Standing in Unity, Marching in Solidarity

As many of you are likely aware, over the last few weeks there has been a fundamental breakdown of communication and promises have been broken between the leadership of Pride STL and our local Trans community. If you are not aware of the background, this statement from James Croft at the Ethical Society of St. Louis does a great job of explaining that background.

Today, I met with Trans members of our congregation along with members of our Pride Team, and I am grateful for their vulnerable input, loving hearts, and sage guidance. I want to share with you what our MCC response will be this weekend in light of the recent events.

1.) I will be marching in Friday's Trans and Gender Free Pride March that is sponsored by MTUG (Metro Trans Umbrella Group). I invite any of you who would like to join me to do so. It is important that we stand in solidarity with MTUG and show MCC's inclusive love of God. It is deeply disappointing that MTUG could not lead us in the parade downtown as our Grand Marshall. We want to let them know we see them, we hear them, and we lovingly stand with and behind them.

2.) We will keep our booth open all weekend at both Tower Grove and Downtown Pride as we want to be able to engage with members of the community to continue sharing the Good News of God's love for LGBTQIA+ people. Given the rejections of LGBTQIA+ people that have happened in other Christian Churches this year, our loving, affirming voice is as important this year as ever.

3.) We will still co-lead our Interfaith Pride Service in the park (at 10am!), for nothing about God's love or the importance of having healthy spiritual lives has changed. God still meets us all exactly where we are, and that is the richest place to be!

4.) In response to recent events, rather than have our normal, very colorful, "glitter and rainbow explosion" Pride Float, we will be driving an un-decorated truck and trailer in the parade. We will have a very large white sign on the trailer with one simple statement in black letters. It will read, "Still Marching for Equality..." We will play calm, hopeful worship music (instead of things like the song "Happy") to draw attention to our intentional, prayerful belief in the ongoing need for true equality for everyone. Our marches will be invited to make simple, one-color signs with messages of love, unity, and prayer to display as we march.

This change to our float shows our willingness to listen and hear the testimonies of the most marginalized among us and hold all the tensions and disagreements that are found across our rainbow people. Even 50 years since Stonewall and after many strides forward in the pursuit of equality, we can all agree that there is more marching and more work to do for full equality to be realized.

I hope you will participate in these Pride events this weekend. This is a poignant moment in which we are invited to share the wisdom and guidance that we find in and through our faith. Let your light and love shine.

With Loving Solidarity and Unrelenting Hope,

Pastor Wes

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The Hurrier I Go

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The recently widowed woman said to her wise friend, "Belafonte was a good man. He worked his fanny off six and seven days a week. Sometimes, in addition to his business, he had to work one or two other jobs just to provide for us. I wonder if he got into heaven. I hope he did."

"I see," said her wise friend. "Did he go to church with you?"

"No, you don’t understand," said the widow. "Sunday mornings were when he caught up on his sleep…if he wasn’t working."

"Oh," said her wise friend, "He could have taken more time to be with God. But, I’m sure God is taking good care of him now."

"Hmmph…God," said the widow. "When was God was ever there for him?"

This brief story may spark the question for you: How on earth am I ever supposed to find time for God? My life is jam packed. I barely have time to breathe. So, I’m supposed to take time to study scripture, maybe read a devotional, and pray? Really? I move way too fast for all of that. Isn’t that what church is for?

Consider this fragment of the 23rd Psalm once more: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” You may have never thought of the very familiar verse this way, but you don’t have to go to extraordinary lengths to be with God. You don’t have to set aside time you don’t have. All you have to do is pay attention to the fact that God is right here with you.

ALL. THE. TIME.

HERE.

WITH YOU.

Let that sink in for a moment. All you have to do is think or talk. God is listening to every single word, monitoring every single thought during your extremely committed and busy life. When life seems overwhelming, pause momentarily and remember this fact: God is spending time with you every single moment of your life. Every moment. Now, stop and ask yourself again that question about how you’re supposed to carve out time for God. When God feels so far away, when you find yourself wondering how to find more time to spend with God, remember to let yourself relax into God’s constant presence in your life. God’s got this.

