Midweek Message: “The Last Place We Want God”

Midweek Message: “The Last Place We Want God”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Years ago, I read a hilarious book by Esquire columnist A.J. Jacobs called The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Jacobs, a self-avowed agnostic, sought to spend a whole year following every command in the Bible – more than seven hundred total, by his count.

Doing so impacted every aspect of his life, often with comical results. Like when he “stoned” an adulterer in a public park with a handful of pebbles (Leviticus 20:27). Or when he carried a folding chair everywhere to avoid sitting on chairs used by women who had just had their period (Leviticus 15:20). Or when he stopped wearing T-shirts and jeans because they were made of “mixed fibers” (Leviticus 19:19). Despite the hilarity, Jacobs’ efforts were both earnest and respectful, sharing several poignant experiences throughout the book.

One such occasion was his decision to start tithing. After researching numerous charitable organizations, he went online to make the first of several contributions that would, over the course of the year, add up to ten percent of his salary. After sending money to his first agency through the internet, he wrote:

“When the confirmation e-mails ping in, I feel good. There’s a haunting line from the film Chariots of Fire. It’s spoken by Eric Liddell, the most religious runner, the one who carries a Bible with him during his sprint.” He says: ‘When I run, I feel His pleasure.’ And as I gave away money, I think I might have felt God’s pleasure. I know: I’m agnostic. But still – I feel His pleasure. It’s a warm ember that starts at the back of my neck and spreads through my skull. I feel like I am doing something I should have been doing all my life.”

To share any more of Jacobs’ story would spoil the book for those interested in reading it. Suffice it to say, it led me to think about what it would mean for us to take the Bible just as seriously, particularly in the area of financial stewardship.

This past week, you may have received your financial stewardship packet for 2019 in the mail. It contained:

  • a letter from me, which includes this year’s pledge card
  • an informative “annual report” brochure that celebrates all we have accomplished together this year
  • a form you can fill out if you choose the convenient option of Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
  • a return envelope for you to send your pledge card by Sunday, Nov. 18.
  • If you didn’t receive a packet, you can securely fill out a pledge electronically on our website.

Once again, we remind you that every pledge makes a huge difference in enabling us to make the best fiscal decisions for our church’s ministries in the upcoming year. If you have never filled out a pledge, we encourage you to do so for the first time. If you have turned in a pledge card in years past, thank you! We invite you pray about increasing your pledge for next year. And if you are not tithing 10% of your income, we encourage you to take a step in that direction.

As my friend Scott Smith, pastor of First UMC Ormond Beach, likes to tell his congregation, “You can’t have God first in your heart but not in your wallet. Everybody wants God in the heart, with their kids, in the schools, and in our nation, but the last place we want God is in our wallets.”

And if an agnostic like A.J. Jacobs could discover the joy of tithing to God, you can, too!

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

HURRICANE RELIEF
We continue to offer our prayers and concern for those suffering in the wake of devastating Hurricane Michael. We are joining with United Methodists across Florida in responding to Bishop Carter’s call for financial support for the people in the panhandle. Click here to contribute to the Bishop’s Challenge. Some remarkable donors at First UMC Ormond Beach have extended a challenge to the Conference, offering to match $500,000 of our contributions. Your support will go directly to people in need along the Florida Gulf coast. Please make your check payable to Hyde Park United Methodist and designated “Hurricane Relief.”

Midweek Message: What We Have Learned So Far

Midweek Message: What We Have Learned So Far

Dear Hyde Park Family,

First, a quick word of prayerful concern for the people all along the Gulf coast and the southeastern United States who have been affected by the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will offer a coordinated response from our denomination, and we will inform you of how to join in those recovery efforts. In the meantime, we pray for aid and comfort for those seeking provision and shelter, safety for the first responders and electricity workers, and swift, effective work by all agencies working to provide relief.

Second, I want to offer you this exciting, comprehensive update on where we are in our visioning process. This statement was written by members of our Vision Team and offered as a bulletin insert in last Sunday’s worship services. But in case you missed it, I invite you to read it and ponder these important learnings by our Vision Team so far:

 

 VISION TEAM UPDATE

For 12 months, we’ve been engaged in a sustained effort to discern how the Spirit intends to use Hyde Park – its people, its service and its worship – to make God’s love real and make disciples, both today and in the future.

We’re in the process of synthesizing a year’s worth of information gathered through meetings with hundreds of church members and non-members, staff and lay leaders; through ministry assessments; open-invitation visioning chats with more than 200 participants; and a congregation-wide survey with more than 700 respondents; among other outreach.

