The effects of the Last Minute School Supply Store

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We had a good day last weekend. The Last Minute School Supply Store (LMSSS) was held in the Fellowship Hall. You remember last year that Lily Wilson, one of our terrific youth, created the LMSSS as her “Gold Award” (think Eagle Scout for a girl) project and decided that it was worthy of becoming an ongoing mission. The Church Missions Council agreed.

And so for the past few weeks we have been encouraged to donate school supplies of all kinds to help support families that live in our neighborhoods. Last Saturday morning a group of volunteers assembled to serve as “hosts” for our visiting families. At 9:00 a.m. we opened the doors and welcomed some 150 children and their parents. They moved throughout the Fellowship Hall from one table to another collecting notebooks, markers, pens and pencils, glue sticks, even backpacks.

Here’s the best part--the part you will never see unless you are there. One lady came to my section and with tears in her eyes thanked our church and said, “I didn’t have one school supply for my child--you saved my life today and I am so thankful.”

When we think of “salvation” in the church we typically mean the saving of one’s “soul”. To be sure that is still our primary business, but salvation comes in other ways, too. On Saturday we were in a different kind of saving business by opening our doors to our community and providing what they NEEDED for their families. We don’t mark that down in any book (maybe we should).

Many of those 150 people may never think about that day again. But I promise you some of them will remember how they were treated and received when they came to Belle Meade UMC on a bright, August Saturday morning. As one wise preacher once said, “they may never remember a word you say, but they WILL remember how you treated them.”

We need to thank Lily for her vision and determination. And the youth who assisted as part of an overnight lock-in to put it all together. And to those volunteers who came to serve as ambassadors for the church. And all of you who made a donation of any kind to the LMSSS. This is what the church looks like at her best.

Ready to jump in? Many of our guests were students at H.G. Hill Middle School. We are just underway with a new partnership with them--a real one in which we send not only supplies, but also people who can serve as tutors. Do you have an hour a week during the day that you could offer? Talk to Melissa Vickroy or with me. We’ll get you hooked up.

PEACE

JIM
 

Leaving a Legacy at BMUMC

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Quick show of hands: How many of you know that our church has a Permanent Endowment Fund? Not nearly enough hands went up. Your Endowment Committee is working on a strategy to educate our congregation as to the vital importance of growing our Endowment Fund.

Our fund currently has a little over $530,000. This fund has been at work for many years. Members and Friends of Belle Meade UMC have left bequests that have been invested through our Tennessee Conference Foundation. Only the proceeds of these monies are available to be spent by the church. Would it surprise you to learn that over the last ten years, alone, over $130,000 has been utilized by groups within the church like the Trustees, the youth group, the music ministry and others?

It is becoming more and more clear as the years roll on that any large institution (college, church, non-profit agencies) will not be able to live “hand to mouth”--relying only on the week to week gifts of its membership. This will also become true for Belle Meade UMC. We need to build our Endowment to ensure our financial future.

How do we intend to do this? We begin by doing what one fundraising consultant told a group of clergy recently--we need to get in line. What he meant by that is if you went to college, chances are that you receive multiple mailings and phone calls asking for you to give as an alumnus. The church--all churches--have been notoriously slow to do this. And so our first move will simply be to get in line--to give you as dedicated and faithful members of our church the opportunity to help grow our Endowment.

We also need to dispel a myth and that is many people tend to believe legacy giving is reserved for the rich. That isn’t true. In order for us to grow our Endowment, we will need the participation of everyone. Of course, people who have been blessed with wealth are in a good position to make this kind of gift, but what is really needed is the desire to give. Here is an example of one way to consider a legacy gift. I know of a couple in another church who gave $5000 a year to the operating budget. This amount represents 5% of their yearly income. In their will, they have designated that church to receive 5% of their estate. In that way what they are accomplishing is giving beyond their own lifetime and giving exactly what they have already been giving.

