Playing in the sanctuary

Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

When I was a kid I loved to make and fly paper airplanes. 

After church my brothers and I would collect used worship bulletins, take them home, and recycle them into our various flying creations. 

Sometimes I’d go back to church (First United Methodist, Garden City, Kansas) and sneak into the sanctuary, go up to the balcony, and see how many airplanes I could land on the chancel. 

Or better yet, all the way to the high altar at the far back of the chancel. 

I knew I had to do it at times when no one else was around, lest I get scolded for playing in the sanctuary. 

Imagine my delight when, during Vacation Bible School here at First United Methodist Garland last week, we made paper airplanes in the science room.

My muscle memory took over as I folded a couple of my favorite designs, something I’d not done in over 30 years.

The youth helpers kept saying, “No way!”

My two creations didn’t fly particularly well – certainly not as well as I remembered – but well enough to inspire others to try my designs for themselves. 

I didn’t encourage anyone to try letting one sail from the sanctuary balcony, but I wonder if next year we might need to give that a try. 

So often when people have an experience of being “born again,” they lose their childlike sense of playfulness. 

I think somehow “holy” got confused with “dour.” 

The sanctuary is holy space, space set apart for the worship of God.

But it isn’t, and ought not be, dour space.

If setting a paper airplane free awakens us to the presence of the Holy Spirit and gives us joy, then we should take time to refold our bulletins and find a nice place to see how far they will sail.

Worship should frequently fill us with joy, and should always remind us that we are children; we are children who are loved by God. 

A prayer for fathers and equality

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

Dear Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the fathers in our lives: biological and otherwise. 

We thank you for the wisdom they taught us, the protection they provided us. 

We thank you for the leadership they provided when we needed it. 

Please continue to bless the father figures who surround us with love, encouragement, and support. 

We pray that more men seek to follow you and obey your will, for in doing so it will strengthen our society. 

Further, Father God, we pray for our nation on this Juneteenth holiday, as it has yet to overcome the legacy of slavery and segregation. 

We implore your Spirit to move the hearts of men towards reparations. 

We remind you of the words you gave to Amos: let your righteous justice flow like a mighty stream. 

Please move this nation to rectify inequality in all forms.

In Jesus’ name, 

Amen

God is in it all

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Director of Children’s and Family Ministries

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every
matter under heaven:

a time to be born,
and a time to die; 

a time to plant, and a time
to pluck up what is planted; 

a time to kill,
and a time to heal; 

a time to break down,
and a time to build up; 

a time to weep,
and a time to laugh; 

a time to mourn,
and a time to dance; 

a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather
stones together; 

a time to embrace, and a time
to refrain from embracing; 

a time to seek,
and a time to lose; 

a time to keep,
and a time to throw away; 

a time to tear,
and a time to sew; 

a time to keep silence,
and a time to speak; 

a time to love,
and a time to hate; 

a time for war,
and a time for peace.


– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


I have turned to this scripture again and again over the past few years.

It speaks to me in so many seasons, perhaps because it names so many seasons.

I love the breadth and depth of human experience and emotions named.

God is in it all.

Even though I have correctly quoted and cited these verses, I have mistakenly misinterpreted them in my mind and heart.

The conjunction used is “AND.”

In my mind and practice, I have, unawares, substituted the conjunction “OR.”

One joins together.

The other separates.

These scriptures, with their repeated “and,” link them all together. 

Birth AND death.

Breaking down AND building up.

Weeping AND laughing.

They are all happening together.

One does not cease to let the other have space.

One does not stand still while the other stands front and center.

Life is messy, complicated, and layered.

Some days the movements are small and holding them together feels normal, the everyday challenges and gratitudes.

Other days the mountains are high, the valleys are low, and my mind and heart are stretched and ache to contain it all. 

Today, then, I give thanks that I do not have to contain it all.

God is in these seasons, too, and I can offer those highs and lows to God.

