God’s love endures forever

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

My husband Wally and I have three adult children who love to travel.

Perhaps they developed that love from all the many choir tours of their youth.

Our oldest daughter, in particular, has a knack for finding great deals.

She will often call and say, “Mom, I found a great deal on tickets to … Do you and Daddy want to come!?!?”

These destinations included places like Panama, Iceland, Belize, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Turkey, Jordan, St. Petersburg and more. 

Most of the time, we would have to decline the invitation because of our church commitments. 

This year, however, the invitation came at an opportune time, so we accompanied them.

Our first port-of call was Ireland.

Because we traveled on Portuguese Airlines, we spent time in Portugal, too!

Both are beautiful countries with beautiful and kind people.

Both countries are rich in complex history.
Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because of the lush green vegetation.

Dividing the fields are stacked stone walls. Some of these walls are fairly new. But many are prehistoric.

My mind could barely fathom the generations of people who lived on this land.

We visited many very old historic sites.

The Franciscan friary known as Muckross Abbey is vivid in my memory.

There is a yew tree believed to be from the 15th century.

The tree survived the massacre and torching of the abbey led by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century.

As I wondered how the tree survived, I wondered why an army would want to kill and burn down the home of peaceful monks.
Visiting Ireland made my vague historic understanding come alive.

I am amazed at all the hardships of the Irish, and how they survive and thrive just like that yew tree in the abbey.
Our journey continued to Sintra, Portugal.

The history and architecture of this town is remarkable. The details baffling. The history opulent.

There were so many fortresses and palaces.

Plaques and brochures informed us of who built what during their dynasty.
As I wandered the halls and beautiful gardens of each place, a phrase from a song, repeated itself in my mind:

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name. 
Sometimes watching the news can be unsettling.

I find hope when I read the verses in the scripture stating: 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. 
Take time to read Psalm 145. Verses 13-14 state: 

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. 

The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. 

I’m thankful that the one everlasting kingdom is God’s Kingdom of mercy and love! 

Shared pain

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Where were you 20 years ago this morning? What activity or work were you engaged in? Who were you with?

It is a day for remembering … 

Twenty years ago this morning, I was getting ready to head out to make some hospital visits.

Our daughter, Eva, was already on her way to school, having been dropped off at the bus stop earlier that morning.

The radio news was playing as usual – listening to the news was part of my morning routine along with a cup of coffee as Rick and I both went about getting ready for the day.

(It’s odd – I just now realized I don’t listen to the news in the morning anymore … )

I heard a newscaster say that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers in lower Manhattan.

“Hey Rick, did you hear that? I wonder how the pilot got so disoriented?”

The Twin Towers were a landmark our family always looked for as we flew into Newark Airport to visit Rick’s family on the Jersey Shore.

“There they are,” Rick would point out to Eva, “and there’s the Statue of Liberty.” We never tired of looking for those landmarks.

As the minutes unfolded, it became achingly, brutally clear that we weren’t dealing with a small plane or a disoriented pilot.

There were several hospitals to visit that day, and in each one, the waiting areas and hallways were filled with the sounds of televisions, the scenes on repeat, commentators’ voices trying to make sense of what was happening in Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, and New York City.

Those news reels, with their sounds and heart-breaking scenes, have been showing up in documentaries and news stories over the last couple of weeks leading up to this 20th anniversary.

I wince every time I see those scenes. I wonder if you do, too.

9/11 is a milestone of pain and trauma we share together.

The pain runs deep, and has altered our path as a nation, our understanding of who we thought we were, and who we are.

Perhaps 9/11 has made us more divided, more fearful. Stories of trauma and loss tend to play out that way.

But we are also more deeply connected.

Each sigh of remembrance, each shudder of horror, runs along invisible – but very real – lines of shared life and experience.

The people of Christ’s Way live within an experience of shared loss and trauma that goes back 2,100 years.

But we also live in the shared experience that loss and pain aren’t all there is.

God has something better in mind than trauma, and will go to unimagined lengths to pull us out of our tombs.

Today, let us remember our collective pain, our lament an offering to God-in-Christ who tenderly receives and transforms our sadness.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Our Church Council has been taking up some very important work in the last several months.

