All posts by Gary Poole

Hope and Hunger

The Christmas season brings many joys. It also brings a heightened awareness of those around us who struggle with finding joy in the midst of a season of excess and extravagance. We plan for parties and celebrations with people we cherish, thinking little of the expense of entertaining friends or feeding family. When I’m in the grocery store filling my cart with the ingredients for once-a-year delicacies and delights, the person next to me is hoping to fill her family’s stomachs one more day, one more week.

I’ve been there—wondering what to feed our children for dinner and then what would they have for breakfast the next morning. Between food pantries, food assistance, and the occasional bag of groceries left anonymously on our front porch, we were able to keep our house payments paid up, our utilities on, and have gas in our cars to make it to work. That’s just one of the reasons I love to splurge on meals for my family and friends. They helped me when I needed it.

So, this year, as we have for many years, we will take a Saturday, take some friends and family, and head down to Cass to make a hot lunch for about 250 people. We splurge! Over a dozen youth and adults helped last month, including one youth who baked 243 cupcakes for the Cass community meal. We made about 700 sandwiches. Those supply a nutritious meal for anyone held in a Detroit precinct on the weekends. Without them, they would go hungry, too. In a matter of hours, we touched nearly 1000 lives.

This month, our HeartWorks Ministries will take us to Gleaners. We will pack food pantry boxes that give families some food security in the cold, Michigan winter days ahead. Children will have something to eat when they get home from school and something to fuel their bodies when they get up in the morning. It only takes a few hours and a few hands to help keep a family strong and healthy and hopeful. You see, that’s the big deal about the Christmas season—hope. We have hope in the presence of Christ with us always. We have hope in God’s love to transform our world. We have hope that the economy will get stronger, that men and women will find meaningful employment that will pay enough to cover the basic necessities and give them a little more to share with others.

That’s a definition of wealth that I love—having enough to share with others.

I know you have a little time and energy to share with others. I know you have more than a little hope to share with others. See you on December 17th at Gleaners in Detroit. We will move a mountain of food and make hunger a thing of the past for someone. Call me at 248.476.8860 to learn how or contact Gleaners to set up a volunteer day on your own.

Rushing to Rest

     Tomorrow begins our vacation.  Susan and I will once again be heading off to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We join with other members of her family (the Anderson clan) on the beach, sharing a 15 bedroom, 15 bath home.  This year we are especially excited because three of our four children, their spouses, and granddaughter Madison will be able to be with us as well.  Some 35 people will be vacationing together.  It sounds rather chaotic, but over the years has proven quite calm.

     Actually, it’s the preparation for the vacation that is chaotic.  I’m rushing to rest!  I’m sure you experience the same craziness.  There is so much work to be done and so little time, just so that we can have no work and lots of time to relax.  In addition to everything else, the church is graciously installing new carpet in my office while I’m gone.  Unfortunately, that means packing up all my books so the empty bookcases can be moved and new carpeting can be placed underneath them.  After 30 some years of ministry I have a lot of books!  After boxing them I think I came to the conclusion that I have too many books!  Time to weed out the unnecessary!

     Pastoral emergencies seemed to erupt faster than the popcorn at the movies!  One couple informed me they didn’t like what I said in a sermon and they were leaving the church.  Another couple informed me they liked what I said and was going to be joining the church.  Guess what?  It was the same sermon.  Time to take a breath!

     There were two more deaths in the church, one was somewhat expected and the other was not.  I also received a phone call from a man’s son in Texas.  His dad, Lloyd, had been a member of a church that I had served and I also had officiated at the wedding for the son.  Now, his dad was dying and the son wanted to know if I would be available to fly to Dallas to do his service.  Of course, I was willing, but with two services here it was going to make it somewhat difficult.  The family elected to have another clergy do the service and to interview me over the phone about Lloyd.  Time to remember and be thankful for good people!

     The special edition of the Nardin Park newsletter will be coming out soon.  It will be filled with all of the marvelous ministry opportunities for the coming year.  For that edition I also plan out my next year’s sermons and worship events.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s well worth the effort to see the bigger picture of the worship experiences that we provide people.  Time to listen to God’s voice.

