Category Archives: Pastor’s Ponderings

Pastor’s Ponderings

The Claybanks United Methodist Church is a rural church. Recently, I have found myself thinking about how we, as Claybanks UMC, will continue to serve our community and selves into the future. I have found myself doing some reading and writing in preparation for an educational opportunity that I will be participating in come November. The last Sunday in August, we worshiped outside and celebrated our church’s history over the past many years of being a part of the Claybanks community. Many people come from rural church backgrounds and many people return to rural churches in the later stages of their lives.

Jesus was a country boy. He was a rural person who came from a rural place, the little hamlet of Nazareth which is thought to have had a population of about four hundred during Jesus’s time there. Jesus was known as “Son of Joseph from Nazareth,” which elicited the following jest from the would-be follower Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1: 46). Most of Jesus’s ministry took place in the rural context. And Jesus spoke in a language and in parables contextually appropriate for rural people.

When Jesus did notable healing miracles, many of them took place in small communities such as Capernaum. As soon as Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, real church began. As were many other stories where Jesus healed the sick, Jesus would heal those who had addictions and those who were spirit-possessed one by one, according to Mark in chapter one. Who knew that the Church of Jesus would take place in ordinary places like on a front porch or under a tree or on a hillside. So much of what Jesus spoke to people, his love actions and his healings, were expressed in a setting that we would describe as country. It has never been more evident to me that in our rural setting, where we find Claybanks United Methodist Church, we experience the circle of life.

From the Disney film “Lion King” hear these words of a song the “Circle of Life.”

Some say eat or be eaten. Some say live and let live. But all are agreed as they join the stampede. You should never take more than you give.

In the circle of life, it is the wheel of fortune. It is the leap of faith. It is the band of hope, till we find our place on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life.

Some of us fall by the wayside, and some of us soar to the stars, and some of us sail through our troubles, and some must live with the scars.

There is far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found, but the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky keeps great and small on the endless round.

In the circle, the circle of life on the path unwinding, yeah in the circle, circle of life.

Rural churches are not unlike the circle of life of people. We sustain hope, we stampede through life and at times we find ourselves trampled and trampling the land. In our rural communities, we work hard to build relationships in extended distances that we call neighborliness. We strive to live in harmony with the land and with our neighbors and we work hard to put food on the tables for our country by which we eke out a substance for living. Our life is not always like a bowl of cherries in the woodland. Some of the same problems that exist in the cities are parts of our lives here in the country. But there is also healing here too. We build circles of trust when conversation and care can take place. Jesus did some of his best work in the rural setting such as in Capernaum which was an isolated community. In that rural church setting, there was space for connection where people gathered and created church sanctuaries in their homes and out of the way places. As I have been preparing for my educational program in late fall, I came across an article that I needed to understand as I prepared. The article looked at three attributes of a community.

1. It must be accessible: communities form in normal spaces where people gather and speak plain truth for all people. The only requirement for membership is a desire to flee the wrath to come. The church is not closed to our neighborhood, and we speak a common language, just as Jesus did when he “Came and made his home among them.”

2. Communities must be safe: our communities meet in small, intimate groups. All people from all the different walks of life must be welcomed and harmful behavior will not be tolerated. It is a place of healing, not harm, an environment of grace, an inclusive space where the “Good News” is made available to all.

3. We must be people who are real. People are invited to come to terms with their lives in whole or as broken as they may be. We as a church community must be able to say, “How goes it with your soul?” People are to be invited to be a part of a community and must know there is mutual support. We must be willing to be a part of the pain that people in our community may feel by bringing love, prayer, and healing to them.

We know Claybanks United Methodist Church is a place that embodies hospitality. We are a community that is accessible, safe, and so that people know that there is space for their struggles, to find healing and express their joy of life. Rural churches are charged with providing persons in their community a place to be a part of the circle of life. We as a church, are a critical artery for the life of those in our community and we must be the Body of Christ to the community in which we live.

For the past six years, I as your pastor am blessed to serve in retirement at the Claybanks United Methodist Church and have tried to lead from the middle. Knowing that the members of our church have been and will be at the Administrative Council and Committees leading from the front and the members of the church, as a body, leading from behind with their encouragement for the whole church. By leading from the middle, I have tried to embody the life of Jesus as I have allowed the church to continue doing those things that Claybanks United Methodist Church has done so well over the years on their own. I have worked to insert myself only in the areas where there is a need and my abilities and strengths have added to who we are as a church. Scripture points out to us that first Jesus sent out twelve and then seventy-two ahead of him. Jesus was preparing those who followed him to continue his ministry. It has been, and will continue to be, my ministry to emulate Jesus by training, teaching, praying, and leading through scripture and by assisting and leading the Claybanks church community into the future. My prayer is that I will remain empowered to coach and encourage, to be a disciple and to mentor where needed.

