As a Christian, as a Pastor, and as a child of God I’ve been trying to process along with everyone else the tragic events of this week in Orlando, Florida. A dull sense of sadness, pain, heartache and anguish; and…a determined resolve to stay faithful to the God who created us, who lost his Son to hatred and violence, and who raised Him to life in response to the world’s deification of death. The God who raised Jesus, raises you and me and all those precious souls who were cut down by one who could not handle the joy, the freedom, and the light of love. A soul filled with darkness could not gaze on the light of love and, by his actions, said “this is what I think about you.” The world said, through it’s actions 2,000 years ago, the same thing to Jesus. And Jesus said, “here’s what I think about you: Father, forgive them…for they know not what they do.” God is still God; Christ is still alive and is with us in the midst of the world’s onslaught of hatred, death and destruction. Out of the mayhem and murder comes a new day and a new way. The way of Jesus’ love, the truth of Jesus’ love and the life of Jesus’ love. We weep and we mourn; but we also live and love and may our light shine in the darkness. Sing, dance, love and live life to the fullest! And know that God loves you very much; somos familia! We are family, we belong to God and we belong to each other, so let’s live like it. Be not afraid, stand tall and send out love and light to all creation! God bless you,
I’m getting ready to go to our Annual Conference in Corpus Christi for the next few days. It’s always a great time to share with friends and colleagues, listen to great preaching and participate in awesome worship and reconnect and renew my spirit and commitment to Christ and my call to ministry. We are a diverse church; locally, generally and globally and staying connected to each other with integrity and intent is not always easy. In many ways, United Methodists mirror the mood of our nation and some of the struggles that our country currently faces. Our spiritual guide and father, John Wesley, helps us as we seek to discern God’s will for ourselves individually and collectively. He used a term that sounds pretty archaic and academic, known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. A fancy term that simply means “four sides”; we use four areas or arenas to discern God’s will in any given situation. Those four areas are: Scripture (what does God’s word say about a situation), Tradition (what has the church traditionally taught about it), Experience (what has my experience in dealing with this situation been) and Reason (what does my reason tell me about this situation). When someone asks me about my position regarding LGBTQ issues, for instance, I go to the Bible and look at what Jesus says about any relationship: “Love one another as I have loved you”. My experience with LGBTQ folks is that they overwhelmingly need compassion and love. The church has traditionally taught that God loves everyone; all means all. And my reason tells me that if God loves all and has called me to love all as I have been loved, then it is a very easy position for me to take: I love everyone; regardless of faith or no faith, sexual orientation, ethnicity, political persuasion or any other cultural connection. Sooooo, as I go to Corpus Christi this week I will be with all kinds of folks who will have all kinds of opinions and deeply held beliefs about how best to live out their Christian calling; diverse, personal, faithful and no doubt different from mine! I take great comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit will sort it all out and I remember John Wesley’s great invitation to people that he encountered; “You love God, I love God…give me your hand that we can worship God together.” Good advice, indeed, in these challenging times. God bless you!
This coming Saturday I’m going to be 64 years old! That just blows my mind…I can still remember when Paul McCartney and the Beatles sang “will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” That song, of course, came from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club in 1967; I was 15 years old. I thought that anyone at 64 had one foot in the grave, ready to call it quits, sitting with “grandchildren on our knee, Vera, Chuck and Dave”. So far, no grandkids…and, if and when we do have some, I’m pretty sure they won’t be named Vera, Chuck or Dave! Sigh…look, if Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Sir (!) Paul can still live productive and vibrant lives, so can I! So, I thank God for all the years, tears and fears, joy and love, trials and triumphs that contributed to my life on this wonderful planet of ours. Some days have been better than others, but all have been part of this magical, mystery tour (oops, that’s another album!). Not to mix my metaphors too much, but as Jerry Garcia reminds me, “what a long, strange trip it’s been!” And I’m grateful to God, my parents, my family and friends, and for all who have been part of my journey of life. Drop by anytime and we’ll share a nice cuppa and give a toast to all who no longer share this plane of earthly existence with us, and a toast to those who still do! Until then, have a great day and a great life, cherishing every moment of grace that comes with the deep joy of being alive. God bless us all; “thanks, and I hope that we passed the audition!” Jay
Happy Monday Morning! I don’t normally say this as a greeting; usually Monday’s are more of an “ugh” than a joyous greeting, but I’m still on a high from yesterday’s Pentecost Sunday! First off, we had filled our sanctuary with 200 red helium filled balloons and they were dancing and swaying and bobbing back and forth in time with the movement of the Holy Spirit. Our Praise Band brought special music, and if I say so myself, we were hot! I was on bass, Patti and Billy on guitars, and Matt played his harmonica like a man possessed (which, actually, I guess he was! Possessed by the Holy Spirit, that is!). Our congregation sang old gospel hymns like “I saw the light” and some newer ones like “The Resurrection Song” and it was just awesome!! Person after person came up to me, personally, after the service and said “we’ve got to do this again!”. We will, believe me!
