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January 2015

Pastor's Message 
Dear Friends,
For years, I have carried a card around in my planner that has quotes about vision.
Some people see things as they are and say “why.”  I dream things that never were and say “why not.”  George Bernard Shaw
Nothing in the world is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.  Victor Hugo
Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move people.  J.W. von Goethe
The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by obvious realities.  We need people who can dream of things that never were.  John F. Kennedy
As I listened to the people of First Church, particularly during the first six months of informal ‘get-acquainted’ meetings, I heard again and again that what First Church needs is a ‘compelling vision.’ 
I heard that phraseology through my filter of experience.  I heard that same phrase from a congregation where I was assigned in 1996.  We began the process of dreaming and creating a vision for that congregation.  The vision team was creative and unified.  They proposed what they believed to be needed changes, but the congregation was firm in their resistance to change.  It created tension within the congregation, and the result was that a decision was made to do the same old things the same old way, while expecting different results.  After nearly 20 years and 4 different pastors, the church that was 400 members with an average attendance of 200, is now a membership of under 200 and running 100 in worship on a good Sunday.
In 2000, I was appointed to another congregation which wanted a young pastor (meaning under 50 years of age) who would bring new energy and vision to the church.  Within the first 12 months, we developed a vision team of people who were thoughtful, creative, forward-thinking, and process oriented, while honoring the traditions and marvelous history of the congregation.  It wasn’t easy.  Some people got upset with either what we were doing or what we were not doing.  But vitality and growth occurred as we worked through a visioning process.  We had some challenges – but all in all, we developed a ministry focus, developed leaders, worked together for the common good, and grew rather dramatically in our hospitality, spiritual development of people, an eclectic worship style, our care for one another, and our outreach.

