Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Unity: Jesus holds the future - part three

Bishop Jeremiah J. Park
Following is part three and the final installment of an edited transcript of Bishop Jeremiah J. Park’s Opening Celebration address at the 2018 Susquehanna Annual Conference, held May 31 through June 2 in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Scripture references:
John 17:20-26; Colossians 1:15-20
Philippians 2:5-11

God’s people, unity is a big deal in the eyes of God. Please hear Jesus’ prayer in John 17 carefully:

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

 The unity or disunity of Jesus’ followers seen by the world makes a difference in making Jesus Christ and the love of God known to the world. As far as who Jesus Christ is and the love of God are concerned, the unity or disunity of those proclaiming they believe may make it or break it in the eyes of the world. The unity of Jesus’ people lets the world know that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Our disunity puts the gospel in jeopardy! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake! Unity is about Jesus Christ. Humility and love will do it.

As I journey through the denominational struggle over human sexuality and its impact on the agenda of unity, one of the questions that I wrestle with is this one: Why do so faithful, committed, devoted, honest, honorable, and authentic disciples of Jesus Christ differ from one another so radically? They love Jesus. What am I missing? Are we disciples of a different Jesus? Did we receive a different baptism and were we confirmed to a different faith? Do we worship and serve a different God? If not, what makes us so compelled and willing to go a different way from one another?

There was a missionary in a foreign land, and one day a boy came to him and gave him a gift. “This is for you,” the boy said to him. It was a beautiful, gorgeous shell. The missionary was delighted to receive it, but was really surprised, because the ocean was far away. “This is so beautiful! I love it. Thanks so much.” And he asked, “Where did you get it?” “From the beach,” the boy said. “Beach? It’s so far away. It must have been a long walk,” the missionary said. The boy said, “The walk is a part of the gift.”

Our walk includes wrestling with questions and doubts, and struggling with confusion and uncertainties. That’s OK. Our walk is a part of the gift.

I don’t know what is waiting for us and our beloved church. But I know who’s holding the future; the One who came from the highest place to prove God’s love for us on the cross, the lowest place. There’s nothing whatsoever that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This Jesus walks with us. So God’s people, take heart. This Jesus will never ever let us go.

Amen and Amen!

God is faithful

The following is an edited transcript of Rev. Troy Howell’s message at his installation as the Williamsport District Superintendent, October 28, 2018.


I remember saying to Bishop Park, at about quarter to ten at night, Thursday night, January 4, 2018, “The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know much. But, I know one thing: God is faithful.” My life, my history, is littered with God’s great faithfulness. And, I thank those of you who have had such an important part in that.

Lord God, as we pause in these moments, we are a people who sometimes need to have our heads dropped to the dust to be reminded that without the breath of life that you freely give without our asking, and most certainly without any of us earning it, we are but dust. Breathe in us, by the power and the promise of your Holy Spirit, that in these moments … we might be refreshed, revitalized, that we might be convicted; where we need the perfect accountability of our only perfect parent. Comfort us when we need your healing balm and convert us more completely to be the offering you intend for us to be. In Jesus Christ be praised. Amen. 

I confess I’m not the sharpest tool in the box and I’m not the smartest person in the room... so, I’m just going to offer what God’s laid on my heart.

In seminary, I had to do an exegetical paper on Psalm 126 and I fell in love with it once I learned the history behind this story. It is a Psalm of people who had lost what they thought they could count on—the shining city of Jerusalem where they knew God dwelled—and they were taken by the Babylonians into captivity, where they were made to sing songs of torment and to yearn and wonder in their minds if they could ever go home, asking, ‘Will God ever restore us?’ I love it because in that song is the tension of unbridled joy at their return to Jerusalem, even though the temple was destroyed, and their deep, deep sorrow of the reality of the human condition—when we’ve lost that which we thought was rock-solid sure. As the song goes, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with…” (congregation: ‘Joy.’)” And also, the other one (in Psalm 30) is: “For the night weeping may carry, with the morning light comes… (congregation: ‘Joy.’)”

