Ecclesiastes said, “There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) In this era of social media and 24-hour news, it is easy to become focused on the latest tweet or developing story, to lose the sense of seasons of life in our world, in our churches, in our individual lives. Amid constant commentary and news about the struggles of our global United Methodist Church, it is understandable to be anxious and fearful in this season of change. However, I was reminded recently to take a longer view.
This year First United Methodist Church (UMC) of Glendale is celebrating their 125th anniversary. As I read about their history, a couple of things impressed me. First UMC, Glendale was started by seven members (three families) of First Methodist Church, Phoenix who moved to seed this new church. Our churches are connected to each other in ways that many of us don’t know. The history fades into the past and we forget that we are intricately tied to each other. Reclaiming and celebrating this history reminds us to reach out to each other, church to church, to work collectively and collaboratively. I doubt those seven people had any idea that their faithful move to Glendale would yield 125+ years of ministry.
It is always a joy to see West District churches working together. Recently the Yuma area churches have been working on an United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) flood bucket mission project in response to Hurricane Dorian. Other Phoenix area churches heard of their project and joined in. Together they hope to fill 500 flood buckets for UMCOR. In the Phoenix/Surprise area, West District youth groups join together on a monthly basis. What a joy to have so many of our youth come together regularly making new friends and working and learning together! In the Mingus area, the churches cooperated this year to host a Lay Servant Training. The churches on the Prescott side work together each summer to provide low-income children with new school shoes through Shoes from the Shepherd. All over our district, pastors meet in clusters on a regular basis encouraging fellowship and cooperative ministry between their churches. In this time when forces seem to be pulling us apart, I encourage all our West District churches to make this a season of collaboration and cooperation.
There are a number of West District churches that are struggling financially. It is so hard to watch the church you have loved and served decline. The predictions of doom and gloom can be so disheartening. In reading the history of First UMC, Glendale I noticed the ebb and flow in their ministry. Over their 125 years, they have experienced times of rapid growth and expansion of ministries and they have experienced times of decline and loss. In 1903 the church was almost lost in a fire and suffered damage from an explosion on a nearby railroad car. The next year there was a drought and many families moved away. I imagine in those years of struggle, the church members would not have imagined the church celebrating their 125-year anniversary, yet, eight years later the church had a season of rapid growth and flourishing ministry. This cycle of growth and decline can be seen several times over the course of their lifetime. In seasons of decline, I invite us to remain faithful, to do what we can do, to make extra efforts to reach out to new people and to trust God with the future. A faithful few can plant seeds and nurture the fields for another season of growth and harvest. We can’t see 5 or 10 years into the future, but Christ is already there. If you are a church facing an uncertain future, I recommend a Bible study called Choosing the Faithful Path: A Bible Study for Discerning a Faithful Future by Beth Crissman and Nancy Rankin. Keep reaching toward God and reaching out to your neighbors whatever season you are in!
Congratulations to First UMC, Glendale and all the West District churches celebrating important anniversaries this year. There is a season for everything and a time for every matter and over all those seasons is the God of eternity who loves us from everlasting to everlasting.
Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever! Psalm 107:1