Vandalia United Methodist Church

Pastor's Perspective

"Go and make disciples of all nations." Matthew 28

I recently had the privilege of traveling to Kansas to officiate at my aunt's memorial service. Most of my family are native Kansans (father's side Topeka, mother's side Winfield). I spent many glorious summers in Winfield with my grandparents. My grandpa taught me to fish, throw a curveball and how to be a gentleman. I still get the shivers when I see the sign "Welcome to Kansas"; though when I have brought Sherry and our sons to the state, they do not experience the same euphoria. I get it!

How do I describe memories associated with a place to someone who only sees the place? I can tell my family how cool it is to pass by the Bender ranch and know that the spring was cool on a hot summer's afternoon and if you knew where the moccasin's nested and stayed clear it was safe? Why would anyone want to go swimming in a Kansas creek? How can I describe to my family how amazing it was to climb the fort at Cherry Park? Lots of parks and playgrounds have forts. How can I relate the thrill of getting ice cream at Braum's Dairy when it is just an ice cream cone to them?

My understanding of the magic of a place is wrapped up in my memories, my experiences, my vantage as a child growing up in that place. My family has none of this. They can only, vicariously, live through my experience. It cannot be theirs. I think this is some of the trouble we face when speaking about our church to others.

We experience church through our lens, our friendships, our experiences, and that can be difficult to relate to others. I get that. Perhaps our connecting point has to be in relating our experience to something they have experienced as well. After all, we live in a culture that is no longer steeped in church and church language. People outside the church are mystified by some of our practices (communion, confession, singing hymns). They may be intimidated by our reputation ("do I have to wear a suit/dress to your church?"). They may be anxious about being judged. They may not know what to expect. These things are "old hat" to us and so we do not think much about them when we share about our church and invite others.

We have a peculiar (and wonderful) experience of church. For example, when I ask my wife where she got ice cream as a little girl (Carlinville Dairy Queen) she can relate the emotions, the sensation of something cold on a hot day, the security of coins in her pocket as she walked to the DQ. We can share this experience even if it was not experienced together. The same with the playgrounds she grew up on, the creeks ("cricks" we say) she waded into.

As we speak of our church and invite others, let us seek to relate the feelings, the blessings, the security in a language others can understand. I see this approach in the mission of Paul who went where the people were and engaged in their language and culture. He did not tell Greek speaking Ephesians about the Jewish Scriptures, they would never have understood. He related what it meant to have a relationship with God in a language and culture they understood. Of course, he did not "sacrifice" the essentials in doing this.

So how might you, inviting others to experience the blessings of our church, relate? We have a great church centered on Jesus Christ and our faith His message for our lives. How can we speak of this in a way the world understands? My wife will tell you she will never get the same thrill I do when I see that sign "You are now in Kansas". But she appreciates my passion. Let our passion for the sign "Welcome to First United Methodist Church" be contagious to those we meet.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Tom



9:30 AM Worship Service
10:40 AM Sunday School

First United Methodist Church of Vandalia :: 618.283.3684