Midweek Message: A Pastoral Word for the General Conference

Midweek Message: A Pastoral Word for the General Conference

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Happy Valentine’s Day! On this day when we celebrate human love, I invite you to take some time to remember with prayerful love our United Methodist Church, as it prepares for an important gathering in about ten days.

From Feb. 23-26, 862 delegates from throughout the global denomination will be working to find unity in the nearly fifty-year old debate over same-sex weddings and the ordination of LGBTQ persons.

You might choose to read the full statement I have written to orient you to the debate and offer my theological reflections on how God can help us through the stalemate this denomination finds itself in. It also contains links to many resources, including those by our own Bishop Carter, for you to learn about what is at stake. Hyde Park’s Rev. Vicki Walker will be among the Florida delegation as an alternate delegate, and we pray for all our delegations and presiding bishops as they do this tense but holy work.

This all coincides with this Sunday’s worship services, where we will spend time on the third area of focus of our Vision Plan: Unite. We will hear Paul’s challenge to the Ephesian church to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and seek ways to model for a divided world how we might be at peace with one another, while seeking justice for the oppressed and preserving our traditions.

I invite you to pray for the upcoming General Conference over the next several days, perhaps using this prayer as your guide. Again, a fuller theological reflection of the basis for the prayer is found in the link above:

A PRAYER FOR THE SPECIAL GENERAL CONFERENCE

Holy Triune God, in whom there is no distinction or division,

We come to you in a time of great debate and discernment in our denomination, acknowledging our brokenness and longing for your Spirit. We have constructed systems of winners and losers, with the result of dehumanizing one another.

Free us from such constricted thinking, and open us up to the mystery of the Trinity, which models a way forward past our limitations. Help us find a way to seek justice and equality for gay and lesbian persons, to affirm our covenantal bonds with one another and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 We pray for the work of the special General Conference. Grant wisdom to our delegates in balancing behavior, belief and belonging. May the work of justice be done with kindness and motivated out of humility, reminding us that we all need one another for the work of the kingdom.

 Empower them to be at peace with one another as they listen, speak and discern. Bless the bishops as they preside over the proceedings. Soften those who are cynical, empower the fearful and enable the General Conference to seek and claim the exciting future you desire of the United Methodist Church.

 Bless our congregation, reminding us of the holy work to which you have called us, to Make Your Love Real by loving you and loving all people. Rekindle in us a deeper commitment to Christ and a firmer grounding in the scriptures, that we might be open to all persons and perspectives, no matter what happens in St. Louis.

 We entrust our future into your hands, O great God, Three-in-One. We choose the way of justice, kindness and humility. We choose not to fear. We choose power, love and sound minds. And we choose right beliefs, loving practices, and holy unity throughout your church.

 In the name of Jesus Christ,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Midweek Message: Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

Midweek Message: Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

Dear Hyde Park Family,

You may remember that in the Fall of 2017, as we were beginning the visioning process, I asked you to share your response to this question:

“Twenty-five years from now, if a reporter were to write an article about this church, what would your dream headline be?”

Many of you responded, and those headlines were an early inspiration for our Vision Team, as it constructed a plan that would eventually be unanimously adopted last December. By far, most of those headlines centered in the second area of focus of our plan, titled “Widen.”

Here’s a sampling:

  • “Hyde Park UMC Makes a Difference in the Lives of the Hurting of the World”
  • “Hyde Park UMC, Through Their Love and Commitment to Christ, is Impacting our Community with Love and Service”
  • “Hyde Park Continues to Grow by Offering Christ in an Open-Minded and Warm-Hearted Way”
  • “Hyde Park UMC Changes Lives and Includes Everyone”
  • “God Opens Eyes at Hyde Park UMC One by One”
  • “Hyde Park United Methodist Finds a Way”
  • “Hyde Park UMC Leads the Way in Abolishing Poverty and Homelessness in Hillsborough Country, Florida”
  • “Unparalleled Community Impact of Local Church”
  • “This World is a Better Place Because of Hyde Park UMC”
  • “A Church Shows Love”

Whew! And there were many more just like them! It’s no wonder that by the time the Vision Plan was created and approved, it contained this important statement:

WIDEN: There is a desire to extend the reach of our church to make God’s love real to a wider group of people, while also focusing our efforts for greater impact.