     Time to weed out the unnecessary!  Time to take a breath!  Time to remember and be thankful for good people!  Time to listen to God’s voice!  Even in the rushing toward rest God’s spirit is moving and I am grateful for God’s grace in the chaos.  Now it’s time to vacation!

Long Trips and Short Memories

Following a fantastic celebration of Pentecost on June 12, my wife and I packed a borrowed Ford Explorer and headed southward to Florida to take some “things” to our daughter, Sarah.  These “things”, such as her china and her high school yearbooks, had been collecting dust in our basement for several years.  We really didn’t relish the long drive, but we were tired of the unwanted clutter in our basement.  So off we went, with our little dog, Chip, the ever alert min-pin. 

Our first desination was my father’s house in Plainfield, Indiana.  He refinishes furniture for fun and wanted to send a storage chest and a machinist’s chest to Florida with us for our daughter and son-in-law.  The best news was that he was going with us.  As the primary care giver for my invalid mother he was unable to make any trips for almost 20 years.  With her passing he is now able to take on new journeys.  So off we went.

When you look at the trip mileage it’s a long way from Farmington Hills to Tampa, Florida via Indianapolis, Indiana.  With the three of us gabbing away, however, a long trip became a short trip.  We told stories and shared memories.  What one person couldn’t remember, the other two could fill in the blanks.  Short memories became long and cherished memories.  We drove from Indianapolis to the Drury Inn in Marietta, Georgia, with only two stops on the way.  As we entered our adjoining hotel rooms we noticed a huge billboard across from our third floor windows.  The sign read, “Don’t be Scammed. Trust Dale!”  What a laugh!

We arrived at our daughter’s house Tuesday evening and had a wonderful five day visit with Sarah and Frank, and our granddaughters, Madison and Sadie.  The following Monday dad, Chip and I got back in the car for the return trip.  Susan stayed to help with child care because the usual child care provider’s mother was scheduled for surgery.

Now I may seem to be just wandering around with my thoughts and I probably am.  But then again, perhaps it’s sometimes good not to be always rushing to a pre-arranged destination.  Perhaps it is in our occasional wanderings that we can enjoy the journey.  Long trips don’t seem to be as long.  Stress-induced shortened memories lengthen in relationship with others.  We give ourselves permission to relax and to enjoy what’s going on in and with our lives.

You probably already know the feeling.  But if you don’t, feel free to try it.  After all, “Don’t be scammed, trust Dale!”

Constant Change

The weather changes.  Last week we reached 95 degrees!  Today it’s 65 degrees.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t like Michigan weather, just wait, it’ll change!”

We’re about ready to experience the change from school year to summer time.  We live behind the East Middle School in Farmington Hills and we watch the students as they play in the field for their physical education.  With about a week left in their school year they seem to be moving slightly slower than when they first started the school year.

The face of the church changes.  We’ve experienced 14 deaths in the last 14 weeks.  We’ve also experienced 7 baptisms during the same time span.  We’ve lost two of our younger couples with 5 children.  We’ve gained six younger couples with 8 children.  The only constant we seem to experience is that of change. 

Our Men’s Saturday morning Study Group has been discussing Who Stole My Church?, a book by Gordon MacDonald.  It is a fictional account of a New England church struggling with change.  Some of the older members feel threatened when the younger members take a different approach to being the church.  I think that’s the number one issue for the church today.  How do we value our current members and yet remain open to value people who think and act out their faith differently?

MacDonald suggests that a lot of church people do things by habit.  In other words, things are done because they are always done that way.  People choose to do the things they do because they’re comfortable with them.  I know that I enjoy my comfort zone.  If I didn’t, it would be called my comfort zone!

But then again, there is my faith.  Faith has got to be more than about our comfort zones.  Faith has to be more than just about “me,” or even “us.”  Faith is about the grace of God being made available to everyone in as many ways as we possibly can.  Yes, as a church, we continue to find personal spiritual growth, fellowship, joy and the experience of worshipping a God who loves us always, but we also continue to ask ourselves, “So that?” 

In other words, we grow and fellowship and worship so that not only can “we” become closer to God, but that “others” may experience the closeness of God in their lives through us.  The bottom line is that it’s not just about us; it’s about God in us, with us, and through us for others.  When we set our priorities with this in mind, then we can become embrace change as a possibility for us to exercise faithful discipleship.