As we advance this visioning process toward recommendations to present to the church, we do so…

Against a landscape of challenges and changes in the Tampa-area community and our culture:

  • 2/3 of people living in the area are not involved in a religious community.
  • Going forward, three times as many people in the area are likely to disassociate from religious community than become active in one.
  • Unchurched people living in the area have a higher level of disinterest and disillusionment with organized religion than the national average.

Understanding that Hyde Park United Methodist has a strong foundation and committed members:

  • The vast majority of our congregation currently feel a strong connection to God and consider themselves fully committed followers of Jesus.
  • At least 2/3 of our congregation cited our worship, the warmth and friendliness of our people, core values and our preaching among the reasons they remain committed to Hyde Park United Methodist.

Recognizing that complacency could cause us to miss opportunities in the midst of our changing community and culture:

  • Average Sunday worship attendance has remained at approximately 900 people for 20 years, out of more than 2,000 members, and more than 6,000 who participate in our ministries, communications and other involvement.
  • Approximately 500 households participate in financial pledges to the church each year out of nearly 1,400 households, and this has remained about the same for many years.
  • 1/3 of congregational survey respondents expressed a desire for a stronger spiritual commitment while recognizing they have not made the commitment to get more involved.

Acknowledging our congregation’s expressed desire for increased connection, deeper Biblical understanding, and more service and outreach opportunities, among other needs:

  • 54% of survey respondents requested more opportunities to be better connected (to church members, staff and/or community.)
  • While many church-goers first came to Hyde Park United Methodist because of a personal invitation from a friend, more than 50% of our congregation are neutral or dissatisfied with their invitation to others.
  • More than 50% of respondents expressed neutrality or dissatisfaction with their personal progress in reading Scripture faithfully, a standout among overall satisfaction with other spiritual practices.
  • More than 80% of survey respondents reflected that it is “Somewhat Important” or “Very Important” for the whole church to have better clarity about the purpose and mission of The Portico.
  • Connectivity, diversity, community, invitation and communication were the topics most widely discussed in the Vision Chats, as was a call for more focus in our missions and service for greater impact.

The Vision Team will soon be announcing town-hall-style gatherings to present its findings and recommendations to the congregation ahead of presenting recommendations for vote by the Church Conference.

Should you have any questions or comments, please send them to chairpersons Scott Meckley and Cheryl Parrish and our Vision Team at vision@hydeparkumc.org.

Midweek Message: One Song for the World

Midweek Message: One Song for the World

Dear Hyde Park Family,

A few months ago, my daughters and I made another trip to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and we rode the iconic It’s a Small World. That ride was a mainstay of my childhood, and I can remember our whole family cheering when we passed by the Philippines section: a lone Filipina child fanning herself in the corner.

You may know the ride well. It is a twelve-minute boat ride through a series of depictions of countries around the world. It features Audio-Animatronic, child-like dolls, dancing, playing and, of course, singing.

That song is one of the most enduring – and annoying – Disney songs ever written. When Walt Disney first developed the ride for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, he envisioned all the children simultaneously singing their own individual national anthems as the riders went by. As you can imagine, that created a cacophony of unintelligible noise.

So, he asked his chief songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman, who wrote the famous music to Mary Poppins, to come up with a single song that the children could sing in unison. The country had just gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Sherman brothers wanted to write a song about peace, interdependence and our connection to one another.

They then wrote these now legendary words, which all 289 Audio-Animatronic children, in one of five different languages, join together to sing:

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all.

I’ll spare you the chorus. The earworm might stick with you all day.

WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY

Eighty-five years ago this month, a different kind of demonstration of global harmony was born, in the observance now known as World Communion Sunday. It was first conceived by a Presbyterian minister named Hugh Thomas Kerr, who wanted to “bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.”

A few years later, the Federal Council of Churches (now “The National Council of Churches”) formally designated the first Sunday of October as a time to celebrate our global connectedness in Jesus Christ, gathering around the communion table as one body around the world.

For one singular moment every year, we lay aside our national and denominational anthems, and we gather to sing the same song in unison:

“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might;
Heaven and earth are full of your glory;
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest!”

In a time when we are so prone to polarization and division in our ideologies, politics, and worldviews, we need World Communion Sunday like never before. This Sunday, we gather together in unison with Christians all around the world to pray that the Holy Spirit would once again “make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry throughout the world.”