All the joy, all the celebrations, the proud moments, the full hearts, the soaring spirits, and the contented breaths.

All the headaches, heartaches, tears, heaviness, tired weariness.

I do not have to carry it all.

We do not have to carry it all. 

We offer these to God.

In prayer, in song, in journaling, conversations with those who love and care for us, reading the scriptures, gathering at the Lord’s table, sharing a restoring meal with those who love us.

God works in us and through us, the Holy Spirit moves and breathes in us, AND Jesus shows us the way.

Thanks be to God.

Two hundred thirteen

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Two hundred thirteen.

Two hundred thirteen mass shootings have taken place in the United States (gunviolencearchive.org) as of Wednesday, May 25, 2022. 

A mass shooting is classified as any shooting where four or more individuals are killed during one event in one or multiple locations. 

This means that as I sit at my desk on Wednesday, at least 452 individuals have lost their lives in mass shootings. 

Twenty-one of those lives were lost on Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

I am a father of two children. One who is 16-years old and the other is 13-years old. 

I cannot comprehend the emotional turmoil that a parent goes through if they lose their child in this manner. 

I do not dare to let my heart imagine the suffering and anguish that a parent feels when they lose their child. 

If I do, I become inconsolable. I become consumed with anger and frustration because these things are preventable. 

Did you know that according to worldpopulationreview.com, there have been 288 school shootings in the United States? 

In comparison, there have only been 44 school shootings in all other countries combined. 

How is this possible? Why is this happening? Where are we failing? 

I will not stand on a soapbox and make this political. This is not about politics.

This is about a crisis. A REAL crisis.

Our fathers and mothers, our aunts and uncles, our nieces and nephews, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, our spouses and our children are dying … and it is preventable. 

The negative stigma surrounding mental health is still very much an issue today. 

Individuals who commit these acts are not okay. Something is going on in their lives that leads them down a road ultimately terminated in death. 

In many cases there are signs that are missed by those who are around them. 

In many cases they did not tell anyone they weren’t okay. 

We as a people have to push for awareness and make sure everyone knows it is okay to not be okay. 

See something, say something. 

If you think something is not right, it is better to ask and say something and everything actually be okay than to say nothing and something tragic happens. 

We all have a part. We all are empowered to do something

Be brave and courageous, be willing to be vulnerable. 

Ask for help. Ask if everything is okay. 

It is one of ways that change can happen. 

These things are preventable. 

During times like this, when I am filled with anger and frustration, I struggle to hear what God is calling me to do because I want justice, and I want it right now. 

I want change, and I want it right now. 

I am sad. I am angry. I am frustrated. 

I do not want to live in fear that my children may not come home. 

I weep. I mourn. I hurt. 

And God weeps with me. 

This was not the plan. This is not what God envisioned for us.

But here we are. And God is with us also.

Even if we cannot see or hear God’s voice. Even if we cannot feel God’s presence.

God is still with us, and will remain so.

We are told in scripture that God is always with us, and nothing will ever separate us from that great and abundant love.

We are also told that life will present us with toil and turmoil, despair and death.

The challenge we all face every day is leaning into the love that God has for us and patiently waiting to hear the voice and feel the presence that we long for. 

My spirit aches, and my heart is broken. 

So all I can do today is pray. 

Pray that my anger will turn to compassion. 

Pray that my frustration will turn to action. 

Pray that my sorrow will turn to hope. 

Pray that my fear will turn to courage. 

Pray that the families of these children and adults will find comfort and strength in the abundance of God’s love.

Pray that they be surrounded by those who will carry them, mourn with them.

Pray for the face of God to shine upon them. 

Two hundred thirteen.

Pray we can change this number. 

May the peace and love of God be with each of you this day. 

Graduations

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

On a local newscast last night, the anchor person said:

“It’s finally here! The season of graduations!”

I thought back on my graduations, my husband’s, my children’s and my mom’s graduations.