But this was just an hors d’oeuvre for the main meal that took place that afternoon. We shared in a pachanga with our Pentecostal friends who worship in our gym weekly. We cooked 200 (something magic about that number, I guess!) hot dogs and had plenty of chips and desserts, etc and really got rocking with our brothers and sisters in Christ, which certainly is appropriate for Pentecost! It was such a sweet energy as we came together; different cultures, different ages, different races, different languages but united in our desire to share God’s love with each other and glorify our loving God. After the service, we let the children have the red helium filled balloons (200, remember?) and they had a blast, letting the occasional one slip off into the evening sky as a blessed benediction for all of our world. God is still God and we are all God’s children! And that’s why I can say “Happy Monday Morning!” have a blessed Monday and a blessed week!
Yours in Christ,
Thank you for checking out our website! There are some really awesome things happening at St. Mark’s, in and around our church site. We are going to have a “Pentecost Pachanga” on May 15th, Sunday afternoon at 5 pm. A pachanga, essentially, is a party with lots of food, fun and friends…and you are invited! We are located at 1902 Vance Jackson here in beautiful San Antonio and our pachanga will take place out in our community garden area. You’ll see it; there will be hot dogs cooking, one of our Praise Bands playing, and we’ll just be hanging out, eating and greeting and getting our praise on! “And they all heard, each in their own language, the good news of God!” At St. Mark’s UMC we speak the language of love in it’s many dimensions and dynamics! Please come check us out and let your heart be warmed! God bless you, Dios le bendiga!
Written by Patti Gardner, Church Secretary
This morning as I was driving into the office, I couldn’t get this phrase out of my head, “the homeless have names.” Somehow, it was placed on my heart that I needed to introduce them so that you understand that not only do they have names, but they have stories. These stories over the past months have touched my heart and my soul. This morning, in the first hour that the door of the church was unlocked, I had five guys come in for help. I knew all but one of them by name because we help them often.
I hear comments from around the church like “they scare me”, or “you’re only enabling them, you aren’t doing anything to help them”, “maybe we could build a fence around our property” or “if you want to take care of them, take them to your neighborhood”. I can’t help but think, “This is my church. If people at my church feel this way, no wonder these guys have such a hard time getting back on their feet.” So let me tell you some of these stories. I see projects in neighboring cities where they are building small shelters – “micro-homes” for the homeless so they have a place to keep their belongings, maybe fix a meal, shower and have restroom facilities and a bed – a place to call their own that is maybe a 10x10 room for a modest amount of rent. I think how lovely that would be, but people at my church would rather build a fence around the property to keep the homeless out.
Maybe I used to feel the same way. I know I had never had any personal encounters with the homeless other than giving them $1 or so on the street corner to ease my conscious in some small way and feeling better about myself. But when I first came to work here as the church secretary several years ago, we had a woman living at the back of our property on the porch of the old Scout Hut. She had several small dogs and a few cats that lived with her and she was, most of the time, in another world that was waaay different from mine. She lived here on the church property probably close to 20 years. Her name was Eldora. In October the first year I worked here, Eldora fell and very probably broke her hip. We called 911 for her, but she refused their help. After that fall, she stayed on at the Scout Hut for a while, but she was no longer able to be mobile. Our insurance guy came out and said she couldn’t live there or our insurance would be cancelled. We moved her elsewhere – to a place where she received the medical help she needed and she lived out her days in a better environment, and cleaned up the Scout Hut porch. The hardest part for her was giving up her dogs. Eldora was not without means, and not with people who cared about her. There was a woman who checked on her regularly and made sure she was eating and being cared for. Area restaurants would bring her food periodically and neighbors would help her, too, because everyone knew her. She’d always been a part of the neighborhood. The church didn’t seem to mind Eldora living here until the insurance man showed up. So now they are reluctant to get into that sort of situation in the future. I get that.
