The Beauty of Being a United Methodist

The Beauty of Being a United Methodist

Tomorrow, laity and clergy from across Florida United Methodism will gather virtually for Annual Conference, to engage in the tradition of holy conferencing that is as old as Methodism itself. It will be a time of renewed connection, prayer, and inspiration, as we recommit ourselves to making disciples for the transformation of the world.

With all the uncertainty and unsettledness in our denomination, I spent some time these last few days remembering why it is good to be a United Methodist. This denomination nurtured my faith and led me to my confirmation. It was instrumental in my call to ministry, and it is the context in which I love and serve people like you. It is not perfect, and other religious traditions have their own strengths and virtues. But here are reasons why there is beauty in being United Methodist.

1. We are a People of Grace

We believe that the work of God’s grace is a lifelong process. It draws us toward God before we even realize it, empowers us to accept it for ourselves, and fashions us every day into the living image of Jesus. Our unique understanding of grace also gives room to believe in human free will. Our ability to choose God is itself a gift of grace, lest it become a work necessary for salvation. As the old hymn says, “Grace has brought be safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

2. We are a People of the Word

We believe that Jesus is the Word made flesh, the ultimate revelation of God’s love for humanity, and we believe the Bible offers the clearest witness to the person and work of Jesus. John Wesley called himself “a man of one book, and a student of many.” The Bible serves as our authority in all matters related to salvation, and we can become a living witness to the power of the Scriptures and the love of God.

3. We are a People in the Center

Our Wesleyan theological heritage is grounded in the concept of via media, which John Wesley’s mother Susannah instilled in him in his formative years. It is the “way in the center” which takes the best of two polarizing extremes and forms a creative third way, a “both/and” in matters of faith and life. This principle frees us from being drawn into dichotomous categories that divide our politics and culture, and seeks a way in the center as a witness to God’s inclusive love.

4. We are a People Who Practice our Faith

To be United Methodist means in large part to be methodical, diligent, and intentional about our spiritual practices. Since the early days of John Wesley’s Holy Club, Methodists have sought a structured, daily approach to the spiritual life. Today, that intentionality is the basis of our Discipleship Pathway: attending worship, being part of a small group, performing acts of mercy and justice, reading the scriptures, praying, inviting others, and giving generously of our means.

5. We are Connected to Each Other

Being connectional is a hallmark of our denomination. We believe that each church and every member are part of a wider connection throughout the world. The impact of service and giving multiplies when joined with United Methodists near and far. This enables us to have a broader and wider reach throughout the globe, and to care for those who are suffering. Together, we support schools, hospitals, camps, children’s homes, social service agencies, disaster relief, missionaries, seminaries, and many other missions of mercy and justice around the world.

It is good to be a United Methodist. And I’m glad to be one with you.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

MIDWEEK MESSAGE TO TAKE SUMMER BREAK

For the next month or so, I’ll be taking my annual summer break from writing the Midweek Message. For the latest updates on all our ministries and programs, stay tuned to our website.

To Madelyn, on Your Graduation

To Madelyn, on Your Graduation

Dear Hyde Park Family,

By the time you read this message, my younger daughter Madelyn will have graduated at noon today from the International Baccalaureate program at Robinson High School. This fall, she will be attending American University in Washington, D.C., majoring in psychology or political science.

I join many of you in expressing the pride we feel for all our students, and the gratitude we feel for our schools, for having weathered unprecedented challenges over the past 18 months. Now, as I look to what lies ahead for Maddy, and my own next chapter as an empty nester, I decided to write this week’s Midweek Message in the form of this open letter, which I shared with her this morning.

Dear Maddy,

I can still hear the sound of your voice when you were six years old, gazing at the night sky through the living room window of our home in Iowa. You were looking up at the moon, singing a song you invented on the spot:

“Moon in the sky … so bright / Moon in the sky … so bright.”

Since then, I’ve seen that sense of wonder and curiosity replay itself in you countless times over, matched by the grit and fortitude you displayed through numerous challenges and transitions in your life. Today is a culmination of all you have worked hard to achieve, and the passion and integrity with which you pursued it.

Your life and your future, like the moon, shine brightly.

