What is Your Thin Place?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

In Celtic spirituality there is a term called “thin places,” where a person experiences the God’s presence more readily than in any other place. Travel writer Eric Weiner describes them as “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.” These places range from religious venues to outdoor scenery to childhood settings and everywhere in between.

Do you have such a “thin place,” where you sense the presence of God most closely to you?

I have a few. There is a prayer labyrinth at the United Methodist Life Enrichment in Leesburg, Florida. There is the backyard of my parents’ home in St. Petersburg, where memories of my childhood seem vivid and real.

By far, the most sacred thin place for me is on Pass-a-Grille Beach, a few steps away from the Gulf of Mexico. It was there that I first sensed God calling me to ministry in 1995, where I heard the closest thing to an audible voice from God that I’ve ever heard. “Magrey, I want you to be a preacher.” When I want to remember my calling, I return to that beach.

It is there that I walked on countless occasions to pray about whatever burden I was carrying and sense God’s direction in my life. It is there that I have sat with a computer to write some of the most important sermons I’ve ever preached, including my Large Church Initiative sermon in 2013 and my installation sermon in 2015. It is there that God has inspired me to write important pieces for this church and for the wider Conference and denomination.



Thousands of years before the Celts, the Hebrew people also had a strong connection between God and the land. The Bible is filled with instances where they experienced the sacred in thin places, connecting them to the promise, presence, and provision of God.

In our worship series on the seven days of creation, this Sunday we will explore day three, when God created the land and the seas. We will remember what a gift the land, the seas, and the environment is to us, and discover ways to be proper stewards and caretakers of it.

Join this Sunday, as you think about those special places where “the distance between Earth and heaven collapses.”

I would love to hear what your thin places are.


See you Sunday!





Thank You for Providing Shelter: Julie Watkinson

Good day,

I wanted to reach out and thank all our community partners and ask you to please extend my gratitude to your staff and many, many volunteers. You opened your hearts and shelters to provide our most vulnerable population, a hot meal, and a warm place to sleep. This is such a gift, especially over the Christmas holidays. You took time away from your family and loved ones, to help those in need. It sure was cold!

I also want to extend my appreciation to our CWS spokesperson, Vicki Walker, from Hyde Park United Methodist Church, for talking with so many news outlets over the multi-day activation. Her team was also interviewed and even our newest partners joining last week, Church of God of Prophecy, did an amazing job on Bay News 9.

Every volunteer and guest I talked to was so kind and grateful to give, grateful to receive.

Together you provided 1,204 nights assistance to more than 300 individuals. With wind chill dipping in the 20’s and 30’s, that would have been detrimental sleeping outdoors or places unfit for human habitation.

I look forward to working with you and your organizations as needed throughout the winter. Also, wishing each of you and your friends and family, a happy and healthy new year.

Please feel free to provide feedback so, we can continue to support our community partners, and provide the best experience to those both providing and needing a warm place on a cold night.

Kind regards,

Julie Watkinson

Community Relations Coordinator

Department of Homeless and Community Services

The Fragrance of Gratitude

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Are there certain fragrances that evoke strong memories for you? 

I was surprised to learn recently that the same part of our brain that processes our sense of smell is the same as where we store our memories. Your olfactory bulb is connected to both the amygdala (which processes emotion) and the hippocampus (which is linked to memories). 

It is why, when I smell a particular musty, stuffy kind of odor, I am immediately transported back to my aging dormitory hallway in seminary. It’s also why the scent of a certain cleaning agent brings me back to my kindergarten classroom in the 1970s. And it’s why the smell of chicken adobo puts me right back at my childhood dining room table. The list could go on and on for me. 

What fragrances conjure those kinds of memories for you? I’d love to know. 


It’s interesting that our other four senses seem to get more play in the scriptures. We read a lot about sight (blind people being healed, Jesus as the “light of the world”) and touch (the Word made “Flesh,” and the touch of his scars to prove his resurrection). The command to hear (“Shema”) is one of the most prevalent words in the Old Testament, as are the numerous stories about eating, drinking, and tasting. 