The Claybanks church, like other congregations, is a community. When we become involved in our church activities, extend our involvement into other community events we become disciples of Christ in tangible ways. When we have Jesus Christ present in our lives and share him as we engage not only at church and our church functions but in other functions throughout our community, we are expressing to others in our community who we are as followers of Jesus Christ and committed members of the Claybanks United Methodist Church.

September 11th Service

Claybanks United Methodist Church
Sunday, September 11, 2022
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
*Indicates to stand as you are able

Welcome and Announcements

*Praise Song
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”……..UMH 103

Prelude

*Processional

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

Leader: Our help is in God,
All: Who calls us to worship.
Leader: Our hope is in love,
All: That calls us to care.
Leader: Come, let us bring our full selves to worship.
All: Let us bring our love and care.

*Gloria Patri………………………..……….UMH   70

*Opening Prayer

Thoughts and Silence (As we remember 9/11)

*Hymn
Amazing Grace”…………………….…..UMH 378

Prayers of the People – Joys and Concerns

Children’s Time – After prayers, sing the children out to “Jesus Loves Me.”  Children under five are welcome to remain in worship or go to the nursery

The Offering of Our Gifts and Ourselves

*Doxology……………………………………….…………UMH 95

*Prayer of Dedication

*Hymn

”Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us”…………UMH 381

Sharing of the Word

Epistle Reading
1 Timothy 1:12-17…………..Page 963
*Gospel Reading

Luke 15:1-10…….….……Page 850

Message by Pastor Gary Peterson
”How Many Meals Shall I Eat With Sinners”

Prayer

*Hymn
”I Come with Joy”…………………UMH 617

*Benediction

Postlude – Please be seated

Pianist – Suzanne Bellrichard

Liturgist  – Bev Grumm

Ministers – All People As We Live The Good News

September 4th Service

Claybanks United Methodist Church
Sunday, September 4, 2022
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
*Indicates to stand as you are able

 Labor Day Weekend

Welcome and Announcements

*Praise Song
This Is My Song”……..…………..UMH 437

Prelude

*Processional

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

Leader: Look around. What wonders we behold!
All: We see others, gathered here to worship, and praise God.
Leader: Each person here is a unique, beloved creation of God.
All: Each person here is given special gifts and talents by God.
Leader: Come, let us worship God who has blessed us so mightily.
All: Let us praise God with our whole hearts, souls, minds, and spirits. AMEN.

*Gloria Patri…………………………………………..……….UMH   70

*Opening Prayer

Recognizing Labor Day

*Hymn
American the Beautiful”…………………..UMH 696

Prayers of the People – Joys and Concerns

Children’s Time – After prayers, sing the children out to “Jesus Loves Me.”  Children under five are welcome to remain in worship or go to the nursery

The Offering of Our Gifts and Ourselves

*Doxology………………………….…………UMH 95

*Prayer of Dedication

*Hymn
”Take My Life, and Let It Be”……………..UMH 399

Sharing of the Word

Old Testament Reading
Jeremiah 18:1-11………Page 629
Epistle Reading
Philemon 1:1-21……………Page 970

Message by Pastor Gary Peterson
”We Can Rework Clay(banks)”

Words of Assurance

The Great Thanksgiving

Prayer

*Hymn
”Have Thine Own Way, Lord”…..………UMH 382

*Benediction

Postlude – Please be seated

Pianist – Suzanne Bellrichard

Liturgist  – Edie Bogart

Ministers – All People As We Live The Good News

August 21st Service

Claybanks United Methodist Church
Sunday, August 21, 2022
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
*Indicates to stand as you are able

Welcome and Announcements

*Praise Song
His Eye Is on the Sparrow”…………TFWS 2146

Prelude

*Processional

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

Leader: With great rejoicing we come to the house of the Lord today!
All: God is our refuge and our stronghold.
Leader: The power and love of God flow through this gathering.
All: We place our whole trust in God’s mighty compassion for us.
Leader: Come let us worship the Lord!
All: Let us celebrate the presence of God here in this place and in our lives. AMEN.