God is faithful.

In Lamentations the writer is crying out to God. In chapter two we hear that God is so disgusted and upset with the sin and the separation of His people that He stripped the Tabernacle; He made the assembly a ruin; kings and priests were scorned; the Lord spurned his own altar, He laid a curse upon on His own sanctuary. For those of us a little too caught up in our buildings, it’s a good reminder right now. And yet, in the midst of that—the remembering, the sadness, the loss, the nostalgia, and the pain—the writer is drawn back by God’s great faithfulness in Lamentations 3:23; new every morning are God’s mercies, great is thy faithfulness, O God.

That’s how we can carry on, Church. The God who was, is still present, is still speaking, and is still at work.

Which leads me to another passage that became a key passage for me when I served Messiah UMC in Shippensburg. It’s Romans 12:1-3 and it’s from Eugene Peterson’s offering “The Message.”

The Apostle Paul says; “Here’s what I want to do. God helping you. Take your everyday, ordinary life.” (Anyone have an everyday, ordinary life?) “—your sleeping, eating, going to work, walking around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out in you, develops well-formed maturity in you. I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you.”

How many of you have concerns about where this world is headed? “Where is our culture going?” “My goodness, our churches are struggling.” Anyone have any of those concerns? Hear God’s great faithfulness. I am a living witness that God is faithful. God’s got this, Church. God had it back when the lamenter was crying out in Lamentations. God’s got this.

The real question is when God says to me, ‘Troy, are you willing to give your heart, and your mind, and your soul again, and again, and again?’ That’s a struggle for me, but it’s the call of the gospel and of the cross.

I want to offer thanksgiving to God for the way He has continued to grow me beyond my brokenness and my sin condition, because of the power of the church triumphant in my life.

When my wife Dawn, our kids, and I attended Trinity UMC in New Cumberland, I was involved in a variety of ministries and I taught Sunday school for the men’s Bible class. At the end of one Sunday school lesson, Rev. David Long asked, “Troy, have you ever considered ordained ministry?” and I said, “No.” He said, “Really?” I said, “Never.” He said, “Well, I’ve been observing you for a couple years and you have gifts and graces, and I just wanted to say that.”

Later that week I pondered that question while working in my office in the state capital. I went home and told Dawn what Rev. Long had said. I figured she would slam the door for sure. Instead she said, “I could see you doing that.” Then suddenly I remembered that I had lied to David on Sunday. When I was about eight or nine years old—I could see myself in the chair at the table in the Sunday school classroom in prayer or talking about what we wanted to do with our life—I remember thinking, I wonder if Jesus would want me to be a Reverend. Immediately, I knew the answer, No. Because I wouldn’t be good enough. You see, when I was growing up and the Reverend came in the room, I was smart and savvy enough to know that people’s behavior and language change. So, I had done my own computations and was like, No.

That Sunday I confessed, “Hey David, I lied to you. I lied to a Reverend.” And David, with this great flock of white hair, said, “How do you figure?” I told him the story and then he said, “You know, Troy, sometimes God insists on an external voice speaking what’s going on in you, so you know that it’s God, so you can be bold enough.” When David Long died, his wife Veda said, “David wanted you to have his robe.”

There are people waiting for the external affirmation of the internal stirring of the Spirit in their life. Maybe it has nothing to do with being a Reverend or a Pastor. Maybe it has everything to do with knocking off the nonsense, and the dissonance, and the hatred, and the works of the flesh to embrace the works of the Spirit through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control.

God is faithful. Do you see why I believe that?

My grandmother, who is going to be ninety-nine in February, often-times would say—and she’d be a millionaire if she had a buck for every time she said this—she’d say, “Troy, you’re getting a little too big for your britches.”