My encounters with Eldora were few and brief. My pastor at the time would check on Eldora on very cold mornings and greet her with a cup of hot coffee. One time in the office we took up a collection to buy her a new sleeping bag because the weather was very harsh that year in the winter months. I tried talking to her a couple of times, but I really couldn’t understand her – she was talking something about being on a ship and fighting pirates. She had her demons, for sure.
We have, over the years, adapted the way our food pantry works to better accommodate the community requirements and help more people more effectively by understanding their needs. For example, we’ve always had a small food pantry at the church, but the food we give away is mostly food that needs to be cooked and stored and requires a can opener. This food is available to people on a monthly basis – one bag per month per family. We also have the San Antonio Food Bank truck here monthly. With this ministry, we feed about 200 families per month. The recipients receive a lot of food, but what they receive also requires cooking and refrigeration. We began to build another kind of bag designed for the homeless – cans with pop-tops, things that can be microwaved, and more snack type items – more like a bigger lunch bag. This bag is available only monthly. We talked about what we needed to do to help with hunger on a daily basis. A lot of these people need help day to day and there’s no way that small bag would carry anyone for a month. Our Pastor suggested we provide a “sack lunch” that could be available to whoever asked for it – no questions asked – on a daily basis. This sack lunch normally includes something like an individual sized tuna with crackers, a fruit snack, a drink, chips, cookies and maybe an additional package of crackers. So with all of these options, we have tried to address the diverse needs and respond to the varied requirements of our community.
Here are some stories from the people I have gotten to know in the last year. Ironically, while my goal is to tell you some of their stories, I also need to keep their confidentiality, so, other than Eldora, I’m giving them different names.
This morning – as is true most mornings – one of my first visitors was a young man in his early 20’s I’ll call DJ. DJ regularly attends our Wednesday night worship service and often attends Sunday School and Church. When he has it, he brings me money to add to the church offering. This young man moved here from out of state. Some of his family also lives in the area and many nights he is able to stay with family, but there is so much dysfunction that he is not able to make his home there and he often finds himself at the mercy of our church. DJ watches out for the property and will confront those he thinks are not taking care of it, or who might take advantage of it. DJ does not have a high school diploma. He works odd jobs periodically and does spend a fair amount of time looking for work. Recently we found out about a program run by SA Youth for young adults who have dropped out of high school. In the mornings, they attend classes to help them get their GED and in the afternoon, they learn a trade while also collecting a small paycheck. DJ has enrolled in this program is very excited to have this new opportunity in front of him. His biggest hurdle will be transportation to and from school. DJ’s goal is to get stabilized, get a place of his own, and to eventually bring his 4-year-old son to live with him. With a good job on the horizon, his dream could become reality.
The next one in the door today was another young man I’ll call Dwayne. Dwayne has been around for several months, working for a temporary agency down the street. He regularly attends our Wednesday night worship service. Dwayne came here from Mississippi looking for work. Most of his belongings including all of his identification have been stolen. He comes by many days for a sack lunch. His biggest hurdle has been trying to get his driver’s license and social security cards without having an address. He finally was able to manage to use an address so he could get these documents, and now he is in full pursuit of a good job. Dwayne has a high school diploma. He may also have some higher education. He’s very well-spoken and polite. He is currently investigating a program we told him about that is managed by Goodwill Industries called Good Careers. In this program, they train adults in various fields including office work, pharmacy technician, warehousing, computer skills and medical assistants. They place you based on an aptitude test. Dwayne is very motivated to get out of the situation he is currently in. He wants off the street and he is working hard to make that happen.