For some others, it may involve giving a gift of stock that has matured or even a piece of real estate that the church could sell and benefit from the sale. There are a number of ways to help grow the Endowment and your committee will be helping the church to understand those ways and providing opportunity. There will be no pressure with this education campaign. No one is going to try and “guilt” you into doing something. Our intent is simply to make you aware and give you the opportunity.

OK, another show of hands. How many of you would be willing to come to a meeting to help us think clearly how best to accomplish our goals? Please contact me if you are.

Thank you for your strong support and love for our church.

PEACE

Jim
 

How God Speaks Through Art

Does the song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it?
–Kahlil Gibran

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and if this is true, then I would argue that a sculpture is worth a million. Unlike a picture, sculpture invades our three dimensional reality and offers an encounter. As I offer my first blog for Belle Meade, I feel compelled to share just such an encounter.

I have served the past 5 years as the part-time youth pastor at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in the Grassland area of Franklin. Prior to my time at Bethlehem, I served various youth ministry positions both part-time and full in the Memphis area over the past 20 years. I came to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt Divinity school and to further explore the intersection of art and theology via their Religion and the Arts and Contemporary Culture Program. For the past 5 years, I have been discerning, interrogating, deconstructing, re-forming, crafting, and creating my own theological identity.

Even beyond what I can remember, I have been an artist. My parents tell me of my childhood adventures peppered with  coloring books, creations, drawings, leaves, sticks, rocks, bottle caps, and other artifacts of wonder that filled my tiny hands, pockets, head, and heart as I tried to soak it all in. As an artist, I began with coloring, but throughout the years have progressed to drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, and photography. Although I love them all, I have discovered my greatest artistic love in sculpture, especially, sculptural ceramics. In my work, I often explore the human form, embodiment and being, and the human experience of the natural world. During my tenure at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I have had the privilege of further honing and exploring my affinity for sculptural ceramics while simultaneously honing and exploring my affinity for theology.

What does art have to offer theology? The answer to this question has both plagued and comforted me during my studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. This question leads to other questions. Questions that push toward play, mystery, embodiment, and being. Questions that upset the paradigm of theological education, knowing, and being known. Questions that resist functionality and utilitarian ideals. Questions that break the binds of certitude and rationality. Art, like mystery, shall not be tamed. Like mystery, art resists function and pushes people toward being. After all, are we not human beings?

Shaped by the above questions and experiences, I often explore the human form, embodiment and being, the human experience of the natural world, and the mystery and beauty of life in my artwork. Likewise, in my theological formation I often explore the experiential coupled with the transcendent, the everyday and the ordinary coupled with the supernatural and the extraordinary.

I share all the above to give you a better idea of my own interior theological landscape and framework so that you will better understand the encounter I now describe. 

Nearing the end of my time at Vanderbilt Divinity school I began to try and discern what my next steps might be. Initially, I had thought that I might stay at Bethlehem and accept a full-time position there and also take some time to rest from the rigors of the academic world. However, God had other plans. Through some conversations with some of my mentors, I was lovingly nudged to put some other “fleeces” out there for discernment. I began to circulate my resume and apply for other positions at area churches and agencies. 

As part of that process, I became aware of the youth position at Belle Meade when I received a conference-wide email. Sam McGlothlin was listed as one of the contact people in the thread. I was immediately intrigued as Sam and I attended Vanderbilt Divinity School and were very close during our time there. I called Sam and then sent my resume in for consideration.

After an initial phone interview, I was invited to come to the church for an in-person interview. Before the interview, Sam took me on a tour of the church. As part of the tour, we came to the sanctuary. When Sam brought me into the foyer of the church, I was dumbfounded. There in front of me was a museum quality bronze sculpture. Not only was it a sculpture, but is was one of my favorite presentations from within the Christian narrative, a pietá.