For our family, each graduation was a celebration of accomplishments with great anticipation and hopes yet to come.

Then I thought of all the students who have come through our First United Methodist Garland children’s and youth programs.

I am thankful for the privilege to work with so many wonderful students who have gone on to become doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, analysts, philanthropists, musicians and much more.

Each year, if seniors have been active throughout their high school years, I allow them to choose the choir tour destinations, Dessert Show themes, and most importantly, our theme verse or quote for the year.

I am so thankful for seniors who come to their year with anticipation and willingness to take leadership.

The younger youth appreciate when the older youth lovingly include them.

Together, we all grow in faith.

Madeline Watkins and Liberty Cowan are outstanding seniors. They take initiative, showing creativity and ingenuity.

Although Pure Joy! Youth Choir has been small this year, they are one of the most talented groups around!

I credit Madeline and Liberty for not only singing in tune, but also keeping our group in harmonious unity!

This year, they chose this quote as our theme:

“God can give you peace for the past, purpose for the present and hope for the future.”

There are many verses that support this quote.

Because Ascension Sunday is in one week, the passage brought to this reflection is John 14:25-27.

Before Jesus ascends, he assures his followers:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Prayer:

Loving God, life keeps changing and sometimes that causes anxiety.

Thank you for the calm assurance that your peace can be in us.

Without fear, help us to bring peace and assurance to those around us.

Gratitudes

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Musician, poet, and essayist Carrie Newcomer penned a poem that has been ringing in my heart and mind these last few weeks.

It’s titled “Three Gratitudes.”

Here are a few lines:

‘Every night before I go to sleep 
I say out loud 
Three things that I am grateful for, 
All the significant, insignificant 
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life. 
It’s a small practice and humble, 
And yet, I find I sleep better 
Holding what lightens and softens my life 
Ever so briefly at the end of the day … 

… And after three things, 
More often than not, 
I get on a roll and just keep on going, 
I keep naming and listing, 

Until I lie grinning, 
Blankets pulled up to my chin, 
Awash with wonder 
At the sweetness of it all.” 

(From “A Permeable Life,” pp 9-10)

As I ponder what I am thankful for in my eight years at First United Methodist Church Garland, I find that I get on a roll like the poet describes.

My list keeps getting longer and longer, full of ordinary and extraordinary gratitudes. 

Here are just a few:

Music sung and played by kids, youth and adults that speaks to the soul and lifts the heart. 

Stained glass windows that wow the senses. 

Leadership who offered loving support during hard times. 

A wise, kind and amazing staff. 

Members who ‘show up,’ pitching in and taking care of whatever needs attention. 

Laughter in the office. 

Smiles in worship. 

And the list grows ever longer, until I am smiling with the wonder of it all. 

Thank you for being you.

It has been a blessing to be your pastor. 

Being a blessing

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

I will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491 as piano soloist with the Garland Symphony Orchestra on Friday, May 13 at 7:30pm. 

To get ready for this concert, I will be in a series of intense rehearsals beginning this coming Tuesday evening.

It will cumulate in three separate performances in Arlington, Garland and Irving on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, respectively. 

I owe this special guest artist residency to one persistent and determined Donna Bentley, who tirelessly advocated for me over many years with the Garland Symphony’s music director, Robert Carter Austin, alongside her husband Gary. 

She asked me back in 2014 to send her my resume and some materials.

It wouldn’t be until 2017 that Maestro Austin could come to one of my solo recitals to hear me play.

In 2020, he got in touch with me, made the formal invitation to solo with his orchestra, and we began to discuss repertoire.

The contracts were issued, negotiated and signed in 2021, and now the concert happens in 2022. 

This is as much Donna’s concert as it is mine, thanks to her investing in this engagement over eight years, especially as for most of these years it never looked like this was going to happen. 

What Donna did for me is in keeping with the spirit and essence of our congregation: generosity, service and being a blessing.

