Philippians 1:1-11: From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
To all those in Philippi who are God’s people in Christ Jesus, along with your supervisors and servants.
2 May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
3 I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. 4 I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 5 I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 6 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. 7 I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. 8 God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
From Pastor Jill Howard, servant of Christ, appointed here by Bishop Mike Coyner in 2008- to the members and friends of Morgantown United Methodist Church, who are God’s people in Jesus Christ:
I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in ministry of the gospel from the time I started here 4 years ago and until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to continue the jobs of ministry here- the jobs of worship, fellowship, prayer, learning, serving, reaching, and loving. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. My prayer for you is that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight as you continue on in this place. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what is truly important and what is petty enough to let go. I pray that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, patience, hope, peace, compassion, and joy, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
Four years ago, I was at my parsonage in Terre Haute one March evening eating a blizzard from Dairy Queen, when I got a phone call from the DS- THE phone call. We were moving to a little place called Morgantown, he said. Having known Pastor Roy, I knew of Morgantown, but not too much about it- just that it was a small town in south central Indiana. This came as a shock to me because the last news I heard about my new appointment was that I was being considered for another associate pastor position at a larger church. So Morgantown, IN was the last place on my radar! I asked the DS, “What part about ‘don’t send me to a rural congregation didn’t you all understand?’” He assured me that I would be well-accepted and told me some of the wonderful things about the congregation. I thought to myself, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And my mind was put at ease from the moment I met with the PPR committee on that first night 4 years ago. And the rest is history. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how fast 4 years have gone by, and how much ministry we have done together. Today I want to share with you some of the highlights of my time with you.
Learning. We have learned a lot from each other. You all have taught me the joys, quirks, and sometimes drawbacks of small town life. I have never lived in a small town, but you have shown me the ins and outs of what it’s about. I’ve driven some of the most rural little roads, and my Subaru has seen what the backwoods really look like. Corey and I survived hitting our first deer, and have dodged several more since then. We have also learned a lot about our faith together. My first small group study here was on the book, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still be a Christian. In this class we wrestled with everything from evolution to creation, to sexuality and how we read and understand the Bible. This class was followed by others such as Christianity and World Religions, Making Sense of the Bible, Becoming a Disciple, and the a study on the Apostle Paul. I fondly remember a Tuesday morning study for women during Advent where we learned together about the women of the Christmas stories in the Gospel of Luke. And I also have fond memories of our Wednesday morning Bible study at the Senior Center where we read through and studied the entire Gospel of Luke together. All 24 chapters of it!
One of my passions as a pastor is teaching and journeying with people as we explore our faith. I enjoy asking and hearing the tough questions and wrestling with them together. We had some eye opening discussions, lightbulb moments, and prayerful times of learning that will stay with me forever. I want to say thank you for these sacred moments.
2) Worship. We have worshiped well. We have heard and been a part of beautiful music together. Either from the choir, special music, or Brian and Debbie on the organ and piano, we have lifted our voices and thoughts to God through song. You’ve allowed me to share my passion of singing with you. You all have been supportive of the creative things I’ve tried, such as the Pentecost where we released red balloons throughout the sanctuary. I have never seen happier faces on people in worship than I did that morning! Or the times that I have invited you forward to kneel in front of the cross and reflect upon its paradoxical beauty and sadness. We have been a part of healing worship times, celebratory, challenging, prayerful, and Spirit filled. We have prayed for one another, and we have praised God together. May you always remember this sacred space as a place where we come to experience God, and expect that God will show up for worship, whether you are prepared to meet God or not!
3) Fellowship. This includes all of the good food we have had together! From ladies’ luncheons to pitch-in dinners, and the wonderful Christmas meal, you all sure know what it means to hang out and have fun together. There is a reason why Jesus shared meals with so many different kinds of people. As one of my seminary professors said, “Jesus loved meals so much that he became one.” Being at a table together over a meal is a good and sacred thing. It is where we are our true selves and experience the riches of life together. Fellowship at this church means that all are welcomed and all are loved. I’ve never seen a church who cherished their fellowship time after worship as much as you all do. I hope you keep that spirit alive for a long time to come, and invites others to be a part of it. Anyone who attends fellowship hour as a first time visitor usually comes back. Why? Because they have shared in conversation with you over some good food and fellowship. Jesus meets us at the table, and we are to extend that invitation to others to come as they are.
4) Love for the community. This is a congregation who is proud to be part of the community. We open our building for a number of different people and things, and we serve the community in many ways. We get involved in things like Col. Vawter Day and the Memorial Day parade, we have scouting troops that meet here, aerobics, and people who make sure the Food Pantry is a vital ministry and service for people in this town. Vacation Bible School reaches out to children and youth, and we can be proud of the fact that we are an open, affirming, and inclusive church. We have done mission projects that have helped youth, senior citizens, the homeless, the hungry, and even IGA shoppers. I hope that you will keep thinking of ways to reach out to the community and bring them the light of Jesus Christ. And not just that, but that you will invite people in this community to experience what it means to have a relationship with Christ and his followers in a wonderful place such as this. We need Jesus both inside the church and outside of it. The world is our parish. Let’s make it so.
5) You have allowed me to be a part of your lives. I have shared joyous occasions with you from birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, positive medical test results, and births of children or grandchildren. I have sat beside you in hospitals or prayed with you before a surgery. I have helped plan funerals for your loved ones. I have prayed with you for a variety of reasons. I’ve had intimate conversations with many of you, wrestling over life’s challenges or difficult questions about faith. We’ve explored next steps together in life’s journey. You have let me into your lives, and for that I will be forever grateful. One of the most rewarding things about being a pastor is that I get to experience the many seasons of life with people, from the baptism of a baby, weddings, and when life is coming to an end. Pastors are invited into those sacred spaces and times, and it is a holy opportunity and calling. I have been privileged to share these times and spaces with each of you.
6) And finally, I have loved the unique oasis that makes this church special in so many ways. I hope you realize how rare it is to find a small town church such as this with a range of theological and political views such as this, and how much you love each other and do ministry together anyway. I love that you have welcomed people into this congregation who have not been able to find a warm welcome in other churches in this area, and I love that some of you disagree with each other, and probably even me, yet this is the place you come to learn about and experience a relationship with Jesus Christ. You have been able to keep your focus on a shaping a loving community and staying the course in disciple making. Keep on making the main thing the main thing. Create space for people who are different from you and who do not think like you do. Keep working on ways to invite a wide range and variety of persons into the fold, and be creative in how you might reach out to youth and families, too. There are rich possibilities here for multi-generational ministries and sacred spaces for children and families. Take advantage of those possibilities!
Many years ago when I was leaving my youth ministry position at St. Luke’s in Indianapolis and heading off to seminary in Atlanta, my dear friend and colleague said to me, “We are saying goodbye, but goodbye really means, ‘God be with you.’” And I have never forgotten this. So today, as we say goodbye, we are really saying, “God be with you,” and I will add, “till we meet again.” “God be with you till we meet again.” The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians with affection, prayers, and thanksgiving long ago. He said to them, I know these wonderful things about you are true (and will continue to be true) because I keep you in my heart. And these words are words that I know are true today. I keep you, the people of Morgantown United Methodist, in my heart. And may his prayer to the Philippians long ago be my prayer for you this day:
That your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight as you continue on in this place. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what is truly important and what is petty enough to let go. I pray that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, patience, hope, peace, and joy, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
God be with you. And blessings on the journey.