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A pietá is a sculpture or image depicting the moment just following Christ’s crucifixion before his body is placed in the tomb. It depicts Mary holding the body of her child one last time before his burial. This moment is not depicted in the words of scripture, but one cannot help but intuit that it could have occurred. According to the gospels, we know that Mary was present at the crucifixion. As a mother, would she not long to hold her child one last time? Would the Roman machine refuse a mother such rights? We cannot definitively discern. Either way, the beauty, mystery, and suffering of this moment disarms me.

As an artist, one of my favorite spiritual writers and artists is Kahlil Gibran. He is the author of The Prophet and many other amazing and poetic works that speak of mystery, beauty, and wonder. He is also known for his paintings and drawings. I wear a ring on my finger gifted to me by my mother that carries one of his sayings, it is the saying that opens this blog: Does the Song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it? 

Looking at the sculpture I was awestruck, flooded with fear and delight, and caught up in waves of emotion. I approached the sculpture, read the plaque and suddenly I was lost in an ocean of mystery and wonder. The plaque read: Kahlil Gibran, Pietá, 1959.

I have since learned that this Kahlil Gibran is not the same as the poet and writer I adore. He is instead Kahlil George Gibran, the second cousin to his namesake. This point is irrelevant to me though, because the sign still rings true. Though he is not the same, the sign is still crystal clear as it was crafted especially for me. God has called me to this place and this time through an encounter I shall not soon forget.

Steve Stone Jr.
Pastor of Youth and Families
 

A Renewed Hope in the Future

My daily march through the newspaper is rarely good. Yet another troubled person opened fire on the staff of a newsroom in Maryland. 5 people shot dead. I was deeply moved by the editorial page in their paper the next day. The idea that they were able to get back to work was inspiration enough. But their editorial page was completely blank except for these four words: “TODAY WE ARE SPEECHLESS”

There are more and more of those days for far too many of us. The cumulative effect is often a sort of erosion of the heart. We become numb to it all. Another day, another mass shooting?? Ho Hum. I fear the outcome of this for many is a loss of hope.

There is evidence for this. The birth rate is down in most nations around the world. Why is that? Experts say that when people don’t recognize a good future, they stop having children. The phrase I often heard from the hopeless ones was this: “Why would I want to bring a child into a world like this?”

Then came Lewis. Samantha and Mark welcomed a son into the world at the end of June. His name is Lewis Brannon McGlothlin. Lewis certainly doesn’t “belong” to us. But then again, we have all walked alongside Sam and Mark in their pregnancy and we have been also anxiously awaiting his arrival. No, he doesn’t belong to us, but maybe we can all serve as cousins and aunts and uncles. Lewis deserves all the love we can give him. Especially in a world like ours.

Lewis renews my hope in the future. I’m reminded that the shooter in Maryland wasn’t born to do that. No purveyor of violence and mayhem is born to it. They are taught--sometimes by a bad home life--sometimes by other factors. Imagine yourself looking into the crib of the young man who grew up to shoot those 5 people. Can you see him? He is small and helpless and beautiful. And we think to ourselves, how is it possible you could grow up to do such a heinous thing?

Lewis and all the other children like him offer our best chance at salvation. He will be taught well. He will be loved unconditionally. He will be held accountable and he will grow into a terrific human being. And we all need Lewis and all the other children to grow that way.

So congratulations Sam and Mark! We are thrilled for you. We look forward to having Lewis crawl around us. Thank you for bringing us all a measure of hope for a better future.

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PEACE

Jim
 

A Letter of Appreciation for Ernie

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Most of you are aware that a lot of work is done around the church that you don’t necessarily see because you aren’t here much during the week. For instance, we have dedicated volunteers who help us at the front desk. We couldn’t do without them (and can always use more help). Faithful Sunday School leaders prepare lessons during the week for Sunday. Various committees meet regularly to plan for the future.

But I suspect that none of us is fully aware of the contributions of Ernie Dixon to the life of our church over the last 22 years. Managing a sprawling complex like ours is not an easy task. Hardly a day goes by that you don’t hear someone say, “We need Ernie!”

