Their church

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senior Pastor Valarie Englert is in Honduras with Bishop Mike McKee and other clergy and lay representatives of the North Texas Conference to explore partnering opportunities with Mission Honduras. This is from their second day (Tuesday, September 10) in Honduras. 

“This congregation is located in a gang-controlled area,” began the female pastor of a United Methodist Church about 45 minutes outside of Tegucigalpa.

Several intakes of breath could be heard.

The pastor continued, “But I am not afraid. I know these kids in this gang. I taught them in school.”

A question arose from one in our group: “Do you or any of your church members pay the tax to the gang?”

“No, we pay no tax. The gang sees this church as their church,” she replied.

I’ve been pondering this since I heard the pastor say it Tuesday afternoon.

What does it mean in gospel terms to have a violent gang, practiced in extortion and murder, say that a church is their church?

My middle class US Protestant self is challenged by this. But I also wonder: for whom did Jesus bring the gospel? Just those who ‘know the ropes’ religiously speaking? Or for those who are lost, whether it be to violence or poverty?

Come to think of it, the gospel is for both those who know God (or perhaps think they do) and for those who are beyond the pale of our daily comforts and routines.

My own routine and comforts have been interrupted this week in Honduras. That’s the disruption of the gospel for you.

May we all experience the disrupting power of Jesus’ Christ good news – for us all.

A full first day

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senior Pastor Valarie Englert is in Honduras this week with Bishop Mike McKee and other clergy and lay representatives of the North Texas Conference to explore partnering opportunities with Mission Honduras.

What a full day it has been! Early morning travel, settling into our hotel in Tegucigalpa, and meeting our fellow Methodists at the Honduran Methodist Mission Office.

My first impressions: Tegucigalpa is beautifully situated in the highlands of Honduras at approximately 3,200 feet of elevation. The days are comfortably warm, and the nights are wonderfully cool. The surrounding hills and low mountains are beautifully green with trees and vegetation. The traffic is white-knuckle crazy (thank goodness I don’t have to drive!), and the people are warm and hospitable.

As we toured the Mission Office this evening, we learned that the main Methodist congregation in Tegucigalpa – Iglesia Metodista Unidos El Buen Pastor- also meets in the same building as the Mission office.

The congregation is in the process of constructing a new sanctuary, kitchen facilities and classrooms. Our North Texas Conference has funded a large part of the sanctuary construction through our apportionment dollars (your giving at work in another meaningful and tangible way).

As we toured the facilities, we wondered if a wedding was to take place. A white canopy was erected with small, round, decorated tables. The congregational area contained white chairs. A feast was being prepared, and a chamber ensemble began warming up.

What we discovered was that there was no wedding, but that a very special worship service was about to take place.

As we gathered to worship, the District Superintendent passed around a colorfully illustrated piece of paper among us, asking us to sign our names. As we raised our voices in singing How Great Thou Art (just as beautiful in Spanish as in English), we began the dedication of the cornerstone of the new sanctuary. The joy in the worshipping community was palpable.

And this is what made a lump rise in my throat: Pastor Carlos took that piece of paper with our names and collected it with notes from the congregation. He placed all of this in a locked ‘Time Capsule Box.’ As prayers were offered and praises sung, the box was placed into the wall of the sanctuary, and the cornerstone lifted over it. Two young men held it in place and two others drilled the screws into place.

To think that our name – lay and clergy representatives from the North Texas Annual Conference – are placed within that box of blessing for a future generation in Tecucigalpa to see is just special beyond words.

That’s the power of our Wesleyan connection, and the holy glue of the gospel.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Bound for Honduras

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Back in May, I went with a small group from the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church to Brownsville, Texas on a “Courts and Ports” immersion trip, and shared with you about some of my experiences.

One of the most stunning things I noticed while at the migrant respite centers was the huge number of young families among them, most from Central America. “What are they running from?” I thought to myself. “It must be truly horrific in their country for them to pull themselves away from home and everything that’s familiar.”

A couple of months ago, Bishop Mike McKee extended an invitation to members of our annual conference to join him on an exploratory trip to Honduras. Bishop McKee has been appointed the episcopal leader for the Honduran Missional Conference. There are 23 Methodist churches there, 10 of which have partner churches in the United States; 13 do not yet have partner churches.

After conversation with some of our lay leaders and church members, I made the decision to accept the invitation. A big factor in my decision flows out of what I witnessed at the Texas border, and my lingering questions about the young Central American families I encountered.

