Monday, December 2, 2013

Fulfilling Freedom Moment by Katie Crockford

Fulfilling Freedom Moment

     Good morning! My name is Katie and a week or so ago, Jimmy and Kandy Hamilton asked me if I would be willing to do a Fulfilling Freedom moment. They said that I could talk about anything that had to do with the new building, the campaign, or what the church means to me in general. My first reaction was sure, this should be easy, but then I began to really think about it. I began to realize just how much is here at the church that I take for granted and just how much all of it means to me. But I knew, I couldn't cover everything in one morning, so I would like to share my testimony with you guys about how I learned to serve God and the church, through the old building, the new building, and the Fulfilling Freedom campaign.

      To start off with, my family and I have been a part of this church since my mom, Sarah, became the Children's Director here, in the year of 2001. Some people might say that church for them is a place to pray, a place to hear and learn the word of God, or an environment of people that share the same beliefs as them, but if someone were to ask what the church is to me, I would say a second home and a second family. 
      When my family and I first joined St. John's, I was 2 years old and my grandfather had just passed away after a long battle with brain tumors and a series of strokes. To say that his death was devastating to our family would be an understatement, and starting off at a new church and for my mom a new job during such hard times, quite frankly was nerve-racking. But it didn't take us long to realize that we had nothing to be nervous about. St. John's seemed to be the church where we fit in. We were welcomed by many people and it was clear to us that St. John's was the church where we were meant to be.

     At the time we joined, it was just my mom, my dad, me, and my grandmother, Lesley, who decided to join with us. I would like to take a minute to share my perspective of what St. Johns was like at that time, before the new building. I was only 2, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. There was a total of 4 nursery classrooms and one children's bathroom. I can remember spending many Sunday mornings in this area. There were several kids crammed into each classroom and there was not a lot of space to move around. My mom’s office was in the library across from the sanctuary, away from all the other staff. There was not yet a preschool program, the after school program was crammed in Huddleston Hall, there was no Contemporary worship service, or rotation Sunday school for the elementary aged kids. I can also remember many Vacation Bible Schools where all of the kids were crammed into the sanctuary instead of having the open space of the core.

     A few years later, when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and my brother was born, I began hearing talk about a new children's and youth building being built, and I became excited. I can remember my mom telling me about the new rotation Sunday school program we would have and how the nursery was going to grow. But along with everyone's excitement, I can remember lots of people feeling uneasy about such a big change in the church. People were always asking whether or not it was really a good idea and why couldn't we just leave things the way they were. But I can assure you that everything was well worth it in the end.

     When the building was complete, I was in the 3rd grade and the changes in St. John's were unbelievable. There are now nursery classrooms for every age group with plenty of space, a preschool that consists of nearly 150 children and a very long waiting list, a full after-school program with its own space and much more. I can remember starting rotation Sunday school. Our first rotation was all about Daniel and the Lion's Den, and instead of just reading about it, we got to learn about it through music, movies, cooking, drama, and art. Through the new building, the church has also added a Contemporary worship service, a new space for Quest, and well you get the point. The list goes on and on. But then there was one problem. St. Johns was now in a lot of trouble financially because the new building put the church in a lot of debt. I can remember everyone being stressed out all the time wondering what we were going to do to fix the problem. A few years later I began hearing talk about the Fulfilling Freedom Campaign.

     I am ashamed to say it, but I have to admit that I was one of those people that wasn't too sure about the campaign at first. I had a lot of what-if questions. Questions like what if no-one commits to giving anything, and even if they do, what if people don't follow through with what they committed to? But, boy was I wrong. In fact, I get the honor this morning of announcing to you that the church has now raised $1,432,113.80. I would also like to add that through the campaign, not only has the church grown through the financial part of the campaign, but I have also noticed the church growing closer together as a family through serving on the various committees and so forth.

     Now you are probably wondering what this has to do with how I learned to serve the church and why in the world am I telling you things about the building that you may already know, but I am getting to that. I count myself blessed because as I have grown, I have gotten to see the church grow in its ministries as well. When the church added a building just for the children and youth, I realized that we are expected to make up a part of the church as well and that serving in the church isn't just for the adults. I realized there was a reason the church made such a sacrifice for the children and youth-- so we could have a better opportunity to know what it is to be a disciple. Since the new building, I have become an active volunteer in things like iServe, teaching rotation Sunday school, assisting with children's choirs, playing the trumpet during some of the services, helping with Vacation Bible School, acolyting, many years of the CROP walk, serving on the youth council, mission trips such as Salkehatchie, and even things like Journey to Bethlehem. Some people assume that I participate in all of those things because my mom works here and I don't have a choice, but they're wrong. On occasion something will be out of my comfort zone, and I will have to think with the "do it for Jesus and get over it" mindset, but most everything is done by choice. Over the past several years, I have grown to love serving in the church and most of it is by choice because I love spending time here. The congregation and staff have helped raise me and over the years have all become my church family which I would not trade for anything. Thank you! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Witnessing the Incarnation- In Decoration byLauren Reinhardt

Squeals of laughter flowed from the sanctuary, the lobby of both new and old buildings, and the hallways in between.
Grown men dangled festive bows from high in the balcony, but it was a woman brave enough to scale the ladder to hang ornaments on the towering tree. No hands were idle. Boxes were unloaded, garland was unraveled, and many missions for pipe cleaners and ornament hooks were made. A cardboard container was designated a “doc box” to hold past decorating treasures that need a little TLC. Ribbons and bows were carefully smoothed, and yards upon yards of garland and dozens of wreaths were “fluffed.” The end result is a church in splendid anticipation of advent and the coming incarnation of Christ.
Behind the scenes were nearly a dozen children ranging in age from infants to kindergarten and three nursery staff who lovingly kept them occupied. The activity room in the nursery area was … active! But even the baby with severe separation anxiety separated from mama and played happily for several hours. And when the nursery workers were due to depart, two moms headed into that swell of activity to meet the children head on.
The after-advent party took place in Huddleston Hall with pizza and bananas – and cupcakes for a special birthday girl. It sure seemed like one big, happy family. And it is. They say it takes a village. I’d like to say I LOVE where I live. J I’m so thankful to my church FAMILY who show me Christ in so many ways.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Day I Called 911 by Lacy Ngo

