Reflection - July 17, 2017

By Darren McClellan

published 7/17/2017
But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman?  She has performed a good service for me…Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
                                                            --Matt. 26:10, 13
Dear Friends,
I bring you greetings from the beautiful scenery of Utah and Wyoming, where my family and I have returned from a recent expedition through four of America’s national parks.  As expected, the splendor of creation was a sight to behold, with the variety of landscapes matched only by the diversity of visitors who represented different cultures and languages from every corner on the globe.  Surrounded by such an adventurous display of humanity, I was repeatedly amused by one reoccurring sign.  It was a popular T-shirt, actually, worn by many would-be hikers that read: not all who wander are lost. It’s not quite a statement of purpose, but it does offer some relief to one’s existential angst. 

As one who wanders about our Baypines District each week, I am comforted by this thought.  Not all who wander are lost.  In truth, could this brief testimonial be a fair commentary on the providence of God? 
Perhaps this could explain why I felt especially compelled to travel to Hamden Ridge UMC for worship yesterday morning (without really knowing why).  Hamden Ridge is located in a diminishing community just north of Castleberry and is led faithfully each week by Rev. Albert Kelly.  Its average worship attendance is approximately 8, and yet, there are four generations represented among them, singing praise to God, praying the psalms together, offering intercessions for their neighbors and giving of their modest treasure.

In speaking with Rev. Kelly before the service, I asked if I could have a moment before worship to thank the congregation for their recent remittance toward their connectional apportionments.  In doing so, however, I also learned of the recent death of the church’s matriarch, whose many hats of service included that of church treasurer.  Though fraught with the fear of uncertainty, this small membership congregation made their first apportionment payment of the year as a tribute to her dedication and devotion.  Having remembered this saint from our previous charge conference together, I was admittedly in awe of their decision.  Imagining the depth of their loss, I found their commitment in the midst of grief to be humbling.  Even so, as I stood before the altar and looked into the widower’s eyes, I recognized the inexhaustible grace and unmistakable gratitude of one who was proud to be the body of Jesus Christ—no matter what. 

This tale may sound implausible to you, or even mawkish, but as they say, you can’t make this stuff up.  The monthly statement from the conference office says that Hamden Ridge UMC paid $498 in the month of June; it was their first payment of the year.  Such cold data is useful as information, but rarely tells the whole story of the Spirit at work.  After the 9:00 service at Hamden Ridge, I ‘wandered’ over to the 10:50 service at FUMC Brewton.  With a keen eye on the DS in the corner of the sanctuary, the Rev. Tony McCullough gave thanks to God for their long standing commitment to 100% apportionments paid and for the difference that is made through such generosity.  I silently concurred with my own thanksgiving from the pew.

This difference hits home for me today as I am about to drop two of my sons off to camp at Blue Lake for the week.  As I do, I am reminded that this is the same camp at which I heard the gospel for the first time, accepted Jesus Christ as Savior in the chapel, and heard a distinct call to ordained ministry within the United Methodist Church.  It is the same camp that has been supported by our conference apportionments for years.  Since I am one who went to camp before ever becoming a Christian or member of the church, it is safe to say that the initial support I found at Blue Lake was an instrument used by God to change my life forever.  This is just one small example of our connectional giving at work for the transformation of the world.

Lastly, when I consider that my boys are younger now than I was then, I often marvel at what they have already learned about the Christian faith, because I know they have gleaned much more than they could have possibly learned from their parents alone.  It is the people of the United Methodist Church, from Ashland Place and St. Mark and Perdido Bay, to Spanish Fort and Hamden Ridge and FUMC Brewton and more who have sought to keep the vows and covenant made at our sons’ and daughters’ baptism.  As the church, you have done this with your time, talents, gifts, service, witness (and leadership, I would add) and you are now (this very week!) teaching my sons to do the same.

As one of the lyrics I learned from Blue Lake years ago states:

Thank you, for giving to the Lord…I am life that was changed.

Indeed…so true!

Thank you for being the church—even now—no matter what.
Grace to you,