 We hope you’ll join us for the second part of our worship series, “Forward Together,” where we will explore more fully this area of focus called “Widen.” We’ll dig into scriptures from Acts and Matthew that remind us that God’s love cannot be contained, and that its inherent dynamic is to be ever-widening, ever-expanding to include more and more people. And we will discover how we can begin to join in that work today. 

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Midweek Message: Together is Beautiful

Midweek Message: Together is Beautiful

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Like many of you, I will be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, with more interest in the commercials than in the game itself. I have already viewed many of them online, taking a special interest in one for Coca-Cola. It’s called “A Coke is a Coke,” and will run right before the National Anthem.

The ad is inspired by the work of Andy Warhol, both in its artistic treatment and in his philosophy. In his 1975 book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,” he writes:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke.”

So, the ad, which you can watch here, contains this narration:

“A Coke is a Coke is a Coke. It’s the same for everyone. You can get one if you want it no matter where you’re from. He drinks Coke and she drinks Coke even though they disagree. And while the bottles look alike, you aren’t the same as me. Stars drink it. Chefs drink it. Farmers want one when it’s hot. There’s a Coke here if you’re thirsty, but that’s cool if you’re not. We all have different hearts and hands, heads holding various views. Don’t you see: different is beautiful and together is beautiful, too.”

TOGETHER IS BEAUTIFUL

Once again, the national ad agencies seem to do a better job marketing their product than churches are in sharing the gospel. Nothing against Coca-Cola, but Christians have something even better to offer the world. The love of God is the same for anyone, available to all of us in equal measure, regardless of merit or lot in life. And in a world where we would rather compartmentalize each other by our differences, the love of God calls us together. 

The love of God compels us to go deeper in our commitments to Christ, to widen our outreach and invitation beyond the walls that divide us, and to unite together in common heart and purpose. Those are the key elements of the vision plan, which we unanimously adopted at last month’s congregation-wide church conference, and helps set the course for the bright future God has for and through this church.

Yes, different is beautiful, and together is beautiful, too.

FORWARD TOGETHER

In that spirit, starting this Sunday, we begin a four-part series called “Forward Together,” in which we will be inspired to go deeper and wider together, drawing wisdom from the Scripture and connecting to each of the main areas of focus of our vision plan.

Here’s how our Communications Team, whom I would choose over any national ad agency, describes our new series:

We can’t predict the future, but we can’t avoid it, either. Life moves forward, whether we like it or not. What we can control, however, is how we live into that future. Will we live by faith, or out of fear? Will we live that faith deeply, or just on the surface? Will we seek love for ourselves, or will we widen God’s love for others? And will we move forward together? Join us for this important series as we discover what God’s call means for our lives and the future of Hyde Park.

Now, that’s a product I would gladly buy!

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Midweek Message: Does It Spark Your Joy?

Midweek Message: Does It Spark Your Joy?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

So, what sparks your joy?

That’s the trendy question of the day for fans of the popular Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” based on her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. If you’ve ever seen the show or read the book, you know that Kondo’s decluttering process invites persons to hold an object in their hands and ask themselves a simple question.

“Does this object spark joy for me?”

If the answer is yes, then keep it. If the answer is no, then discard or donate it. It’s that simple. Her premise is that most of the things we have are not worth keeping. What is worth holding onto are those items that please us, give us contentment, and fill our mind with happy memories. I’ll admit that I, like some of you, have “Marie Kondo’d” parts of our home recently, and I’ve found the exercise to be helpful.

AGAPE = SPARK JOY

It seems to me that if there is a biblical word that captures some essence of what it means to “spark joy,” it’s agape, the most important Greek word for “love.” We often think of agape as a love that is unconditional and self-sacrificing, the kind of love that God has shown us in Jesus. That’s true. But the Bible also uses that word to describe ideal relationships between human beings, and, yes, between humans and their possessions.

The 19th century American Methodist biblical scholar James Strong defined agape as a feeling of being “well pleased and contented at or with” an object, and “to welcome, to entertain, to love dearly, and to be fond of” another person.

