The Blessing of the Animals

The Blessing of the Animals

Dear Hyde Park Family,

My first pet was a turtle. I was young when I received one as a gift from a friend. It was a small box turtle that I kept it in a green plastic bowl shaped around a fake island and topped with a plastic palm tree. I thought about naming it after one of the characters from Gilligan’s Island. To give you a glimpse into my prepubescent mind at the time, I decided to name it Ginger.

After a few weeks of caring for Ginger, I came home one day to discover her bowl empty. My mother broke the bad news to me. Ginger had gotten sick, and she was gone.

I was incredulous. I asked my mother what signs Ginger was exhibiting that suggested she was ill. My mother said she wasn’t moving too quickly. “But she’s a turtle,” I replied. “She didn’t ever really move that quickly.”

After coping with the news for a few hours, I went into my brothers’ rooms to warn them. I told them, “Listen. I gotta tell ya’, you better not sit still. You better keep moving, because otherwise mom will think you are dead.”


Like many of you, I learned to cherish the special relationship that humans have with animals. After Ginger, I had a handful of parakeets, a series of fish, and a total of three adopted dogs over the years, including Micah and Winnie, whom we have now. There is something about having a pet that fills a vacancy in our spirit and eases our journey through life.

This Sunday, join us as we explore Day 5 of the creation story, as part of our worship series titled “The Seven.” We will celebrate the glorious diversity of wings, fins, feathers, and fur that make up the amazing animal world. We will also discover the special responsibility and privilege we have to be in relationship with the earth’s animals.

It will include the story of St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century Irish Catholic friar who is known as the patron saint of animals. St. Francis once said, “God requires that we assist the animals, when they need our help. Each being, human or creature, has the same right of protection.”

A culmination of the day is our first ever Blessing of the Animals, at 3pm this Sunday, February 5, on our Magnolia parking lot. We invite you to bring all the special animals of your life for an informal, come-and-go event, in which the clergy will impart a word of blessing on your pet. It would be fun for you to bring a friend, two-legged or four-legged!

See you Sunday!





From February 6 – 16, I will be joining a group of clergy from the Florida Annual Conference to travel to Israel as part of the Marcy Preaching Cohort program. We will be led by Rev. Gary Mason, whose formidable work in peacemaking has brokered conversations across the most polarized trouble spots in the world. We will be traveling to Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem to meet some high-profile civic, academic, and religious figures involved in navigating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. We will discern the role that religious institutions, including local churches, can play in forging mutual understanding and healing from divisions. Thank you for your prayers for our safety and for all we will experience. I will resume the Midweek Message upon my return.



Our Cosmic Voyage

Our Cosmic Voyage

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the fourth day of creation, when God created the planets, stars, sun, and moon. Prior to Sunday, I would love for you to take 30-minutes to watch a short documentary film titled Cosmic Voyage. I originally saw it on an IMAX screen 25 years ago and immediately fell in love with it. Since then, the film has been made available on YouTube,  and I recommend it highly.

In essence, the film takes us on two voyages, the first on a macro journey into outer space. It travels a mere forty-two steps from a courtyard in Venice, Italy, to the outermost edge of the visible universe, with each step a power of ten in greater distance.

Then, the film takes us on a corresponding journey inward. Again, within a matter of steps, we travel into the micro world, past the smallest objects visible to the naked eye, into the world of cells, atoms, nuclei, and the edge of the unknown world: quarks and quantum energy.

From Galileo, who first fashioned lenses into the telescope and looked upward, to Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, who first fashioned lenses into the microscope and looked downward, we can see the awesome mystery and majesty of creation, along with the limits of human understanding.

This all reminds me of the words of Psalm 8, which I often think about as the “telescope and microscope psalm.” It first takes us on a macro journey outward:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! You made your glory higher than heaven! When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made, the moon and the stars, that you set firmly in place, what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? (vss. 1, 3,4)

Then, the psalmist takes us on a micro journey downward into the beauty and mysteries of the earth:

You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. You’ve let them rule over your handiwork, putting everything under their feet—all sheep and all cattle, the wild animals too, the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, everything that travels the pathways of the sea. (vss. 5-8)

And the psalm concludes with these beautiful words:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

 I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we discover the splendor of the heavens and the mysteries of creation. I’ll be referencing the amazing discoveries by the James Webb telescope and the writings of Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Frank Wilczek.


And join us a week from Sunday, February 5, for our first ever blessing of the animals at 3pm on the Magnolia parking lot of the Hyde Park campus! We will be observing it in conjunction with Day 5 of our creation series, when God created the plants and animals. You are welcome to bring your pets to a fun, casual, and informal time, where clergy will offer a word of blessing for your pet. This would be a great occasion to bring your human friends (and their furry friends)

We cannot wait to see the beautiful zoo of creatures on that day!

See you Sunday!




