as the community of Christ gathers at Claybanks United Methodist Church to give glory and praise to God for the love that he has for us and our church.

We as a church have never closed, so the church does not need to be reopened only re-engaged in worship. We as a church have simply stop worshiping in our building for time to protect the health and well-being of the people in our community. The church does not require a building in order to be the church. What is required to be a church is love, compassion and the presence of God.

May the love of God and the compassion of Christ be in all that you do and say, and may the presence of the Holy Spirit be with you each and every day wherever you might be.

Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

As I am writing this Pastor Ponderings, I sit in one of the most difficult decision times of my life. I write this pondering out of love for the Claybanks United Methodist Church. When will we be able to more safely meet in person together as the Body of Christ? I and along with many other church leaders as part of a Christian body lead and guide in a time of considerable uncertainty and with a prayerful hope that we as God’s people are able to work through this, “Once in a lifetime event”. First Corinthians 16:4 speaks to us, “Let all that you do be done in love” and I am also reminded of Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We may be slowly approaching a time when we may once again be able to gather in worship. At the time of this writing we believe it will be at a time after June 15th when the State of Michigan may lift the Emergency Order that will allow for groups of 10 or more to gather in the same place. Bishop Bard and others in leadership in the Michigan Area Conference of the United Methodist Church have developed guidelines to assist us in gathering more safely as we returned to “A more normal church” as we might remember and have experienced in our lifetime. We will only do this under and with extreme caution. The difficulty for us is gathering all the different resources that are needed and the trust that is needed for us to come together in a safe manor. I believe that trust is one of the greatest resources in human society. In a reading that I have done most recently written by Paul Nixon who encourages us as a community to develop relationships with others and in so doing we will develop a level of trust through respect, friendship, and love. In trust we develop a covenant of mutual respect and love for each other and that forms a kind of canopy, a protection so that we can come together as members of the church to fulfill the many different missions that a church provides not only for us but others of our church and community.

We have been living with Covid – 19 for over three months now and it has made an impact on our lives that none of us could have ever predicted. We are still living in a time of uncertainty as to how long we will have to adjust to a new, “Normal”. The leaders of our church are working to develop a new playbook that will honor the mission of our church and the community that we at Claybanks United Methodist Church serve. We are striving to make the most of our organization’s assets: our people, our finances, our relationships, and our trust for each other to work together.

The past three months have brought to us a time for grieving, and as I look into the future we will continue to grieve for the loss of many lives. Some lives of people that we have known, and others lives known also to God. We also grieve for the many of the things that we have loved to do that will be forever changed. The way we worship, how we work, how we enjoy recreation and how we see what God has given us in the world around us. We grieve the changes and adjustments of our relationships and even how we will use our time differently. Yet, in this time I believe we can form a new vision and a new hope. For during this these past few months, we have learned to enjoy even the smallest things of life that we had previously passed over.

We can look forward to new ways to be challenged as we are being presented new ways in which to learn and to change. For we have been afforded an opportunity to explore the depths in our lives and in our souls as our hearts are strangely warmed as Christians. It is through this challenge of testing of our faith we recognize that we have been strengthened through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior. Let us act boldly today and tomorrow building the best world we can for the love of our neighbor and the glory of God

Pastor’s Ponderings

From Psalm 86:6 – 7 “Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication in the day of my trouble, I call on you, for you will answer me”. Tomorrow is not a promise it is a gift from God. We need to recognize the changes that God has given us in our life during Covid-19 as we are sheltering in place at home. Along with some of you and many in our world today I have made adjustments to my life. Reba has pointed out to me that I am more communicative and sharing in what I see in our media, what I have read and in my devotional life. We have tried with somewhat limited success to turn off the television for extended periods of time so that our minds can go to other places. Yet, we always return back to those places that keep us informed on what is happening around us in our community, in our state, in our country and around the world. At times the news seems overwhelming and I need to just take a deep breath, breathe slowly and remind myself that it is truly a gift to be here each day and God has programmed us to be able to change even in the most difficult of times. It is the ability to change using the strength that God gives us that will see us through.

Much of my time during these past few weeks have been dedicated to communicating with family, friends, the Claybanks United Methodist Church family, our district, conference and pastors from our United Methodist Churches and pastors from other denominations. A common thread in so much of these conversations is that yes, we will get through this, life will be different in a number of different ways beyond what we could have ever imagined. We are a people of trust and hope. God has given us the strength and love for each other in knowing that his gift of another day will be there in eternal life.

As of this writing we know that we will not be gathering together in worship at the Claybanks United Methodist Church at least until after May 15th. It is possible that our coming together may be some time off from that in the future. Of the many new things that I as your pastor have learned from a number of different educational training and supportive webinars that our conference has offered us as pastors is that we may be doing church differently from how we have done church in the past. Our future may hold some new changes and challenges for us. It may not seem comfortable to us yet there will be a new “normal” for a period of time for us as a church community. We need to prepare ourselves to adjust in doing church differently. What that will be, will be determined by the best practices as we as United Methodists uphold our belief given to us by John Wesley our founder and that is to, “Do no harm”. By meeting together in the different forms that we anticipate we will need to do we will be doing “Good” as a church community and we will continue as we are doing right now as we practice, “Staying in love with God”.