But the power of smell is not showcased nearly as often. There was the odor of Lazarus as he emerged from the grave, and the fragrant perfume that was poured on Jesus’ feet at the anointing of Bethany. But there’s not much else.

In fact, Paul uses the Greek word for aroma (“euodia”) only three times in his letters, and one of them happens to be in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17, which is our scripture text for this Sunday: 

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: to the one group a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

So, here’s what I’m wondering: How might your life and this church be a sweet fragrance for others? What impact can we make in the name of Jesus, such that others will have enduring memories of God’s love for them? 


One answer comes in part from our 2022 Impact Report, which shares the amazing ways that you have been a part of reaching others in our community and around the world. Read it and give thanks for how God has been at work through the people of Hyde Park United Methodist!

The other answer comes from your submission of an Estimate of Giving Card for next year. It will help our Finance Committee and other church leadership make important decisions about the ministries that we can offer in 2023. 

Both the Impact Report and the Estimate of Giving Card are related in this important way: the number that you prayerfully write down on your Estimate of Giving Card will directly shape the numbers that we see in the Impact Report this time next year. Your generosity will be the sweet, fragrant offering that God is pleased to receive, through which others will be transformed. 

We invite you to submit your estimate by Sunday, November 20, in our annual Commitment Sunday. 

Together, let us offer ourselves to God, that others may experience the transformative, memorable aroma of Christ. 

Grace and Peace, 





We look forward to participating once again in our annual SERVE Day on November 20, when we partner with Metropolitan Ministries, as hundreds of us volunteer under their Holiday Tent. There are still over 100 volunteer slots available during times convenient for you, and we ask that you register in advance by clicking here.



Living with Gratitude

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday we begin a new worship series titled “Living with Gratitude.” It is a continuation of the leadership theme with which we started the year, based on Diana Butler Bass’ book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks.

Each week, we will explore a different aspect of gratitude, encouraging us to make it a way of life and a central aspect to our faith. So, as we enter this new series, here are two specific, practical aspects of gratitude you can begin practicing each day:

  1. Be as Specific as You Can.

There have been seasons of my life when I have maintained a gratitude journal, in which I intentionally write down two or three things I am grateful for every day.

The best advice I have ever received about keeping a gratitude journal is “the more specific, the better.” It is easier (and important) to be grateful for broad, general things, like your family, your health, your job, and other basic necessities. But research has shown that the more details you can give about specific experiences of gratitude, the more aware you will be of such blessings in the future.

For example, in my own gratitude journals, I have noted the following:

  • The feeling of my bare feet on a newly cleaned floor, or the feeling of waking up in freshly cleaned bedsheets.
  • Walking in the front door and seeing both my dogs wagging their tails in perfect sync.
  • The rays of sunshine that poked through the trees as I was walking around my neighborhood, just as I was listening to a beautiful rendition of a favorite praise song.
  1. Try the Daily Examen Prayer.

Many Christian communities observe the Daily Offices, a rhythm of daily prayer that aligns with different moments of the day. One of the evening prayers is called the Daily Examen, which is a structured way to end the day, reviewing it with prayer and gratitude. The following uses the pattern prescribed by St. Ignatius of Loyola.


Begin with a pause and a slow, deep breath or two; become aware that you are in the presence of the Holy.


What am I especially grateful for in the past day:

  • The gift of another day…
  • The love and support I have received…
  • The courage I have mustered…
  • An event that took place today…

Petition and Review:

I am about to review my day; I ask for the light to know God and to know myself as God sees me.

  • Where have I felt true joy today?
  • What has troubled me today?
  • What has challenged me today?
  • Where and when did I pause today?
  • Have I noticed God’s presence in any of this?

Response and Look Ahead:

  • In light of my review, what is my response to the God of my life?
  • As I look ahead, what comes to mind?
  • With what spirit do I want to enter tomorrow?

