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October 2014

Pastor's Message The church year is off and running.  We had a wonderful H
omecoming Sunday on September 7 with great energy and participation.  It has been a challenge for many months to get to 227 E Fulton St because of all the road construction.  But these first two Sundays in September, over 400 people wanted to be at First Church... or they might not have been persistent to find a way through the maze to be with us.  Members, constituents, and guests figured out a place to park, walked from the parking place to the church, and made their way to the sanctuary... even when it wasn’t easy.  The road work continues throughout Grand Rapids - particularly on East Fulton between Lafayette and Lake Drive... but people are finding a way to be with us.  Thank you.

So... What is it about First Church that makes people want to be part of our Worship... Faith Development... Outreach... Hospitality... Generosity... or Care?

As you read this edition, I believe that you will understand why people want to be part of our congregation.  We are engaged in extraordinary ministry that benefits children, youth, young adults, adults, and older adults.  Our Worship is engaging and eclectic.  There are learning opportunities for all ages and stages.  People are invited and encouraged to invest in ministry by giving their time, talents, or resources.  We are a congregation that is genuinely welcoming to all people.  We are also a congregation that is amazingly generous as we band together in our giving to make ministry happen.  And - our circle of care touches many lives through prayer, visitation, sending cards of encouragement, phoning to check on friends, listening to one another, or via pastoral counseling.  It is those topics of our congregational life that are the focus of our monthly newletter each month.

There are four things that I want to highlight as we move in to October!
  1. Please read about and get involved in the “Lot Party” - which is one way that First Church participates in the city’s ArtPrize.  You will also read about how we are a venue for artists in ArtPrize, too!
  2. October 5 is World Wide Communion Sunday.  This is always a red-letter event of the Christian year.  Plan to be with us.
  3. October 5 is also the kick-off date for Adult Education classes.  Our classes have been planned with the needs of our congregation in mind.  Disciple Bible Study... Leadership Development... a class on Wesleyan theology and history... and a class on Decision-Making... are offered as an important way for our people to grow spiritually and practically.  PLEASE make an effort to participate.  Each class needs more students to sign up and participate to make the experience worthwhile.  Growing to be disciples of Jesus ought not be optional for the committed Christian. We need one another to function as a catalyst for growth.  Being a participant in classes is a great way for spiritual growth to occur. Sign up today at!
  4. Membership Exploration Class is also happening in the later part of October.  If you have an interest in learning more about the United Methodist Church, the history and  ministry of First Church, and to consider being a member, then consider attending.  Contact the church office if you have interest in membership.

Thanks for reading... and thanks in advance for responding.  Invite a friend to join us in our journey because First Church IS a place where people want to be.

Grace and Peace to you.
Pastor Bob
Senior Pastor
Table of Contents
Radical Hospitality  People come to First Church from many different places, looking 
for many different things.  What many find is an open and welcoming congregation with a passion for hospitality.  Here is one such story.
We joined FUMC in July 2012 after a period of church shopping in the Grand Rapids area.  What stood out about First compared to the other churches, is that people other than just the pastors welcomed us and invited us back.  On our first visit, we sat next to a very nice couple who noticed that we were new (thank you, Blue Friendship Pads), and they talked to us after the service.  They told us about activities that young couples could be involved in and about several service opportunities - and they told us that they hoped to see us again!  This didn’t happen at the other churches we visited.  At the other churches only the pastor noticed we were new or the congregation members told us that the “young” people attend the contemporary service.

Now that the door was opened, we could see the other ways in which our church is incredibly inviting to all.   The way that strikes us the most is how we welcome friends and strangers into our homes.  When we signed up for our first season of Dinner for Eight, we knew a handful of people, but we were welcomed as friends when we walked into members’ homes and sat at their tables to share a meal.  We have done Lenten Studies on cold winter nights in front of someone’s fireplace.  We have also welcomed new friends to our house for a night of Rummikub excitement.  Sharing a moment  with someone in one of the places you hold most sacred is so personal, and that’s radical hospitality.  

Hospitality centered around the “home” continues into our congregation’s ministries.  Several times a year we offer our church home to be the week-long home of families who are experiencing a housing crisis when we host Family Promise.   We share a meal, we play with their children, and we offer a place of peace and rest.   And that’s totally radical.
-Karl and Angela Norton

Can you relate to Karl and Angela’s story? How might you play a part in welcoming new people into our midst? Remember extending hospitality to strangers is one of the marks of the true Christian! (Romans 12:13) 
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Passionate Worship 
Traditional vs. Contemporary

These two words often sum up the typical conversation about music in the church.  Amazingly, these words do very little to adequately describe the music, and often raise more questions than they answer.  Whose tradition?  Tradition at what point in time?  Contemporary to whom?  To what population?  Also, these words do little to express the worship experience that is found in churches that use one of these words to describe their “style” of worship.  