I have worked to stay in touch with the leadership of the Claybanks United Methodist Church and they are supportive in that we as a church need to continue to make disciples for Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world. This means that the gift we have been given is a promise from God as the psalmist so beautifully said, “In the day of my trouble I will call on you for you will answer me O God”.

If you need to talk, I am only a phone call or email away. Stay safe, practice physical distancing, lift each other up in prayer, and stay in touch with your family, friends and each other as brothers and sisters in Christ for you are Claybanks United Methodist Church.
Peace and blessings,

Pastor Gary

Claybanks United Methodist Church
March 8, 2020 10:30 a.m.
*Indicates to stand as you are able

Second Sunday in Lent

Welcome and Announcements

*Praise Song “Oh, How He Loves You and Me” TFWS#2108


In this place, among these people,
God is worshipped, God is praised.
We have seen the signs and wonders;
the lost are found here, the dead are raised.
We are living the Gospel story;
lives are changed, and mountains moved.
Won’t you come and work among us?
You are welcomed, you are loved.

*Call to Worship

*Gloria Patri UMH #70

Opening Prayer

*Hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” UMH #117

Prayers of the People – Joys and Concerns

Children’s Time–
After prayers, sing the Children out – “Jesus Loves Me.” Children 5 and under are welcome to remain in worship or go to the nursery at this time.

The Offering of Our Gifts and Ourselves

*Doxology UMH #95

Prayer of Dedication

*Hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” UMH#121

Sharing of the Word

Old Testament Reading:​​Isaiah 53:7-9​​page 596
Epistle Reading: ​​​Titus 3:4-7 page 969
*Gospel Reading:​​​John 12:1-8​​page 874
Message: The Day of My Burial Pastor Gary


*Hymn “He Leadeth Me” UMH#128


Calendar and Announcements

Sunday, March 8, 2020
Sunday School 9:30 Youth 9:45
10:30 a.m. – Worship

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Noon Lenten Conversations at St. James Catholic Church

Sunday, March 15, 2020
Sunday School 9:30 Youth 9:45
10:30 a.m. – Worship

Tuesday, March 17, 2020
5 p.m. Worship Design, 6:30 Trustees, 7:00 p.m. Ad Council

Office Telephone: 231-923-0573
Office email:

Pianist​​​​: ​ Suzanne Bellrichard
Liturgist: Art Grumm
Nursery: Kathy Ohman
Ministers​: All People As We Live the Good News

Good News Letter

Pastor Ponderings March 2020

What is next for our United Methodist Church? Back in January, I preached a message concerning the state of the United Methodist Church and possibly where we were going. At that time a nine page document called “Protocol for Reconciliation And Grace Through Separation” had just been announced and was agreed upon by a coalition of global connected and advocacy groups within the United Methodist Church. This protocol was brought forward as a way to end or at least greatly reduce the denominations decades’ long struggle over how accepting we are to be of homosexuality. In March 2019 at the special called General Conference in St. Louis it became clear that a line in the sand had turned into a canyon and the impasse was such that we have come to realize that we just cannot stay this way any longer so the protocol was brought forward.

Since the protocol was released, it has been written up in a form that the United Methodist Judicial Council has approved and it now clarifies many of the questions brought forward since its release. In order for it to be brought to the 2020 General Conference to be held in May of this year in Minneapolis-St. Paul this proposal must be brought by an Annual Conference as approved legislation to be placed in front of the voting members of General Conference. Because the date to submit ratified legislation from Annual Conferences for General Conference was passed by last fall and no Annual Conference is meeting until after the General Conference the Michigan Annual Conference and the Sierra Leon Annual Conference have been selected to bring this protocol in front of the General Conference in May. These two conferences were selected with respect to the leadership that each conference Bishop has taken not only within their conference but in the greater United Methodist Church. A special session of the Michigan Annual Conference has been called to meet on Saturday, March 7th in the Goodrich Chapel on the campus of Adrian College with the sole purpose of this session to consider whether the Michigan Conference will approve and send the legislation based on the “Protocol for Reconciliation And Grace Through Separation” to the General Conference 2020 so that it might be considered by the delegates at the General Conference. To receive this approved legislation, the General Conference has said they will take it up as the first piece of legislative business. Only an approved piece of legislation from an Annual Conference can be brought forth to General Conference so one or both of the Annual Conferences must approve the proposed legislation.

Representing Claybanks United Methodist Church at the March 7th Special Session Annul Conference will be Edie Bogart who has been our Claybanks representative to Annual Conference for a number of years. Reba Peterson who is currently an equalization representative will also be attending. Myself, as clergy, will be attending and all three of us have been given by our positions voice and vote to the proposal. I would ask that you keep Edie, Reba and myself in prayers as we continue to research and try to understand all the complexities of this proposal. We understand what is about to take place is the most significant possible change in the life of our church since 1968 when the United Brethren Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church became the United Methodist Church that we have come to love and received love through in so many different ways.

Please keep our Methodist Church and its leaders in your prayers.

​​​​​​​​Pastor Gary