I would love to hear what practices and rhythms you have developed to incorporate more gratitude into your life. May your days ahead be filled with awareness of God’s blessings and enable you to live with a grateful heart.

See you Sunday!




Be sure to check out our website for our exciting 2022 Impact Report, celebrating the amazing ways your generosity has made a profound difference in our community and around the world. You can also turn in your estimate of giving for next year, before our annual Commitment Sunday on November 20.


Next week, United Methodist delegates from around the southeastern United States will be gathering in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, to elect new bishops for our Southeastern Jurisdiction. Pastors Vicki, Justin, and I are serving as delegates, along with Pastor Sally’s husband Clarke Campbell-Evans. Please keep all the delegates in your prayers as we do this important work. There will be no Midweek Message next week and will resume the second week in November.



Therefore… “Go?”

Thirty years ago, I was in a small group Bible study in college, in which the leader was talking about Matthew 28:18-20, our scripture reading for this Sunday’s Missions Celebration. Jesus utters these iconic words to his disciples:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

My Bible study leader pointed out an insight on the first word in that sentence that I have never forgotten. He said that in the Greek, the tense of the word “go” is better translated “as you are going,” rather than simply, “go.”

This nuance makes all the difference in, well, the world. Jesus was not telling his disciples that engaging in missions is solely relegated to programs at a distance. Missional engagement is primarily a way of being,an orientation of one’s life in alignment with God’s love for the whole world.

It means that we are called to make disciples as we go about the everydayness of life, not just in our support of mission partners and agencies working around the world.



To give us even greater insight into this text and to inspire us with the work of the worldwide connection of the United Methodist Church, we are eager to welcome the Rev. Dr. Martyn Atkins as our guest preacher this Sunday.

Dr. Atkins has 40 years of experience in British Methodism, as President of the Methodist Church in Britain, as well as professor and President of Cliff College, a Methodist institution. He was Superintendent of Methodist Central hall, Westminster, working closely with Westminster Abbey and Parliament. He is also a leader in the Fresh Expressions movement and the World Methodist Council.

He is currently serving here in Florida, as the interim pastor of Lighthouse UMC in Boca Grande, which was severely impacted by Hurricane Ian. We pray for his congregation and his community, as we welcome him this Sunday to offer his insights and wisdom.

See you Sunday!




A Gift for Yourself

Dear Hyde Park Family,

It is a condition that affects about one in 1 in 5 adults in the United States each year. One in 6 American youth experience this challenge, and it is the most common cause of hospitalizations of people under the age of 45. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and costs an estimated 1 trillion dollars of lost productivity around the world. (click here for more stats)

Yet, it carries a significant social stigma that allows it to remain unacknowledged for countless individuals and families.

Chances are, someone you know and care for is affected by some form of mental illness. It shows no preference for any one demographic or life stage, and casts a long shadow in the homes, schools, and workplaces throughout our communities. You may even be struggling yourself. 

In 1990, Congress assigned the first week in October as an annual observance of issues related to mental health. So, last week, October 2-8 was National Mental Illness Awareness Weekand this past Monday was National Mental Health Day. 


I invite you to take a moment to pray for those affected by some form of mental illness. Work to overcome your own prejudice against people who are suffering, and help stem society’s stigma. Take a moment to reach out in love and concern to loved ones you know who deal with this on a daily basis. Offer them a note of understanding, a compassionate ear, or simply a kind word. 

And if you are one of the millions dealing with mental illness, you need not take this journey alone. Seek out the trusted counsel of a friend or professional and feel the presence of God’s peace in your life. 

I have mentioned numerous times that seeking professional therapy has been the best gift I have given myself for over twenty years. We have some members in our congregation who are wonderful therapists, and you can reach out to one of us clergy to find out more. Or, you may be able to find a therapist the way I found my current one: through the recommendation of a primary care physician and consulting my health insurance provider. 

