Saturday, December 12, 2015

St. Stephen Gives Visible Witness

During Advent, members of St. Stephen have been active in showing their "visible witness" to God's unconditional love in two events.

Bells for Bethlehem

In the video above, taken by Rev. Karen Williams, Celebration Ringers Dick Benson, Michael Carr, Tom Ellis, Nina Thompson and Jeanette Benson ring bells outside the church on Dec. 5 in support of Christians in Bethlehem. St. Stephen joined dozens of churches around the world in ringing bells at the same moment that bells rang in Bethlehem. The bell ringing was a demonstration against the Palestinian Authority's restrictions on Christmas celebrations this year because of heightened political tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

United Against Racism & Hate

In a similar witness, John Astle displays the sign that he and Cynthia Astle carried on Saturday, Dec. 12 in the Peace and Unity March and Rally sponsored by a new coalition, United Against Racism & Hate. An estimated 300 people walked from Fair Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in a peaceful demonstration supporting Muslims, Syrian refugees and others who have been maligned recently in national political rhetoric.

The North Texas Conference was one of the co-sponsors of the event, and United Methodists were well represented.  Representing St. Stephen, Cynthia and John met members from Northaven UMC, another co-sponsor, along with First-Dallas, First-Garland, Oak Lawn, and Grace-Dallas.

Read John's account of the event on Facebook here.

Our participation in these two broader events shows how St. Stephen United Methodist Church is "actively waiting" for Jesus by doing all we can to show God's unconditional love to the world. Through these events and others like them in the future, we are fulfilling our vision to "show God's unconditional love to the world through believing, proclaiming and serving."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Information on Refugees

The North Texas Conference hosted a Dec. 8 information meeting on refugees featuring Refugee Services of Texas. Some 100 people -- about 5 times the expected attendance -- filled the main meeting room. Rev. Nancy DeStefano, Lay Leader Keith Fulenwider and communications chair Cynthia Astle represented St. Stephen UMC. Participants asked really good, relevant questions, and many were eager to give political pushback in Texas to the anti-refugee movement.

There were many details about the reality of today's refugee crisis worldwide, but here are some brief facts:

1) A refugee is defined as a person who must leave his or her country because of immediate persecution or threat of harm. By U.S. law, immigrants and refugees have two completely different statuses, and they go through different processes.

2) There are some 60 million refugees worldwide at this moment. That's 1 displaced person for every 122 humans.

3) Of that 60 million, the United States expects to take in around 70,000 refugees this year.

4) Of those 70,000 refugees coming to the United States, most have endured a TWO-YEAR-long vetting process.

5) Of those 70,000 refugees coming this year, only around 2,000 of them are Syrians, all of whom are coming from U.N. refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Our Christmas Eve offering will be used to aid refugees. More detailed information on the Outreach opportunities with Dallas-area refugees will be shared after the holidays.

One last thing to remember as we approach Christmas: Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees, too.

Picture Advent!

We're still collecting images for our Picture Advent devotions. In case you missed it, here's the list of topics and scripture readings. Email your digital photos to this blog site. (Click on the picture to enlarge).

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015

More Picture Advent Photos!

Heather Ducar's picture of Hope.

Rev. Nancy DeStefano's picture of Guidance.

Rev. Nancy DeStefano's picture of Wonder.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Picture Advent: Hope

Here's the picture of Hope for both Jamie Guthrie and Grandma Frankie: Scarlet's first birthday.

Picture Advent!

St. Stephen UMC members and friends are invited to "Picture Advent" as our devotional observance during this season of preparation for Jesus' birth. The full schedule of daily devotions is described in this chart (click on the chart for a full-size view):

Send your photos to our website email, Photos will be posted as often as they are received.

To get us started, Rev. Nancy DeStefano has submitted this photo as her picture of "hope" accompanied by a meditation from the website:

How do you picture hope? In the midst of the troubles of this world where do you find God's hope? Consider this reflection from Sacred Space:

We are here for a project so audacious that something within us finds it hard to believe: we are here to transform ourselves and our world. If we cannot believe this, it is because we have downsized our beliefs. It is our greatness rather than our littleness that intimidates us. But hope can heal us, for hope unsettles us with the passionate unrest that propels us toward great things, and it is imagination that gives us the entrance ticket into the hope-filled world of possibility. We can hope in God, for God is the true fulfillment of everything for which we long and desire. God promises us that the best is yet to come.