An article that I recently read in The Christian Century entitled “New Harmonies” discusses the music and identity at four different congregations.  All of these congregations have fashioned a particular musical niche that defies the easy categories of traditional and contemporary.  “If Jesus wasn’t a physical being, then form and sound and taste and sight wouldn’t matter as much for worship; we could just meditate or something.  The incarnation suggests that God cares deeply about beauty,” says James Falzone, music director at Grace Chicago, a church that has fashioned a progressive jazz idiom for its worship.

Taking a look at the identity of our congregation, we find a variety of musical styles represented by practicing and often, professional musicians within our congregation.  We have members of this congregation who regularly perform in a variety of idioms: jazz, classical, ancient, folk, ethnic (Celtic, early American, African), pop, and rock music.  Perhaps we also could fashion a new and eclectic musical style that reflects this congregational diversity.  

If we could get past these descriptions, we just might discover a vast diversity of music that is appropriate and worshipful in the service of the church.  There is already a diversity to be found throughout out hymnals and supplemental materials: newly written texts and tunes, chants, hymns, spirituals, and folk songs. Music that is both “ancient” and “future” is possible, given the excellent resources that we have in this congregation.

Of course, regardless of the musical style and issues around worship, a critical factor in all of this is congregational participation: facilitating and encouraging the worship and prayer life of those gathered. Let’s encourage each other to bring our heart, voice, spirit, and talents to worship in this place, so that it can truly represent this community of faith and love in downtown Grand Rapids.
Eric Strand
Director of Music and the Arts

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 Intentional Faith Development
Faith Development in Faith Travelers

Do your children sometimes struggle to make the best decision? Could they benefit from having time to think about their faith? 
Faith Travelers is a truly unique experience for children and for adults who teach and shepherd. As a teacher of Faith Travelers last year, I saw children become inspired by Jesus’ teachings and heard stories of how
 the love of God was extended to others during the week. Specifically, I remember a Sunday on which an excited second grader shared a positive experience she had had that week: she befriended the new kid in class, even though her friends told her not to. “It wouldn’t be cool.” She said that she knew it was the right thing to do because it was what Jesus would have done. As a teacher, hearing a story like this made my heart melt; not only did she put into practice what we had learned in Faith Travelers, but she challenged herself to act out of love when she could have taken an easier path and ignored the new girl. 

In the Faith Travelers years, we add layers on to what children have already discovered about God’s love while in Children and Worship (our preschool-age program at FUMC). We focus in on foundational Bible stories, analyze how the words can help us as we grow and develop as people of Christ, and share real-world examples of the effect we can have on the world with something as simple as a kind word and a smile. The effort and the careful thought that the kids of our congregation put into developing their faith motivates me to constantly challenge and develop my own faith. 

In fifth and sixth grade, Faith Travelers take on the responsibility of applying what they know about God’s love to helping others globally, nationally, and locally. You may recall the impressive Imagine No Malaria video that the fifth and sixth graders put together at the end of last year; this is just one example of the inspiring missions work that these young people do.“
By participating in the Faith Travelers Mission in Action, I learned no matter who you are that you are able to help others and God gives us the opportunity to help.  Even doing little things like going to church and treating people with kindness shows others that being a Christian is a good thing.” - Sydney Judnich, 6th Grader

If your kindergartener through sixth grader has yet to experience faith development through Faith Travelers, I hope that you will encourage him or her to learn and grow with us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am. 
Audrey Kawel
Director of Children’s Ministry

Risk-Taking Mission and Service
Meeting Blessed People...
Have you ever wondered about certain people who are different? People who look different, act different, talk different, and have different values?

The wonderful experience of risk-taking mission and service through the outreach ministries of First Church has taught me that the more we explore and involve ourselves in the lives of others, the more we learn how much we are all connected.

The friendships that have formed through serving the participants in our work program have led to greater spiritual strength and understanding of the sacred common ties that bind us together as one people.

When individuals are allowed to become valuable and contributing parts of the ministry, they take ownership and pride in the program.

Randy, a work program participant in his early thirties, is the self-appointed goodwill ambassador of the work program. Randy arrives each Tuesday morning by 6:30 am to make sure everything is in its proper place and ready for the day. One of Randy’s priorities is to identify strangers to the program. He cheerfully introduces himself and gives them a complete orientation, helps them get a cup of coffee, and makes them feel welcome. Randy is part of the Heartside community and takes pride in his involvement in the work program. He brightens everyone’s morning!

