Start Close In

I know we most of us don’t think like this, but there is a part of me that considers Easter like New Year’s Day - when we turn the page and make decisions to be better selves in some way.
For me, Easter is the celebration of starting over again - fresh from the knowledge that the God of Everything is truly on our side.
I came across the following poem this week written by David Whyte. In it, he suggests that our renewed journey through our lives should “start close in” - hence the name of his poem:


Start close in. Don’t take the second step or the third.
Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.
Start with the ground you know, the pale ground beneath your feet,
Your own way to begin the conversation.
Start with your own question, give up on other people’s questions,
Don’t let them smother something simple.
To hear another’s voice, follow your own voice,
Wait until that voice becomes an intimate private ear that can really listen to another.
Start right now, take a small step you can call your own.
Don’t follow someone else’s heroics, be humble and focused.
Start close in, don’t mistake that other for your own.
Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third,
Start with the first thing, close in. The step you don’t want to take.


You are Not Alone

On Sunday, Pastor Jim had a line in his sermon that I have been ruminating on ever since. When talking about this season of Lent, which requires us to embrace the wilderness of life instead of run from it, he said: “what happens if you remove your painkillers?” Specifically, he was talking about taking away whatever we use to distract us from our feelings of pain, grief, anger — the emotions we have learned are “bad”, or not worth encountering, or are too hard to truly embrace.

I decided to get off of social media and one of the reasons is precisely what Jim named. I have been distracting myself, telling myself I do not have time to feel because there is too much to get done. In our society, it is incredibly easy to allow ourselves to be occupied every second of every day. But the kingdom way is different. Jesus teaches us by example that solitude and stillness lead to greater relationship with God, self and others. 

Like me, you may avoid the silence because of the demons that come out to play when you are quiet. Sometimes I am afraid I do not have the power to defeat them — they are too loud, too strong. But as we saw on Sunday in Luke 4:1-13, no matter what the tempter threw at Jesus in the wild, he refused to bow down to the desires of the earthly kingdom. And the truth is Jesus was never alone in this battle. Dripping from baptism, he was driven into the wilderness by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was upheld by his community — the oneness of his union with the Father and Holy Spirit. Mark even says, “He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him” (1:14). There was a heavenly, wild host indeed.

Our challenge is to stop letting the fear of utter loneliness, anger, or grief keep us from stopping. We need seasons where we practice setting aside what helps us go numb — tv, computers, phones, food, taking care of everyone else, work — so we can feel deeply and actually encounter the living God. The good news is that God does not look away from our cries, our lament. The good news is that we walk the hard path together. We are fellow travelers, a band of angels — or wild animals if you prefer.

I hope and anticipate that this season will birth something new in your life as you tend to the hard-to-look-at ways you have been hurt and have hurt others. Remember: the journey is worth it, and we are here to listen, to offer care, to speak words of encouragement. If you need an objective third party, don’t forget about our wonderful Counseling Center. You are not alone.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Sam 

Call To Prayer

As you read this, delegates from around the world will be making their way to St. Louis for a very important “Special Called Session” of our General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Every 4 years - or “quadrennium”- the world United Methodist body gathers to discuss the ministry of the church and make recommendations on our future. We also have a yearly Annual Conference held for all UMC’s in Middle Tennessee and our local church has a yearly “charge conference” as well.      

   At the last, regular session of the General Conference held in 2016, a decision was made to call a special session to deal with only one issue - an issue that has been a difficult one for us for decades - human sexuality. This has been a contentious issue and many faithful people find themselves with differing opinions.

    At that 2016 General Conference, A Commission of 32 persons was elected (16 clergy and 16 lay) to bring a proposal to this Called Session to be held next week. The Commission, called “The Way Forward”, produced three recommendations for consideration. I have circulated among the adult Sunday School Classes to discuss these options as well as the “Family Meeting” held this past Sunday to help folks understand the options, so I won’t rehash all that here.

    What I am asking today is a Call To Prayer for every member of our congregation Our church has not faced a decision this weighty in a very long time. The delegates that will represent us (again, an equal number of clergy and laity) need our prayers and the help of God for such a time as this. The Conference begins in earnest on Saturday, the 23rd, and lasts for three days.  Would you covenant with me to lift this group of people in prayer each of those days? In addition to all the delegates there, would you offer a special prayer for our own delegation? They are Laity: Jim Allen, Holly Neal, Connie Clark, George Brown and, Clergy: Harriet Bryan, Jacob Armstrong, Stephen Handy and Jackson Henry.

    And now having said all that, let me be clear about one other thing - regardless of the decision made at this General Conference, the United Methodist Church will continue and Belle Meade United Methodist Church will continue to be in ministry with those in our neighborhoods, our larger community, our nation, and our world. John Wesley once said of us “Methodists” that, the best is yet to be. It’s true.



When Dreams Become Reality

Over the course of this month we have been pondering this question: What is God’s dream for my life? For my family? For our church? For our world? As a hopeless idealist, dreams come second nature to me as I consider frequently dreams for our church and especially the children and families of Belle Meade.

One of our greatest dreams in the children’s ministry is that our kids would deeply know and understand that they are loved by Jesus, connected to God and gifted to lead and serve the church and the world. That they would see childhood not as a place to wait and learn so that one day they might be able to lead and serve. Instead they would know it is a time they are already gifted in amazing ways and called to serve God to create change in the church and the world.

childrens christmas eve.jpg

Our Family Christmas Eve service offered a glimpse of that dream becoming reality. We welcomed over 200 people from newborns to great grandparents. The joy in the space was personified by a continual hum of giggles and laughter throughout the worship service. Children of all ages were invited to share their passion and gifts by playing the handbells, singing carols, acting out the nativity story, participating in voice and sign in the communion liturgy and testifying to the light of Christ with glow sticks and candles as we sang silent night. It was a place where our children could be fully themselves and celebrated for every wiggle, giggle, question, song and motion. It was a space where all were invited to share their gifts and energy, where even our youngest ones could lead our church in worship as we celebrated the birth of the Christ child. It was a place where dreams become reality.