Join Us As We Slow Down for Lent

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If you have not yet signed up for our daily Lenten reflections, I wanted to share a sample with you in case you still want to join us. Here is the devotional thought for tomorrow:

 Fridays are such a mixed bag when it comes to trying to connect with our unhurried God. On the one hand, it is a day that, at least for many, represents the last bit of work for the week and the possibility of some weekend rest on the horizon...something that could help us find the unhurried God. However, too often we end up balancing so many commitments that our weekends, and our Fridays specifically, can be even fuller than our weekdays. We often end up tacking on extra Friday evening activities and commitments, we try to add in some time to clean up the house or do some laundry, or we pull even longer hours than normal trying to wrap up some work that the boss said we had to finish by the end of the week. For those in retail it is even worse as Friday signals the beginning of the busiest time of the week--far from a time for rest. 

 Wherever you are in your day, week, or weekend plans, can you take a few minutes now to intentionally slow your pace? Here is one idea for you to try. Since there are 48 hours in a typical 2-day weekend, I encourage you to find a still place to sit and prayerfully slow down as you count 48 breaths: in and out 1, in and out 2, in and out 3. If you’ve been racing to and fro, let this be a chance to slow your breathing down a bit. The Holy Spirit is described as the breath of God. God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils in Genesis 2. Let's take these 48 breaths and use them to reflect on the way that God’s Holy Spirit is constantly breathing life into our bodies.

If you want to receive these daily meditations, simply click here to sign up.

How To Support Our Methodist Friends

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After this week's painful events at the United Methodist General Conference where LGBTQ people of faith were eschewed by the majority, many people are trying to be helpful to their United Methodist friends. One doesn't have to be LGBTQ to be upset by these events, so how can you help? Here a few good tips from the Religious Institute

1. Don’t try to fix it.

When we see people hurting and in pain, often our initial instinct is to offer a solution: to find some way to fix it. This may be rooted in compassion and concern, but it is usually not a helpful response. Instead, try acknowledging the pain without trying to fix it. For many LGBTQ United Methodists, this pain is not new, and there is no quick solution to getting rid of it. You cannot fix it, but you can do your best to open and hold space for that pain to be felt, expressed, and acknowledged in community.

2. Don’t invite LGBTQ United Methodists to join your denomination.

This is probably the most common harmful response LGBTQ United Methodists receive from non-UMC allies. You want your LGBTQ United Methodist friends to be welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated. You want them to be able to use their gifts in ministry. Though well-intentioned, comments like “my church welcomes you” or “you could always join my denomination” are not helpful. LGBTQ United Methodists are aware that other denominations have more progressive teachings and policies on LGBTQ matters. Inviting LGBTQ United Methodists to join your denomination is another attempt to offer a quick fix. It ignores the fact that the person is United Methodist for a reason, and that they are deeply committed to their own tradition. Their reasons for being United Methodist are why this moment is difficult.

3. Do Not Judge.

It is important to remember that every church and denomination has its own disagreements, challenges, and areas needing reform. Don't fall into the temptation of making it seem like your church is better or perfect. This is a good moment to point out that we are all trying our best to follow God in challenging times.

4. Fail better.

Relationships are complicated, and inevitably we will fall short. There is no such thing as a perfect ally or friend, so it’s important to be prepared for when you mess up, say the wrong thing, or really step in it. Remember to simply and sincerely apologize when you make mistakes.

A Brief History of Valentine's Day from Pastor Wes

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The only Valentine’s Day card I can remember the message of was actually a Valentine given to Chief Wiggum’s not-so-bright son Ralph by Lisa Simpson when she noticed that no one cared to give him a card on Valentine’s Day. Her card, featuring a locomotive train, read: “I Choo-Choo-Choose You, Happy Valentines.” While this made for yet another hilarious episode of The Simpsons, it does fail, as all commercialized versions of Valentine’s Day do, to convey the deep history of this former Catholic Holy Day.