We are having small group discussions around how we as a congregation emerge from this pandemic a more vital and faithful congregation.

Our discussion is being guided by five questions or considerations: 

1) Set aside time and space to grieve and lament: 

  • What have we lost? 
  • What can we name that’s slipping away? 

2) What is our “Why?” 

  • How do we restate our central purpose?
  • What difference is God calling us to make? 

3) How do we reintroduce ourselves to our neighbors? 

  • Who can teach us what we need to know?
  • What wisdom is resident and available in the community? 

4) How can we redistribute power? 

  • How can we (re)enact the priesthood of all believers? 
  • How do we live more deeply into and out of our baptismal vows? 

5) How do we expand our imagination? 

  • What are the impediments to starting things that might fail? 
  • How do we identify the differences between “adaptation” and “innovation?” 
  • How do we discern between healthy innovation and innovation for its own sake? 

The first consideration is one of the most difficult.

Our culture isn’t comfortable with grief and loss.

The values of continual growth and prosperity are prominent in our models of working and living.

The Christian story, however, is one that has death at its center – the death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross.

On one side of that death is “life as usual.”

On the other side is life transformed – resurrection and new life.

To walk the road of transformation is to enter into that dark valley of the “shadow of death” and allow the Spirit of the Resurrected Christ to rework us and make us anew.

No wonder we often resist the central part of our story. It’s hard work. It hurts.

This is where lament comes in – the expression of our sadness and grief.

One writer describes lament this way: 

 “When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt religiously, we cry out in lament. Lamentation can be described as a loud, religious ‘Ouch!’” 

“Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because deep down we know that our relationship with God counts; it counts to us and it counts to God.”

(from franciscanmedia.org; “Biblical Laments: Prayer Out of Pain”) 

Our Church Council has begun giving voice to lament through the use of a Wailing Cross.

We have deployed the cross we use for the Lenten and Easter seasons.

It is set up in our Garden Room with expressions of grief, sadness and lament written on little colored pieces of paper and then attached to the cross. 

You are invited to cast your sadness and grief on the Wailing Cross.

There are materials at the Welcome Center in the Garden Room for your use in doing so.

The expressions are your own and are confidential. 

After a season, we will remove the Wailing Cross and give praise and thanksgiving to God for God’s provision and care during this time of transition and change.

And we will pray that God’s will and way will guide us into a more vital and faithful future. 

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30.5b NRSV

We can’t lose

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

My community orchestra, the Mansfield Philharmonic, began rehearsing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in mid-July to start preparing for our re-opening concert in September.

I chose the symphony because it represents victory against struggle. However, I came to learn that my “victory pose” was premature.

Given the state of the COVID-19 variants, I had been fielding calls and texts from worried orchestra members for weeks, wondering if we’re going to do our September Beethoven concert as planned.

After being inspired by the outdoor concert I gave in Los Angeles two weeks ago, I finally had the answer I sought.

I took two hours to re-plan and spread the entire orchestra out over the entire chancel of First United Methodist Church Mansfield and into the rafters near the organ pipes.

I required everyone to wear masks, despite vaccination statuses.

Once everyone streamed into the sanctuary to start rehearsal, I finally gave my answer to the entire orchestra assembled:

“Several of you have texted, called and shared your concerns over the variants. I want to address that right now.
“We will have the concert as scheduled, as planned. The concert will continue, come hell or high water. We’re still having this concert. 

“If the church shuts us down because they don’t want outside activities in here due to the variant, there is a big parking lot right next to the sanctuary. We’ll set up a tent, and keep on pushing.
“Keep September 19 on your calendars and perish the thought of cancellation. Board members, if you want to have a meeting about any of this, put it on the agenda. We doin’ this.”

The thought of an outdoor concert strikes dread in many classical musicians because our instruments are designed for indoor use.

But given where we are, is it better to sit at home, bored and silent, or to play outdoors where it’s safer for human beings to gather? 

I chose to defiantly decide the show will go on because music is my ministry, and it cannot be silent.

Where do you see yourself in this story?

What is your “God put this in my bones; it must be heard” struggle?

In whatever it may be, remember that if you are working for God, you can’t lose, even if everything around you looks bleak. 

No complaints

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

I miss Aunt Michelle. 