I have thought back to this service many times in recent weeks and found myself smiling with joy each time. I have remembered our 4th and 5th graders who assisted in leading the service by shepherding our youngest children and taking point on the liturgy. I have thought about the 3rd grader who asked me if she could move by one of our Kindergarten readers so she could help her with her line if she got stuck during the service. I have thought about the neighborhood visitor who shared that this was the first time she didn’t feel nervous having her 3 year old in worship because she knew it was a space where her child could be herself. I have remembered a moment where dreams were made real.

On February 24th, our children will again have the chance to embrace their gifts and lead our people in worship. They are already eagerly working on creating prayers, liturgies, art pieces, music and the proclamation of the word. They are sharing their energy, ideas and hopes for what the worship service will look like on that day and the ways they will each get to lead and serve. They are dreaming of what it looks like to offer themselves, their gifts and their passion to minister to our congregation and our world.

If there is one thing our children know how to do, it is to dream of greater things! My prayer is that we have the courage to dream with them. To see each worship service as a place where every person is invited to be fully themselves and offer their gifts. My dream is that we would open ourselves as a people to learn from and be led by our children. I hope you will make it a priority to be at worship on February 24th as our children offer their many wonderful gifts to lead us in worship!

Rev. Gracie Dugan

Finding Your Way

On Sunday, we introduced our sermon series for this month: Dare to Dream! If you missed the sermon, you can listen here. We talked about the journey of the wise men as a metaphor for venturing towards our dreams, and we discussed some of the obstacles to dreaming. Maybe you feel too old or too young. Maybe as you’ve gotten older you are more aware of the work it takes to dream — the obligations, the money, the time. Maybe you set your dreams aside to take care of your family. Maybe you are afraid your dreams will seem foolish to others. Maybe you don’t really believe you’re all that special or gifted.

But for one month, we are going to let go of all our hesitations and fears and go all in! For one month, we are going to pray every day: “God, what is your dream for my life?”

find your own way.jpg

In relation to our dreams, I’ve been thinking about the movie Moana. It also speaks of a journey. The young daughter of a chief is called to deliver Maui, a demigod, across the ocean. Moana finds Maui, but needs him to teach her the ancient form of wayfinding, or celestial navigation. Here, as with the wise men, we see another example of what it means to study the sky and let the stars lead us. In this scene from the movie, Maui says this in reference to wayfinding: “It’s seeing where you’re going in your mind … knowing where you are by knowing where you’ve been.” Watch the clip here.

In the same way, we are praying, “God, what is your dream for my life?” so we can see where we are going, so we can have direction and follow where God is leading us. As with wayfinding, who we’ve been and what we’ve encountered informs who we are now. In other words, if you were to map your spiritual journey, could you mark the terrain you’ve traversed that has made you who are? And would looking at all you’ve been through and accomplished with God, help you see where you are now and where God is calling you to go? If you need some help, take some time to follow the exercise below. I would love to see your map, or hear about your journey one-on-one!

Journey to a Dream Exercise

At the top of a blank piece of paper write: “God, what is your dream for my life?

Make a map or timeline of your faith journey over the past 3 months. Mark/Draw on your map 8-10 events/moments including family, school, church, personal moments.

Answer these questions in prayer or in writing on the same page:

Where has my journey felt full of dreaming? Where has my journey felt full of dreading?

If you think of your journey in images, what does it look like at different moments?

i.e. wilderness, open fields, rocks, sunshine, streams.

What does your journey look like spiritually? Are you searching?

full? empty? in-need of something?

What do you want your journey to look like moving forward?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Sam

We appreciate and notice our Bereavement Team!

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

There are a lot of ways a person can give service to the church. So many of you do so much around here and it often goes under-appreciated. Our church wouldn’t be as strong as it is without you.

Allow me to give an example. We had a big Memorial Service this past Saturday. Former State Legislator, 7-time Congressman and 12 year Mayor of Nashville, Richard Fulton died. We have all known Dick and Sandra to be faithful members of our church. In talking with the family and taking little imagination, we knew this was going to be a large event.

You may not know that we have a Bereavement Team at our church. Whenever a death occurs they are included in the very first email or phone call about that death because the ministry they provide is simply invaluable.

Before the day of the Funeral or Memorial they are already at work with things like ordering flowers, making sure we have a guest registry available, thinking their way through the events of that day and how they can assist.

On the day of the event, the are here early to arrange the space needed and to be sure there is water and light refreshments on hand for our guests. They greet every guest that comes through the door and help them know where to go, show them the way to restrooms, and in general they provide genuine hospitality to every guest that comes through our door. If you are wondering what “evangelism” looks like, it isn’t always going house to house to invite someone to church: it is very often showing hospitality and compassion in a moment when both are greatly needed.

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

On this past Saturday, I just want you to know how proud you would have been to have witnessed the ministry of these friends. Hundreds of persons came through to greet the Fulton family in the lounge and hundreds more attended the service. Everything that needed to happen with our guests was handled with grace and warmth. You would be hard-pressed to not be impressed by their effort.

If I try to call all the names of this team I will undoubtedly forget to name someone and I don’t want to do that. So please allow me to simply say today that their efforts this past Saturday were NOT under-appreciated and they were definitely not unnoticed. Everybody noticed. On behalf of all of us, just let me say thank you to all of you. What you did--and what you do--matters very much.