I join you in feeling all the emotions that this day brings. Your mother, sister, and I are intensely proud of you, for the dedication you brought to your studies, the diligence you brought to your leadership in the band, the devotion you brought to the church youth group, and the compassion, joy, and generosity you brought to your family and friends every day.

We are so excited for what this next chapter will bring you. As a college student, you will experience new, well-deserved independence.

  • You will be able to make many of your own choices, which means dealing with your own consequences.
  • You will discover who you are, and who you are not.
  • You will succeed at times, and sometimes you will fail.
  • You will gain great knowledge, as well as learn the limits of your understanding.
  • You will sometimes come up short, even if you do all the right things.
  • You will confront your fears, and sometimes feel overwhelmed by them.

This is all part of maturing into adulthood, and it is as exciting and daunting as it sounds.

But even amid all these changes and challenges, a few things will remain constant. The first is that you will never be alone. In every moment, there will always be a huge cheering section by your side. Your mom, sister, and I will always be your greatest supporters, as will everyone in the family. You know that I am always a phone call or text message away, and I eagerly welcome every chance you have to come home. You have a church that will be praying for you and all your fellow church graduates over the months to come. And you have gathered a solid network of friends that love and care for you.

The other constant, of course, is your faith. God began a good work in you from the moment you were born. Your mother and I, along with your godparents Warren and Angie, claimed it on your behalf at the time of your baptism, and you accepted it for yourself when you were confirmed and became a member of Hyde Park. You have a much more nuanced faith than I had at your age, able to embrace both faith and reason, mercy and justice, and conviction and doubt in a way that God will use throughout your life.

As you stay faithful to your spiritual roots, you will discover God’s fruit born in and through you in ways you cannot imagine.

I share in the conviction and hope of many people who believe our future is bright because of your generation. Already in your young lives, you have grown up in the shadow of 9/11, a major recession, a global pandemic, and our country’s reckoning with our racial divisions. The same wonder, curiosity, empathy, and compassion that sparked your song in the moonlight at six years old will carry your destiny, and the future of our world along with it.

I could not be prouder of you, Madelyn Rose. God bless you, each and every day, as God continues to do a new thing, in and through you.

Love,

Dad

Three Words to Pray

Three Words to Pray

Dear Hyde Park Family,

“Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.”

I recently re-read the book “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott, whose writing I have enjoyed over the years. Lamott condenses the mystery and beauty of prayer into the three essential components revealed in the book’s title, all of which are critical to have a well-balanced prayer life.

On Help:

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going. I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.”

On Thanks:

“Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”

On Wow:

“Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible. If you say, “Well, that’s pretty much what I thought I’d see,” you are in trouble. At that point you have to ask yourself why you are even here. […] Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.”

THREE-FOLD PRAYER TO A TRIUNE GOD

Lamott’s book is a reminder to me to not let my prayer life focus only on one category at the expense of others. When my prayers are mostly about Help, God becomes little more than a giant vending machine, there to do my bidding if I simply have the correct change. Focusing only on Thanks without the other two can blind me to the needs of others and the world beyond myself. When I only pray Wow, it is too easy to forget my responsibility and capacity to make a difference.

Help, Thanks, and Wow are all needed for a balanced prayer life.

In a way, this three-fold pattern for prayer is a kind of reflection of the trinitarian nature of God, whom we worship as part of Trinity Sunday this weekend. We celebrate God the Father, who has created all things and fills the world with wonder (Wow). We celebrate God the Son, who has saved us, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves (Thanks). And we celebrate God the Holy Spirit, who strengthens and empowers us to meet the needs of others in service and love (Help). Join us for Indoor Worship at 9:30 a.m. or for Online Worship at 9:30 and 11 a.m.

So, just as we have been created in the image of a triune God, how will you make this three-fold prayer a way of life? As you and your loved ones continue to live through these uncertain times and re-emerge into life beyond this pandemic, how might you make these three essential prayers a pattern for your daily living?

What are you praying for?
What are you grateful for?
How are you in awe of God?