How will you picture Advent this year?

St. Stephen Supports Native Americans' Sovereignty

Here is a photo of the quilt square that represents St. Stephen UMC's support of the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw in its defense against Dollar General, which is resisting the prosecution of a supervisor for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old store intern. The quilt was made for St. Stephen by Cynthia Astle at the invitation of Rev. Nancy DeStefano and introduced to the congregation on Sunday, Nov. 29. Following is latest information from the organizations sponsoring a demonstration Dec. 7 in which the Monument Quilt will be displayed:

"FORCE and NIWRC are organizing a demonstration on December 7th at what could turn out to be the most devastating Supreme Court decisions for Native Americans in half a century.

"Despite the fact that its store supervisor sexually assaulted a 13-year-old, Dollar General is fighting the survivor’s family and the survivor’s tribe to avoid paying any penalty for the assault of a minor interning at their store. If ruled in Dollar General’s favor, this case would severely limit all American Indian Nations' ability to protect their citizen from crimes like the sexual assault this young person experienced.

"Native women experience sexual assault 2.5 more times than any other ethnic group. 88% of perpetrators of violence against Native women are non-Native. Sexual Assault in Indian Country is already at a crisis level and this decision could make it worse."

For more information, visit The Monument Quilt website.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Our Bishop Urges Us to Welcome Refugees

In the wake of the attacks on Paris and Beirut and the backlash against refugees, North Texas Bishop Mike McKee has issued a strong statement of support for welcoming refugees of all nations to the United States. He bases his support on his own experience as a pastor and on Matthew 25. We encourage everyone to read Bishop McKee's statement here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Beyond Bethlehem to Aid Refugees

United Methodists are joining together to gather resources that will aid refugees during this holiday season. This video featuring the Rev. Mike Slaughter introduces the "Beyond Bethlehem" project.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Faith, not Fear

As Americans debate national security and refugee aid, here as some observations from the top executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society:

Find the General Secretary's full comments on the refugee crisis here:

And here is the response of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), our relief and recovery agency located at the General Board of Global Ministries:
Read more about this at

Friday, November 6, 2015

Council Meeting and Charge Conference Coming

Charting St. Stephen UMC's course for the coming year will take place Sunday, Nov. 8, at two meetings. 

First, the monthly All Church Pot Luck Lunch & Church Council will take place at
12:30 p.m. after worship. Everyone is welcome to both the lunch and the council meeting.

Next, the annual Charge Conference will take place at 6:00 p.m. at Ridgewood Park UMC, 6445 E. Lovers Lane in Dallas. We are part of a "cluster" of churches that will meet. According to United Methodist rules, the Charge Conference is the annual official business meeting of the congregation. We will report our activities to Metro District Superintendent, the Rev. Cammy Gaston, and take any votes required by our church law, the Book of Discipline, for administration in the coming year. This includes voting on the slate of congregation leaders selected by the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee led by our pastor, the Rev. Nancy DeStefano.

These meetings are essential to organizing our church administration to fulfill the ministry and mission of St. Stephen UMC. Everyone who can is encouraged to attend both meetings in order to receive information and to vote on leadership and finances. Those who can't attend are asked to pray for St. Stephen's leadership and for the future of our congregation.  

Mid-Week Service Begins

Offering spiritual respite from busy days, St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite will begin a mid-week service of communion and prayer Nov. 4.

The Rev. Nancy DeStefano, St. Stephen’s pastor, will lead Holy Communion at 6 p.m. each Wednesday. The contemplative service will include times of silent prayer and meditation, and is slated to last about 30 minutes. The United Methodist Church welcomes all Christian believers to participate in Holy Communion.

St. Stephen UMC’s vision is to share God’s unconditional love with all the world. The church is located about one mile west of I-635 at 2520 Oates Drive, Mesquite, TX. For more information, call the church office at (972) 279-3112.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Music and More!