When I was in seminary I was sent to Chestnut Grove UMC in Dillsburg and I was dangerous there. I started thinking, I’ve got to get this place revived—a major mistake for any of us. After a couple years I started thinking, I’m pretty good. I can do this. I know all the ‘magic’, the latest church growth stuff. Those things are great, but if they aren’t grounded in Christ they’re, ‘a noisy gong, clanging cymbal.’ (1 Cor 13:1)

One week in seminary I kept having the sense, There’s so much brokenness in me and in the church that I am serving that we need to make it safe for people to own it. That might lead us through.

I prepared a message on anointing and the balm of Gilead. On Sunday morning, I went to the pianist Carolyn Myers and said, “Carolyn, I’m going to do an anointing here, inviting anyone that wants to claim their brokenness and God’s restoring wholeness to come forward.” And, she said “I wonder how that’s going to work? What are you going to do if no one comes forward?” I said, “I’ll kneel and anoint myself. Because they need to know their pastor is broken.” I asked her to play There’s a Balm in Gilead. “You’ll probably only have to play it a couple times through.”


Three years earlier, there were about fifty people in worship; that morning, maybe a hundred. I preached the message and then invited anyone who wanted to claim their brokenness to come forward. The pianist was playing There is a balm in Gilead the second time through and no one was coming up and I thought, Lord, I didn’t hear you right, so I’ll anoint myself. About that time, I saw a young lady (pictured), Cheri Miller, stand up. She’s one of God’s special daughters. She stood up and was fighting with her Dad. She said, “I hurt my arm, I’m broken, and I want healed.” Cheri Miller came up that aisle, and what happened? The church followed. Almost everybody came up that morning claiming their brokenness.

Cheri, I love you because God taught me not to get too big for my britches for you.

Honestly, I didn’t want to go anywhere that the Bishop sent me. But, I was sent to Messiah UMC in Shippensburg and after I spent time there I never wanted to leave. God is faithful. Messiah UMC has giant pillars and the best music ministry around, a beautiful sanctuary, stained glass windows, and a great history. I was privileged to follow a great pastor, Gere Reist, who laid a great foundation. So, we prayed, where would you want us to take this? And God brought to mind, I want you to go deeper and wider as followers.

It was there that I adopted the Romans 12 passage. The denomination sent us a letter one day on fancy stationary that said, “You’ve been cited and identified as a Romans 12:1 church.” And I thought, What’s that? And then I read the Peterson passage: “Take your everyday, ordinary life…” and I thought Wow! God grew me there, and the church.

And then I moved on to Aldersgate UMC in Mechanicsburg. I didn’t want to be there either, but God said, “Troy, I’ve got this. Stop trying to be the best, stop trying to be the brightest. Stop trying to get the numbers, and just relax in meeting the world and it’s woundedness. Jesus was raised with wounds for a reason. Reach in them.”

Reaching into the world God so loved, they started divorce care, single parenting, and grief share small groups, and men’s Timothy studies. They ministered with Daystar and spiritual recovery for addicts. And because we were willing to be led, the Spirit of God revealed in us our brokenness to see the majesty of Christ’s wholeness.

In the preschool at Aldersgate, with kids and families of diverse faiths and backgrounds, we said, “We are going to teach the love of Jesus.” The Preschool Director Kathleen Blazey used to come to my office and say “Troy, it happened again! You know that Muslim family I was telling you about? The Mom just said, ‘Why do you people do this? We didn’t think Christians acted this way.’” Talk about a damning indictment.

It’s been my great privilege to journey wherever God has placed me. I don’t really have an answer for the future, other than ‘I’m willing to walk with people here.’

Church, God’s got this. We have difficult decisions to make; sometimes about buildings, sometimes about renewal and revival, sometimes letting go of our lamentations to see His mercies, that God’s got this. Amen?

That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

Connecting Ministries - Moving from single to mingle

By Rev. Jason Mackey, Director of Connecting Ministries.

The other day my oldest child was walking to the bus stop with his head buried in a book. That’s a pretty common sight so early in the morning. His attention is usually wrapped up in his latest novel and he’s not very interested in talking with friends. Later in the day, everything changes. When he comes home from school he really wants to hang out with his friends or log onto Xbox to play Fortnite. In the matter of only a few hours, he moves socially from single to mingle.