Or, in the words of the second, lesser-known verse of It’s a Small World:

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all

Join us this Sunday for this beautiful, timely, and poignant celebration of a God who breaks down our walls, invites us to the same table, and calls us to sing the same song together.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

PASTORAL WORD TO SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT

If you weren’t in worship last Sunday, I invite you to watch the statement I made prior to my sermon, regarding those who have survived sexual assault in their past. You can watch it here, or the text is as follows:

Before I start the sermon this morning, I would like to take a moment to offer a pastoral word in the wake of the events in Washington, D.C. last week. Many of us are aware of the proceedings surrounding the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee, and the extraordinary circumstances from the recent hearing. What I want to share is in no way intended to be either a political or partisan statement, but a word of pastoral love and concern.

We are well-aware that many people who are survivors of sexual assault have had the pain of their past triggered by the events on Capitol Hill. And many have reached out for ministerial and psychological support throughout the country. For anyone in this congregation today, female or male, who has been the victim of sexual violence, I would ask that you not let the dysfunction of our political systems, or the brokenness of the world, dissuade you from speaking your truth. Your voice, your heart, your life and your pain all deserve to be heard.

You do not need a male like myself to give you permission. But we do need all people, men and women, to stand in solidarity with you, and for anyone living in the long, haunting shadow of past trauma through no fault of their own. As I have consulted with the five other clergy in this congregation, I can speak on behalf of all of us that we are here to listen. To offer pastoral care, in a safe space, and to direct you to any help you might need.

You are loved, you are not alone and you are a child of God.

And let all who agree, please say Amen.

Midweek Message: “Living Upside-Down”

Midweek Message: “Living Upside-Down”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

The Museum of Illusions just opened this month in Dubai, U.A.E., and features a fascinating exhibit called The Upside-Down Room, in which a person can be photographed with the optical illusion that they are dangling from the ceiling. Since its debut, this part of the museum has been a social media hit, with large numbers of people posting pictures of themselves upside-down.

“When engaging with our illusions, your mind will combine some details and exclude others to create a sensory experience that defies logic,” says manager Varvara Svischeva.

INVERSION GOGGLES

The Upside-Down Room reminds me of a YouTube video I saw recently of two friends doing hilarious experiments with inversion goggles, which completely flip their field of vision. They take up a series of competitive challenges made up of performing simple tasks while wearing the special glasses. Their attempts to write their name, pour liquid into a bottle, and step over hurdles are met with hilarious results.

Not only does seeing the world upside-down defy logic, it is hard to retrain our brains to see the world in any other way than the way we are accustomed to seeing it. But that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.

THE UPSIDE-DOWN LIFE

Often in the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to live counter-cultural to the conventional wisdom of the world, challenging them to invert their priorities and perspectives to be more in line with the Kingdom of God.

In the span of just 50 verses, all in Mark chapter 10, he completely inverted the way we ought to see God, ourselves, and the life we are called to live. These verses constitute our new four-part worship series, called “The Upside-Down Life,” which starts this Sunday.

  • In a world where the vulnerable and powerless are relegated to the bottom rung, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” (Mark 10:2-16; Sept. 30)
  • In a world where power is measured by the influence one accrues, Jesus said, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:17-31, Oct. 7)
  • In a world where greatness is antithetical to servanthood and humility, Jesus said he came “not to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:35-45, Oct. 14)
  • In a world that seems gripped by darkness, Jesus came to bring sight to the blindness of our ways. (Mark 10:46-52, Oct. 21)

No, it is not easy to live the way Jesus is calling us to live. But by the power of God’s grace, and with a deep enough commitment, we can actually retrain our hearts to live the upside-down life. So, join us starting this Sunday, and be prepared to be amazed.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: “For the Love of Nicaragua”

Midweek Message: “For the Love of Nicaragua”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Among the myriad of local and global concerns that may be filling your prayers nowadays, I ask you to include one with whom this church has personal connections.

Over the past several months, the nation of Nicaragua has been seized by violence, stemming from protests against the government’s plans to reform the country’s social security system. Many believe those reforms target the most vulnerable with tax hikes and reductions in their social security benefits.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets since last April, only to be met by violent suppression efforts by the regime of President Daniel Ortega. More than 300 people have been killed, and 2,500 have been injured.

These developments are heartbreaking in their own right, but our sadness is compounded by the special relationship this congregation has forged with the Nicaraguan people for the past 12 years. Since 2006, 225 people from Hyde Park United Methodist have participated in 18 adult and family missions trips to Leon, Nicaragua, partnering with the agency El Ayudante, which is the Spanish word for “helper.”

Our teams have worked with El Ayudante to care for and educate some of Nicaragua’s most vulnerable and impoverished children, and have been deployed all throughout the country to minister to local communities.