While the practice of Valentine’s Day has become almost entirely usurped by modern commercialism, it is important to note that Valentine’s Day was originally Saint Valentine’s Day—a day marked by the Catholic Church to honor two martyrs by the name of Valentine. These martyrs were buried on February 14, which became the day to honor their sacrifice for their faith. Sadly, over the course of history we lost much of the information that at one time existed about these two saints, and February 14 and the High Holy day of Saint Valentine’s Day became increasing associated with love. This developed as authors increasingly saw the middle day of the second month of the year as the day when birds found their mate:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day

Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

—Chaucer's Parliament of Foules (1382)

And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine's Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.

—Dame Elizabeth Brews, a letter included in the Paston Letters (1477)

With this increasing sense of Saint Valentine’s Day being a day for lovers, more and more of the original history of the two Valentine martyrs was lost. Eventually, even the Catholic Church released this Holy Day to the secular world. In the 1960's the Catholic Church did a major revision of her teachings known as Vatican II, and the Calendar of the Saints was revised whereby Saint Valentine’s Day was removed with the following reasoning: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

And so on this day that we celebrate love, we also pause to remember two saints whose memory has been all but lost. But even with the loss of details we can be grateful and thankful for two men of faith who so believed in their God and so proudly loved Christ that they gave their lives for the sake of that adoration. And that is the kind of love the Church can and should strive to emulate both today and every day.

A Large Dose of Hope

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Does your faith include a large dose of hope? For me, hope is the key ingredient to my faith. My hope is for a future that is more brilliant than any I can imagine anyplace on this Earth…and I have a really good imagination! My faith memories begin when I was both a crippled and an abused child, listening to my Sunday School teachers and the pastor who stood in that very Lutheran pulpit spewing his very traditional theology that I have long since moved beyond. I began praying back then. Just as they taught me, I folded my hands, closed my eyes, and struggled for words, not feeling worthy. I also remember sitting in my empty basement when I was hurting, just talking to God, eyes wide open, looking for help or asking questions I couldn’t get the answers to. This, I learned as I grew spiritually, was real prayer. How could I do that? Because I believed in hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for today. As I matured spiritually, God brought me out of that Egypt. Now, I have an amazing life partner who thrills me every day I live, grandchildren who bring me great joy - one in particular whom many of you know and love right along with me. Hope has convicted me that much, much more awaits me at the end of this broken road. Frankly, hope works. My faith is built upon it. My prayer is that my hope gives you more hope today.

A God-Encounter at Starbucks

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This weekend my husband, Kevin, ran into God at Starbucks. He probably wouldn't put it that way, but that's the way this preacher sees it.

Kevin walked into a Starbucks in a city in another state. It was 6:15am, and there was a group of four conservatively-dressed, middle-aged, white men seated at a table together. The Bibles and study books in front of them immediately gave away the fact that they were a part of an early-morning Christian study group of some sort. Sadly, this God encounter will not come from this group of Christian men.

As Kevin took his place in the short early-morning line, he heard one of the men rather loudly state, "I am an intelligent person. I understand things, complicated things. I know the difference between right and wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. God says it in the Bible."

It took Kevin aback to hear such words spoken so loudly, especially at a Starbucks. At the same moment, it was his turn in line, and the barista looked at him and said, "Are you okay?" Though she hadn't hear the man's pronouncement, she could see in Kevin's face, and probably the lack of color in it, that something had just happened.

Kevin fumbled for words. He even tried to pass it off that everything was fine, but she insisted. "I can tell something is wrong. What is it?"

Kevin shared the experience he had just had, explaining that it is nothing new for LGBTQ folks but that it just caught him off-guard so early in the morning. This young barista responded with a wisdom well beyond her years, "It is not okay that this is nothing new, and you shouldn't have to be 'on guard.' Especially not here. I'm so sorry, and your coffee this morning is going to be on me."