Another blessed member of our work program ministry is Isaac who was being controlled by his addiction to drugs and alcohol. His life nearly ended a few years ago when he collapsed on the sidewalk from heart failure. He was revived by CPR and the grace of God. He made the decision to transform his life and become an advocate for positive change in others. Isaac spends his days working at convincing friends on the street that they too can change and be redeemed. Isaac enjoys helping on Tuesday mornings and is a faithful participant in the work program.

Participation in the work program not only provides a service to the social service agencies within Heartside and an opportunity for our friends to work and earn some honest money, but it also inspires them to go beyond the required tasks and strive to be assets to their community.

The supervisor at one of the jobsites said that he has seen volunteerism increase substantially in people who participate in our program. They realize the good that they are doing for themselves and others and want to do more.

There is a celebration of diversity early Tuesday mornings at First Place and everyone is welcome to come and join in the festivities. Lively conversations about life and the human condition can open our eyes and hearts and provide an opportunity to make a positive change in someone else’s life, as well as our own. People who volunteer on Tuesday mornings find a new joy in serving that fills their hearts with compassion for others. You could be the answer to someone else’s prayer.
Richard Johnson, 
Director of The Work Program

For information about volunteering, please contact Richard at 451-2879 ext.125 or

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 Extravagantly Generous At First Church, we have a rich tradi
tion of actively supporting many local outreach activities. Whether by our personal involvement of time, or our generous financial gifts, over 30 local charitable organizations receive support from First Church every year.

In 2014, this tradition, enabled exclusively by our regular giving, is indeed being continued. Through August, our total church revenue is right on plan. We are very fortunate in that when we “pledge” to give, we are nearly 100% in actually fulfilling those pledges. That is a very high fulfillment rate compared to most non-profits. I believe this is a testament to our faith-filled congregation, and our understanding of what it means to be good stewards with the bounty that God has bestowed upon us. 

Of course, we want this tradition of generous ministry to continue into 2015 and the years to come. Our 2014 church budget includes a deficit. When it was created last fall, we determined we would attempt to secure the needed remaining revenues during the year rather than cut ministries. Fortunately, this year we are able to supplement our ministry funds with Legacy/Memorial funds that have been designated by donors for this purpose. In 2015, we may not have that ability.

Our goal for 2015 is to challenge ourselves to indeed be Extravagantly Generous in our giving. Let us be inspired by the poor widow who gave her only two coins to God because she knew that with God she had nothing to fear. Can we also be fearless in our giving?

We are fortunate as a congregation to be in ministry in so many impactful ways. So many people count on us! As our annual giving campaign approaches, let us all listen carefully to Pastor Bob and Pastor Tish as they remind us of the awesome example we have in Jesus Christ. Let us know Jesus so that His example leads us to be Extravagantly Generous in 2015.
Chris Hawkins, Finance Committee

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Compassionate Care
Compassionate Care and Renewal

As most of you know, I was able to take a 5-week renewal leave this summer and would like to share briefly with you some of what I experienced!

I spent the first week at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina at Soul-Feast, a spiritual formation and retreat event put on by Upper Room Ministries. Set in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, I worshipped and studied primarily with others who work for churches and find it difficult at times to nurture their own souls while caring for others.

After experiencing SoulFeast, I returned home energized and upbeat. However, that was short-lived as I found it very hard being back in Grand Rapids and adjusting to not having a daily schedule. I had goals I had set with our pastors and I started working on those, but it was so difficult to disconnect from caring for our congregation. I remember praying, “Dear God, help me to relax, renew, and to listen for you. I feel like a failure today.” My life was now going at such a slow pace that I felt almost purposeless. But as the days went on, I was able to spend time with my husband doing things we haven’t done in years. I ate healthier, exercised more, slept well, worked in our garden, reconnected with friends outside of church with whom I had let friendships lapse, and read a lot. One of the books I read, Not A Fan, has changed the way I look at what it means to be a Christian. I worshipped at 5 different churches but prayed for all of you each day. I spent quiet time in solitude and prayer at our family cottage. I reflected on my 11 years as your Parish Nurse and set some professional and personal goals for this next year, including how to make our Pastoral Care and Health Ministries the best they can be. And I stopped carrying my phone with me everywhere I went, which is a huge thing for me!

As I write this, I have been back to work for 3 weeks and I admit my phone is back at my side. Fall programming has begun and I’m busy catching up on pastoral care visits and writing agendas. However, I am continuing to eat healthier, exercise daily, and to set aside time to do new things with my husband as well as quiet time with God.

The leaves are starting to change just as I can feel a change in myself. I think of the verses in Ecclesiastes which say there is a time for every purpose under Heaven. I have added “A time to work and a time to renew.” For me, renewal was work, and yet work can also be renewing. I thank God for blessing me with both. I thank all of you for honoring my time away and for taking compassionate care of me! 
Peace and joy,
Marj Timmerman RN