She was one of the wonderful women that became my family when I married.

We were together at family gatherings, shopping adventures, and she and her family were the only family near us when we lived in Houston.

They took us to eat at some of their favorite restaurants.

One of her favorite adjectives was the word ‘delicious,’ and she was hands down the smartest person in any room.

She died too young after multiple occurrences of breast cancer.

When it was time for her funeral, I stayed home with our oldest, who was still a baby at the time, and Patrick drove many hours across the state with family to attend the service.

He told me about it when he came home.

What I remember to this day was that people talked about how she never complained.

I thought, they are right! I never once heard her complain  About anything. Ever.  

I don’t think I’m called to be Aunt Michelle. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made. I am called, though, to honor her life.

I am invited to learn and grow from her. I am thankful for her witness that inspires me to do better. 

I am thankful for her life and for the nudge I feel when I start to descend the slippery slope of complaining. 

I remember her life, and in that moment I remember so much that I have to be thankful for.  

When the grocery store has stopped carrying my favorite brand, I am thankful for the abundance of food we have in our home. 

When technology won’t play my TV show, I am thankful for leisure time. 

When it rains and soaks our shoes, I am thankful for shelter. 

When the laundry piles up, I am thankful we have more than one set of clothes. 

When I am self-conscious of the medical scars on my skin, I am thankful for access to healthcare. 

When one season ends, I am thankful for the new season that begins. 

When I am uncertain about the future, I am thankful for God who is always present. 

There are times of grief, sadness, anger. We are called to speak up against evil, injustice and oppression. 

These words are also needed to move toward transformation. There is a time for these words. 

On this day, however, I remember Aunt Michelle who reminds me to look for the delicious moments of life, give thanks for them, and enjoy them. 

They are gifts from God.  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God’s got this

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Steven Charleston, a retired Episcopal bishop and spiritual elder in the Choctaw Nation, asked a question over social media awhile back that has had me musing and pondering ever since.

He asked: “If you got your 15 minutes of fame, which today would probably be closer to your 15 seconds of fame, and you could use those seconds to share one message with the world, what would you say? What do you think humankind needs to hear the most?”

Given a 15-second global microphone, Bishop Charleston would say: “do not give in to fear. I think fear is at the root, the deep root, of what is driving our battered world. If we can diminish fear, we can increase hope.”

I think the bishop is on to something.

The biblical witness offers God’s words to “not be afraid” in many places (Psalm 27:1 and Isaiah 12:2 are two examples among many); Jesus spent a lot of time asking his disciples to have faith and not be afraid (Matthew 10:31 and Luke 12:32 are two beautiful passages).

We have a lot to be afraid of, don’t we?

A pandemic that just won’t calm down; escalating climate change; a deeply divided nation; denominational and congregational change; change with a capital “C,” period.
So many cultural forces pander to our fears, making us feel unprepared or ashamed (or both) if we don’t hedge against the worst, building fortresses to try to keep the thing we’re afraid of out, or at least at bay.
But there’s this thing about fear.

When we are really afraid, we retract, coil up, tighten.

Fear can literally restrict our breathing.

When we give in to fear, it compromises our faith and our ability to trust that God’s got this.
Through the power of the Spirit, we can handle anything the world throws at us.

We may not like what the world is throwing at us, but the Holy Spirit helps us to stand firm, breathing the God-given free air of grace and abundance.
Trusting in God’s presence doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer; the witness of God-in-Christ tells us we will indeed suffer.

But in the midst of hardship and suffering, God is with us, providing a way through the sea, a way through the fire, a way through the desert.

Surely it is God who saves me;
I will trust, and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
And he will be my savior.
Isaiah 12:2 RSV

My friends, God is with us in this very moment, and in each and every moment.
So wear your mask, and take care of our children and vulnerable adults by doing so.

God is with us.

Listening to God is not always audible

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

The desert us a dangerous place. 

“There is no food or water there. People can die in the desert.

“When the wind blows, the shape of the desert changes. You can lose your way.

“The sun is so hot that people wear many clothes to keep the sun from burning their skin.

“When the wind blows, the sand stings your face and hands. People need protection from the blowing sand.

“At night, it is cold, and you need many clothes to keep warm.