That sounds a lot like “sparking joy” to me. But here’s the real kicker, and the thing that makes the words of Jesus even harder to understand, let alone apply.

LOVE OUR ENEMIES? REALLY?

In Luke 6:27-38, our scripture text for this Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples, and says to us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Yep. That word for love is agape. We aren’t simply supposed to tolerate our enemies, or refrain from hurting our enemies, or just coexist with our enemies. We are to agape our enemies. We are to hold them in our hands, and allow them to “spark joy” for us, rather than ignoring them, discarding them or rejecting them.

Whew. That’s really tough.

  • I don’t think it means that we ignore the pain and suffering that relationship has brought us. But it might mean acknowledging that surviving the pain and suffering has made us stronger, in ways that happiness never could.

 

  • I don’t think it means that we are to become dear friends with our enemies. But it might mean practicing empathy, to see in their eyes our own woundedness, fear and insecurity, and therefore learn things about ourselves that we otherwise could not have learned.

 

  • I don’t think it means accepting what they did to us as permissible, especially if there was violence or abuse. But since we can’t ever “discard” the past like we can an old piece of clothing, we can ask God to bless it, redeem it and transform it into part of a brighter future.

The truth is, I’m not yet sure what it fully means to agape our enemies the way Jesus commanded, but it will be something that we explore together this Sunday, in a sermon that I’m sure has applications for many of us.

In the meantime, happy decluttering. May your life be filled with sparks of joy.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Midweek Message: Where Church Happens

Midweek Message: Where Church Happens

Dear Hyde Park Family,

As part of my seminary education, I spent a year working at the St. Vincent Hotel, an emergency overnight shelter for the homeless in Dayton, Ohio. It was during that time that my supervisor, a Catholic monk named Brother Al, gave me one of the best definitions of church I ever heard. One afternoon, as we were preparing for the arrival of the evening guests, he asked me,

“Magrey, what do you think happens here every night?”

I recounted for him the services we provided: the hot meal, the warm shower, the safe bed. I told him what I was learning about homelessness, and the systemic conditions in our city that were contributing to it. He said, “Those are good answers. But here is what is really happening:”

“Every night,” he said, “people come in through the front door. And they have needs. They need exactly what you said. Food, shelter, safety, and a reminder of their own dignity as a human being.”

“Then there’s a second group of people,” he continued. “They come in through the back door. They are the volunteers – a different group every night – from various churches, civic groups, and homes around town. They come in with needs, too. To feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. To sense that they are making a difference. To remember that any one of them is just one bad break away from coming in from the front door themselves.”

And I’ll never forget what he said next. “When the people coming in the front door meet the people coming in the back door, right there in the kitchen and dining hall here at the St. Vincent Hotel … church happens.

It’s still one of the best images for the church I have ever received.

OUR COLD NIGHT SHELTER

Several times over the past few months, we have experienced just that kind of church at Hyde Park United Methodist. When the “feels like” temperature has dropped below forty degrees, the county has used our Harnish Activities Center as a cold night shelter for the men, women and children in our area.

Over the years, Hillsborough County has provided cold night shelters in the outskirts of the county. But for a long time, we have been one of the few in the city of Tampa itself. (Metropolitan Ministries and the Salvation Army have recently come on board.) With an estimated 1,700 documented homeless people in the county, the need is far greater than the county currently provides, so our efforts to make “church happen” make a big difference.

It’s an effort that has been led by church member Don Aiken, a team of volunteers, and the Rev. Vicki Walker.

And they need more volunteers.

To run an effective shelter for the 60-70 guests that come to us, we need twenty volunteers filling various responsibilities. Currently, the pool of volunteers is only about forty people, and with this Sunday and Monday night projected to be sub-40 degrees once again, we need to expand the base of people who might be asked to help.

But here’s the thing. Take a look at the list of roles, and notice how relatively simple most of them are:

  • Dinner pickup at Metropolitan Ministries: 1 person at 5 p.m.
  • Harnish Activities Center setup: 2 people from 4:30–5:30 p.m.
  • Registration and dinner service: 6 people from 6–8 p.m.
  • Monitor: 1 male and 1 female with shifts from 8–11 p.m.; 11 p.m.–3 a.m.; 3–6 a.m.
  • Breakfast pickup at Metropolitan Ministries – 1 person at 6 a.m.
  • Breakfast service and cleanup – 4 people from 6–7 a.m.