I think we all crave that kind of balance in life. Introverts and extroverts alike need some down time by themselves, but they also hit pockets where they crave community.

Unfortunately, in our churches, I wonder if we’ve forgotten the power of plus one? Maybe it’s our competitive spirits, or perhaps it’s driven by measures like worship attendance and giving, but too often churches go it alone. When considering outreach efforts and new ministries, we typically only consider “one” congregation. Even in a multipoint charge we’re hesitant to lose our identity and autonomy to the greater whole. We rarely think to collaborate and slowly start to isolate. We convince ourselves that God’s economy is one of scarcity. We become concerned there are only so many resources with so many opportunities and we see ourselves missing out. But what if we extended our thinking?

We say United Methodists are connectional, but what if connection went beyond paying our shares of ministry.

Recently, I was talking with one church leader who was struggling with the fact that his church of more than 50 years was dying. “We’ve tried everything!” he lamented. From the outside, I knew right away they hadn’t tried “everything”. They couldn’t have. Maybe they tried “everything” they could think of, and maybe they tried “everything” they were capable of doing, but they couldn’t have tried “everything.”

Some ideas require multiple churches working together. Other ideas require radically changing our culture and identity beyond our own capacity. And still other ideas require closing our doors and realigning our resources with brothers and sisters in other congregations. Certainly, they hadn’t tried “everything”, but from his perspective, they had. And now he and his church felt abandoned and alone. Their plan was to spend down their savings just to keep the doors open as long as they could.

But what if they teamed with another church or a church planter to write a different ending? What if they had vital partnerships that refused to let them close? What if there were a nearby community that shared their values and viewed their talents and abilities as a welcome contribution? Sometimes in our focus, we lose sight of the fact that these things might already exist. Our heads are wrapped up in our own stories completely missing others around us. What if we changed our social approach to church from single to mingle? That’s what happens when we Connect Ministries. Collaborative relationships form and new ministries become possible.

Communications Ministry - A new perspective

By Shawn Gilgore, Director of Communications Ministry

On October 4th, a pretty powerful rain storm rolled through York County on my way home. I was driving south on Interstate 83, a drive that I’ve made hundreds of times. It had been a long day as I had traveled to downtown Harrisburg after work to film some video around the city for a project that I was working on. So, I joined the wave of commuters heading back home.

I usually don’t like driving in the rain, even when the sun is shining and rainbows abound. This day, it felt different. This day’s rain was a powerful, soaking, sheeting rain that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

I had recently been praying to God, after my daughter Ellie was born, for a new perspective on life; as a new parent, as a husband, and as a follower of Jesus. I just didn’t think that these two things would collide with my car and I on that October afternoon.

I hydroplaned less than a mile from my exit off the Interstate.

Travelling in the right lane, I slid toward the left lane, tried to correct the slide and went off the road onto the shoulder and ended up rolling my blue Fiat 500 onto its passenger side.

In what seemed like two seconds, four strangers who were driving behind me stopped and helped pull me out of the car. Fiats are small cars with big heavy doors. It took quite an effort to get it open and to get me out. I was wearing my seat belt, so I was pinned into my driver’s seat, hanging in midair and yelling uncontrollably for the first time that I can remember.


Once I was out of the car I was examined by the EMT crew that came to the scene. I looked to be in worse shape than I actually was; covered in dust, glass, and some superficial blood, but I was up and about, albeit shaken, glad to be able to walk away! I rather bluntly said, “I just totaled my car.”

I wasn’t able to call Meghan as my phone was lost somewhere in the wreckage, so the tow truck driver who came to the scene took me home.

When I arrived home, I told Meghan the whole story, and when I saw Ellie, I just wept and wept, thinking about what could have been.

I am still here, armed with a new perspective on life. In retrospect, I’ve told God that from now on I’d like a little more subtlety in answering prayers! I am so thankful for each and every day, but I never would’ve guessed that this is what I needed for that to happen.