Easter Glow

It has been a week since Easter morning, but I’m sitting at my desk still basking in a glow fueled by all kinds of resurrection experiences.  For the engineers among us, allow me to say that the numbers of people in worship hovered around the 800 mark, more than 100 over last year.  The generosity of people spilled out everywhere.  While people bought lilies to decorate the sanctuary, even more people donated toward food for the hungry.  Our Easter offering was excellent and from the first of January through the end of April we have collected more money then we have spent.

At the 11 am service we baptized John and Jacob Bolthouse, five week old twins of Darin and Sarah Bolthouse.  It was such a joy to baptize them, but it was mixed with a sense of melancholy as it was the last Sunday for the Bolthouse family to be at Nardin Park.  They moved to Colorado the following week.  The good news is that I could recommend them to the St. Andrews UMC in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, where my friend, Harvey Martz, is senior pastor.  I’ve already notified Harvey they are are on their way.  How wonderful it is to be a part of such a connectional church.  That’s Easter, too.

The worship experiences were simply amazing.  Everything went so well.  After the 9:30 service a young lady approached me and handed me one of our “Invitation Sunday Response Cards.”  She is already a member of the church, but she hadn’t been around for quite a while.  As she handed me the card, she quietly said, “I feel like I need to re-commit myself to Jesus.”  That’s Easter, my friends.  I put my arm around her and told her that we had missed her but that we had never stopped loving her.  She didn’t need to rejoin the church because the church family had never given up on her.  That’s Easter, too.

A week after Easter I receive a letter in the mail.  It came from one of our repeat guests.  It read: “Your Sunday messages and the outstanding music included in Sunday worship have been an inspiration to me whenever I am able to be in the Nardin Park Sanctuary.  I am a frequent visitor there because your sermons and the music seem to “lead” me back.  The Easter morning service was beautiful – the Voluntary, ‘Because He Lives,’ brought tears to my eyes – what dedication and talent bless your congregation.  In appreciation the enclosed is my gift to the Music Department.”  Enclosed was a check for $1,000.  That’s Easter, too.

So I’m basking in the glow of Easter.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of more tombs that need to be opened.  For some reason, people love to roll big stones around, sealing off the goodness and grace of life for themselves and for others.  Fortunately, there is always enough glow from the Resurrection morn to cast the shadows away.  Oh, it may take some doing, but it is possible.  We simply need to be Easter People!

And then there were more

My wife, Susan, and I have been privileged to be the parents of four children – two boys and two girls.  All of them were born between March 21 and April 17.  For us, this means that the Season of Spring is also known as the Birthday Season.  We have watched them grow up, sprout their wings, matriculate from college, pursue their vocational ambitions and discover their soul mates. 

We rejoiced when our youngest son, Sam, announced his engagement to Beth.  They were married on New Year’s Eve of 2005.  And thus began the era of Nuptials.  Our children were married in reverse order of their age.  The youngest first, then the next to the youngest, Sarah, married Frank in 2009.  Then the second oldest, Kate, married Kris in 2010.  And now the eldest child of the Miller household, Walker, has proposed to Tina Garcia on the weekend of his birthday (last weekend to be exact).  They are planning to be wed in January of 2012.  Our hearts are full!

It has been a wonder to watch the chapters of our lives unfold, each chapter encasing elements of comedy, drama, adventure, poignancy, and melancholy.  When we are young the chapters number few but seemingly go on for page after page.  As we age, the chapters multiply quickly but the pages become abbreviated.  And yet there are still many chapters to be revealed. 

Each day is precious.  Every relationship is to be cherished.  There is no time for pettiness and minutiae.  We are to live in the fullness of the moment and as fully as we can as human beings.  For me, such fullness of life comes from my connection with God, with my family, and with my friends.  Everything literally hinges on how we embrace those connections and approach each chapter of living.

Most of the time we never notice the hinges on a door.  We don’t pay attention to them.  They are often small and hidden, yet without them, the door would not function at all.  What we bring to each chapter of life are the little hinges on which the big doors of our lives swing.  The wrong attitude brings wear and tear, finally tearing the door down.

