By: Rev. Keith Turman
“The pastor shall give a report on the state of the church.” Every year, at the fall Charge Conference meeting, I am charged with this task. My bishop wants to know what’s happening at First United Methodist Church Waynesville? The funny thing is, there’s so much good stuff happening around here, I don’t know the half of it. A pastor friend once said, “If I know everything that’s going on in my church, there’s not enough going on.” So when I asked the staff, “What’s going on around here?” the conversation that followed was inspiring.
For me, the inspiration began before anyone said a word. I look around the staff meeting table and know immediately that something special is happening. Fire burns in their eyes and in their bellies, and the unique contribution of each forms an amazing team. It’s important for you to know that your staff is consumed with passion for God, for FUMC, and for this community that God has called all of us to transform. And we actually like each other, and seem really excited about our jobs. We also really like you. What is evident in our work as a staff team is a mutual understanding that this congregation is special. Whenever someone asks me about you, I find myself searching for new words. None of the old ones seem to fully capture you. But words aren’t really necessary. Your actions are quite loud.
It’s no surprise to me that the church is growing at every turn. All three Sunday worship services are thriving. Sunday school classes and Wonderful Wednesday groups continue to grow in the number of opportunities and the number of people taking advantage of those opportunities. This fall we trained twenty Journey Group leaders, who will begin launching small discipleship groups like those that fueled the early Methodist movement. Our programs for youth and children are growing faster than we imagined possible. The Child Development Center added two new classes this fall. And music is at the center of it all. Over 140 elementary school kids populate our Music Makers classes each Wednesday, and the Youth Music Lab sends guitars and banjos home with our musicians of the future. The Clean and Green Club, which not only raises awareness of all things ‘green’ but also picks up trash each week at the post office and library, has three times as many kids participating this year. The chancel choir has grown ten percent in the past year, while the Awakening band continues to provide new opportunities for musicians to share their talents and lead in worship.
Our Congregational Care Team is doing an amazing job of caring for people who call FUMC home. I see excellence in caring for people struggling with life’s difficulties, shut-ins are connected with their pastors and with members of the congregation, and new this year, our Congregational Care Team has formed a group of retired clergy who take communion into the homes of those who can’t make it into our sanctuaries on Sunday morning. I look into fiery eyes at the staff-meeting table and I hear dreams of how we can do more to care for people. How can we create space for those who grieve? How can we create space where conversations about death and dying are normalized and not kept bottled up inside? How can we get our children and youth actively involved in the ministries of Congregational Care? Everything is growing!
Our community connections are growing too. Our ties with the public schools are stronger than ever. Our Youth Ministry Team goes into the high school and middle school each week for an event called Breakfast and Bible, where a growing number of students show up early for a Chick-fil-A biscuit and a message about God from our youth pastor. When our community cried for help with afterschool issues, we created Middle School After School. The program has grown so much that the school has designated a bus for FUMC, which delivers 150 students into our youth arena each day after school.
The Youth Ministry Team decided to feed the Tuscola High School football tem one Friday night after the game. They prepared chicken parmesan for 85 starving football players. Ask them to tell you about that one! In the Spring, our church joined the teachers and students at Junaluska Elementary School for a Stop Hunger Now event. At Christmas time, we join forces with the schools to take children Christmas shopping. Our annual Back to School Bash provides much needed school supplies. Our youth and confirmation class have served at the Open Door ministry for homeless people, they have visited local nursing homes, and they joined other FUMC volunteers who read with kids at the Pigeon Multicultural Center. Our growing connection with the community includes connecting with many local agencies trying to help people in need. We offer life screening, hold blood drives, and have been trained by harm reduction advocates to help people struggling with addiction. The Missions Team launched a new initiative this year called Waves of Grace—giving us opportunities to bring as an act of worship items that will help people in our community. Our altars have been covered in shoes, diapers, towels, and school supplies. And speaking of altars, our sacred spaces have not only allowed for worship on Sundays, but have provided space for our community to celebrate the arts. First United Methodist Church continues to be a hub for the community of Waynesville and beyond.
All of this good stuff puts our church in a problematic state. The predicament is that we are bursting at the seams, and we are running out of room to grow. I think I am most excited that our process to develop a Master Plan for building into the future is genuinely motivated by a desire to be a transforming presence in our town. We are working with architects and consultants to help us put some shape to our dreams, and we need you to be a part of the process. The Master Plan Team will host four listening sessions in November and December, and conduct a church-wide survey in January. We want everyone to have an opportunity to provide input that will help lead us forward.
Finally, I know that many are concerned about the state of our denomination. At a called General Conference in February 2019, delegates from around the world will meet in St. Louis to decide on a way forward for our church. The question they will address: Will we fully include gay and lesbian people in our life together as United Methodists, specifically as it relates to marriage and ordination.
I know that we have differing opinions and viewpoints in our congregation, so like any good family, we are going to talk about it. As your pastor, I want to lead us in this crucial conversation. The plan is simple but not easy: we will create a safe place to listen and share our stories with each other. Details and logistics will come soon, but for now please plan to participate in four January evening conversations that will begin Wednesday, January 9, 2019.
I want you to know that I am praying for you, and hope you will join me in praying for those gathering in St. Louis. I also want you to know that I am committed to give my best to this very important matter. I continue to learn, not only theological considerations associated with this conversation, but also ways for us to have these conversations well. I find myself extremely grateful to be on this journey with you, and my heart is at peace. Thanks for being an amazing church.