The next lunch went to our friend, Joe. Joe moved here from Mississippi. He has a daughter who lives in Mississippi and a sister that lives here. He was previously married, and holds a University Degree in Music. He receives a check each month from Social Security for a disability. This disability renders him unable to work. Joe is the one who kind of keeps an eye on everyone else. He knows where all the “regular” homeless guys are and what they’re up to. When someone goes missing or gets hurt, Joe is always the one to come tell me he hasn’t seen them for a while or what happened to them, and he worries about them. Joe is an alcoholic who is trying to get and stay clean. He came by this morning and told me that he wired his last check to his daughter in Mississippi so she can rent a car and come get him. She’s supposed to come this weekend. After stopping here, he was heading to a detox center to get clean before she comes. Joe has also been attending our Wednesday night worship now for quite a while. He told me this morning that it was this church that has turned his life around. He said that his mantra when he went to bed used to be all about different ways he might die in the night. He said that now, when he goes to sleep at night he prays, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.” He said it was this church that gave him the strength and the desire to change his prayer.
On the heels of Joe came Juan. Juan grew up in this neighborhood. He has two uncles who also come by periodically for a sack lunch. All three of them attend Wednesday night worship sporadically and sometimes come to church. His grandparents had a home in the neighborhood behind the church, but they recently lost it for back taxes. Now all three of them are on the street, although Juan’s mother lives nearby. Most days, Juan works as an apprentice for someone who lays tile. Juan has a very sweet disposition as long as he is sober, but he has been in some trouble in the past. When he comes in, he is always very sweet and respectful. He does not come by every day for help, but comes periodically when he’s waiting for a paycheck. Sometimes the work is not regular. He wants to get his own place and has dreams of going back to school.
A new guy came in this morning. His name is Bob and he was brought in by a lady who works across the street at Subway. She said she hoped we could help him. He is young – 31, and homeless. I told him what we could offer, and also told him about Haven for Hope. He told me that he had been in a program at Haven for Hope but that all of his belongings had been stolen there and he saw things there that he didn’t want to put up with. I told him about the SA Rescue Mission where he could get a shower and a set of clean clothes, a hot meal, and a bed for one night. Our Wesley Nurse gave him a bus pass to get there. I gave him a sack lunch. He told me that he wouldn’t be in this situation long. He was doing everything he could to get out of it. He was washing windows for people in the Walmart parking lot for a few bucks. I gave him a sack lunch, invited him to worship with us on Wednesdays, and he took off.
Then there was Don. Don is always very apologetic when he comes by. He says, “I don’t want to make a habit out of this, but I sure would appreciate one of those lunch bags.” I tell him he is more than welcome to come get one, but I understand that he doesn’t want to take advantage. Don also struggles with alcohol addiction. He doesn’t particularly care to get out of the situation he’s in, he just needs a little help along the way once in a while. He comes in for a sack lunch, maybe some toiletry items, and to say hello, maybe a cup of coffee. He always says, “God Bless You” when he leaves. He told me that the Pastor had invited him to worship with us on Wednesday. He told me he never heard of worshipping on a Wednesday, but that maybe he just would come check it out sometime. I hope he does – it could turn his life around!
Greg is an interesting guy. He seldom comes by for food because he is working, and if he’s not working for someone somewhere, he’s doing odd jobs for people. He told me he used to be a professional. He told me that his problem wasn’t substance abuse like many homeless people, but that he was a result of decisions he had made. And that one day, he will get back on top of things. He told me that when he was a boy, he had been forced to attend church and that he found the church of his childhood a hypocritical and harsh place. I invited him to come on Wednesdays to experience our praise service. He didn’t come for several months. The first time he came, he came to eat, stayed for about 15 minutes into the service, then left. He told me he needed to get his laundry done before too late so he could still make it to work later that night. The second time, he stayed the whole time. He was invited to serve communion and that more than touched his heart. After the service, he stopped me and thanked me for inviting him. He said, “I’ve always been very picky about my music.” I cringed, and said, “I hope you were OK with what you heard.” He laughed and said, “No, it’s not perfect. It’s awesome because it’s not perfect.” And then through tears he continued, “And then I was asked to serve communion. I was made a part of the service. What I like about this is that … all the walls are down. That’s all I can say. All the walls are down.” He hasn’t missed many Wednesday nights since then. And every time, he thanks me for inviting him.