I had to call 911 on Hilt’s first day of preschool.  The day had gone so smoothly until I had to pick him up from school.  I picked him up, put him in the car, and buckled him in; then, I buckled my two month old in the car seat next to him.  I put my purse in the passenger seat, closed the doors and walked to the driver side.  You can probably see where this is going.  The driver door would not open.  I have one of those new keyless entry cars.  You never have to take your keys out of your purse.  The car unlocks all by itself when it senses the keys are near.  Moreover, the car is never suppose to lock all by itself, and you are not suppose to be able to lock your keys in your car.  Well, my car had a fluke malfunction.  I could not get any of the doors opened, and it was noon on a hot day! So on Hilt’s first day of school, I dialed 911.  Firemen cam with lights flashing.  They began pumping oxygen into the car while they worked to get the door open.  Fortunately, the firemen arrived quickly and got them out quickly.  During the whole ordeal, many church members, staff, and preschool staff stayed to comfort me.  They flagged down the fire truck, and afterwards, they even stayed longer to offer emotional support, water, wet rags to cool off the children, and even called my family for me to explain why I was late.  My church and preschool family, and the firemen were my heroes that day.  But they did more for me than they know.  You see, months earlier, I had decided I wanted Hilt to experience the joy of helping others more frequently.  I wanted to start planning an act of kindness activity that we could do together each week.  In fact, I am pretty sure God told me that he wanted me to start this activity after I prayed for guidance, but that is a whole other story.  Now, even though I felt God wanted me to do this, I kept putting it off.   First I said we would start in the summer, when school is out; then I said I would wait until Neeshie is born, and finally I decided to wait until she was beyond the newborn stage.  I would have kept putting it off, if it weren’t for the kindness shown to me.  The kindness of all those people on the day I called 911 put me into action.  Their kindness meant so much to me that I wanted to show kindness to others right away.  The next week, I started by giving all my heroes sweet treats and cards expressing my deepest gratitude.  What is interesting, once I started looking for ways to show kindness, I found multiple acts of kindness to do every week.  The impact on my 3 year old has been huge.  Not only did he experience acts of kindness from his church family, but he also contributes now.  He now often asks about the needy and makes suggestions on what we can do for others.  The lesson I got from this experience is that just doing nice things for others is a witness of God’s love, and CAN really influence others more than I realized.  When I think of witnessing, I think of telling others about God, but people showed me God’s love through their kindness.  I have also seen the impact from our weekly acts of kindness, but I will save those stories for another blog.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Bell Rang 5 Times by Lacy Ngo

The Bell Rang 5 Times by Lacy Ngo

On the Children’s Sabbath, we learned that every 5 seconds a child dies of hunger somewhere in the world.  In remembrance of these children, we stood still for 5 seconds while a bell rang 5 times.  Although this was a moment meant to honor and remember these children, those 5 seconds took on another meaning for me.  Standing still, for me, symbolized how I am often just “standing still” doing nothing when so many are in need.  I actually felt a sense of panic during those long 5 seconds.  I began thinking, “A child is dying RIGHT NOW from hunger, and I am just standing here!”  Those 5 seconds helped me feel a personal connection to those children and their struggles. Thank you for a moving moment. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Do I Volunteer at Church? By Lollie Haselden

In January, I was immensely blessed to participate in a Spiritual Gifts workshop.  The take-home messages for me are that everyone has different gifts that can be used in different ways, and we should find joy in serving God, if we are using those gifts.  And y''s true!
My dream job is to be a Wal-Mart greeter.  Really and truly, I love to say hello and offer a warm smile to anyone and everyone I meet.  Sometimes, people smile back, and occasionally they even respond with a cheerful "how are you today," but the conversation rarely goes further than that.  This could go on with the same person effortlessly for weeks, months, or even years. 

But, God calls us to more than that.  God calls us to be in RELATIONSHIP with others.  We, as Christians, need the comfort and accountability of community.  But how do we move past a quick greeting to that deeper level of connection with others?

As I reflect on the St. John’s UMC community that I've grown to love and depend on in these past 3 years, I know that those relationships have developed through time spent serving our God.

In Bible study and Sunday school groups, we have had the opportunity to share our stories and prayer needs with one another.  We make ourselves vulnerable by bearing our souls, but a deep bond develops through that exposure. 

There are always laughter, fun, and tears involved with time spent in mission work.  People of all different walks working toward the same goal often find that they have more in common than they realized.

The same children that I got to know as they taught me the verses to "Wheels on The Bus" during VBS also come running to me and other adult volunteers on Sunday mornings with huge smiles and the best hugs.

Committees each have an important purpose, but in order to be effective the members have to get to know each other and the larger community they serve.

And there is so much more—things that I haven’t even gotten to do yet and more people to meet!  Was it easy to show up to a room full of people I may not know?  Or “give up” a Saturday?  Or feel like I was the only one that didn’t have a clue about what to do?  Of course it isn’t easy.  The good news is that God is with us, holding our hand as we step off the cliff into the unknown.  We serve a mighty God, and when we put God first, everything else really does fall into place.