“The desert is a dangerous place. People do not go there unless they have to.”

This is the opening statement to several of the Godly Play stories.

First United Methodist Church Garland recently hosted Core Training for Godly Play.

I attended. Although I don’t have the privilege of teaching on the 2nd floor, as a member/staff, I like to know what/why something is going on in the church.

As a choir director, I tell my people, ‘It’s not only important to know your part, but what you are a part of.”

One of the reasons I am convinced that Godly Play is probably the best curriculum for kids is that it teaches kids to listen for God’s voice.

My heart is full knowing that God is working in and with each of us.

I’m thankful for [Pastor] Caroline [Noll] and all the 2nd floor personnel who are teaching our kids to listen for God’s counseling.

I would love to tell you about my experiences in the desert (in my soul) and how listening (not always audible) for God’s guidance, led me through.

Have you been to the desert? Let’s share!

Dr. Suess has a book titled, Ohthe Places Youll Go

Listening (not always audible) and trusting our God who is love, can lead you to a beautiful life.

This is what we at First United Methodist Garland teach.

This poem by Williams Cowper (pronounced “Cooper,”) expresses my heart overflowing: 

Sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings:

the light of one who rises with gentle, healing wings.

When comforts are declining, God grants the soul again

a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation with joy, we shall pursue

the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say,

let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but God will bear us through.

Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe the people, too.

Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed:

the one who feeds the ravens will give the children bread.

Though vine and fig tree neither their yearly fruit should bear,

though all the fields should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there,

yet God, the same abiding, through praise shall tune my voice,

for while in love confiding I cannot but rejoice.

Veggie tales

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

Can you feel God loving you? What does it feel like?

Sometimes we ask our children this in Sunday School after a prayer practice and a few moments of silence.

I love holding their responses in sacred space.

I love naming the belief that yes, we can experience God here and now, just like people in the Bible long ago.

What helps you meet God and know God’s presence?

It is summertime, and sometimes our minds go to church camp, mission trips and retreats.

Those are formation experiences for sure.

But what about in-between, during your regular week?

I wonder where you meet God in your daily life?

One that is new for me is poetry.

Now I am imagining that once you read that word poetry, you did one of two things.

Either you thought, “Really? Tell me more.”

Or, and in my imagination perhaps more likely, you tuned out, or made a face as if I mentioned your least favorite childhood vegetable.

Was it broccoli? Brussels sprouts?

Did you make the face? I used to make the face.

But what if poetry was like our childhood vegetable?

It wasn’t so much the vegetable’s fault as the fact that it was boiled into a tasteless pile of mush.

I remember trying to understand poetry in high school.

Sympathizing with Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,” tying it to a chair and beating the meaning out of it. 

Then some wonderful Godly Play trainers introduced me to some new storytellers.

Poets creating beautiful and powerful stories with more space on a page than words.

Irene Zimmerman, Danna Faulds, Mary Oliver and Jan Richardson are some.

I am drawn to their words because, like our children, I am introduced to the idea that God did not speak only to the prophets and pages of old.

God speaks today.

I am thankful for these writers, these servants, these gifted people who use their gifts to give witness to God’s unfolding story.

These poems are not scripture.

But some days the spirit of God leaps through them and helps me know that God is near.

That I am loved. That someone knows my story. That I am invited to be part of the story.

Poetry may still be your broccoli. Your Brussels sprouts.

So where do you go? What do you do?

How do you hear, see, listen, be still and know that God is near?

In scripture, song, worship, prayer, nature, community, silence?

I wonder which one is just right for you in this season. 

May you hear the invitation, join that circle of welcome, and feel God loving you.

Can you not see?

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Do not remember the former things, 
 or consider the things of old. 
I am about to do a new thing; 
 now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 
I will make a way in the wilderness 
 and rivers in the desert. 

                                                Isaiah 43:18-19 NRSV 

We often equate vision with seeing; what we see helps us form perceptions about reality. 

If we see things a certain way, then they are that way. 

Vision, however, moves us beyond what we see; the exercise of vision involves discernment and heart. 

In the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, the prophet is calling the children of God to a new vision which will move them beyond what they see. 

When Isaiah brought this word to the people of Israel, they had seen devastation of their homeland. 