This is part of the group from WTW A Cappella Choirs during 1971-77 who helped us get our new Worship and Song hymnals in memory of Geoff. We dedicated them this morning and sang a wonderful John Thornburg hymn. From left are  Marla C Muns, Becky Borders, Linda Vouras Olsen, Billy Ferrell, Tom Council, Wini Council, Pete Puckett, Diane Panasci and Sharon Leftwich Miller in Mesquite, Texas.
What a TERRIFIC worship service we had on Oct. 25 for Music Heritage Sunday! Our St. Stephen Choir and Bell Choir filled our sanctuary and our souls with beautiful vocal and instrumental music. Our music director Ryan Forkner brought an inspirational message of how through music, we know and are known by God. And a major highlight of the morning was the dedication of new "Worship and Music" song books, made possible through proceeds to a memorial fund for Geoffrey Council, late son of our music director emeritus Tom Council and wife Wini Council.

AFTER worship we had fun with a baby shower for Ryan and Christy Forkner in honor of the impending birth of their third daughter, Robyn. The highlight of this event -- aside from the baby loot! -- was a funny, silly game in which we drew pictures of Robyn's nursery on paper plates held on top of our heads. Donna Bailey won the prize -- a coveted St. Stephen UMC Cookbook! Thanks to Amy Martindale and Jessica Fulenwider for organizing this event on our behalf.

Here we are playing our baby shower game ...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Music Heritage Sunday Coming

Music has been an integral ministry of St. Stephen UMC since its founding in 1959. In keeping with our history, we'll celebrate Music Heritage Sunday on Oct. 25. Our Music Director, Ryan Forkner, will bring the message, and there will be lots of glorious music to set our souls singing. Even if you think you can't carry a tune in a dump truck, God loves the sound of YOU! Join us at 10:50 AM on Sunday, Oct. 25 for this special observance!

Three-peat a Chili Cook-Off Feat!

Three-peat! Lynn Lloyd won first place for the third year with his chili, followed by Bruce Hardie and Jeanette Benson in the annual Chili Cook-off at St. Stephen United Methodist Church, Mesquite, Texas. There were only 5 chilis this year, a possible casualty of the busy Fall travel season for many St. Stephen UMC families.

HOWEVER, there were 9 desserts in competition. Newlywed Jessica Fulenwider took the prize for her cake balls. We also enjoyed several cakes, chocolate chip cookies, cobbler, pie and a sumptuous strawberry trifle.

There were also several participants in the craft bazaar, with quilted items, plants, crocheted items, and handmade prayer beads and earrings. Fe and Leo Tipay made the most sales with their luscious banana bread.

Most of all, we raised more than $1,200 to help fund St. Stephen's "fair-share" contributions to ministries beyond the local church. It was a wonderful community effort with everyone pitching in to help. If you missed out, then you really missed a fun time!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Love Wins!

Awesome, Awesome, Awesome! That's the only word to describe St. Stephen UMC's appearance in this year's Alan Ross Freedom Pride Parade in Dallas' Oak Lawn neighborhood on Sunday, Sept. 20. In fact, many who were there feel like we had a second service of "church" throughout the parade.

What's more, Love Won! St. Stephen's first-ever float won the award for Best Non-Profit Entry from the parade organizers. Credit goes to our amazing accompanist Michael Carr, who came up with the design for our float, which included dance music and a bubble-maker; Michael's partner, Thomas Ellis, woodworker extraordinaire for the framing; and to everyone from the congregation who helped build and prepare it over two Saturdays. Here are some photos to show you what we mean:

John and Cynthia Astle

Float slogans: "God's Doors Are Open for All!" and "Love All, Worship One."

Tina Simpson, Lowell Sargent and Forrest Oliver

In addition to the fun of being in the parade, all participants reported that the reaction of the crowd of parade watchers was the big highlight of the day. Social Justice chair Teddi Fulenwider and Cynthia Astle both reported on Facebook that they got choked up with tears a few times upon seeing the amazement and gratitude on the spectators' faces as we showered them with God's love. The whole experience was an affirmation that our congregation is fulfilling our vision of proclaiming, believing and serving God's unconditional love to the world.

There's only one problem now: How do we top this year's witness in NEXT year's Pride Parade?

Stewardship Week 2

Friends, we got a little behind in posting our stewardship videos with all the activity going on at St. Stephen. Here is Week 2 of the entries prepared by Blake and Jessica Fulenwider, David and Jeni Munden, and Amy Martindale. Week 3 will be posted later this week.