A group of about 20 folks from our conference is joining Bishop McKee on a flight this morning to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We will spend the week meeting with pastors and members of Honduran Methodist congregations. We will learn about their ministries and challenges, their dreams and hopes for the Honduran Methodist Church.

We will also have conversation around the issue of migration. What are the factors on the ground in Honduras that bring so many to leave and undertake such a dangerous journey to our southern border?

I am looking forward to meeting and spending time with fellow Methodists in Honduras, as well as learning more about their ministry context. I am also bold enough to think that the Methodist movement can make a difference wherever it manifests itself in the faith and actions of people who join together to make a difference for good in God’s Kingdom.

This week, I’ll be sharing with you some of my experiences and impressions. As always, I ask for and am grateful for your prayers.

Of memories and psalteries

I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. Psalm 144:9 (KJV) 

It’s been old home week for me of late. Old home weeks, actually.

It began on a somber note. A bittersweet weekend with aunts, cousins and old friends at my dear Aunt Gerry’s funeral July 27 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

A much happier occasion followed. Off I flew to Chiefland, Florida for a few day’s vacation and my mother’s 85th birthday celebration on August 21. 

Last weekend, it was a much shorter trip. An hour’s drive north to Denison to see my brother Chris, his wife Linda and their new home.

Yesterday I had lunch with a few old friends I haven’t seen in years – co-workers from my 22 years with Nortel Networks.

On Wednesday, my cousin Steve and I met for lunch. And for the hand-off of a gift for my wife Marcy – a psaltery. 

At various times Marcy has played the guitar, the dulcimer, the French horn and the recorder. She even jumped in on a washtub bass one Christmas Eve at First United Methodist Garland. Her real gift is playing and teaching the piano.

And now the psaltery – or psaltry (also a correct spelling) – has been added. 

A psaltery is “an ancient and medieval musical instrument like a dulcimer but played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum (pick).” (lexico.com/en/definition/psaltery

The psaltery is mentioned 17 times in various translations of the Bible, understandably in reference to playing and singing praises to God. (By the way, our pew Bibles – the New Revised Standard Version or NRSV – do not reference the psaltery, but rather the lyre.) 

The psaltery is, of course, related to the word “psalter,” which refers to the Book of Psalms, or “a copy of the Psalms, especially for liturgical use.” (lexico.com/en/definition/psalter)

Those of you who attend our 8:30 Service of Morning Prayer and Communion on Sunday mornings are familiar with the psalters we sing and recite each week from The United Methodist Hymnal

Tomorrow morning’s service is particularly Psalm-heavy (Psalter 756, Psalm 25:1-10; Psalm 121 and Psalm 139:1-18) as Senior Pastor Valarie Englert closes our “Holy Rhythms” worship series with “Night.”

I find this particularly comforting.

In times of sadness as well as times of joy and fond memories, I often turn to music to lift or capture my spirits. What better way to do so than praising our Lord and Savior with the psalters and the psalms.

I don’t yet know what Marcy will choose to play on her psaltery. But whether it be psalters, classical music or classical rock, I’ll enjoy it. They’ll all be reminders of God’s blessings and God’s grace. 



Time and our bubble

Josh Medlock, Director of Missions and Student Ministries

As we take time this season to explore the concept of “Holy Rhythms” during worship, my mind is drawn to how our days are divided up.

We typically think of our days as being divided up into parts. Every person views these parts a little differently.

I have heard them divided up like this: morning, noon, evening, night. I have also heard them divided like this: day and night, light and dark. Waking hours, sleeping hours.

I am sure right now you are probably thinking of how you would divide the times of your day and what you would call them.

We all have the ability to look at any given day and break it up into clear and defined parts. We all do this. And by doing this we are convinced we can tackle any one part more efficiently.

When we break something down into smaller parts, it becomes less overwhelming, less exhausting and easier to plan around.

Admittedly I do the same thing. I try to break down tasks and compartmentalize them into morning, afternoon or evening.

I try daily to commit two of these three parts to my ministry at First United Methodist Church Garland. The other part I reserve for myself and my family.

This usually works. I say usually because as most of you know, you can plan all you want but life happens, and we are constantly having to change things around to accommodate for this. 

I started thinking recently about how our days are broken down and how that affects our relationship with God and with each other.

If we are really good at breaking down our days and the tasks we have to accomplish into smaller parts, are we making time for relationships?

Think about it this way: Are we trying to break down tasks so much that God becomes just another part? Are the parts so small that we don’t pay attention to them like we should?