We give thanks for the work of the Finance Committee, Generosity Team, the Church Conference, and the faithful stewardship of this congregation in approving the 2023 Ministry and Missions Budget last Sunday afternoon. The Finance Committee always feels most comfortable proposing a budget that is 80% underwritten by estimates of giving. Last year, we reached a high-water mark, with a budget that was 85% underwritten by pledges.

This year, thanks to an amazing generosity campaign and your faithfulness, we are moving forward with a budget that is 87% underwritten, with a higher number of total pledges, higher average pledge amount, and higher overall dollar total than last year. We are so grateful to you, and to the Spirit who is moving us into the bright future ahead. Thank you!



What is Your Thin Place?

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!







Dear Christmas Pilgrims,


By Frederick Buechner (1926-2022)

From The Hungering Dark


Lord Jesus Christ,


Thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world.


Wherever there is war in this world,

Wherever there is pain,

Wherever there is loneliness,

Wherever there is no hope,

Come, thou long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.


Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adorned, be born again.

Wherever there is boredom,

Wherever there is fear of failure,

Wherever there is temptation too strong to resist,

Wherever there is bitterness of heart,

Come, thou blessed one, with healing in thy wings.



On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of Hyde Park United Methodist, I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year!


We are ready to welcome you and thousands of people over the next several days to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For the full schedule of services at Water Works Park, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, along with our services online, visit our website.

We could also use a last push of volunteers to provide hospitality on Christmas Eve. Thank you to those who have already signed up. We still have a number of openings at the 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. services on Christmas Eve. To sign up, click here.



Bask in the glow of Christmas morning with us this Sunday, in a single service at 10 a.m. in our Sanctuary, along with a service online. I will be preaching a Christmas message, and we’ll join in singing some of our favorite Christmas carols. There will also be a community service and meal at The Portico at 11 a.m. this Sunday.



Throughout this winter we have partnered with Hillsborough County to provide a cold weather shelter in the Harnish Center on the Hyde Park campus for any persons needing a warm place to stay overnight. With temperatures forecast to drop below 40 degrees on Friday, Saturday,Sunday and Monday nights, we are preparing to open the space for overnight guests.

If you can volunteer in any capacity, or wish to be included on the contact list for future opportunities, please sign up here. Let us pray for those who will be affected by the cold, even as we make room for their safe shelter with us.





We have had an amazing, fruitful year of ministry, thanks to God’s grace and your generosity. Help us to finish the year strong in two ways:

1.     Make your final contributions to the 2022 budget. For your giving to count toward your 2022 giving statement, make sure your gift is postmarked by December 31, 2022. In addition, staff will be available in the office from Wednesday to Friday next week to receive your contributions.

2.     We have made wonderful progress in our most recent Generosity Campaign, and we are nearing our goal to fully fund God’s mission in 2023. For those of you who have already submitted an estimate of giving, thank you! If you haven’t, your estimate of any size will go a long way to help our Finance Committee plan for the future. Please click here to submit one. Thank you!


Our offices will be closed on Monday and Tuesday next week, to give our staff and volunteers a chance to rest and celebrate Christmas with loved ones. There will be no Midweek Message next week, and I look forward to resuming them in January.



Come, Thou Almighty King

Come, Thou Almighty King

Dear Advent Pilgrims, 

We are about to round the corner and come down the home stretch of our journey through Advent. Be sure to check out our website for descriptions of all the exciting events happening next week, starting with this Sunday:

  • Family Christmas Service: Sunday, December 18, 5:30pm in the Sanctuary
  • Blue Christmas Service: Wednesday, December 21, 7pm in the Hyde Park Chapel
  • Christmas at Water Works Park: Friday, December 23, 6:30pm
  • Christmas Eve: Saturday, December 24, Contemporary at 3:30 and 5pm (Harnish Center), and Traditional at 4, 5:30, & 11pm (Sanctuary). Online starting at 12pm.
  • Christmas Day: Sunday, December 25, 10:00am in the Hyde Park Sanctuary (note there will only be one service that morning.)
  • Christmas Day Community Meal: Sunday, December 25, 11am in The Portico Community Hall.

On Christmas Eve, we expect thousands of people to join us for worship at our various services, and we need a good number of volunteers to greet visitors from the moment they arrive. It will only take an hour or so of your time, and you can sign up here for a time slot that is convenient for you. Thank you!


We conclude our worship series this Sunday by exploring the Advent hymn “Come, Thou Almighty King”(even though there is some dispute as to whether the hymn belongs in Advent, which I will discuss in the sermon.)

The following insights come from Dr. Michael Dougherty, our Director of Traditional Music, who gives us some historical, biblical, and musical perspective on the hymn:

“Come, Thou Almighty King” is a well-loved and triumphal hymn that, despite its popularity, is of unknown authorship. It first appeared in George Whitfield’s “Collection of Hymns for Social Worship” in 1757. Whitfield was a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley, and, an interesting historical note, he rewrote the first line of Charles Wesley’s hymn “Hark, how all the welking rings” to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Most would probably agree, that was a good choice!

“Come, Thou Almighty King” is not a straightforward Advent hymn. Rather, it is an extended doxology. In its strictest sense, a doxology requires praise to the three parts of the Trinity, and this hymn complies.