Some additional points: 1) New volunteers are always paired with an experienced volunteer. 2) Volunteers will be solicited via e-mail 48 hours prior to shelter activation.

You can volunteer to do one of these on occasion, right? And you can be part of the best definition of church I’ve ever heard.

I invite you to add your name to the list of volunteers who can be asked to serve in the future, perhaps starting with this Sunday and Monday evenings. To be included, click here. And if you have any questions, feel free to call the church’s Cold Night Shelter hotline at 813-347-8333 and speak to Don Aiken directly.

Thank you, Hyde Park disciples, for being the church together.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

LAST SUNDAY FOR PLEDGES
To date, we have about 470 pledges turned in and are still in need of about 70 more pledges by next Wednesday to underwrite a 2019 budget with the same level of actual expenses we incurred during 2018. You can make a pledge securely online, or by contacting Lynn Osborne, our church comptroller, at her email address: losborne@hydeparkumc.org.

BOOK DRIVE UPDATE: WE’RE HALF-WAY THERE!
We are half-way to our goal of 600 books we hope to collect for Dunbar Elementary School. Thank you to those who have donated books and volunteered to collect them! To learn more, visit hydeparkumc.org/NextSteps.

Midweek Message: Adventure Yourselves!

Midweek Message: Adventure Yourselves!

Jan. 10, 2019

Dear Hyde Park Adventurers,

First, three huge words of gratitude!

1. Thank you to the 200 volunteers who, along with our talented staff, helped pull off another powerful season of Christmas services. You helped welcome a record number of worshippers to celebrate the birth of Jesus: 3,839 people!

2. Thank you for your faithful and generous spirit, which enabled us to finish 2018 in the black, covering all of our operational expenses and paying our apportionments in full!

3. Thank you to the 447 households who have already turned in a pledge card to fund our ministries in 2019. To adequately support everything we are called to do as a church this year, we need about 100 more people to turn in a pledge by the Finance Committee’s Jan. 23 deadline, especially if you have never done so before.

Will you be one of the 100? You can make a pledge securely online, or by contacting Lynn Osborne, our church comptroller, at her email address: losborne@hydeparkumc.org. Pledge cards will also be available in all our worship spaces this Sunday.

ADVENTURE YOURSELVES IN CHRIST

Next, join us for the second week of our “Adventure Awaits” worship series that began last Sunday. The Rev. Justin LaRosa and the Rev. Sally Campbell-Evans did a great job kicking off the series. You can watch Justin’s sermon online.

This Sunday, we’ll hear the story of the call of the disciples, as they embark on an adventure that would change their lives and impact the world. And, we’ll be taking time in all our services to remember our baptism and renew our commitments to Christ in a powerful ceremony of remembrance.

When the early Methodists renewed their commitments to Christ, they were often guided by the words of John Wesley, through a little booklet he wrote titled, “Directions for Renewing Our Covenant with God.” In it he equates the renewal of one’s commitment with the start of a grand adventure, and uses the metaphor of being rescued from a deserted island by a boat pilot:

Adventure yourselves with Christ; cast yourselves upon his righteousness, as that which shall bring you to God: as a poor captive exile … and meeting at length with a pilot, that offers to transport him safely home, he embarks with him, and ventures himself, and all he has in his vessel: do you likewise; you are exiles from the presence of God … if you stay where you are, you perish, and escape home of yourselves you cannot: Christ offers, if you will venture with him, he will bring you home, and he will bring you to God: will you say now to him, Lord Jesus, will thou undertake for me? Will thou bring me to God, bring me into the Land of Promise? With thee will I venture myself; I cast myself upon thee, upon thy blood, upon thy righteousness; I lay up all my hopes, and venture my whole interest, soul and body with thee.

Your adventure awaits, indeed! Join us this Sunday as we take the next step in “adventuring ourselves with Christ,” and lay up all our hopes, soul and body, with Jesus.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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