Whether it’s hosting ChamberWorks, spearheading Running for Clean Water, Night in Bethlehem, helping Freeman Elementary, or showing up to a concert series to listen to virtually unknown artists play and sing their hearts out, I cannot think of a group of people that endeavors to walk in the light and to show love more than First United Methodist Church Garland. 

Thank you for being a blessing in my life, church family.

May the Lord sustain us all as we continue to serve and work through long-term projects in order to help others and show us that our efforts are not in vain. 

Hope remains

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Our Lenten pilgrimage has taken us to Jerusalem. We’ve followed Jesus as he entered the city on a donkey. We’ve heard the cries of “Hosanna!” We’ve felt the expectations of the crowds in our bones; felt the swell of our own expectations in our hearts.
 
“Will God finally get rid of the Romans? Will Jesus finally ascend the kingly throne of David? Will this be the time when God makes everything right?”
 
Time seems to have slowed. Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover and share the Seder feast. Surely, the story of liberation from oppression and slavery will cease to be just a story – it will be reality!
 
Today, though, all those expectations are dashed in cruel fashion. The world crumbles as Jesus dies. The unimaginable takes place before our very eyes, and the scene is horrible beyond imagining.

“Where is God?” the disciples must have wondered … shouted … sobbed. It’s not supposed to end like this!
 
At times of horrible loss and crisis, hope seems to disappear.
 
Yet it is in such desperate times when hope throws us a lifeline. When all seems lost, hope remains.
 
“Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended.” (Quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Advent).
 
We modern-day pilgrims are living through what some have called the “Great Unraveling.” Our days are filled with pandemic, war, hostile division.
 
But hope remains. It’s a slender, shining thread we hold onto this Good Friday. God will show up. Our hope is not in vain.

Lifting the Cup

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:25-26

In the key Scripture for this collection, we hear that the Psalmist will lift the cup of Salvation as an expression of gratitude for blessings from God.

That image reminded me of the first time I led a Love Feast at our church family camping outing.

It was Sunday morning, and we were grubby and tired.

It took a while to gather all the kids (and adults!) for the worship service that would close our weekend.

Our pastor visited the day before, but no one thought to bring “official” communion elements – so he prayed over a couple of juice pouches and a handful of hamburger buns.

But remarkably – when the time came to have the simple laity-led form of the Lord’s Supper – as I talked about these everyday items being “set aside” and becoming more than they were before – all the fidgeting stopped.

It was one of the most meaningful worship experiences I have ever had.

After worship closed, the kids joined me in returning the elements to the Earth and the birds.

None of the poking and pushing from earlier, they too were transformed.

Prayer: Father God, help me to remember that I have also been consecrated. Like the buns and juice, I am transformed. Remind me and use me. Amen.

Jack Kincaid, Canmore, Alberta


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

Sacrifice and Thankfulness

Scripture: Psalm 116:8

The writer of Psalm 116 is recovering from illness and is so grateful to God he asks, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”

Have you ever had somebody bail you out of a bad situation, and you have no idea how to repay that gift?

The Psalmist offered this song of thanksgiving and concluded the repayment would be devotion and faithfulness.

They promise to work together with God’s people in worship and service.

God has blessed me in so many ways.

I have a wonderful family who loves me more than I love myself.

I have a supportive church family.

I have had many meaningful jobs.

I, like the Psalmist, recovered from pretty severe illness and am in reasonably good health.

So, what shall I return to the Lord?

I have no riches to give, and the Lord does not need my riches anyway.

I can only give what the Psalmist recommends – devotion, faithfulness, and a desire to work with all God’s people to bring about God’s dream – for all the people of the Earth to know of His goodness and mercy.

Prayer: Lord, so often, I think of sacrifice as a negative thing. Help me see any sacrifice I make to further your kingdom is an expression of thankfulness to you for all my many blessings. Amen. 

Chris Howell, Lynchburg, VA


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

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