*Gloria Patri…………………………..……….UMH   70

*Affirmation of Faith……………………………UHM 883

*Hymn
Wonderful Words of Life”……………..…..UMH 600

Prayers of the People – Joys and Concerns

Children’s Time –
After prayers, sing the children out to “Jesus Loves Me.”  Children under five are welcome to remain in worship or go to the nursery

The Offering of Our Gifts and Ourselves

*Doxology……………………….…………UMH 95

*Prayer of Dedication

*Hymn
”How Can I Keep from Singing”………….TFWS 2212

Sharing of the Word

Old Testament Reading
Psalm 103:1-14…….…..Page 482
*Gospel Reading

Luke 12:22-31………..…..Page 847

Message by Edie Bogart
”Forgiveness, Gratitude and the Power of Prayer”

Prayer

*Hymn
”Lord of the Dance”…..…………..UMH 261

*Benediction

Postlude – Please be seated

Pianist – Suzanne Bellrichard

Liturgist  – Kathy Ohman

Ministers – All People As We Live The Good News

August 7th Service

Claybanks United Methodist Church
Sunday, August 7, 2022
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
*Indicates to stand as you are able

Welcome and Announcements

*Praise Song
How Firm a Foundation”…………….UMH 529

Prelude

*Processional

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

Leader: God called Abraham and Sarah and promised to bless them.
All: Through faith they obeyed and received God’s inheritance.
Leader: God called Isaac and Jacob, as heirs of that promise.
All: They too followed in faith, seeking God’s realm.
Leader: God calls us to join them, as heirs with the faithful.
All: We come here in faith, assured by the knowledge that was fulfilled in the lives of your servants.

*Gloria Patri…………………………..……….UMH   70

*Opening Prayer

*Hymn
I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”…………….UMH 712

Prayers of the People – Joys and Concerns

Children’s Time –
After prayers, sing the children out to “Jesus Loves Me.”  Children under five are welcome to remain in worship or go to the nursery

The Offering of Our Gifts and Ourselves

*Doxology…………………….…………UMH 95

*Prayer of Dedication

*Hymn
”Take Time to Be Holy”………………….UMH 395

Sharing of the Word

Epistle Reading
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16……..…..Page 977

*Gospel Reading
Luke 12:32-40………………Page 847

Message by Pastor Gary Peterson
”I Need Assurance”

Words of Assurance

The Great Thanksgiving

Prayer

*Hymn
”Give to the Winds Thy Fears”………….UMH 129

Benediction

Postlude – Please be seated

Pianist – Suzanne Bellrichard

Liturgist  – Doris Graham

Ministers – All People As We Live The Good News

Pastor’s Ponderings

Sitting In Traffic

A few years ago, when I was assigned to the Fennville United Methodist Church, Reba and I had returned to Grand Rapids for an activity. We were only a few blocks from where we had lived prior to moving to Fennville. We had spent a large part of our lives living in large cities including Grand Rapids and Indianapolis. While sitting in stop-and-go traffic as we visited Grand Rapids, I made an assessment when looking around at all the cars and stated to Reba, “I can see more cars right now at this moment than I would ever see in Fennville in a weeks’ time.”

We were not moving, and you could tell by those around us people were becoming anxious, and I found myself also becoming frustrated with the lack of progress. We were stuck and going almost nowhere and I could see other people, and myself included, becoming frustrated with their hands on the steering wheel, moving just short amounts of space, and the minutes ticking away, and I believe as I remember there were even a few protests of noisy horns and that reminded me of when geese fly over and they honk to encourage each other to move faster and to keep going.

Sitting there I recognize that I still cannot deal well with becoming impatient. I have lived with this a good portion of my life, at times recognizing it and dealing with it appropriately and at other times I am not in complete control of my feelings and actions. For most of my professional career I have had a good amount of control of what and when I would do things. I could, for the most part, determine my own schedule. And when I had to live with someone else’s predetermined schedule for me, I fought it as best I could to try to make small and subtle changes so that I would think that no one was taking complete control over me.

One of the blessings that I have found being a pastor is that for the good of my own soul I need to feel what it is like to wait, to let the moments march past. And here I am today sitting in semi-retirement and not sitting in the middle of a freeway forced against my will to practice waiting. Now I may believe that in semi-retirement I have complete control but in reality, I do not. Every day I wait. I wait for certain TV shows, at times I wait for healing, I wait for the days to come when something important is to be done, and as a follower of Jesus Christ I wait for rescue and redemption. And like all of us I am waiting to know that we will end our earthly life and begin a new stage in our journey of everlasting life being with our Savior and Redeemer in the next stage of eternity.

Christians are people who wait. We live in the present, looking to the future as we look back at the past. Scripture tells us Christ has come and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime, we wait.

But in my daily life I have developed and continue to have those habits of impatience, at times speeding ahead, or trying to squeeze more into my cluttered day. I remember not too long ago when camping with my brother and sisters and their families, we would try to plan for two activities in a day and sometimes even work to squeeze three events in a day as we had gathered trying to maximize our week together.