Growing Spiritual Transformational Leaders - Help Wesley Forest Extend the Wide Embrace of God

 By Kevin Witt, Director of Growing Spiritual Transformational Leaders

Right now major renovations are underway at Wesley Forest Camp and Retreat Center that fulfill a vision of the wide embrace of God and Christ’s love. Please, join in to bring this vision to fruition. Our camp and retreat centers are places dedicated to genuine, deep experiences of God’s beloved community. As a connection of United Methodist congregations in shared mission, we provide these sacred places of pilgrimage not only as places apart for our own growth in love. These centers are also intentional crossroads of welcome and collaboration with others in the wider society who also are deeply committed to the transformation of lives and the common good.

White Pine Lodge is being completely renovated to meet The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. The interior of the building has been stripped down to the studs to recreate the space. In the past, it has been very challenging for persons living with handicapping conditions to participate in retreats and camps because the facilities caused significant barriers. Similar hurdles exist for seniors wanting to go deeper in their faith and want to join in with their communities only to have the facility design hinder their inclusion. The Board of Camp Retreat Ministries heard from individuals and groups both faith based and nonprofit transformation partners who highlighted a true and expanding need, including those in leadership as clergy and laity, young people and families whose full participation hinges on these changes. The growing requests and long-term missional need inspired this project.

“What moves me to dedicate myself and my time to achieve the renovations is the knowledge that we give people with physical challenges amazing opportunities to know the Creator in midst of the beauty of creation,” said Bill Toner, Project Coordinator. “They experience the love and welcome of Christ even in the design of facilities. The new bedrooms, restrooms and amenities say, ‘you belong and are fully embraced.’ This is the kind of project that needs a lot of people to pitch in and help. It is a way of living out your faith and doing something really meaningful that will enrich lives for years to come.”

“This project would not be possible without the dedication of some incredible, talented, and giving volunteers,” said Wesley Forest Center Director Emily Sliski.  “Phase one, the renovation of the first wing of the building, is nearing completion and was made possible by thousands of individual volunteer labor hours. These incredible men and women inspire me with their desire to use their time and talents to enrich the lives of other. Phase two will begin in the coming months and we will need many, many volunteers, and so I extend the invitation to all of you to join in. Financial gifts are also key as people express the spiritual practice of generosity by giving to this vision.”

To volunteer: contact Emily Sliski at esliski@susumc.org
To give: make checks payable to
Susquehanna Conference and mail to
303 Mulberry Drive Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
       Note on Check – Wide Embrace Project Wesley Forest
Give by credit card: call Tricia Frye in the Camp & Retreat Ministry office at 717-766-7395.

Equipping Vital Congregations - Evangelism: Not Just the Committee’s Work Anymore

By Kay Kotan, Director of Equipping Vital Congregations

Often times the very process we put into place to help, becomes instead a process that debilitates the organization it was designed to help! With the best of intentions, it simply complicates the process or misses the mark of its purpose. In many churches, this is what has happened with our Evangelism Committees (aka sometimes as Outreach). Because we know how important evangelism is in the life of a congregation, we assign a committee of people to be responsible for the task. Yet many times, transferring responsibility to a committee allows everyone to be excused from the task or process. The congregation many times feels evangelism is “covered” by the committee, so that gets us (congregational participants) off the hook. In essence, what happens is that the work of many becomes the work of few. The few get tired of carrying the load. Furthermore, I do not believe that was the original intention of the evangelism committee to start with. The committee is designed to equip the congregation—not do the work of the congregation. Each and every believer is called to share the Good News—not just the pastor … not just the evangelism committee! Evangelism is the foundation of the work Jesus commissioned the church to do—go and make disciples!

While many Christians know they are called to share about Christ, we find many feel they are not equipped to do so. Others are scared to do so. And yet others feel they will not have the answers to questions asked of them when sharing. So, for these reasons and most likely many more, people just do not share their faith openly and routinely.