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

In Relationship with Others

In Relationship with Others

I’m not sure who decides such things, but on the National Day Calendar website, this past week contained several unusual observances: Monday was National Clean Your Room Day, followed by National Eat What You Want Day. Who knew that yesterday was National Odometer Day? And how exactly does one celebrate that?

For what it’s worth, today is an odd convergence of four celebrations: National Crouton Day, National Apple Pie Day, National Fruit Cocktail Day, and National Frog Jumping Day. Sounds like the makings of a very weird party.

But there is one observance that caught my attention: Tomorrow is National Decency Day.

In 2017, a parent in New York named Lisa Cholnoky had grown weary of the caustic nature of our public discourse, particularly online and in social media. She started a simple campaign in the form of a button she created and wore every day, containing the single word “decency.” The buttons became viral, as did her non-partisan, grassroots movement, which you can learn more about on their website Their mission is simple: “To inspire decency in our everyday life, in our conversations and our actions.”

Their efforts were recognized on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in September 2017. And in 2019, National Decency Day was established to “celebrate the basic standard of civility that every American deserves.”

They offer three simple guidelines for practicing decency and civility in our interactions with others:

A: Active listening
B: Better understanding
C: Compassion

CREATED TO BE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS

In John 15:9-17, our Scripture text for this Sunday in our “New Creation” worship series, Jesus said that our relationships with others ought to be life giving and loving, rather than hostile and divisive. “My command is this,” Jesus said. “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

We are connected to God and to each other, as a vine is connected to branches. So, we are called to lean into that connection, despite our divisions and disagreements, to become an interdependent community, strengthening and encouraging each other. In other words, every day should be one of decency.

So, Happy Decency Day tomorrow, friends. Let’s make an extra effort to model civility and compassion in our interactions with others, every day. And in all things, let us love one another.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

INCREASED SEATING FOR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP

Our Ministry Leadership Council Executive Group has approved an increase in the number of people who can attend Sunday indoor worship services. The total number of available seats has been increased by the number of people attending who are fully vaccinated (two weeks have elapsed since the final vaccination). You will find a space on the RSVP form for you to provide the number of people in your reservation who are vaccinated. Sharing this information will allow us to welcome more people into worship. The information will not be retained, but only used to determine capacity. See you Sunday! RSVP here.

Our Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter has also provided helpful guidance to churches, following Governor DeSantis’ recent announcement lifting local government mask mandates. You can read Bishop Carter’s statement here. As we eagerly and steadily increase worship seating capacity and resume indoor ministries, we will continue for now to practice mask wearing and social distancing, in accordance with direction from the CDC, which has guided our Executive Team since the start of the pandemic. We believe that doing so lives out our faithful Wesleyan understanding of doing no harm, which is one of John Wesley’s three simple rules. It is also a way to love God and love all, fulfilling our mission of making God’s love real.

Are You Successful or Fruitful?

Are You Successful or Fruitful?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday we focus on Jesus’ famous image of the vine and the branches in John 15, in which he calls us to abide in him and bear fruit. It is important to remember that the standard by which we measure our faithfulness to God is faithfulness, not success.

It is a distinction stated eloquently by the great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen:

There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.

And when I think of people in this church who have born this kind of fruitfulness out of their obedience to Jesus, I think of Margaret Mathews and Doug Roland.

REMEMBERING MARGARET AND DOUG

It has been a tough stretch for funeral and memorial services in this congregation, and we offer our prayer and support for those of you grieving the loss of loved ones in recent days. Over the next 48 hours, we will be celebrating the lives of two members of our church, who have left a significant impact on our congregation and our community.

Tomorrow at 11am, we will be remembering Margaret Mathews, and you can watch the livestream of her service here. Margaret was a faithful member of this church, serving a variety of leadership roles, contributing her keen insights and wisdom to advance the mission of this church. She was a fixture in our small group ministries, longing to grow in her faith in the company of others.

Margaret was one of the most distinguished attorneys in Tampa. She chaired the board of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, was named the 2016 Outstanding Lawyer of the Year, and was recognized with the Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Award. But Margaret was driven less by those accolades for success and more by her inner standards of fruitfulness. She was a trailblazer for females in her profession and made it her life’s work to mentor female attorneys. She demonstrated the kind of determination, intelligence, humor, and grace that endeared her to many. Her fruit will last longer than her success, for the betterment of our community.