We are grateful for all our Hyde Park members who have faithfully served over the years, as well as the guidance and support given by the Rev. Vicki Walker and the Missions and Outreach team.

She offers this description of their work: “We have been going there for so many years that the folks there have become our friends, we have watched them get married, have children, have quinceañeras, graduate and grow up. We have built houses, clinics, and a police station, helped people launch businesses, grown gardens and helped them in ways they asked. And none of this conveys the impact that these trips and new friends have made on our individual lives. Team members have learned to pray aloud and led their first devotional. Their faith has blossomed, their priorities re-evaluated and their desire to Make God’s Love Real both home and beyond has grown.”

However, with all the political and civil unrest, international advisories prohibited our mission teams from traveling there this year, and many other groups from around the world have had to cancel as well. As a result, El Ayudante has had to function without the presence of its missions partners, adding strain to its staff and its resources.

I am asking you to take a moment to pray for an end to the suffering in Nicaragua, for the strength and sustenance of the people of El Ayudante and the surrounding communities, and for everyone here at Hyde Park United Methodist worried for the people with whom they have forged personal relationships over the years.

Perhaps you might offer this prayer:

Gracious God, the Scriptures speak to us of a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb, and swords and spears would turn into ploughshares and pruning hooks. We claim the promise of peace, even amid the tragic violence gripping the people of Nicaragua. Forge an end to the conflict where there seems to be no pathway to peace. Raise up bold, spirited leaders who can reconcile warring parties and bring justice and compassion to the oppressed. 

We pray for your servants at El Ayudante. Grant them courage and hope to face the future without fear, and provide their needs when their means seem meager. We offer to you in prayer these El Ayudante staff members: Javier, Danelia, Vanessa, Nicolas, Marisol, Maria, Maximo, Rodrigo, Teodoro, Pablo, Reynaldo, Roger, Omar, Maria, Eden, Jose, Genoveva, Franklin, Juan, Maria, Dora, Gloria, Benjamin, Bayardo, Santos, Jorge, Darlin, Claudia, Agustina, and Silvia. 

Enfold them with your love. Fill them with your peace. Grant them your hope. 

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Magrey

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

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR HISTORY WITH EL AYUDANTE

Our website contains our blog “Hyde Park Speaks” with many entries written by mission team members who have served in Nicaragua. Click here to read more. 

FLORENCE RELIEF AND RECOVERY

We continue to pray for the people of the Atlantic coast, fighting treacherous floodwaters and recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Florence. We will keep you apprised of ways you can respond through our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), as those efforts are made available.

Midweek Message: A Prayer for Those Facing Storms

Midweek Message: A Prayer for Those Facing Storms

Dear Hyde Park Family,

We all remember what we were feeling a year ago. As Hurricane Irma barreled toward us, we felt the wearying combination of dread, fatigue and agonizing waiting. Those who evacuated wondered what kind of home they would return to. Those who remained steeled themselves to brave the storm. We worried about loved ones, friends, neighbors and ourselves, in a sweeping narrative that joined us all in common anxiety.

It is that vivid remembrance that prompts us to earnest prayer for the people living along the eastern coast as Hurricane Florence approaches. We also pray for those in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac, and the many still recovering from the storms of the last few years.

May our prayer prompt us to generosity, as we anticipate a call to response by our denomination’s United Methodist Committee on Relief. We will keep you apprised of those efforts as they develop.

In the meantime, let us hold all those affected in our prayers:

A PRAYER FOR THOSE FACING THE STORMS

Gracious God,

In the face of nature’s fury, we feel feeble and small. We acknowledge our fear and powerlessness when confronted by forces that feel far beyond our control. We tremble at the prospects of catastrophe, of loss of life and possession, and we remember all we felt in the face of hurricanes in our past.

But you are the voice within the whirlwind, the Spirit who hovers over the face of the deep, and the Savior who walks upon the waves and torrent. Your prophet Isaiah reminds us that when we pass through the waters, you will be with us; when we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us.

So, we pray for the people along the Atlantic coast. Strengthen them to be best prepared for these coming hours. Grant them wisdom to know whether to evacuate or remain. Gird them with peace for the harrowing process of waiting for the storm’s arrival, and endurance to recover and rebuild in its wake. Most of all, we pray for a sense of your steady presence among them, and a spirit of solidarity so that no one faces these days alone.

Then, as the winds subside and the waters recede, call all of us to be the hands and feet of Christ, in ready response to the hurting and heartbroken. Transform our fears into fire, our concern into compassion, and our prayers into generous response.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Stiller of the Storms,

Amen.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

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