On your behalf, Ernie is generally the first to arrive and the last to leave if there is a function held at the church like a dinner, a wedding, a funeral, etc. And while we all bask in the glow of Christmas Eve--maybe one of the best services of the year--Ernie is typically here until the wee hours taking down a host of worship decorations in preparation for Christmas.

In addition, there is no adequate way to determine exactly how much money Ernie has saved the church over the years just because of his knowledge of the facility and the ability to fix things that break. Our facility is 50 years old. Some of our systems are outdated and frequently need maintenance. Ernie knows where every pipe, wire, switch, and ghost is in this building. That knowledge is priceless and it will be missed.

Beyond all that, Ernie has simply been such a reassuring presence here. Whenever I saw him in the building, I knew that nothing could happen that he couldn’t troubleshoot. His manner was always calming; I never once heard Ernie’s voice raise in my years here. Whereas some of us (probably me included) would likely react with panic at certain situations, not Ernie. I am deeply grateful to him for that.

This Sunday, June 24th, we will host a reception for Ernie to say “thank you” for his years of service. We have encouraged a “love offering” for him and you still have time this week to contribute to that if you haven’t already. The reception will occur immediately following the 10:30 service.

Ernie’s last day will be June 30th. He and Sally are in the process of preparing their home to be sold and then to make their move to Florida. This has been their dream for some time and no one is more deserving.

And so, Ernie, we bid you “Vaya Con Dios”--Go With God. We will always be friends and we say “Thank You” for all you’ve meant to us.

PEACE

Jim
 

Sending Forth

 
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When Sam and I arrived two years ago, we were blessed to find some amazing staff members already in place. It made our transition so much easier knowing we had these folks to join up with. After 40 plus years in ministry, one thing I do know for sure is that change is inevitable. It is rare, indeed, to have an entire church staff stay together for many years.

Most of you know that Kelli Hamilton joined our staff as an ordained Nazarene pastor. She was able to bring a wealth of experience and the heart of a pastor to her role as Youth Minister at Belle Meade. Kelli’s call to ministry never faded. She made a decision to pursue a transfer to the United Methodist Church, to have her orders accepted and to serve one day as the pastor of a church.

That day has come. Kelli completed the tasks given to her by the Board of Ordained Ministry. She was recently approved by that board and will be subsequently Commissioned as a Provisional Elder in our church TONIGHT, June 13th, at 7:00 at Brentwood UMC. You are all invited and encouraged to come and support Kelli in this important moment for her.

Kelli has been a valuable member of our church staff. She is very bright and insightful. She brought a total “teamwork” mindset to our staff and was quick to jump in and help out in areas that had nothing to do with her role. We will definitely miss that about her.

Kelli also brought a transformational vision to the crucial work of discipling our youth. Most youth groups I know of thrive temporarily under the “superstar” leader model. I’ve watched this time and again. This model tends to produce great results on the front end and then a spectacular flame-out. The youth in that model are somewhat the victims.

Kelli began the very difficult work of transforming our model to one that doesn’t depend on the star youth pastor, but rather seeks to bring in many leaders among the church--a model that is far more sustainable over the long haul. This transformation hasn’t been easy, but Kelli deserves our gratitude for undertaking this work.

Over the years, Kelli has taken our youth on a spiritual journey, investing in their faith and leadership through Sunday and Wednesday programming, mission trips, choir tours, and connect groups. We are thankful for all the time she has given and all the love she has poured into our young people and their families.

Beyond all that, Kelli is more than a valued colleague in ministry; she is also our friend and we are going to miss her. This Sunday, the 17th, we will be saying our final goodbye to Kelli. I hope you’ll make every effort to be here as we send forth Kelli, Levi, Tessa and Debbie to their next place of ministry.

 

Peace,

Jim
 

A Life Well-Lived

This is the season of graduations. We recognized our high school graduates this past Sunday in worship and sent them forward with prayers for the next chapter in their journey. All of us who have been there already know how exciting and even a little scary that journey is.