When I served as District Superintendent, every congregation wanted a Superman OR Superwoman who would be appointed to their church and would bring a vision plan that would suddenly give new life to their church.  When we appointed a pastoral leader that had the skills and experience to lead toward the development of a new vision,  the congregation often resisted changes that were introduced. Vision and change go hand in hand.  The question becomes: are we serious enough to develop a congregational vision that is inclusive and compelling about our preferred future so that our third-century in downtown Grand Rapids is even greater than our past?
For nearly a year now, a vision team has been meeting, asking questions, reviewing demographic data, listening to stories, reviewing the history of First Church, and working toward developing a three-year strategic plan.  We have worked on a set of statements for our mission, purpose, vision, and core values.  We have identified SIX Critical Success Factors that include spiritual enrichment, evangelism and hospitality, worship, community outreach and impact, congregational care, and administrative resources.
I write all of the above to whet the congregational appetite! BECAUSE … during worship on Sunday, January 11; Ron Nelson (our Chair of the Vision Team) will be making a 15-minute presentation along with inviting the congregation to become active in a feedback process.  We need your ideas and dreams that will feed the creative process with the goal of finalizing a rolling 3-year plan of expansion, growth, and deepening our spiritual life together.
Then, from January 11 through February 15, there will be eight to ten opportunities for people to engage in listening and talking about creative possibilities for our future.  You will hear more as we get closer to the 11th.  But needless to say, this is a very important time in the life of our congregation!  I encourage you to make this a priority to participate in creative discussions.  We need you!
Bob Hundley
Senior Pastor
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Radical Hospitality  
Many times I have written that we struggle with reaching new downtown residents.  There is one tool we know that works – social media, but we need your help.  Often members of our congregation – YOU – go home after church and make a comment about what you heard during worship on your Facebook account.  If you don’t, you might want to think about it.  This is an easy way to share the story of First United Methodist Church to your friends. And who knows – one post or comment can reach many with multiple “likes and shares.”
Let’s try it this week! An example would be to update your Facebook status to say… “Let the Preparations Begin,” by Pastor Bob made me rethink my preparing. I’m going to try to not worry so much about perfect gifts, menus, and events, and more on preparing my heart for the coming of Christ.” This would notify your Facebook friends, but taking it one more step would allow your friends to visit your church. “Add a location to post” to tag First United Methodist Church. This would give your followers the option to visit our Facebook page and then find more information on our website. If you like a particular Advent Devotional, you can go to First United Methodist Church’s Facebook page and share it on your timeline.  Anytime you share on Facebook it multiplies the number of people who might see something that perks their interest. Our Facebook page is what our community and the world see of First Church and is a way they can connect and get to know who we are.
So remember to “get social” on our Facebook page! If you have yet to “Like” our page, and share it on your timeline, would you consider doing that this week and tell someone you know about your church? “Like” us at:
Patsy McGillivray
Director of Invitational Ministry
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Passionate Worship 
Jesus, the Light of the World
What came into being through the Word was life,
    and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
- John 1:3a-5
The celebration of Christmas and Epiphany is a celebration of light:  A light that shines in the darkness.  Images of light and darkness pervade the biblical readings of this season, and for good reason.  Christmas Eve itself falls on the heels of the longest night of the year, or Winter Solstice.  We sing “I want to walk as a child of the light” frequently during this time, as a prayer for this light to “shine in our hearts.”  The season of Christmas celebrates the coming of “The true light that shines on all people.”  In our worship, and in our living, it is a season of mystery and wonder at this coming of light into our lives.
The Epiphany and its “season” celebrate the light of revelation in the manifesting of Christ to all the peoples of the earth.  Being led by a star (“light”) in the East, Magi bring gifts to pay homage to this “King.” During Epiphany, various events in the life of Christ are highlighted in our lectionary, including the presentation of Christ in the Temple, in which Simeon, in song-like verse, declares, “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” 
January can be a difficult month.
The name January comes from the name Janus, the Roman mythological god of beginnings and transitions as well as the Latin word ianua, meaning “door,” since January is the door to the year.  January and February were “late” additions to the Roman calendar.  Originally, the winter was a “month-less” time, with the first month of the year being March.  It is a bit ironic that in this season of light, a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often strikes many during this month.  Perhaps it is related to a post-holiday “let-down.”  Perhaps, the failed “new years resolutions.”  About 40% of us make New Year’s resolutions, and only about 8% of these reach them. 
Kalamazoo poet, Conrad Hilberry, beautifully captures the sense that Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the light that “turns our year around.”
When April asks it, horses foal
and ewes drop lambs to earth,
Cattle ease the season’s young
To fields green with birth:
Gently the creatures blink alive
To spring and all its gear
But Mary lays her son on straw
The longest night of the year. 
Ox and ass hoard up their warmth,
Shepherds freeze by a star.
Even kings must ride to find
Where their seasons are.
The fall has buried all its dead
The day dropped underground,
The sun lies dark unless a child
Can turn the year around.
(Conrad Hilberry)
In this season, may you be filled with the light and life of Christ.  May you be a bearer of the Light of Christ to all whom you encounter.
Eric Strand
Director of Music and the Arts

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 Intentional Faith Development
Ooo, Ooo, What’s faith got to do with it? Got to do with it?
(Did you just hear Tina Turner’s “What’s love got to do with it?”)
I love being a part of a church family that weaves faith into all areas of life.  Last Sunday when my daughter, Rhea (age 10), came home from Kids’ Club (it’s our youth group for 3rd-6th graders that meets on Sunday evenings), she got her birthday money out and started putting it in envelopes.  I asked her what she was doing…
At Kids’ Club that evening, Rhea learned about how faith relates to budgeting.  Ken and Emily Mol (our Kids’ Club leaders) had asked Sharon Sorensen to do a series on finances.  As Sharon shared from the book, “Smart Money, Smart Kids,” our students learned some of the strategies adults study in Financial Peace.   As a result, Rhea was putting money in the ‘give’ envelope to bring to school the next morning.  The money was going toward a holiday collection for classmates who wouldn’t have much over the holidays.  She was using her ‘give’ envelope to be extravagantly generous! 
Every week, Rhea looks forward to going to Kids’ Club.  She loves the friendships, the adult leaders, and the activities.  I love those things, too, but also love seeing her faith come alive!
Later that week, Emily Uebbing was telling me about the Jr. High and I wanted to share a little bit about what those crazy tweens have been up to. Maybe you remember being 11, 12, or 13… (shuddering, not a pleasant time for many of us). Our youth are experiencing Christ through intentional hands-on mission. And they’re having a blast! They just finished shopping, sorting, and stuffing 150 socks for our Christmas Eve breakfast.  During the day of whirlwind activities, several youth asked Emily when they (and their parents) could sign up to help with the breakfast. They aren’t afraid to dive into the risk-taking missions going on right here!
Then, Emily talked about Sunday mornings.  Through the series, Echo the Story, our youth are developing their abstract thinking to discuss familiar Bible stories. They are learning “the rest of the story,” parts that are conveniently left out of children’s Bibles. To further hone their Bible skills, the Jr. High are partnering with the 3rd graders to help them navigate their new Bibles. Isn’t it exciting to see faith alive at First?
Sami Marasigan
Director of Youth and Young Adults