How do we go about sharing our faith in today’s world in a way that those of us who are followers of Christ can do so without being too uncomfortable? How can we share our faith in a world that is sometimes skeptical of the church and its people? Who does this work at the church today if not the evangelism committee? We believe it starts by learning your own story in safe places at the church. A great question to ask in every Sunday school class, committee meeting, small group, etc. is “tell me about a time recently you have experienced God.” Our first step at the church is to learn our own God stories. If we start by sharing our stories in safe places like small groups at church, close family and friends, perhaps even a testimony in worship, we are readying ourselves to share our story with those in our community.

Twenty-first century relational evangelism is about starting conversations, building a relationship over time and then knowing how to share your own authentic story and experience of God in a nonthreatening way. Your story is where God is intersecting in your life yesterday or today. Your story is how and why God is a part of your life today. When we nurture the people in our congregations to know their stories and practice their stories in safe places, we have begun to create a culture of relational, congregational evangelism rather than committee evangelism. Every person in the entire congregation not only sees it as their individual responsibility to share their faith, but they are also encouraged, nurtured and equipped to do so. How is your congregation helping people see that sharing Jesus is a privilege and a responsibility? How are you creating a culture of relational, congregational evangelism?

If you and/or your congregation desire to equip people to share their faith, there are resources available. Check out a small group experience called Unpacking Your Faith Story at tinyurl.com/ydy58rcp. Also check out the Get Their Name resources at tinyurl.com/y8jetozb including a book, workbooks, coordinators guide, DVD for a sermon series and an all-church small group experience to equip individuals and congregations to reach new people for Jesus.

There will likely need to be a shift in our thoughts and actions around evangelism. This shift is moving the church culture from evangelism being “committee” work to evangelism as part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is also a shift in from an inwardly focused church to an outwardly focused church. This takes time, training and practice to create a new culture of invitation and relational evangelism. I invite you into embrace the shift. What is your first step? How will you invite your congregation to join you?

equippingvitalcongregations.com

Young People's Ministry

God’s ARMY in ACTION!

By Darlene Thomas, Regional Director, Northeast Mid Atlantic U.M. ARMY

Four churches from Susquehanna Conference heard the call to join U.M. ARMY this past summer! U.M. ARMY (United Methodist Action Reach-out Mission by Youth) is a youth mission organization celebrating 40 years of ministry across the United States!

Christ UMC, Mountain Top, sent 14 adults and youth to a mission week in Massachusetts.

“Our youth group joined several other groups from the Susquehanna Conference the first year we went in 2013,” said the church coordinator. “I was impressed by how the week was orgaized and the youth loved the total experience of fellowship, service to others, and worship. We have participated each year since. I have enjoyed not only bringing this experience to our youth, but also love what it means to me personally.”

Shiremanstown UMC (SUMC) traveled to Virginia this past summer, along with Grace UMC, Mechanicsburg. SUMC took their first group in 2006 to a mission week in Connecticut. The next year, attendance doubled and today averages between 20-25 participants each year.

Because of their strong leadership, SUMC has been recognized as an “anchor church” and has been asked to lead “start-up” mission weeks in Pennsylvania (Williamsport First UMC), Virginia, and Kentucky.

As one of their adults puts it: “U. M. ARMY is an outstanding organization that not only provides training to all its participants, but also encourages youth to develop leadership skills that will be beneficial throughout their lives. It welcomes groups of all sizes and encourages participation from all ages – middle school through adult.”


New Creation Community Church, Dover, has been going to U.M. ARMY since 2014. This past year they traveled to Virginia. One of their youth served on a handicap access ramp team and expressed his experience as: “The feeling you get when you see the smile and sometimes, the tears, that come from the people we serve is unexplainable. To know that we gave her back the ability to leave her house unaided because we built a ramp. To know that we gave her something greater than all of us, we gave love.”