We can’t control life’s negative circumstances – the long lines at the grocery store, aches and pains, or late-night calls from telemarketers.  Those are life’s invariables.  Yet we can control how we relate to them.  It’s a simple choice, a simple step.  The right approach allows us to keep all the mechanisms of our life in perspective, the best working order, so that each chapter can be maximized to the fullest.  One of the hardest things I decide every day is to stay open and gracious to everything and everyone that is hovering around me.  It’s hard, but it is also the most satisfying!

Duct Tape, Dinner and Dreams

On Saturday, March 26, 20 people from Nardin Park attended the annual Cass Community Social Services fund-raising dinner at the Inn of St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan.  Since we never had attended this event as a church it was fantastic to reserve two tables of ten and then to fill them for a very special evening.  Some of us drove seperately, but some of us also decided to take the church van.  Tom Tobe volunteered to drive us and we all clamored into the vehicle like a bunch of teenagers going on a field trip! 

It was the first time that I had ridden in the van.  I’ve seen the outside of the van and I must admit it looks worse for wear.  There are several rust spots all over the body and it is embarrassing to see the Nardin Park name plastered on the side of our mobile eye sore.  Fortunately, the inside of the van is quite nice and it runs very well.  Although the van is many years old, the total mileage is a little over 70,000.  As we began our drive it was humorous to see that a roll of duct tape was placed next to the doors.  It seems that when the van reaches a certain speed, the passenger doors have to be duct-taped shut so they won’t accidentally open!

Upon our arrival we entered a building that once housed the St. John Catholic Seminary, a beautifully re-designed building that now serves as a hotel, banquet hall and conference site.  We joined with over 300 other attendees.  After checking in we roamed the reception area looking at the objects that were up for bid at the silent auction.  Some of us spotted a coveted item or two.  I wonder if Mike Brekenridge successfully bid on that tool belt.  Susan and I managed to outbid some others for two pieces of art that are now hanging in our home.

The meal was great.  At $100 a plate it was miraculous that we could enjoy an excellent repast and still raise money for Cass.  After the meal we were entertained by “The Ambassadors,” a male singing group consisting entirely of homeless men.  The emcee for the event was Huel Perkins of FOX TV news.  Awards were given out to the “Employee of the Year”, the “Volunteer of the Year” and the “Church of the Year.”  What an incredible delight it was to hear the name of our Judy Blaney called out as the “Volunteer of the Year.”  She goes to Cass every Thursday to help out with data entry.  Her faithfulness and her effectiveness was recognized and we were excited for her.  It was also fun to know that she received this recognition on her birthday!

The Rev. Faith Fowler, Executive Director of CCSS, was the main speaker and can she ever bring a message!  Immediately after she spoke, there was an invitation for additional funds and hands shot up all over the hall, raising even more money for this invaluable ministry.  The excitement and the enthusiasm that was in that room was extraordinary.  To experience all of the ministries that CCSS provides for the city of Detroit is incredible.  And at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.  Faith Fowler and CCSS have a dream for the disenfranchised and marginalized people of Detroit, and with the help of people like us we are making their dreams evolve into reality.  It was a great night for a great ministry!

Somehow, in my mind I can see us continuing to put duct tape and dinners and dreams together again and again and again, not only for Cass, for all of our ministries at Nardin Park.  There are so many needs.  We can do whatever we feel God is calling us to do.  What a powerful resource we are for the Kingdom of God!

A Gospel Gift

Over this last year there has been a small group of people discussing about the possibility of establishing a second worship service at Nardin Park.  We have read various articles and discussed a variety of possibilities of what kind of worship experience we need to provide and when.  As a part of the exploration our small little band of visionaries decided to plan four worship services based on different styles of music.  The worship services would be offered once a month at a time other than Sunday morning.  In January we would offer a Gospel service, in February a Jazz service, in March a Praise service, and in April a Taize service.

On Sunday night, January 30, we held our Gospel Worship service in the Chapel.  We had invited Alvin Waddles, organist and choir director at Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield to lead us in music.  We also invited the Rev. Anthony Hood, pastor of Scott Memorial United Methodist Church in Detroit to be our preacher.  I knew that Alvin was bringing a drummer with him and maybe some singers.  I knew that Anthony was a passionate preacher.  I knew that the planning of the service was loosely developed so that we could give ourselves over to a different style of experiencing God.  I knew that we had advertised the event. 