They were experiencing a strange new culture after being deported to Babylon. 

They must have pined for what they had seen and known before all this happened – the familiar, the known. 

But through the prophet, the God who cannot be seen was calling the people to perceive a new thing that they could not see. 

A new movement of God was swirling amongst them, calling them to a new understanding of themselves and who they were called to be in God’s great work of salvation for the entire world. 

No longer would the old-and-comfortable be enough. God’s people were being called to perceive “a new thing.” 

Through the prophet, God urges the people: 

Can you not see this new thing? I will make a way where it seems like there is no way. 

You think you see desert? I will send water rushing through that desert, and you won’t be able to mistake it for anything else. 

For the people of Israel, God was calling them to a completely new understanding of who they were to be. 

Instead of a tribal folk possessing an insular understanding of chosenness, God was calling them to move beyond their internal and external borders so that they could be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 and 60:3). 

The people of Israel were being called to embody the all-encompassing, inclusive love of God toward whom all the people of the world would stream (2:2-4 and 56:3-8). 

Isaiah’s words must have been a jolt to how the people of Israel saw themselves. 

And I think our own understanding of who we are as people of the Way of Christ is being challenged anew. 

We are experiencing a lessening of the coronavirus pandemic in our local communities – but communities around the world still suffer a great deal of illness and death. 

We’ve “gone virtual” out of necessity, and developed “Zoom fatigue.” 

We’ve gathered for in-person worship again, but wear masks so we can keep our children and other vulnerable folks safe and healthy. 

It all still feels and looks different … and strange. 

But in the midst of it all, God’s Spirit still swirls, doing a new thing. 

God asks: 

Can’t you perceive it? 

And God declares

I am making a way where it seems to you there is no way. 

As people of Christ’s Church, what new thing from God is appearing before us and amongst us? 

May we have the courage, the discernment, and the vision to see God’s way unfold in our very midst. 

Slow your mind, recharge your spirit

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Why does life move by at such a quickened pace?

Is this a product of the society in which we live?

Has our dependency on technology forced us to quicken our pace just to keep up?

If you are like me, you probably don’t take enough time to simply slow down and take a breath.

I recently had a conversation about this very thing.

We both agreed that neither of us take enough time to rest or recharge effectively.

We talked about ways we could and should do these things so we can be better at our relationships, be better at our jobs and improve our health.

Shortly after our conversation, we both jumped in our cars and rushed to our next appointments.

I realized at the end of the day I still had not taken the time I said I would.

I am quite certain they did not either.

Taking time to rest and to slow down is fundamental in giving our minds an opportunity to recharge and rebuild. 

Scientific studies have shown that individuals who constantly try to keep up a breakneck speed in their daily lives suffer from memory loss, reduction in cognitive awareness, and in some cases even migraines and impaired visual perception and acuity.

We know now that a rested mind is a more powerful mind.

Taking intentional time to recharge and rest gives our brain the opportunity to rebuild brain cells lost during our hustle and bustle of living a stress-filled life.

I am reminded of when Jesus talked about the flowers of the field: 

“Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes?

“Notice how the lilies in the field grow.

“They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth.

“But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.

“If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you?”

This passage of scripture is from Matthew, Chapter 6.

This translation is from the Common English Bible.

Think about what you just read.

Jesus is talking about flowers and how they don’t wear themselves out.

Jesus emphasizes that God has meticulously dressed these flowers in beauty and cares for them with such love that it seems almost ridiculous.

I say ridiculous because Jesus also says these flowers are gathered up and thrown into the furnace.

Then we are reminded that if God does this for flowers, what will God do for us?

I think it is crucial to our faith journey that we take time to rest and not be caught up in the fast-paced, stress-filled, breakneck-paced life that we have grown accustomed to.

The flowers do not wear themselves out. That is what Jesus said.

If we are to grow our faith and our relationship with God, we must rest and allow our mind and spirit to recharge.

A tired mind is a weak mind. A rested mind is a powerful mind.

Our spirit, our faith, our relationships will be stronger and more meaningful if we allow ourselves that time to rest and recharge.

Take a break. Look at the flowers.

Pray and listen. Let us hear what God is saying to us today.

May God continue to bless each of you.

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