Risk-Taking Mission and Service
Haitian Artisans for Peace International
1955. Can you imagine being the youngest child of 14 siblings born in a ‘ti kay’ (small house) on a mountainside in Haiti? In our locality, we had no school, no health care, no roads, no clean water, and no economic opportunity. 
In 1963 and 1966, the community was devastated by two terrifying hurricanes. The stress of our economic situation overcame my mother and she had a stroke. Our family sold land to bring her to the general hospital and later a private facility in the city but, after nine months, she remained paralyzed. My father gathered his friends to make her a special chair tied to a wood platform.  He and four strong men hiked to the clinic. Together, they carried her home up the 10 kilometers of rocky mountain terrain. It was a relief to all her children to have her home.
 One of my sisters and I took turns looking after Mom’s needs. One of us was at her side, day and night, for two years. January 18, 1970, my sister cried out, “Mama is dead!” I could not believe it! I rushed to her side and checked for her pulse; it was true, she was dead. Still, I did not want to believe it so I began pressing on her chest. She opened her eyes and her dying words were “Paul, take care of Eve. She is your life.”
I didn’t have any sister or relative named Eve. That really troubled my mind to understand “who is this ‘Eve’?” so that I could honor my mother’s dying wish. I was only 15 years old at the time. My mother’s death closed the door on my formal education and, instead, I went to Port-au-Prince to find work and to self-study at the public library, searching for ‘Eve.’
It was after many years, when I started to study the Bible that I found ‘Eve.’ I came to understand that ‘Eve’ means ‘woman universal’ or mother of all living beings. God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created them, male and female. I now realized that God had spoken through my dying mother as a prophetess to engage me in a mission to advocate for women. 
Advocating for women was and is a challenge in my culture because many people focus on ‘Eve’ as a deceitful and weak woman whom God designated man to rule over. Religious leaders use this pretext to reduce women as servants of men and to safeguard their domination.
Nevertheless, I returned to my community and used my effort to improve the lives of women. With HAPI, we started by helping women use their assets to produce a marketable product.
The women shared their dreams with us, including the desire to have maternal care in their community because too many women continue to die of complications during pregnancy or child birth. They are really afraid of that.
One day, our nurse, Fabi, was called to the home of a woman who had delivered her first child but she was unable to pass the placenta. By the time we arrived with a vehicle, her life was in danger. Fortunately, we intervened in time to save her life but she suffered a great deal of pain because of the limited skill and resources of her local birth attendant, or ‘matwon.’ The matwon had no razor blade. Instead, to try and make the mom’s placenta pass, she cut the young woman with a sharp piece of rock salt.
This is only one of many stories of suffering, loss of life or of ancient birthing practices. Some women are tied to a chair. Some never make it to child birth because of eclampsia. In a community meeting with women and their daughters, we asked “what is one thing that a young woman can experience that a young man cannot?” In the back row, a young girl stood up and said, “She can die in childbirth.” HAPI wants to change those odds.
Today, HAPI is poised to open our new ‘Felisane Health Center,’ which will specialize in maternal care and delivery, along with general and dental family services. ‘Felisane’ is a tribute to my mother’s name. ‘Felisane’ translated in English is ‘Felicia’ … and the meaning of ‘Felicia’ is ‘happy!’
Pastor Paul Prevost,
HAPI co-founder & General Director