We allow ourselves to become so consumed with the day, the tasks and how much time we have or don’t have that we can simply forget to make time for relationships.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time you made time to sit for more than five minutes to visit with someone you care about who doesn’t live in your house?

When was the last time you intentionally made time to reach out to someone to invite them over for a “hen party” or to “just catch up on things”?

We become so enslaved to the everyday grind that often we find ourselves living in a bubble. We only see and pay attention to the things in this bubble with us. 

I recently had a friend send me an email that caught me off guard.

The title of the email said, “Why I am cutting you out?” It went on to talk about how they felt they were the only ones reaching out to me and that I do not ever reciprocate.

They invested time and effort into the relationship but felt like I wasn’t doing the same. They even used the phrase “living in your own little bubble.”

Although this email was hurtful at the time, it made me analyze my part in all of this. Am I living in a bubble? Have I become that person I have so often cautioned others not to become?

The truth is I have been living in a bubble. If you don’t live in my house or attend my church, I haven’t been making time for you. That was a hard pill to swallow. I was ashamed and unsure how to address this.

But it wasn’t just people I had grown apart from for whom I wasn’t making time. I realized I also wasn’t making time to work on my relationship with God. And I certainly haven’t been praying about my relationship with anyone outside my bubble.

The fix is easy, but so hard to do. The fix: I need to intentionally make time during my day to be in relationship with God and others.

That means giving up on breaking down my day into such compartmentalized details and time slots, and opening myself up to allowing relational work to take place.

This is not easy for me. Those who know me realize I so desperately want everything done in advance and finalized … right now. So this is obviously a work in progress.

As I grow older I learn that time is fleeting and I can’t control it. I am starting to learn how to let go, and to allow relational work to happen by being intentional and not staying in my bubble.

God years for a relationship with us. If we live in a bubble, allow ourselves to be consumed with breaking down our time into small pieces, and do not allow room for relational work to happen, then our relationships suffer.

God’s love is given freely. God’s grace is abundant and available for all. But we do have a part to play in this.

Our art is to seek God, and to be intentional in our relationship with God. “Love your neighbors” means we have to be in relationship with all those in our lives as well. Especially those who are not in our bubble.

This is a challenge. If you are anything like me, it will most likely continue to be a work in progress.

I challenge you this week to take time and be intentional with your relationships. Set aside time for your relationship with God. Call a friend and invite them over. Call your brother and sister and ask them how things are in their spiritual lives. Don’t wait.

I know this much to be true: God loves us. God is always with us. And God meets us where we are. Even when we are living in our bubble.

Holy rhythms

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

As your ministry staff, we discussed “Holy Rhythms,” the theme for our next worship series as we move from a wonderfully unstructured summer into the routine of the new school year.

We contemplated how each season has its time and purpose. How both structured and unstructured times are important. How all times are holy.

Ecclesiastes 3 comes to mind. 

Everything Has Its Time

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.

A time for war, and a time for peace …

In July, a group from our Chancel Choir went to France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy.

In L’église de la Madeleine, we sang a memorial concert with other choirs from the United States.

More than 800 people came to hear the concert. Over and over we heard, “The people of France are thankful to the allied forces.”

Although I learned about D-Day in a classroom, the magnitude of the consequences of this day did not sink in until our visit.

Our tour guide Andreas told us he would not be here if it weren’t for the commitment of those soldiers. 

In Normandy, we visited the American Cemetery, Point du Hoc and Omaha Beach, where on D-Day, June 6, 1944 about 6,000 American servicemen died.

(And that figure does not include all the allied forces that were lost.)

While on Omaha Beach, I imagined the blood stained surf and beach.

I imagined how I would feel if I were the mother of one of those soldiers who fought that day, which was the beginning of a movement that would reclaim Europe and restore it to a more justified and peaceful existence.

Our moods were somber. We were on sacred ground.

However, on this day in July 2019, the sky was blue, the air was cool and the water was almost turquoise. This time, the day and the place were beautiful. 

As we walked the beach, it finally happened!

Our young traveling companion couldn’t contain herself! Margaret Noll literally frolicked on the beach, running and kicking up water.

I reminisce about that day with Caroline Noll, Margaret’s mother and our Pastor for Children and Families. Wouldn’t that be what the soldiers desired – someone playing on that beach? 

At the cemetery, there is a bronze statue called Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves. When I watched Margaret, I thought, “How fitting – the title of that statue.”

