2 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to Jerusalem where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Jerusalem? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal[a] Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
- Explain the reading first — Let me take several moments and set the stage for today by offering a short commentary on the reading for Nehemiah.
- The Old Testament book of Nehemiah – is written as a memoir of Nehemiah – about 400 BC — and old story
- It takes place after the Israelites have been forcibly moved to Babylon (Iran) and Jerusalem has been destroyed.
- Nehemiah is a cupbearer for the king, and this is a very trusted position. Nehemiah has become very concerned about the city of Jerusalem – and with the walls destroyed, the city is very vulnerable.
- God lays the desire on Nehemiah’s heart to return to Jerusalem – the city of his family – and to help rebuild the walls and the city.
- Nehemiah is not a priest or a politician – just the king’s servant.
- Nehemiah is led by God back to Jerusalem — and ponders the cities destruction by carefully riding at night through various city gates.
- He prays and decides to start with the rebuilding of the city’s walls and gates.
- Obviously, he meets opposition to his vision – but the city people rally to him and the walls reconstruction is begun.
- This passage from Nehemiah – speaks loudly to us at Pleasant Grove UMC today.
- Thank you for coming to worship today. This day has been long in coming. As members and friends of Pleasant Grove UMC, we have been praying and looking forward to the day when we can express a hope filled prayer and personal conversations about our future as a church —which has been a beacon of light on the hill for over 150 years.
- It is our fervent prayer that as we move forward that we will continue to experience a new and vital awareness that God’s power is at hand and the Spirit is guiding our decisions.
- Our church is taking a leap of faith and moving forward with the planning of a second worship service. Not a replacement for this service, but an additional worship service.
- Obviously, this seems like a very crazy idea. – But is it?
- All we have to do is to look at our attendance records for the past 15 or 20 years and it is obvious that we have been on a downward trend – and regardless of the denomination or independent churches – in fact with any organization there is a finite lifespan and once you are in the downward slope – it takes brave new ideas and the stamina and patience to implement then to change the downward direction.
- Our congregation is growing older and it is difficult to attract new people.
- We have had dinners, special worship services, visitations to new people in the neighborhood, bus trips, bazaars, Vacation Bible Schools – Bluegrass worship — all with a small result.
- We have attended church growth seminars. We have talked to many people – we have invited our friends and family – but little effect.
- We have prayed as a congregation as in our individual prayers to God to guide us.
- Twice we have applied for congregational development grants and support from the Baltimore – Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church and have been turned down.
- One bright note is the Christmas Eve-Eve program. A family worship service on December 23rd – filled with videos and family worship. It’s attendance significantly exceeds the Christmas and Easter attendances.
- So, here is the seed for a major change in worship style.
- For several years this idea of a new worship service has been percolating in our minds – just like the old coffeepots.
- Finally — it seemed that we had to boldly take a step to the future – and the idea that kept percolating was a new worship service. A second worship service.
- Over the years, I have learned that God does not speak to us with handwriting on the wall – like in the Old Testament book of Daniel.
- God nudges us ever so gently—but we have to be silent and listening.
- God nudges us with a very simple idea!
- God nudges us with an idea that seems impossible!
- This is the way that God speaks to us.
- To me, God’s nudging’s are in the form of – a relentless repetition of the same thought — start a new service – that will feed my people — that will reach out to the unchurched or nominally churched people in the neighborhood of Finksburg, Hampstead, Manchester and Westminster.
- Bring them into a new form of worship that will stimulate them, encourage them that God’s unconditional love is available for them.
- Show these people that the hospitality that the congregation of Pleasant Grove UMC has demonstrated for a century and a half can still be extended. Our hospitality and our faith in God not dying — but is alive and energetic.
- But there is more to understanding God’s nudging — usually the idea sounds impossible to accomplish. “Start a new worship service!”
- My clergy friends are amazed that we would even consider something like this. Why? They ask. And so, do you!
- For six months, our church has actively been seeking to implement this new second service idea. The idea does sound impossible – and crazy — but as we have pondered this —- the need to step out in faith has become even stronger.
- Pleasant Grove UMC is being called into action. No longer can we sit in meeting after meeting and wring our hands and complain that “what can we do?” We do not want to close this church—like what is happening to many smaller UMC churches. “What can we do?