In one of our efforts to achieve deeper Community Partnerships, our church is once again hosting Hillwood High School’s Baccalaureate Service on Sunday, May 20. This is our way of being involved in the lives of those students and reminding them that there is a place for God in their future.

This is also the season of graduation speeches. I’ve been through my share of them and so have most of you. Rev. Maurice Moore, whom some of you know, gave one of the best ones at my Martin College graduation. His sermon was titled, “The Time of Figs”. You know when you can remember the title of a sermon or speech from 40 years ago, it must have been pretty good.

Most of the these speeches run along similar lines. Be all you can be, go change the world, do remarkable things, yada, yada, yada.

I think maybe we should be more honest with our graduates. We all HOPE you will go forward and do those remarkable things, but our experience tells us that very few will. Most graduates of high school or college will settle into a life that they hope will provide comfort for themselves and their families. Many of them will choose a life that doesn’t bring any joy--just a paycheck.

And we should be honest with our graduates that in most cases the deck is stacked against you. There will be many, many obstacles to prevent you from achieving your dreams.

What I told our graduates at the luncheon we held for them this past Sunday was this: you can’t play scared. I told them about my time as a collegiate tennis player. We had a pretty good team at Martin. And what we learned very early on was if you play not to lose, you will almost assuredly lose. The way to get your best into the world is to play without fear. Which means you can’t be afraid to foul up. You can’t be afraid to lose. You can’t become paralyzed by the fear of possibly making a mistake. You have to learn to have a short memory--you mess up, you do your best to correct it, figure out how not to make the same mistake again, and move on.

Jesus told His disciples just before He ascended to Heaven this: “Greater things you will do than I have ever done.” That is a stunning moment given to us by the Savior of the World. But he meant it. And we should take it to heart.

One last thing for our graduates and all the rest of us, too--maybe you won’t change the world, but you can definitely change your little corner of it. And that will be a life well-lived.

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PEACE

Jim
 

The Word Made Flesh

 
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I wanted to take a moment to say hello and introduce myself to you, personally. As some of you may know, I recently joined the Counseling Center at Belle Meade UMC and am thrilled to be joining alongside my new friend and mentor, Chris O’Rear. If you haven’t met Chris yet, please pop your head in and say hi! We’re right upstairs.

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When Rev. Sam asked me if I would mind sharing an introduction with you, I sat down in front of my miracle laptop (It has died and come back to life 3 times in the course of 2 years) and began to type a bio. As I capped off the 3rd paragraph, I looked back and realized I hadn’t truly told you anything. Call me crazy, but I believe one of the best ways to get to know a person is through the stories they tell. So, I’ve decided to tell you a quick story of a single moment that has had the greatest impact on me as a counselor, and even more so, a follower of Christ.

In the spring of 2014, I had the privilege of observing a pastoral counselor supporting a loved one in hospice. I was already well on my way as a counselor, but the idea of being in the presence of a pastoral counselor in a hospice setting was new. I watched this man as he served. He was gentle, and he was kind. He was patient, and he was courteous. I watched as he read scripture to my loved one and sat with her hand in his. I listened as he prayed. His presence was comforting and warm, and I couldn’t help but think what a remarkable contrast his presence was to the event that was taking place. When it was time for him to leave, I watched as this stranger walked over to my loved one, leaned over and gently kissed her forehead goodbye. In that moment, I realized I had witnessed a beautiful example of Christ’s love and what it looks like to love others as the Lord has loved us.
     
Throughout my time as a counselor, I can’t help but look back at this moment and feel gratitude and inspiration. When we look at our community we can see Christ within our peers, our loved ones, and even within strangers. Because the Word became flesh, we are given a flawless illustration of love, for He is Love. When I think about this story and why this pastoral counselor left such a mark on my heart, I realized that because this man walked so closely with the Lord, it was so easy to quickly recognize Christ within him.  