I’m thankful for parents like Patrick and Caroline, who teach their children the importance of the past and the joy of the present day. 

As this season begins, let this daily prayer remind you that each action and moment are of holy worth: 

Christ beside me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, King of my heart:
Christ within me, Christ below me
Christ above me never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in my strife;

Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising light of my life.

Are you ready?

Caroline Noll, Pastor for Children and Families

Summer ministries are winding down. My season of travels to workshops, camps, travels and rest has come to a close. It’s difficult to reconcile the end of summer with the first couple of days of August!  And just like that, with the turn of the calendar page, comes one particular question.  Are you ready for school to start?

Are you ready?

At first the question makes me laugh and think of familiar parenting advice.  Don’t ask a question unless you want an answer. What if I say no? What if the children say no? Ready or not, here it comes. 

With the laugh, though, comes the anxiety. What do I need to be ready? Do we have the schedule? How is everyone getting to and from school this year? When do we meet the teachers? Do we have clothes that still fit? An outfit for the first day? Do we need new shoes? Will last year’s backpack still work? Who has school supplies on sale and what’s on the list? What do they want in their lunch boxes this year? Do I have everything checked off the list to be ready?

And then I have to breathe. And wonder about being ready.  What really helps us get ready.

In Godly Play, we have some practices to help us get ready. We arrive early to prepare our rooms and ourselves.  We are mindful of thresholds, of crossing over from one space to the next, expecting to join the circle with God and one another.  We find a place that is just right for us in the circle. We settle our bodies in order to focus our minds and spirits. We breathe. We watch. We listen. And then all we can do is begin.

As this season changes, may we make ourselves ready to encounter God in worship and in the world.

The better part

I don’t read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is. I read a lot as a kid. Won a prize in second grade for reading 100 books.

I used to inhale science fiction voraciously. Robert Heinlein. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke.

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. The Illustrated Man.

But I no longer read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is, but I have a few theories.

For one, I grew up in an age where color TV was just past the novelty stage. I loved it! And I spent much of my discretionary time in front of the TV rather than reading.

Which leads to another theory.

I’m something of an impatient person. (Cue the eye roll!) Hence I often prefer a two-hour movie to reading the book.

I’ve also come to realize as I get older that sitting or laying still and reading a book often puts me to sleep. Probably some sort of disorder I should get checked out.

Of course, I read the sports page.

And I have a stack of books at home purchased with every intention of reading them. It just seems I never get around to it. For whatever reason, I just don’t make time.

I did listen to an audio book once on a long car trip. Tom Clancy’s Red Rabbit. (I’m a big Clancy fan, too, by the way. The Hunt for Red October is one of my all-time favorite books. And movies.)

I may pick an audio book this morning as I head out on the road to Pittsburg, Kansas for my aunt’s funeral.

Which leads to another admission. I don’t read the Bible as much as I should.

One good thing about being the Director of Communications at First United Methodist Church Garland is that I’m more or less ‘forced’ to read at least two Bible passages each week – the scripture lesson and the message text for Sunday’s worship service.

I’m reminded of my aunt – Geraldine Buford – as I read Luke 10:38-42, the lesson preceding Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “Little Icons” this coming Sunday:

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In many ways the Martha in this story is me. Absorbed and engrossed in, preoccupied and distracted by the many things I have to do.

On the other hand my Aunt Gerry was the epitome of Mary.

She was not worried about or distracted by the things of this life. Her “one thing,” her focus on “the better part” – a deep, abiding love for Christ.

Like my Uncle Charles, who passed in 2013, Aunt Gerry was unequivocal, unwavering in her faith and her love for the Lord.

She never missed an opportunity to share the story of God’s grace with anyone who would listen, nor did she ever tire of sharing it.

Aunt Gerry and Uncle Charles loved to sing. They would strike up an old, traditional hymn at a moment’s notice.

And as my cousins, myself and many more family and friends whose lives she touched gather to celebrate her homegoing, we are secure in the knowledge that she and Uncle Charles are leading the heavenly choir.

The gift of figs

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

We have a fig tree in our back yard that is outdoing itself this summer – it is loaded with figs!

We pick them every day, and there are plenty to share with the birds and the squirrels; for making preserves; eating fresh; and bringing to the office for others to enjoy.

I’m pretty partial to this particular fig tree.

Several years ago, Rick and I prepared to put an addition on the back of our house. This required cutting down the fig tree to make way for the new construction. I shed tears as Rick cut it down to the ground.