The irony in this true story is rampant. From the aloof, self-righteous Christians to the compassionate care of a young minimum wage employee, this story plays out more like a Jesus story from the Bible than a modern day set of events at an international, corporate chain coffeehouse. All these years later, we still see the same characters: religious leaders and authority figures totally missing the point, leaving outsiders and outcasts to save one another continually with the unconditional love of God.

To be clear, the God-Encounter was not the free cup of coffee. This is not a Western tale of capitalist healing after all. The coffee was simply a kindness, not a God-moment. The God-Encounter was this young girl seeing the disturbance and hurt in Kevin's face, refusing to let it go or brush it off, and then offering the compassionate and Godly care of reminding Kevin that he is good.

This week has been a rough one. The ban on trans people in the military was reinstated by our country's Supreme Court. Federal Employees, including those in our own congregation, have now completed their second pay period without compensation, and in South Carolina, the ability to discriminate against foster parents who are LGBT, Jewish, or other formerly-protected-groups was removed.

Our world needs people who see the distress and hurt in others. Are you paying attention, looking people in the eyes, and asking, "No really, what's wrong?" Will you embody this one humble barista or that other poor carpenter from two millennia ago as you go through your day today? Let's be MCC today. It's as important now as ever.

A Way Out of No Way

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“I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being.” -God

In January and February, Rev. Wes is doing a sermon series, A Way Out of No Way. In this series, we will enter the biblical narrative of Gods’ action in human history “already in progress,” and right out of the gate we are plopped down in the middle of major crisis: Noah and the flood. We will spend six weeks witnessing other Hebrew Bible stories of God urging the people forward in times when it seems there’s no way out. We will recall our own narratives and affirm the strength God gives us to find a way-through. After all, our percentage of actually living through a crisis at this point is 100%.

Along the Yellow Brick Road

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Well, my name isn’t Dorothy and I don’t live in Kansas, but I’m beginning to understand Dorothy’s journey along the Yellow Brick Road even more than I ever have before.

As I approach Dec. 30th and my final Sunday with you as a pastor, I find myself reflecting almost constantly on how much I will miss you and how incredible our time together has been. As most of you know, I never expected to leave this church or St. Louis, so for the road to turn a different way has been nothing short of a surprise I didn’t see coming!

As I’ve tried to process the myriad of emotions I have about this every single day, I have found my thoughts wandering to Dorothy and the Lion and Scarecrow and Tin Man. They were all, in their own way, disoriented and invested in a particular story about their lives. Dorothy thought she would never get back home. The Lion was convinced that he would always be a coward. The Tin Man was sure he would never have a heart again and the Scarecrow was certain he could never have a brain. Each of them were convinced that these things about them were true and that there was no other truth.

I suspect that you are like me . . . it is easy to become invested in our stories, so much so, that we forget God may have more parts of the story that we don’t yet know. As I’ve discerned my call to Church of the Trinity MCC in Sarasota, FL, I’ve had to be reminded that though my story about being at this church until I retire is true, it is also true that there was something new making its way into my story that I did not see coming.

The characters in the Wizard of OZ found parts of life that they didn’t see coming and all of it added to their stories in beautiful ways. When I think about it . . . I have to acknowledge that my coming to MCCGSL became a part of my story that I didn’t see coming then . . . so really, I shouldn’t be surprised that there is another turn in the road now that I didn’t know was coming.

To all of you, I say thanks . . . for giving me a home, deepening my heart, challenging my brain and strengthening my courage. I am so much better for having been here with you and every single thing you have given me will live in my soul wherever I am. You are cherished and loved and above all else . . . you, too, will be granted a new part of the story that you never saw coming and it will be more beautiful than you can imagine. May it be so!

Angels Among Us: More Joy

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Could you use a bit more joy in your life? Most of us would respond with a resounding 'Yes!' to that question. Joy is something you can't ever really have too much of.

This Sunday we will follow the angels as they come to Joseph in a dream and point him in the direction of more joy. What have you been dreaming about lately? Have you ever wondered if one of your dreams could be a message from God? All this and more on Sunday. Join us!