This Saturday at 10am, we will be celebrating the life of Doug Roland, whose service you can watch via livestream here.  He and Cheri joined our church in 1986, and immediately made an indelible mark in our church. He shared in nearly every leadership team, participated in our music ministries, and was a leader in many of our small groups. He helped create the Forum Class, a vibrant, spirited collection of disciples who engage vital issues of life and faith.

In what he would name his “pinnacle of service and calling,” he and Cheri would spend their retirement years in South Africa, providing invaluable service to the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary, which trains church leaders from six surrounding African countries. He helped to create their field education program, forging relationships between the seminary and eighteen field placement agencies, including prisons, AIDS care, early learning centers, and psychiatric hospitals. Bishop Peter Storey recalls theirs as a work in which “no firmer foundation could have been laid.”

As branches connected to the vine, we remain connected to saints like Margaret and Doug, nourished and strengthened by the same faith in Christ. Let us choose each day to bear fruit, extending the hospitality of God to others, not for the measures of worldly success, but for the purpose of glorifying God.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

A Few Lessons from Sheep

A Few Lessons from Sheep

This Sunday our services focus on Jesus as our Good Shepherd from John 10. And in an odd bit of comedic timing, this video popped up in my social media feed. You’ll want to watch it.

I bet you can relate to that sheep as much as I can. And here are a few other timely lessons we can learn from sheep, and from our Good Shepherd.

1. JESUS PROVIDES

It turns out sheep don’t like to drink running water from a stream. They prefer water that is not moving. A shepherd will then take his staff to momentarily dam the river, to create a pool of still water for the sheep to drink. No matter how much your life may feel like a frenzied rush of roaring water, you can find rest, provision, and stillness in the presence of Jesus (Psalm 23:2)

2. JESUS KNOWS YOU BY NAME

In the Ancient Near East, it was not uncommon for shepherds to name their sheep. Much like we name horses, dogs, and cats, shepherds called sheep by name. No matter how lonely or disconnected you might feel, you can listen for the voice of Jesus, who calls you by name and leads you forward. (John 10:3)

3. JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH THE OPPRESSED

Shepherds were despised in Greco-Roman culture. One Jewish midrash on Psalm 23 says, “The pious were forbidden to buy wool, milk or meat from shepherds. Civic privileges were withdrawn from them as from the tax collectors. No position in the world is as despised as that of the shepherd.” As our Good Shepherd, Jesus identifies with any way that you feel downtrodden, oppressed, and helpless.

4. JESUS BECAME THE SACRIFICE

In biblical times, shepherds eventually sacrificed many of their sheep, providing the means through which people could restore their relationship with God in the Temple. Without shepherds, there would be no sheep, and no sacrifice, and restoration with God.

That’s why the most surprising lesson we learn about Jesus as our Good Shepherd comes from John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus did not lead his sheep to slaughter, but saves his sheep from slaughter. This Good Shepherd does not allow us to die; he came to die in our place.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our worship series as we learn to follow our Good Shepherd.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

PRAYER FOR OUR COUNTRY

We join in prayer with others around the country in the wake of the verdict of Derek Chauvin’s trial, in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer. I offer the following word from my friend and clergy colleague Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia:

The announcement of the verdict in the Chauvin trial is an important moment to me that serves everyone in a society that honors the rule of law. I am grateful for the testimony of police officers about the standards of their practices, the number of eyewitnesses and video that helped the jury understand what happened, and a justice process that includes a jury of peers to both the victim and the defendant and the rest of the community as well. I am grateful for a Judge who upheld the order of legal proceedings and for the ideals of the Judicial branch of our government. There are no real winners here. One man is dead. Another’s life is inexorably changed. Trauma to citizens abounds. But a verdict that arrives after due process has been given and is consistent with the legal standards of the state where George Floyd was killed is critical in a time when we have so much information about the remarkable volume of past injustice towards people of color. The work of justice is ongoing, never-ending work in every society, and tonight I give thanks for those who care about justice and have the courage to ensure it. “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute,” (Psalm 82:3)

Pin It on Pinterest