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 Extravagantly Generous 
Occasionally someone will ask me if I ever worry that we will not raise enough money to support the annual budget here at First Church. After all, our budget for 2015 will be pretty close to $1.5 million! That’s a lot of dough!
While the question of stewardship and giving is always a challenge, it is not a burdensome question. I would never say raising money is easy. The Gospels are loaded with Jesus teaching about this difficult subject. But at First Church we have found a way to make stewardship a celebration of our faith instead of simply a discussion about money.
At our annual church conference on December 1st, it was amazing and uplifting to hear one celebration after another of our generosity: our amazing financial support for “Imagine No Malaria,” the great work we are doing with the Work Program, the impact being made by our youth and young adults, the Stephen Ministry, the MLK Leadership Academy ministry, and several emotional testimonials about the wonderful community that exists within our church family. This feedback was not provided as part of some mundane written report, but was spoken truly from the heart during a time of open celebration.
This is why raising money at First Church is not a burdensome chore! Our church family is filled with those who truly know the meaning of being “Extravagantly Generous”! God’s grace has filled us up to the point where giving back to God is a joyful response rather than a financial obligation.
Our giving campaign is nearing its conclusion for 2015. So far, we have been blessed with over $60,000 in either increased plans for giving, or new giving in 2015. And we still have about 100 expected responses yet to come in! This is why the annual giving campaign is so exciting. It has become a time to celebrate our faith by responding to God’s love with Extravagant Generosity.
So many churches struggle with giving, and truly fear the subject altogether. As George Bernard Shaw said… “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” Clearly, at First Church, we are “DOING IT!” Praise God for our Extravagant Generosity.
Chris Hawkins, Finance Committee
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Compassionate Care
Truly Be A Life Saver!
If there was a way for you to save someone’s life by giving up an hour of your time, would you do it? Our blood donors do! Please read their reflections and think about how you might be called to be involved in an upcoming blood drive.
Pam Carrier - “I started donating blood because I saw too many lives being destroyed on the streets of Grand Rapids and decided if I could save someone’s life by donating, I would do so.  I wanted to make a difference and I hope I have.” Pam is a retired police officer and is a 3-gallon donor!
Pete Muszkiewicz - “I started donating blood when I became of age because my family encouraged me. Since my work as a music therapist regularly puts me in medical and other situations with people who are in fragile health, I have become more keenly aware of the need for blood donors and glad that I’m able to contribute. And for those who cannot give blood, I can pack away a lot of cookies ... just saying!”  Pete is a 2+ gallon donor!

Elaine Youngs - “When I was pregnant, a dear aunt was ill and needed blood. After my children were born, I decided that giving blood was an important way I could help others. I continue to donate at the drives at church as they make it easy to do so.” Elaine is 91 years old and a 12+ gallon donor!
Tom Conquest - “I choose to donate because I can’t bear to think there would be an inadequate blood supply that either myself or a loved one may need someday. Plus, First Church and Michigan Blood make it so convenient for me to stop by after work, donate, and be off for home in less than an hour. But the best part is the delicious cookies our church members bake that I enjoy before heading home.” Tom is a 6 gallon donor!
Sherry Gates - “I started giving blood when my friend’s brother was in a terrible automobile accident. When I realized how much the family appreciated my giving blood to him, I have continued to this day. It does not hurt at all and they can use so many parts of the blood for different things. This is a very easy way to give to people who are hurting and sick.” Sherry is a 6-gallon donor!

Karen Knight - “About a year ago my good friend Lori saw an announcement for the blood drive at First Church. Since it was the first time for us, we were hesitant and a little wimpy, but it turned out that donating blood is quick, easy, and relatively painless. It is both humbling and uplifting to know that a simple act can make such a tremendous difference to others. The Michigan Blood staff is caring and professional and when you are finished, Marj is there with a drink and cookies. How awesome is that?!” Karen is working towards her first gallon pin!
Neal Niswonger - “My father has donated blood for most of his adult life and set an example for me. When we first moved to Grand Rapids, a neighbor was recruiting for a blood drive at her church. I started donating at that time and recently received my 6-gallon pin.  I donate because I see it as a small thing that I can do that can save lives and help so many people in their time of need.  And then there’re the cookies, too.” Neal’s daughter, Lauren, continues this family tradition.
Our next blood drive is Monday, January 26th, from 2:30 to 6:30 pm in Wesley Hall. Please join our compassionate, life-saving team!
Marj Timmerman RN,
Parish Nurse