Together, let’s do the work of the church, and be a beacon of light for those who walk along dark paths.  

Grace and Peace,





Two weeks ago, you all responded to a desperate plea for water for the people across Florida by donating over 1,200 gallons of water! This past week, we shared with you a request by our Conference Disaster Response Office to help underwrite the purchase of roof quality tarps for residents, at a cost of $75 per tarp. They asked us to meet a goal of 100 tarps, and your response has been amazing.

You have donated over $28,000, enough to purchase 386 tarps!

Added to the contributions you have made to both the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Hurricane Ian Fundyou have contributed over $51,000! 

As we await word from the Conference on the next urgent need that we can help meet, you can still give to these funds if you would like. And if you would like to volunteer for a possible work team in the future, contact Vicki Walker.




Join us this Sunday as we continue in our worship series “The Art of Hearing God’s Voice,” when we will explore this interesting and intriguing question: “Does God Speak Through Dreams?” As always, invite a friend to join you, or share the sermon with them on our YouTube page.

Hurricane Ian Relief Update

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Thank you for the amazing response to the urgent plea for water last weekend for residents of Florida impacted by Hurricane Ian. In less than 24 hours, you donated about 4.5 tons of water, the equivalent of over 1,200 gallons. That water has been delivered down south at a United Methodist Church serving as a distribution site. You have also given over $7,000 in monetary donations. Thank you!


Moving forward, we are working with the Florida Annual Conference Disaster Response Office, who is in close contact with local congregations and emergency officials throughout Florida. They are coordinating our Conference’s response by asking certain congregations to serve and give in different ways. Some churches have been asked to provide hygiene kits, others to provide flood buckets, others to provide baby supplies, and so on. It is a testament to the power of our connectional system that all of us together are rising to the challenge, without any one of us having to go it alone.

So, what have we specifically been asked as a congregation to take on as a next phase of our response?

Here are some options for you to choose from.


The Florida UMC Conference Disaster Response Office made us aware of a desperate need for roof-quality tarps for local residents. Because tarps are in short supply in local stores, the Conference will be purchasing 1,000 tarps through its connection with a national supplier, and it is asking for financial contributions to help underwrite the purchase. We at Hyde Park United Methodist have been asked to underwrite the Conference’s purchase of at least 100 tarps, at a cost of $75 each. If you would like to contribute toward that purchase, please click here.


The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is our denomination’s disaster relief agency, and it is already at work coordinating with local response and recovery efforts. All the money you give goes directly to help people in need. To give, click here.

The FL UMC Conference Hurricane Ian Fund has been established by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet to assist local congregations who have been significantly impacted by the storm. Money in this fund will help support these churches and their ministry to their community while they are unable to raise support from their weekly offering. To give, click here.


Let us know if you are willing to serve on a relief and rebuilding work team, once we receive word that conditions are open to receiving such teams. Please click here so we can contact you in the future.

We continue to pray for all those who have been devastated by the storm and what may be a long road to recovery. Let us join in providing tangible ways to love and serve them.




If you missed worship last Sunday, we explored the concept of “survivor’s guilt.” You can watch it online here and share it with a friend who might find it helpful.


We continue in our worship series “The Art of Hearing God’s Voice” by discovering the value and challenge of patience. Let us learn to embrace these seasons of waiting as a way to stretch and mature our faith.

Special Midweek Message: A Pastoral Word Before the Storm

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Today’s special Midweek Message is in the form of this video, in which I offer you and your loved ones a pastoral word of comfort and courage in the face of Hurricane Ian.

Blessings to you and your family as we navigate these days ahead.


Remembering Rich Mullins

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Last Monday was the 25th anniversary of the tragic death of Rich Mullins, one of the greatest contemporary Christian music artists, and songwriter of the soundtrack of my youth. His song “Awesome God” debuted during my senior year in high school and carried me well into college. Its irrepressible melody and psalm-like declaration of praise was a signature song during a formative season of my faith.