Rick made other adjustments to the yard so that a pier-drilling truck could enter and do its work.

A week or two later in the wee hours of the morning, our daughter Eva appeared in the bedroom doorway. “Mom, Dad, there’s water all over the kitchen floor.”

We heard the noise before we reached the kitchen: rushing water splashing from our busted hot water heater.

As a result of that busted water heater, we decided to put the addition on hold and remodel the existing house.

As we shifted our focus and made new plans over the ensuing weeks, the roots of the fig tree began to send up shoots. And wonder of wonders! That little fig tree produced seven figs that summer.

This now big fig tree is a botanical reminder of God’s abundant grace; there is plenty for all.

Even during the winter, when the tree is bare, energy and sugars are stored in the roots, preparing for a new season of long days and warm sun, leaves and fruit.

The gift of figs never ceases to amaze me.

As one young friend reminded me, God’s abundant gifts are all around us, overflowing and ready to be shared.

When we share God’s gifts – whether they be figs or other signs of God’s love – that divine grace grows more and more in us.

There is a rippling, snowball effect: the more we allow our inner vision to “see” God’s grace around us, the more that grace takes hold in us, and the more we can be conduits of that grace.

This summer in worship, we have spent time considering the good news of God’s grace using the gifts offered to us through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

As an ordained minister, Fred Rogers understood his call to be that of offering unconditional love and acceptance to young children and their families.

Mister Rogers spoke frequently about “growing:” not only growing up, but growing in character, in patience, and in understanding – both of ourselves and others.

Mister Rogers reminds us that we “grow” inside and out – just as trees grow, and grass, and flowers, and birds, and mammals.

God’s grace is not only the glue that holds us all together, but it is the medium and fuel for our growth into the ever-present, overflowing abundance of our ever-loving God-in-Christ.

May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the ever-present, abundant grace of God!

Musical diversity

Eldred Marshall Artist-in-Residence and Associate Director of Music Ministries

While planning the music for the July 7 worship services at First United Methodist Garland, I reflected on Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “The Gift of Diversity” (from our Summer Worship Series on “The Gospel According to Mister Rogers” and what that would entail, musically.

As Pastor Valarie shared, Mister Rogers did not teach “tolerance,” but rather that we embrace the different people around us – all our neighbors. In this, our lives, our expressions, our experiences would be forever enriched.

Interestingly, music does this sort of embrace far more easily than the people who create it.

Hence, I chose to highlight piano pieces that bend the genre in which they reside or thoroughly incorporate musical diversity, opening the musician and the listener to a new musical world.

For the prelude, I chose to make a personal arrangement of Richard Smallwood’s most famous gospel anthem Total Praise, with stylistic embellishments.

Even though the music is rooted in traditional Black Church musical expressions, Mr. Smallwood is a classically-trained pianist and composer who never hesitates to incorporate Western classical tradition in his compositions and improvisations.

In this respect, Mr. Smallwood and I share a common, and unique, musical language.

For the offertory at the 8:30am service, and for the first work in the 10:50am communion service, I chose to play Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2.

Gershwin felt most at home in his era’s popular musical forms: jazz, blues, rag-time, stride, etc. However, he loved classical music and strove to find ways to incorporate what he learned from that genre into his own musical language.

The piano prelude is a bluesy meditation that mixes the best of Romantic-era “absolute music” traditions of Brahms and Rachmaninoff and Tin Pan Alley.

For communion at both services, I played the Forlane movement from the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin.

Firstly, a forlane is a French baroque aristocratic dance, commonly performed during the time of Louis XIV. Ravel maintained traditional baroque forlane characteristics (triple meter; ABACADA+Coda form), but chose to update the musical language to his present day.

Around this time, Ravel befriended George Gershwin and became intimately familiar with American jazz. By incorporating the new music and art forms around him, Ravel embraced the “gift of diversity.”

As a result, we have an entire suite of music that is a special mix of 20th century French impressionism, early American jazz, and 16th century French dance music.

In this acceptance and appreciation of his neighbor’s music, Ravel managed to become the first French exponent of a sub genre called neoclassicism, which would take hold in Western music long after his death.

Be it Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X’s blockbuster 2019 hit song Old Country Road, or the frequent collaborations between southern gospel artists like Bill and Gloria Gaither with the late Andrae Crouch back in the 1970s and 1980s, music has always given us a living example of the fruits of diversity.

May we be inspired to follow its lead – and reap the same rewards.

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