Be sure to come next Sunday and turn in your pledge form as our campaign concludes. Our support for St. Stephen, in the form of our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, makes it possible to fulfill our vision to spread God's unconditional love far and wide!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Big Worship Themes Coming!

Fall will bring a veritable harvest of Sunday observances, reports the Worship Committee from its Aug. 31 meeting.

September will continue with our Stewardship emphasis, which is being ably presented by a special task group of our young adults: Jessica and Blake Fulenwider and David and Jennifer Munden. (See below for a link to their first video offering).

October will bring a series of significant Sunday observances.

 Oct. 4 is World Communion Sunday, when all Protestant denominations around the world join together in Holy Communion, also known as Eucharist or the Lord's Supper. This day represents our Christian unity through the sacrament.

Oct. 11 is Children's Sabbath, when we focus on ministry with children. This year's theme is “How Long Must I Cry for Help? Bending the Arc toward God’s Vision of Justice for Children.” St. Stephen will have a special liturgy that will include a visual presentation of children around the world and our men's chorus singing "Prayer of the Children."

Oct. 18 will be Laity Sunday, the day we honor the ministry of all baptized Christians in all walks of life, not solely church activities. Our Lay Leader, Keith Fulenwider, will bring the message on this day, and St. Stephen laypeople will lead worship.

Oct. 25 we will celebrate Music Heritage Sunday, and our choir director Ryan Forkner will bring the message. Music has long been one of St. Stephen's strongest ministries, and on this Sunday we will celebrate how our congregation's musical gifts draw people to God through Jesus Christ.

Altogether these special observances show the vital and vibrant faith community that is St. Stephen United Methodist Church. Please mark your calendars now for these dates so we can celebrate together!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Members Tell What St. Stephen Means to Them

Check out the first of four videos prepared by our young adults for September's Stewardship Project! There will be a new video each week. Come visit us!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Something to Think About

As St. Stephen UMC continues on its journey with the Small Church Initiative, here is something to consider about the nature of church from a recent blog by the Rev. Dan R. Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference. Rev. Dick is an expert in church leadership and discipleship who blogs at United Methodeviations. You can read his entire post by clicking on the title link.

Who Are We Again?

 "At a recent event, I made the statement that today’s United Methodist Church exists because our predecessor denominations held three critically important functions in common: missional service, evangelism and social justice. In other words, we hold core values of caring for others, inviting all people into a life-changing, life-fulfilling relationship with God in Jesus Christ, and improving the conditions for all people wherever and whenever we can. A gentleman come up to me at the conclusion of the event and asked, 'Why are you promoting this Socialist bullshit? The only thing that matters is personal salvation!' My knee-jerk response was anything but patient or helpful — I spluttered, 'What Bible are you reading?'

"A similar thing happened to me when I preached a sermon on Christian disciples transforming the world.  I quoted part of a paragraph of our Book of Discipline which states, 'Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.' (2012 Book of Discipline, Paragraph 201). I said that we shouldn’t view these as three distinct activities, but as three aspects of a single purpose. I used the analogy of juggling, saying you cannot just juggle two balls and ignore the third, but all must be in motion in relationship to the others. There is no 'two out of three ain’t bad' thinking allowed.  We engage all three or we fail to fulfill our purpose."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Scenes from 'Jerusalem Marketplace' VBS

Even in the summer heat, outside games are a hit.
Cynthia and John Astle prepare for a drama.

Grandpa Tom Council and grandson Mason.
Lola walks through the marketplace.
Busy marketplace.

Weaver Karel Holloway shows one of the "tribes" how to make cloth.

All photos by L'Norah Clarke

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality Is the Law of the Land

As a Reconciling Congregation, St. Stephen United Methodist Church rejoices in the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rules marriage as a civil right open to all people including same-gender couples. At the same time, we await instruction on how The United Methodist Church, which officially opposes same-sex marriage, will respond to this legal development. Here is a letter from our pastor, the Rev. Nancy DeStefano, on today's events.

A Letter From The Pastor

Dear Church Family,

Today is indeed an historic day and a day in which we can celebrate and affirm once again that equality, justice, freedom and integrity is God's wish for ALL people and All truly does mean ALL!!

As the pastor of a Reconciling Congregation this is an especially happy day!  The work that we have done and the stand that St. Stephen has taken over  our entire history is once again affirmed!