Patience is the basic part of Christianity; the power to wait, to preserve, to hold out, to endure and to end, but not going beyond one’s own limitations. As God’s children who are loved by God, we must learn the hard practice of patience. Sitting in traffic, stuck, is one of the few times in my day where I embody the true state of my whole human existence on the way, already but not yet, living as a child of God in the in-between, waiting. We are impatient people. We want happiness now. Fulfillment and gratitude now. And time is just another commodity that we seek to maximize. When we are forced to sit in traffic or delay our movements it reminds us that we are not as productive as we would like to be. In her book “Receiving The Day,” Dorothy Bass describes how perceiving time is something that we own and manage, as blocks on our cellphone can drive us to the false belief that time is primarily a force to be tamed, used, and controlled. We delude ourselves into believing that if we can just get everything done, if we can only tie up all those loose ends, if we can even once get ahead of the crush, we will prove our worth and establish ourselves securely. Use of time is social, cultural, and economic to be sure. But it is also a spiritual problem, one that runs right to the core of who we are as human beings. We forget that we are not the masters of time. God is the head of time. And we come to believe that our worth must be proved by the way we spend the hours and minutes in good management of time.

The reality is that time is a stream into which we are swept. Time is a gift from God, a means of worship. I need the church to remind me of reality: time is not a commodity that I control, manage, or consume. Time is not mine it does not revolve around me. Time revolves around God, what he has done, what he is doing and what he will do.

We live in a waiting world, a world where time itself along with all creation groans, waiting for something to be born. So even in the ruralness of Oceana County with only one stop light, I practice waiting and hoping. My present reality is looking towards what is to come and I will be on the way.

Waiting, therefore is an act of faith in that it is oriented towards the future. Yet, our assurance of hope is rooted in the past, and in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and in His promise and resurrection. In this way waiting, like time itself, is Christ’s fulcrum of time.

Scripture tells us that when we, “Hope for what we do not see, we wait for it patiently” says Romans chapter eight verse twenty-five. We live each day as ordinary in the light of a future reality. Our best life is yet to come. Our best life will be when we see Jesus Christ and sit at His right-hand giving praise to God the Father and thanking the Holy Spirit for  leading, guidance and giving us patience during our earthly time.

Text Box:  Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

For the first four days of June, Edie Bogart, Konnie Grant, Reba Peterson, and I attended the Michigan Area 2022 Annual Conference in Traverse City. This was the first time in three years that we could gather in person. For the past two years we have participated in our Annual Conference by Zoom. This year approximately 1800 delegates gathered for worship, preaching, training, education, encouragement, and taking care of the administrative business needed to keep our conference moving ahead.

On the first day, eight hundred pastors gathered as our Bishop Bard fixed pastor assignments, recognized pastors that were retiring and we celebrated seventeen new pastors joining our vocation in serving The United Methodist Church as clergy.

During our Trustees Administrative Session, we recognized the closure of ten United Methodist Churches in Michigan and took action to allow four churches to leave the United Methodist Michigan Conference under the guidelines of “A Way Forward Through Reconciliation.” While it is difficult to close churches and see churches leave our denomination, it is our prayer that new and exciting ministries will happen through these actions.

In our plenary sessions, we voted to support legislation that would encourage us as a denomination, a conference, churches, and individuals to take a stance against gun violence in our country which includes enhanced background checks and reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons. We also affirmed a resolution that encourages debt relief in diverse ways in which we can, as individuals and a nation, reduce the burden of federal student loan debt. In our discussion we learned that not only is this debt draining on those who incurred such overwhelming debt, but it also effects our country, our economy and discourages many to seek higher education to improve not only themselves but also education is away to increase our country’s standard of living.

We passed a resolution to encourage writing and giving support to our legislators that would allow immigrants to have state ID’s and possibly drivers’ licenses where possible.

We also adopted a statewide campaign that will bless children in Michigan and Liberia through the “Readers To Leaders Scholarship Program.” This program is asking each of the Michigan local congregations to assist in raising funds through the Children United Methodist Defense Fund.

We also affirmed actions for the future of the United Methodist Church that included the Covenant To Build Beloved Communities, a Call To Grace, and a narrative for the continuation of the United Methodist Church which had been presented to us from the Council of United Methodist Bishops.

The last pieces of legislation that were considered and approved were the annual fixing of appointments for pastors, establishing the guidelines for clergy compensation and benefits, and approval of the 2023 conference budget of $11,608,106.00 which is a 4.1% reduction from 2022. This reduction is because of reduced revenues that many churches have experienced and as we move out of COVID-19 with the dramatic effects that COVID has had on our United Methodist Churches.

Late Saturday afternoon following our closing worship we said our goodbyes to friends who we may only have seen in Zoom gatherings but now have been able to be together and to work shoulder to shoulder as delegates representing our local churches striving to make Disciples for Jesus Christ and the Transformation of the World.

It was a blessing to gather once again as United Methodists in the Michigan Area Conference under the leadership of Bishop Bard, our district superintendents, and the many conference committees of laity and conference staff.