For more information on U.M. ARMY mission opportunities for your youth group, please email Darlene Thomas, Regional Director:
darlenethomas@umarmy.org. Or visit the U.M. ARMY website at umarmy.org.

************************************

 

Thank you Audrey!

The Susquehanna Conference Connecting Ministries staff would like to extend our gratitude to Audrey Wilder, Director of Christian Education and Young People’s Ministry. Sensing a change in her call to ministry and with two future youth in her own home, Audrey stepped down in October. For four years, Audrey has faithfully served our youth and young adults. She has a passion for raising up the young leaders of our conference, guiding them in their journeys, supporting their ministries and helping them realize who God is leading them to become.

Please join us in praying for Audrey’s future endeavors!

 

 

 



Hearts Strangely Warmed - Rev. Tom Willard


“While the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” — John Wesley, May 24, 1738

God calls us to tell our story so that others may come to know Jesus Christ. “Hearts Strangely Warmed” was created to share these stories about transformational encounters with the Living God.

Rev. Tom Willard

My first full day of retirement was on my birthday, July 1, 2018. Sixty-five years ago, when my twin sister and I were born, my mother weighed ninety-four pounds before she became pregnant. After giving birth to my sister ten minutes before me, my mother went into a coma. I always tell folks she saw my sister and she was out for three days. When she awoke three days later, she had a curious story to tell. She remembered waking up part way through her coma and seeing herself and what she described as a “figure of light” that she identified as Jesus, walking together across the room. And as she watched herself and her Lord, Jesus turned and looked at her and whispered, “All will indeed be well.” In a couple of days, all was, indeed, well. It didn’t always stay that way.

When we were eighteen months old, I had a raging fever, and in those days, you didn’t rush to the hospital, you rushed to your doctor. And our doctor notified my mother and dad that it was unlikely that I would survive the night. And if they were people of prayer, he encouraged them to take me home and pray over me. So, my mom and dad took me home and knelt beside their bed and they prayed. And their prayer was simple, “In return for his good health, O Lord, we surrender him to your service.”

Thankfully, my parents chose not to share that story with me until I was eighteen years old and had already been called by Christ into ministry.

On August 30, 1970, I came to know Christ personally as my Lord and Savior as part of a youth revival that swept through Perry County where I lived. It was a part of a youth Sunday service in my home church, Liverpool Church. And the speaker that morning was seventeen years old and had just come back from a transformational experience at church camp. At the end of his message, he gave an invitation. And I was one of twenty-five young people that responded and came to know Christ that day.

Suddenly, the little youth fellowship group of about eight swelled within about six or eight weeks to sixty-four. And instead of meeting just on Sunday evenings, we went to the church every night of the week at nine o’clock, laid our heads on the kneeling pads, joined hands on our backs, and devoted ourselves to prayer.
As the months went by, three of us, all young men, all age eighteen, were called by God to do a summer singing ministry when we graduated from high school. And so I graduated from high school one day, and the next day left with my two friends, hitting the road not knowing where we were going except that we were going to follow the call of God.

That first night we set up in a campground, pulled out our guitars, and began to sing. And we watched as people from all over the campground began drawing closer and closer. And when we were done singing that night, the questions, naturally, started to flow, wondering why seventeen- and eighteen-year-old young men were singing about Jesus. And we had opportunity to share our witness for Jesus Christ. And we watched that summer and the next as hundreds and hundreds of people committed their lives to Jesus Christ as a result of what we were learning to do and to call ministry.

When I returned after the first summer, I was starting at Messiah College as a freshman. The college administration knew what I had been doing for the summer, and so my roommate and I formed a music ministry team for Messiah. My wife auditioned for that group. She made not just the group, but also my heart, and the very best partner in ministry I’ve ever had. Throughout college and seminary, we continued to have hands-on opportunities to do ministry in the name of Jesus.

On the day that I turned twenty-five, I was appointed to West Fairview United Methodist Church as their pastor, and went on to serve four churches over these forty years. All in Cumberland County, none more than eighteen miles from another. And I was blessed by God.