Blessings,

Cara Lindell

If you have any questions about the counseling process or would like to schedule an appointment, you can reach me at Cara@counselingatbmumc.com or (615) 763-3236 ext. 702

From Darkness to Light

When I was in college, I joined the Crew Team. We woke up at 4:30am to get out on the water for practice. Needless to say, our day started in the dark. At our leader’s command, we surrounded the boat and picked it up as a team of eight. We slipped it in the water and positioned ourselves starboard or port. Quietly and softly, our paddles took us away from the shallow shoreline. As we warmed up our muscles and shook off our slumber, the sun began to rise, painting the sky orange and pink. As we moved along the bank of the river, a local church’s cross shone in the distance. I looked forward to the comfort of the rising sun and the illuminated cross each new dawn.

In this season of Easter, we have repeatedly said, “We are Easter people.” As Easter people, we watch for this transition, this promised movement from darkness to light. It is our hope and our reward, especially when our mourning hearts need to rejoice again. Each long, dark night of the soul is met with a rising sun; fresh dew of mercy.

I am still not over the beauty of this transition in our text from Sunday. In John 21:1-17, Peter and several other disciples are fishing through the night on a boat. They have caught absolutely nothing underneath the stars and sound of waves. Out of nowhere, a voice calls out to them from the shore to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

Realizing this stranger is the risen Jesus, the scene shifts. John alerts Peter, who seems to be the most reactive and impulsive person in the gospel. Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore. 

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Jesus is there in the sand tending to a charcoal fire. Can you picture its glow? I imagine that fire mirrored Peter’s heart; his dashed dreams and heartache were starting to turn into joy and celebration. 

Jesus was alive. He was present. And he was offering the same thing he did on his last night with the disciples — a seat at the table no matter who they were or what they had done, a gift of nourishment, a meal that symbolized friendship and grace.

According to the gospel of John, this was the third time Jesus reappeared to his disciples. Jesus met Mary at the tomb in the dark. Jesus appeared to his scared disciples behind locked doors in the evening. And here, Jesus met Peter as the stars and sun swapped places.

What does this mean for us? 

It means Jesus will meet us in the dark, when we need him most. It means Jesus will appear to us with resurrection power when death and loss sting beyond our imagining. It means Jesus is still alive; he is still present.

Train your eyes to watch for this transition, this promised movement from darkness to light. It is coming. 

 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Sam 

Our ever-present need for a Savior

As I write this, I’ve just heard about the plight of the young autistic boy from Dickson who has been missing for the last three or four days. Hundreds of volunteers from the community have been scouring the countryside looking for him. His name is Joe Daniel. Now we learn that Little Joe, whose condition makes it difficult for him to speak, was killed by his own father. As of this writing there has been no motive determined.

Motive. What in God’s name could cause a father to murder his son? Apply all the psychology you can to this horrible tale, but don’t forget to include at least a mention of evil. Something evil happened inside this father. That it may have been caused by all manner of trauma in this man’s life will not be a surprise. But it is also unspeakably evil.

Feel free if you like to say “the devil made him do this.” I find that people don’t really need to blame evil acts on any outside agent. We, all of us, apparently are capable under the wrong circumstances of performing evil actions. Maybe this is what the early church meant when it devised a theology of original sin. Or maybe the easier way to say it is how one of my favorite seminary professors, Dr. Liston Mills, said it: “When you come right down to it, people are just no damn good.”

My personal heart today is to feel deep sympathy for this boy and his other family. These kinds of stories--schoolyard shootings, horrible abuse, random acts of violence--serve to remind us why the church and our story of death and resurrection are needed now more than ever. The story of God and Christ is not passé. It is as vital as it has ever been. More and more it is clear that left to our own devices, we will destroy each other and our planet.

Our story says there is something better--something more. There is Purpose and Mind behind the universe. And the core of it is Love.  

 
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PEACE

Jim