This is a day to celebrate and this Sunday we will certainly gather to give God thanks for the blessing of being in a church that seeks to include ALL people, no exceptions.

We also recognize that our work is not finished.  Just as the Supreme Court decision years ago making it illegal to ban inter-racial marriage did not end racism, we know this decision will not end the opposition to the rights of the LGBT community.  In fact, it may intensify the efforts on the part of some to find ways around the ruling and ways to continue discrimination. Now we must be diligent and courageous in our work to assure that justice for all is realized everywhere for everyone.

Also we know that many in our families, our neighborhoods, our jobs and our faith will be saddened, even outraged, by this ruling.  They sincerely believe that this decision is wrong. In their pain and fear, there will be backlash. There will be hateful and mean words. This is not a time for us to gloat but to continue to love All, even those who do not return the love.  If love is truly to win in each of our hearts we must refrain from striking back.  Rather we must proceed in confidence that God is working for the good for all people, pray that hearts will be changed, and stay focused on the goal.

Isaiah 43:19   "See,I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

The work of God in building the kingdom continues.  We are blessed to be co-builders with God.  May we perceive the new thing God is doing, persevere in our commitment and rejoice in this step forward in total confidence that with God love wins!!


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Vacation Bible School Is Coming!

Come sing and dance, play games and make crafts and watch Bible stories come alive in this year's Vacation Bible School "Jerusalem Marketplace." We will dress in costume and share marketplace activities. We'll create crafts such as pottery, weaving and jewelry-making. Each day we'll see Bible stories about Jesus come alive through daily dramas taking place around the marketplace well.

The entire family can enjoy the activitie that are geared for children ages 4 through 12. Children under 4 are welcome, but must be accompanied by a parent or guardian age 18 or older.

There is no charge for the program, but registration is required in order to provide enough snacks and supplies for participants. Click here for online registration.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Prayers for Phoenix Witnesses to Love

As we did on Pentecost Sunday, let's continue to pray for the community in and around Phoenix, AZ. In addition to the campaign against The Fountains UMC in nearby Fountain Hills, Phoenix has faced armed demonstrations outside a local mosque. Fortunately, hundreds of Christians and others – possibly as many as 1,000 people – turned out to stand with their Muslim neighbors against the tide of hatred. Please send our courageous sisters and brothers in Phoenix all the spiritual support we can muster as they witness to the power of God's Love! And may we take their example as our model if and when hatred arises here in the Dallas area.
Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. Photo Courtesy of Rev. Rob Rynders, UM pastor

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A New Vision

Fired up after our Pentecost Sunday celebration, St. Stephen UMC next tackles one of the three prescriptions of our Small Church Initiative "year of action" – a new vision statement to guide our future.

As we've learned from our coach, Rev. Carol Sparks, a vision statement differs from a mission statement. We already have The United Methodist Church's official mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. What's needed now is to identify clearly and concisely how St. Stephen believes God is calling us to fulfill our part of the mission in the ways that only WE can do!

That's why we invite all interested people to attend a morning-long Visioning Workshop on Saturday, June 13, from 9 AM to noon. Carol will lead us through consideration of our current vision statements to seek ways to combine and clarify how we will go about our mission. It's especially important for our Church Council to participate, but anyone who's interested is welcome to come for all or part of the morning's event.

One we craft our new vision statement, we'll discuss ways to share it effectively with our congregation and our community beyond church walls. Some of us have already begun brainstorming some great ideas about how to go about this task. Remember, as we learned on Pentecost Sunday, our world desperately needs to know about the love of God that we experience through St. Stephen. We see our task as sharing God's unconditional love with the world, and now we need to clarify "Why" and "How" so our efforts will be fruitful.