About two months ago, a young man come by the office and told me he was living at Haven for Hope (he called it “The Hope”) and that he was working down the street at PaceSetters. He told me he was in a program at “The Hope” and that he was working full time. He just needed something to eat so he could make it to his first check, and could I help him. He told me he had recently been released from prison and that as soon as he got on his feet, he was heading to Houston, back to his family. He was the father of a small child and he wanted to be a part of that child’s life. He had the best attitude, told me how he was going to make it and how he had learned in prison that attitude was everything. He came in about 4 times for a sack lunch. He was surely a bright spot in my day as every time he came in, he came in with a smile and a bit closer to the dream of what he was going to do. I haven’t seen him for a while and I’m betting he made it to Houston.
This is not a complete list of stories, these are only a few of the faces that I see – mostly on a weekly, if not daily basis. They don’t always come for food, but they know that if they are hungry, we will help them. Sometimes they just come in for a cup of coffee, to get out of the rain or the cold for a few minutes, or for a prayer. They don’t ask for money. They only want a friendly face and maybe to be “seen” by someone who is not judging them. Some are looking to be pointed in “the right” direction. Some aren’t. Some are happy with the way they are living. Their biggest worry is where to keep the few belongings that they have so they won't be stolen or thrown away. We invite them all to worship with us, and we love having them. You may say that we are only “enabling” them and not helping, but I can tell you that I’ve seen a change in many of these faces. New faces, new stories come in every week. How do I know which face might be Jesus in a distressing disguise?
I find that it’s real easy when we’re talking about groups of people to dehumanize the situation and talk about “them” and how “they” are all bad. It’s much harder when you’re looking into the eyes of someone who not only has a name, but he has a story. A story that may not – in some of its parts – be much different than yours and mine.
I hope that everyone is enjoying this nice Fall weather! It’s actually a new season; since my last post in July with temps in the upper 90’s and miserably hot and humid, it’s October and the air is dry and cool and very pleasant! As I was walking around our Pumpkin Patch, feeling the morning breeze and listening to the Blue Jays screeching territorially, I was so struck by the sights and sounds of the season. There were a few leaves beginning to fall from the trees overhead, leaves are beginning to change color, pecans and acorns are falling and I’m doing my best to release my tightened grip on control over things that I can’t control (which is pretty much everything and everyone!). The trees do it so seemingly effortlessly! At the right time, in the perfect way, leaves begin to fall; no conscious effort…they are just doing what creation does as part of God’s endless gift of life! They are just released…they fall…they eventually dry and die, becoming part of the earth…and are reborn into the energy of the trees roots that begins the cycle of life all over again. Pretty amazing! Let us use these days to release our cares, our concerns and our gifts of love and light back to the One who created us and continues to create life and love in and through us! God bless you! Enjoy this precious gift of life and all it’s seasons; changing, creating and causing life to be full, rich, abundant and eternal! I think I’m gonna go get some pumpkin pie…!
Here at St. Mark’s UMC, we love celebrating the diversity that God has created. We are different, and yet, the same…we all belong to the family of God; in Spanish, we say “somos familia!” (we are family). John Wesley used to say, “if your heart is like mine (ie: you love God), then give me your hand” (we can worship together). Here is a clip from a video we posted of a group of Peruvian pastors from the 7th day Advent Church who are worshipping with us. They are in San Antonio for a week long conference and are staying in our gym. Their doctrines and ours are fairly different in several areas; but we both love god and can worship together! As our world seems so polarized today, I praise God that we can still unite in loving worship together here and all over the world.
Click here for Video
I’ve been a pastor for about 35 years and I am still amazed by the number of people I’ve encountered who, at a vulnerable stage or time of life were told by someone in authority that they were somehow less than, devalued, excommunicated or excluded from God’s loving presence. Nothing could ever be farther from the truth! No one is left out of God’s loving grace! I’ve had people come to me convinced that they were going to hell, had lived too sinful a life, were murderers, molesters or monstrous in the way that they had behaved. But thanks be to God, the scriptures remind us that all of us have fallen short of the glory of the life in Christ to which we are called and that, by God’s grace and mercy we are all forgiven! All means all; not mostly…or a few…or for those who have somehow gotten it “right” by their works and deeds. Jesus Christ died for us all; by his death and resurrection he has redeemed us all and reconciled us all and we ALL belong to him. So….be at peace, know that we all are forgiven, loved and saved! Let’s go forward now, living the life of love and mercy to which we all are called.