More recently, I have been re-listening to many other favorites, including “Hold Me Jesus” and “If I Stand,”which I think is one of the greatest contemporary Christian songs ever written:

So if I stand let me stand on the promise

That you will pull me through

And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace

That first brought me to You

And if I sing let me sing for the joy

That has born in me these songs

And if I weep let it be as a man

Who is longing for his home

His music was unashamedly Christian, proclaiming the salvation of Jesus through the cross, and calling us to deepen our commitment to Christ beyond superficial platitudes. But he was also a bold critic of a certain kind of narrow-minded evangelicalism:

On the twentieth anniversary of Mullins’ death, noted author Shane Claiborne remembered him in this way on his Facebook page. 

He often joked about how surprising it was that so many evangelicals took him seriously. He said things that–even though they came straight from the Gospels– were at odds with what had come to characterize much of evangelicalism in the 1980s and 1990s. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken… This, I know, will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re wrong. They are not bad, they’re just wrong.”


In preparation for this Sunday, I have been listening again to his song “Sometimes By Step,” which debuted in 1993 and was an immediate hit on the heels of “Awesome God.” It was a declaration of trust in God, step by step:

O God, You are my God

And I will ever praise You

O God, You are my God

And I will ever praise You

And I will seek You in the morning

And I will learn to walk in Your ways

And step by step You’ll lead me

And I will follow You all of my days

It’s a fitting song for you to listen to before this Sunday. We will be continuing our worship series “The Art of Hearing God’s Voice” with the guidance of Proverbs 3:5-6 to trust in God, one step at a time. 

Thank you, Rich, for your life, your music, and your enduring witness to a radically loving, ever-trustworthy God. We miss you.





The Staff-Parish Relations Committee is excited to announce the hiring of two persons on our church program staff. Kim Apthorp continues her work among us as our new Children’s Ministry Coordinator, a new position created to provide strategic oversight of our ministry to children and their families. It concludes a nearly year-long search for a director. And we are glad to welcome Chris Temple as our new Director of Youth Ministries, who will bring years of excitement and energy to the youth and families of our community. Now would be a great time for families of children and youth to re-connect and invite others in the community to join us, and you can learn more on our website. We give thanks to God for filling all of our staff vacancies as we head into an exciting future together.

For Everything a Season

Dear Hyde Park Family,

At the outset of a meeting last Tuesday of the Committee on Lay Leadership, I read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which contains the iconic “For everything there is a season” passage. Then I read a lovely poem by Laura Grace Weldon titled, Compost Happens.” It’s from a wonderful collection of poems I read over the weekend titled How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, which you can purchase through our church’s Amazon page

I think you’ll see the connections between these two readings, along with whatever you might be carrying today. Blessings to us all as we watch, with patience, the transformative love of God in our lives and in the world.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)


For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die;

a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill and a time to heal;

a time to break down and a time to build up;

a time to weep and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek and a time to lose;

a time to keep and a time to throw away;

a time to tear and a time to sew;

a time to keep silent and a time to speak;

a time to love and a time to hate;

a time for war and a time for peace.



“Compost Happens”

Laura Grace Weldon


Nature teaches nothing is lost.

It’s transmuted.


Spread between rows of beans,

last year’s rusty leaves tamp down weeds.

Coffee grounds and banana peels

foster rose blooms. Bread crumbs

scattered for birds become song.

Leftovers offered to chickens come back

as eggs, yolks sunrise orange.

Broccoli stems and bruised apples

fed to cows return as milk steaming in the pail,

as patties steaming in the pasture.


Surely our shame and sorrow

also return, composted by years

into something generative as wisdom.


Grace and Peace,





Join us in person or online as we continue our worship series, “The Art of Hearing God’s Voice.” I’ll be sharing three principles through the acronym “S.O.S.” that will help you sense God’s presence in the midst of life’s challenges. Be sure to invite a friend, or share our service with others through our YouTube channel