This is Different!
Perhaps all of you feel a little bit like I do today. When I first found out I was being appointed to Liverpool First, it was early February. July 1st seemed like something off in the distance, a long way away. But of course, these last months have been busy and full, and time has flown by, and here we are, at the beginning of this new stage in our faith journey – new for you, new for me and Aaron, new for Nancy and Chris, new things for Penny, new things for Russ and Irene. This is an extremely significant time of transition for all of us, and we are all wondering what the future will hold. It’s a lot to take in!
Aaron and I are so excited to be here with you today, to be joining you, as we seek, together, to hear God’s call and respond in faithful action. We have been planning and preparing and dreaming, and we are ready to get started! There is a lot that is new and different for Aaron and me in this appointment. We are both co-pastoring for the first time. We don’t know what that will look like yet. We plan to watch and listen and get to know you as we figure out how best to use our time and gifts and talents here. Fortunately, Aaron and I have the benefit of knowing each other for many years, and although we’ve never worked together in this way before, we have spent years talking to each other about ministry and discipleship, and I feel we have a strong foundation for beginning our work together.
Today we want to introduce ourselves to you, tell you a bit about what has brought us to this place and this time. I grew up in Westernville and then Rome, NY. I have a large extended family, almost all of whom live in Central New York, which is such a blessing to me. My Mom and one brother live in Rome still. My oldest brother and his wife and five year old son Sam, who you will hear a lot about, live in Minoa. My youngest brother Todd is a professional actor who lives with me between acting jobs that take him here and there. I hope you will get to see a bit of him here (although, ok, probably never at the 8am service!)
I think God was always luring me towards being a pastor. I come from a family of pastors – two uncles, and two great uncles were United Methodist pastors. And I grew up in a small country church that had a lot of female pastors – I never knew some people found female pastors unusual – it was just how it was in my young experience! My mother instilled in my brothers and me a deep sense that we are all called by God for some purpose – and it is our life’s work to figure out what that call is and how we can respond to it. So I was in the practice of listening for God’s voice, God’s direction, at a young age. I grew up attending one of our church camps, Camp Aldersgate, every summer, and for a while, I believed I was called into camping ministry, because that was where I felt closest to God. But I have always needed to feel “settled” with decisions, at peace with them, to know that I heard God as accurately as I can. And I knew I hadn’t found the right spot yet. I started to become involved with youth ministry. Of course, I was a youth myself at the time, but I loved planning and preparing youth events, and I felt like maybe I had found my calling this time. But still, God was nudging me. Somewhere between applying for and beginning college, I realized God was calling me to pastoral ministry, thanks in large part to my childhood pastor, Rev. Bruce Webster, now a colleague and friend, and mentor to me still. I can’t pinpoint a specific date or time when I knew for sure, just God’s persistent tugging at me until I got the picture.
I attended Ohio Wesleyan for my undergraduate work in pre-theology, and then went to seminary at Drew Theological School in New Jersey, where I was apartment-mates with Aaron’s mom, Beth. I was commissioned in 2003 and ordained in 2006, in the same class as both Aaron, and our friend, Heather Williams. Small world! I’ve remained passionate about my early loves – I still stay involved with camping ministries, and have spent nine years now working with our Conference Council on Youth Ministries, CCYM. I have a love for social justice ministry – mission and outreach and service to those in the greatest need, those on the fringes, those who Jesus was always bringing to the center. I love theatre and music, and have been grateful for how God has allowed me to use these gifts in my ministry. Right now, I’m working on a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in the area of Leadership for Transformation Change. Each July and January, I spend one week in Ohio completing coursework, and I hope to complete my degree a year from May. God is still calling, always calling, and I continue to listen for God’s voice. I’ve served congregations in Oneida, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, and in East Syracuse, and now, God has called us together in this place. That’s a bit about my path.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will want to hear about your path – your personal journey, your family, the path this congregation has taken. You should be proud of the reputation that Liverpool First has in the community and in our Annual Conference. You have been engaged in ministries and missions that have been well-spoken of by those who have only heard about what you’ve been up to. For example, you have a reputation in the conference of being a place of hospitality, that opens its doors to people, since you have been so gracious in inviting conference teams and meetings to take place here so often. Your LIFE youth program is well-known by other youth programs in the conference – you have a commitment to young people and young people who are committed to serving God that has caught the attention of other faith communities who want what you have! I’ve been excited to just begin to hear about Beautiful Mess Productions, to see this new vision from some of your own, and imagine how we can support and nurture and send out this new thing. You have a music program that has been exceptional – I have heard so much about Joyful Noise, about Amahl and the Night Visitors, and so on, and I am excited to work with Nancy and Chris. These are just a few things, and for every ministry that is known beyond the community, I know there are five more that might be quieter, but are just as committed to serving God and changing the world by transforming lives in Christ.
Today, I chose John 10:1-10, one of my favorite passages of scripture, to share with you. I love this whole chapter of scripture, but my favorite verse is John 10:10: Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This verse caught my eye when I was in tenth grade, and reading the scriptures, and it just stuck with me. In a world that often paints Christianity as a list of thou-shalt-nots, when we Christians often let ourselves be boiled down to things you shouldn’t be doing, I was just fascinated that what Jesus said he wanted for us was abundant life. Abundance! Life that is full and rich and meaningful and complete, not a life where we feel restricted and limited and deprived. What God has in mind for us is that we find that our lives are overflowing with goodness and promise, that we have so much that we can’t begin to run out of ways to use and serve and love with the gifts we’ve been given. God wants us to have it all! Abundant life.
In challenging times, it is so easy for us to focus on what we don’t have, what we think we don’t have enough of. And it is so easy to try to fill up our lives with our own efforts, trying to fill an emptiness with a lot of stuff that has nothing much to do with God. We don’t need to. Jesus promises us all the abundance we could desire. God wants us to have it all. The catch? Of course, God wants us to give it all too. We get abundant life. God always gives us more. And as much as we have been following God, on the various paths we have taken to arrive here today, God is always going to call us further down the path. God is always read to give more and ask more.
Friends, my hope is that we will learn to look in our hands, look in our lives, look in this congregation and community and recognize all the abundant life God has poured out on us. And then, I hope we will listen. God is calling us still, farther on. Let’s go together, and find out what God has in store.