- On June 1st we hired Lynn Sheavly, the former Executive director of NESAP, the North East Social Action Program – who has a deep spiritual longing, extensive organizational skills and experience in worship and worship program development. Her challenge is simple: Implement a second service.
- Lynn —
- 11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
- 13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal[a] Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
- 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
- They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
- 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
- 20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding.
- Nehemiah looked at the broken walls. But instead of just seeing destruction, he viewed them with expectation of rebuilding. Nehemiah had an expected hope in what God could do. God gave Nehemiah a vision of how the rebuilt walls would look.
- A vision is what we believe the new worship service will look like when we get there.
- If we are going to succeed at our mission of a new service – at reaching new people as disciples of Jesus Christ — we must have a clear picture of what we are embarking on.
- We must continue to pray for direction so that we can stay connected with God’s plan for Pleasant Grove UMC.
- Thanks be to God
INTRODUCITON AT PGUMC
June 23, 2019
It is my honor and privilege to serve as the Director of Creative Worship at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. When I felt God’s call away from my ministry at NESAP, I gave an extended resignation date to NESAP’s board on January 9th, reallynot knowing where God was going to be leading me to next. But through my connection with the area churches, I received an email about Pleasant Grove’s desire for a worship leader. That email was the beginning of many conversations as I got better acquainted with the dream of beginning a second worship service……a service to bring a brand-new day of hope and promise….. to the legacy of this congregation and for those in the community searching for freedom through faith.
I feel that the timing of God’s calling me away from NESAP, and the receipt of that email was not a coincidence, but a nudge…that still small voice I was listening for. As God’s servant, my heart was yearning to lead a worship service. But to me, the opportunity to do so seemed to be a very remote possibility…….until I received the email that ultimately would bring me to you to.
Like Nehemiah who the rode the perimeter of the wall making observations to determine the possibilities of what could be, I have been for the past month seeking the material and information needed to build our new service.
- Reading a book on Dinner Churches and talking with the author Kendall Vanderslice,
- digesting printed and online articles about growing the church,
- receiving creative and inspirational new worship ideas from Jennifer while we prepared for VBS,
- attending and observing small and large worship services of different styles,
- and being in conversation with Pastors and musicians have all provided me with insight to begin the foundation for what will grow into our new ministry.
The service will be modeled after a new and growing form of worship called a Dinner or Simple Church. Jesus fed 5,000 men….plus woman and children. He was served a meal at Mary and Martha’s house. Our Lord met with his disciples in the Upper Room for His last supper, where he commanded us to do this……we are to remember Him through the bread and the cup.
Today, people are searching for a worship experience, not a service that entertains them. The Dinner Church is a worship experience grounded in Jesus’ example of eating with those seeking New Life. Our new service will be a meal that begins with the breaking of bread and ends with drinking from the cup. In between, the service includes a simple meal, Liturgy with scripture, prayer, music that reflects the service and message, and a time for conversation. Thoughts shared through guided questions can be about mundane, ordinary happenings, or serious and sensitive concerns. Children will be welcome in the service, with time allowed for them to be in their own space. A Dinner Church council will help the growing ministry to remain focused.
This new worship will be held in the social hall. By gathering in that space, we will meet people where they are…. with their doubts, insecurities, hurts, and questions…. especially if they have had a less-than-favorable experience in a formal church setting. Individuals who are trying to sort out how faith fits into their doubts, or what grace, mercy, and forgiveness are will be welcomed. Mature, new, and non-believers will meet on common ground, for we all are broken individuals in need of God’s reconciliation and redemption.
Through a Face Book survey, I discovered that twice as many people thought a Saturday evening service would be better attended when compared to a Friday evening service. Our new service will begin either at 5:00 or 5:30pm on Saturday evenings beginning early in September.
Even though Pleasant Grove’s two services will be separated by an evening, there is no separation in my availability for you. I will be in the Tracey building on Thursdays and Friday from at least 10am-2pm….and probably on other days also. In addition, I can be reached by phone, email, and messenger. Stop by, drop me a line, or give me call….and please be patient with me while I learn your names.
I am very excited to be part of this new ministry. God has called us to move forward together in building a second service. I will watch and listen for ways the Holy Spirit continues to be present and guiding in this ministry….and I encourage you to do the same.