See you Saturday, June 13, 9 AM to noon, at the Church for the SCI Visioning Workshop with our coach, Rev. Carol Sparks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Our Journey Proceeds

A deeply meaningful prayer service occurred Monday, May 7 at St. Stephen United Methodist Church, Mesquite, Texas, to mark the beginning of a year of enacting three "prescriptions" given to us through the North Texas Conference's Small Church Initiative.
St. Stephen's All-Church Conference approved entering into a year's consultation May 3. The prayer service was the official start of our year of effort at crafting the tools needed to ensure a viable future for St. Stephen, which will observe its 54th anniversary in September. Our three "prescriptions" are:
1) Preparing a clear, concise and unified vision statement that represents how we will fulfill, in our  congregation's context, The United Methodist Church's official mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world";
2) Developing ways to stabilize our financial health;
3) Strengthening our faith development, both for our own spiritual health and to equip us to share our faith stories with those who need to hear that God loves them.
Church members have received an email from our pastor, Rev. Nancy DeStefano, inviting our participation on one of several teams that will create the action plans for these prescription. However, the crucial starting point was the May 11 service that included prayer, a reflection by our coach, the Rev. Carol Sparks, and anointing for the tasks ahead.
And although those who attended may have been few, we are fierce to share God's love in the world. Monday's participants have committed themselves to being a well-informed, prayerful and encouraging presence as we move through the many changes ahead of us.
Now we go forth under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit! We invite everyone to join the journey!

Here's to you, Matt!

St. Stephen UMC's gratitude goes to our outgoing webmaster, the amazing Matt Dudenhoeffer! After nearly 2 years in charge of our website, Matt has relinquished Internet duties because of family commitments. We send up a prayer of thanksgiving for Matt's service and offer a virtual basket of good wishes for him in all he pursues. Well done, faithful servant! We'll miss you!

Sunday, April 5, 2015


History of Hymns: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”

by Peyton Strouth
"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"
Charles Wesley
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 302
Charles Wesley
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia! 

"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" is a classic Easter hymn by the great hymn writer Charles Wesley. It first appeared in a collection by John and Charles Wesley called Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739) without the "alleluia's," which were added in the early 19th century.

Only a few other minor changes have been made since that time. The six stanzas that appear in The UM Hymnal have been adapted from the original 11; stanzas six, seven, eight and nine have been left out entirely. The current second stanza is actually the first couplet of the original second stanza and the last couplet of the original third stanza.

One other change of note occurred in the second line of the first stanza, which has been altered from "Sons of men and angels say" to "Earth and heaven in chorus say." Though altered for inclusive language purposes, this change actually gives more emphasis to the metaphor in the second line that describes heaven and earth in chorus -- now they are antiphonal, with heaven singing and the reply coming back from earth.

Charles Wesley has written a hymn in praise of the power of Christ. The hymn begins with both heaven and earth singing in praise of Christ having won the battle and defeated death. The praise continues in the second stanza where Wesley first refers to Christ as "Love" and "redeemer." He quotes Paul's letter to the Corinthians (15:55) where Paul is taunting death: "Where O Death is now thy sting? Where's thy victory boasting grave?" The next stanza answers the question and says that we have the same power, if we follow Christ.

A striking feature of the hymn is that its text is written in the present tense. "Christ the Lord is risen today" -- not "has risen" or "rose." This is powerful because it places us in community with those who witnessed the resurrection in their own lifetimes, and reaffirms our own hope of being set free from death. "Made like him, like him we rise" -- also stated in the present tense -- conveys a hope that brings God's power and new life now, lifting us from our current situation of "death" and into everlasting life.

Hope? Now? Is Wesley saying that Christ's hope is now? And if so what does this mean for the suffering, the oppressed, the abused and the lost? Is Wesley calling us to action? If we follow the example of our "exalted head," will it take us to "the cross, the grave, the skies?" Alleluia, it will! I think he is calling us to action! The skies are exciting, but we also need to be willing to follow Christ to the cross and the grave even if we know that we will be triumphant over them.

The final stanza declares that if we are indeed made like Christ and we follow his example, then we can know everlasting life (John 3:16). This is our ultimate hope -- present, past and future. This is so empowering to us and to others, to know that Christ died for us, and that his power enables us to overcome suffering and death just like he did. "Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia."

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Blog for Lent
Passover for All of Us
Reflections on the book What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover
By Nancy DeStefano
Week One:  Introduction

Our Lenten study of Rabbi Evan Moffic’s book What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover will be our way of preparing for the Seder meal we will enjoy on March 31st (Tuesday of Holy Week), led by Rabbis Shira and Adam Roffman.  This is a wonderful book that will help us come to better understand both the meaning of the Seder for our Jewish brothers and sisters and our own celebration of the Eucharist.