I learned and was taught by lay people what it meant to be a pastor. And I grew to love them, and they loved us. And together we served Jesus Christ side-by-side.

I’ve been blessed over these forty years with wonderful colleagues in ministry. Men and women of God who have challenged me, laughed with me, and cried with me.

On the day I turned fifty, I was appointed to the district that in those days was ‘miles above the rest.’ I spent six wonderful years working with the pastors and lay people of the Wellsboro District, and loved every minute of it. It was a time of great blessing. And they are still ‘miles above the rest.’

Over the past nine years I have been privileged to be in ministry with a congregation in a very small village eight hours out into the bush of Sierra Leone. I’ve been privileged to visit our sister church three times. The first time I came back with malaria. It took six months to get diagnosed, and I now have chronic kidney disease as a result of it. But I have to tell you that I wouldn’t trade any of it, regardless of the consequences, because of the privilege of learning to be in ministry alongside brothers and sisters in Christ in Sierra Leone.

Now after forty years of ministry, I have laid down the mantle of active service and entered retirement. This great church that we have served for all of these many years is on the brink of some of its greatest challenges and opportunities in my lifetime. My petit, now eighty-six year old mother, is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and battling severe dementia, so that I have become the keeper not just of my own memories, but of hers as well. And Christ is raising up a whole new generation of young women and men he is calling to serve him within the United Methodist Church. And I continue to hear that still, small voice whisper to me, as it did to my mother, “All will indeed be well.”

Continue your Mission - Rev. Percy Brown


Albright Care Services President & CEO
Shaun Smith (left) with Rev. Percy Brown.
Rev. Percy Brown, ordained Elder in the Susquehanna Conference, was the first chaplain at Normandie Ridge when it officially opened as the York United Methodist Home.

A graduate of Albright College and United Theological Seminary, Percy was ordained in the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1954. He served six parishes between 1951 and 1992, with Messiah, York, as his final appointment prior to retirement. As with many newly retired pastors, he was not content to sit at home, so he looked for somewhere to volunteer his time and landed at Normandie Ridge. Having been on the board of United Methodist Continuing Care Services, now Albright Care Services, from 1989-1994, he was quite familiar with the campus.

He describes his time as a chaplain in ministry: “I served as chaplain from 1993 to 1995. I had started out working as a volunteer chaplain prior to the construction of the cottages and apartments. Then I became a paid employee. I had a Sunday worship service that was conducted in skilled nursing, and residents from personal care were invited to attend. I held a weekly Bible study and all residents were welcome. The individual contact I provided to residents was really important. I visited with residents in their rooms and I think they were very glad to be provided with religious services.”

Percy moved to Normandie Ridge in May of 2010. “I came to live here because of my previous connection, and have lived in an apartment for eight years. As a retired United Methodist minister, I was committed to serving in a United Methodist facility. It just made sense for me to come back to live here.”

As a resident, Percy has volunteered in a number of ways, and continues to be active. He is a member of the Normandie Ridge Auxiliary and has helped with the Grande Illumination event all eight years he has lived there. He is also committed to donating to the Benevolent Care Fund, primarily by sponsoring many of the fund raiser golfers – both his clergy colleagues and the Normandie Ridge staff who participate.

Rev. Percy Brown is a shining example of being called to serve, and Albright is proud that he is part of our family. Albright invites you to continue your mission by joining us at one of our six locations. Visit www.albrightcare.org for information on senior living, day programs, giving or volunteering.

Memorial Splendor


By Mary Bickelman

Maple Lake UMC in Spring Brook Twp. displays a beautiful Poinsettia ‘tree’ for the congregation every year in the Christmas season. The idea was presented to the administrative council in 2004 by the Penglase family who had seen this tree in their former church.

Plants are purchased in memory or honor of family members and friends whose names are listed in the Sunday bulletin. Individual plants are inserted in a special tree-shaped frame and watered twice a week, in order to last for the 3-4 weeks the tree is on display.