Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday, we have the honor of welcoming back Jim and Martha Harnish to Hyde Park. Jim was the senior pastor of this church from 1992-2014, the longest serving pastor in this church’s history. Under his leadership, the church experienced dramatic revitalization and growth, whose fruit endures to this day.

He is also the author of the new book Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve, which is the basis of our new four-week worship series. Jim will be preaching at all three Sanctuary services, and participating in the confirmation of forty-two students professing their faith in Jesus. Join us live or online for these special services!

In anticipation of Jim’s return, I thought I’d share some of the most valuable pieces of guidance I have received from the seventeen years I have known him as a colleague, mentor, and friend:

Excellence and Joy

Jim raised the expectation that every ministry of this church needed to be done with excellence, because God deserves our very best. But he always reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously. Excellence was always to be buoyed and tempered with joy, born out of the grace and forgiveness God gives us for our mistakes. It’s a balance we still try to strike today.

Movements, not Monuments

When I first interviewed to be his associate pastor in the spring of 2000, Jim gave me a tour of the campus. The Wesley Center had just been completed, the Ministry Offices were being built, and Knox Hall was just beginning its renovation. As he walked me through all the changes, he said, “We’re not into building monuments around here. We are into creating movements. We recognize that these buildings, as beautiful as they are, are merely the tools to accomplish our mission.” It is a guiding principle I have not since forgotten.

The Vital Center

Jim often told me stories from the early days of his tenure, when he had to remind the congregation that its primary calling as Methodists is to be centered in the love of God and others. And rather than getting pulled to the theological and ideological extremes, the strength of the Methodist movement has always been in its vital center. He once reminded me of the difference between the words middle and center. To be in the “middle” suggests being on the fence – mushy and wishy-washy. But to be in the “center” is to claim a firm anchor of conviction, holding fast to our core. In our deeply polarized times, I’ve come to appreciate that guidance even more.

Being Open

I have often said that as much as I have appreciated our mission and vision statements, it is the six core values that I believe best describes what is unique about the character of Hyde Park United Methodist. I can remember the ways Jim would talk about being Christ-Centered (“The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.”) and Biblically-Rooted (“I don’t want to hear that any other church has ‘out-Bibled’ Hyde Park.”) But living into the values of being Warm-Hearted and Open-Minded has been one of our deepest strengths and greatest attractions to the culture. I now say that being warm-hearted means being open to a diversity of people, and being open-minded as being open to a diversity of perspectives. And throughout my years of ministry with Jim, we’ve heard countless people say, “This is the church I’ve been looking for all my life; I just didn’t know it.”

One More Person

Jim always understood that our primary reason for existence as a church was to reach out to those on the outside who needed to experience God’s love. On Pentecost Sunday, May 29, 1994, when he was preaching about the church’s new mission and vision, he offered these words:

According to the New Testament, the point is not whether I prefer being a part of a small church or a large church. The point is not whether this congregation will continue to be a medium-sized church or become a large church. The only point about which the New Testament seems to care is this: is there someone in the city of Tampa who is waiting to experience the love of God through us? Is there someone for whom God’s love can be made real because of the witness of this church? If there’s one more person in Tampa who needs to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ, then this church is not yet big enough.

We are all grateful for that reminder, and for Jim’s leadership among us. Join us this Sunday to thank him personally.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

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