This blog will move chapter by chapter through the book each week.  I cannot do the book justice – so I really encourage you to obtain a copy for yourself and read it.  Rabbi Moffic has a way of saying things that will touch you in ways that only reading about what he says cannot. 
If you are reading the book I hope this blog will help you ponder some of what it says.  If you are using the blog as your way into the book, I hope I can say enough to give you some flavor for what the book offers.

So today, we consider the introduction.  Rabbi Moffic is clearly well versed in Christianity.  The insights he offers us into the meaning of the Seder are filled with parallels for us in our practice of Christianity.  He writes with an appreciation for what we believe as Christians and enriches our understanding of what Passover meant for Jesus and can mean for us.  It is not just the Passover that Jews celebrate once a year that is made clear for us, but as Rabbi Moffic points out, every time we celebrate Holy Communion we enter into this sacred meal that Jesus shared with his disciples and that we share with the Jews in their remembrance of the Exodus experience.

By our study we will rediscover and appreciate more deeply our Jewish roots and be able to better understand Jesus as a Jew of his time and place.  We will also deepen our appreciation of our Jewish heritage.  We will be able to see how Judaism and Christianity intersect in our shared experience of liberation and God’s call on each of us to a life of justice-seeking for all.
In the introduction, Rabbi Moffic reminds the reader that the meal that was eaten by Moses, Aaron, Miriam and all the Israelites on the night they were led out of Egypt to freedom is the same meal that Jesus ate with his disciples at the Last Supper.  It is the same meal that we eat every time we gather for Holy Communion.  I don’t just mean that the meals are similar.  In the Jewish understanding of this meal, every time it is eaten the participants are there with Moses; they are participating in the liberation of the people by God’s hand.  This is the true and fullest meaning of “symbol”.  When a ritual is a symbol it does not just recall a past event to our minds but rather makes that event present in the moment so that we are there and it is here.  Past and present come together and point us to the future – God’s future.  It is, therefore, a meal that celebrates and promises freedom.  It is a meal of liberation from oppression and slavery.  It is a meal that gives thanks for God’s deliverance from all that keeps us enslaved and all that imprisons us. 

The Rabbi writes: “This book explores the radical claim that one meal – one momentous meal – the Passover Seder, can in fact change your life.”
How does it do that?  The book suggests several ways that will be considered in more depth throughout the book.  The meal has the power to bring us closer to God.  It can help us to confront all that enslaves and imprisons us – all the places where we encounter scarcity and fear, all the places where we feel trapped or inadequate.  God stretches out God’s arms and sets us free.

Our theme of “journey” this Lent is a metaphor for our life with God.  Each of us is walking a spiritual path to wholeness and holiness.  As Lent begins, we consider those places that need to be unpacked, cleared away, cleaned up in order to make the journey.  This is one of the ways the Passover works in us.  As we contemplate the areas of our own enslavement we are empowered to let them go, turn away from them, ask God to deliver us from them and so by God’s grace we are set free.

How often do we receive Communion without fully realizing its power to set us free?  Moses and the participants at the first Passover were slaves to the power of the Pharoah – but God’s power was greater and through God’s loving care they were led to freedom.  Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal in a land that was enslaved to the Roman Empire.   Jesus drew strength from this meal to walk the path to freedom that would take him through the cross to new life.  Every time we go to the Communion table this same path to freedom, even though filled with obstacles and struggles, is ours as well. 

As our study of Passover and our living of Lent begins, we would do well to consider what enslaves us today?  Where are we oppressed, where are we blocked from moving forward in freedom? What empires hold us?   Are we slaves to our possessions, our careers, our identity?  Are we imprisoned by addictions – and these need not be limited to chemical addictions – anything that possesses us and keeps us from being fully devoted to God can be an addiction.  Even our devotion to our family can enslave us if we do what we do out of a need to control, or to be liked or needed, or to be safe.

From what do you need to be freed?  Where are you enslaved?  Will you let God set you free?  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"United Methodist Women"
are raising awareness and educating about Human Trafficking.

Visit their Facebook page for 
amazing information and statistics.

This is happening today in this country and not somewhere else.
Too much to post.

Visit their Facebook page at:

Also.........New Worship Series
Started Sunday the 11th!!!

Click Here For More Information And Schedule!