  • The first verse addresses the Godhead “Come thou almighty King.”
  • The second verse addresses Jesus who came as the Word who dwelt among us “Come, thou incarnate Word.”
  • The third verse address the Holy Spirit “Come, holy comforter.”
  • The final verse sums up the previous three and makes the doxology clear “To thee, great One in Three.”

What makes this hymn appropriate for Advent is the “not-yetness” of the of the text as we await the coming of Christ and the ultimate fulfilment of the promise:

“Thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see, and to eternity love and adore.”

See you Sunday!






The Florida Annual Conference has shared word of the death of Rev. Billy Pickett on December 12, 2022.Billy served as senior pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church from 1977 to 1985. His Celebration of Life service will be held Saturday, December 17 at Belle Isle Community Church (formerly Pine Castle UMC) at 731 Fairlane Ave. in Orlando. The visitation is from 9:30-11 a.m., with the service following at 11:30 a.m. The service also will be live streamed on the Facebook page of Belle Isle Community Church.




We continue to be off to a strong start to our estimates of giving for 2023, with still a way to go before the Finance Committee can adequately make funding plans for an exciting year ahead. If you haven’t filled out an estimate, please do so here, and thank you to those who have!

We also ask that you help us finish the year strong with your end-of-year contributions for 2022. It has been an amazing year, and thank you for being a part of it! For your contributions to count toward your 2022 giving statement, they need to be postmarked by December 31, 2022.





Dear Advent Pilgrims,

As we approach the half-way mark of our journey to Christmas, we have some special events this Saturday and Sunday that will comprise a joyous, festive weekend. We hope you will make one or more of these events a part of your holiday preparations.


We are grateful to host the Florida Wind Band, a premier non-profit wind ensemble in the Tampa Bay area. They will be in our Sanctuary performing a concert of holiday classics, under the direction of Matthew McCutcheon (Director of Bands at USF) and guest conducted by church member Heather Lundahl. Our own Colleen Schmitt will be narrating the program. The event is free.


This Sunday morning, we will continue our worship series “Songs for the Waiting” with music presentations by our Contemporary Band (9:30, Harnish Center) and Vocal and Handbell Choirs (11:00, Sanctuary). The service will feature beautiful Advent and Christmas music, scripture readings, and the lighting of our Advent wreath. Our online service will include a sermon from me centering on the Advent hymn of the week, “People Look East,” described below.


On Sunday afternoon, you are invited to join United Methodists from across the Florida Conference in our Sanctuary for a farewell gathering for Bishop Ken and Rev. Pam Carter. He has served as our bishop for ten years, and has been reappointed to exclusively serve the Western North Carolina Conference starting January 1. Join us for a program of remembrance, joy, and profound gratitude for their ministry among us. A reception will follow in the Harnish Center.


For my online sermon this Sunday, I will offer some reflection on the spiritual preparations we can make as we journey through Advent. It will be guided by the great Advent hymn, “People, Look East.”  

Dr. Michael Dougherty, our Direction of Traditional Music, offers these compelling insights into the text of the hymn:

“People, Look East” is a joy-filled and expectant Advent text by the 20th Century English author Eleanor Farjeon.  She is better known in England as an author of children’s books, having won several distinguished awards.  The Children’s Book Circle established the Eleanor Farjeon Award in her honor upon her death. “People, Look East” is included in our hymnal with Farjeon’s text “Morning Has Broken.”

The hymn’s four stanzas step through the Advent-Christmas story with an eye on the future.  In addition, each stanza ends with a refrain-like statement, but each of these statements has one different word that relates to the preceding stanza to a specific image of Christ, who “is on the way.”

  • The first stanza uses the imagery of preparing the house and the table. “Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.”  “Love, the Guest, is on the way.”
  • The second stanza calls on all creation to prepare, “Furrows, be glad… Give up your strength the seed to nourish, that in the course the flower may flourish.”  “Love, the Rose, is on the way.”
  • The third verse foreshadows the story of the Magi when it calls “Stars, keep the watch, when night is dim, one more light the bowl shall brim.”  “Love, the Star, is on the way.”
  • The fourth verse shines the light on the ever-present Christmas angels as the “Angels announce with shouts of mirth him who brings new life to earth” and in a backward allusion to the prophecy in Isaiah 40, “Set every peak and valley humming with the word, the Lord is coming.” “Love, the Lord, is on the way.”

The title of the carol comes from the line that starts each refrain: “People, look East and sing today” and brings to the fore the traditional thought that, like the literal rising of the sun, the Messiah will come from the metaphorical East.   

This is, indeed, a joyful hymn of expectation as we “look East” for the gift of love this is on the way.

See you Sunday!




Check out our website for information on all our Advent and Christmas Services. And be sure to sign up to volunteer to provide hospitality for thousands of guests who join us on Christmas Eve. Your act of warm welcome can be the spark that offers the joy of Jesus to people that night.   




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