What I didn’t know, however, created a lot of internal angst.  I didn’t know if there would be any people in attendance.  (Please, O God, let there be at least thirty of us.)  I didn’t know if Alvin could manage our electronic keyboard in the Chapel.  (This instrument is certainly different than what he was used to.)  And I didn’t know if people would worship or simply watch in mild curiosity.

Be still, my soul.  Alvin arrived with a drummer and nine singers.  They were terrific!  Alvin made that keyboard come alive with such incredible energy!  Rev. Hood knew about our interest in starting a new worship service and he challenged us that God was helping us to start a new thing – a thing that was scary, but a thing that was necessary to help revitalize the church!  And our people didn’t just watch.  All 75 of us caught the spirit and the place was jumping!

Now, I’m thinking about the next worship experience – the Jazz Service on February 26, at 6 pm.  Helping us to create the music for the evening is our own Don Babcock, who is also the Professor of Jazz Studies at Eastern Michigan University.  It’s nice to have that kind of talent in our backyard.  Of course, my inner angst is kicking up again.  Will the people come?  How will it all fit together?  Etc. Etc.

Be still, my soul.  The roller coaster of life consists of ups and downs, of anxieties and celebrations.  I’ve been in the ordained ministry for some 35 years and I still experience the full range of emotions every day seems to bring.  So I’ll continue to worry, continue to prepare, continue to work, and, hopefully, be able to celebrate when God’s spirit breaks in on us and stirs the pot of faith.  I’m with Rev. Hood.  I do believe that God wants to do something new with Nardin Park.  Thank God.

Resolutions Revisited

For the January church newsletter I wrote about writing New Year’s Resolutions.  This last week I received an email from The Barna Group, a survey group that poses questions across the country centering on faith issues.  Their missive focused on their nationwide survey of 1,022 adults which provided a snapshot on the role of resolutions in the lives of people.  They entitled their article, “Individualism Shines Through Americans’ 2011 New Year’s Resolutions.”  I immediately thought that when a person makes an individual resolution then individualism doesn’t have a choice but to shine through.  I kept on reading anway.

According to their poll the top pledges for 2011 relate to weight, diet and health (30%); money, debt and finances (15%); personal improvement (13%); addiction (12%); job and career (5%); spiritual or church-related (5%); and educational (4%).  Personal improvement responses included being a better person; giving more; having more personal or leisure time; organizing their life or home; and having a better life in general.

The article then went on to say, “When people concentrate on themselves when making prioties for the New Year, it is telling that so few Americans say they want to improve relationships with others.  There were virtually no mentions of volunteering or serving others; only a handful of comments about marriage or parenting; almost no responses focusing on being a better friend; and only a small fraction of people mentioned improving their connection with God.”

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, added a note of explanation to these findings by writing, “Americans hinge their efforts at personal change by focusing almost exclusively on themselves, rather than realizing that lasting change often comes by serving and sacrificing for others.”  His comments and the Barna survey portray a national culture that is self-centered and self-serving.  I’m aware that within our culture such individualistic attributes exist, but I also see people, both “churched” and “un-churched” linking themselves to the larger world through a myriad of service opportunities.

One of the rapidly growing interests at Nardin Park is “Heart Works,” a monthly gathering of people going into the community to help serve in whatever manner they can.  People are passionate about helping others.  I think the Barna Group missed the wider picture by narrowly focusing on a topic which begins with individual inputs that can’t help but produce individualistic responses.  Oh, yes, people can be selfish, but there are so many people who are more than willing to be selfless for the sake of others.

In the January 2011 newsletter I offered a set of resolutions that could be seen as individualistic, but in reality they set us within the context of the importance of community for our lives and for each other.  I offer them again for our consideration.

  • In 2011, I’m going to celebrate what an unbelievable life we have had so far: the accomplishments, and, yes, even the hardships because they have served to make us stronger.
  • I will go through 2011 with my head held high, and with a happy heart.
  • In 2011, I will share my excitement for life with other people.  I’ll make someone smile.  I’ll go out of my way to perform an unexpected act of kindness for someone I don’t even know.
  • In 2011, I’ll give a sincere compliment to someone who seems down.  I’ll tell a child how special she or he is, and I’ll tell someone just how much they mean to me.
  • In 2011 I won’t worry about what I don’t have and I will live to the fullest with what I do have.
  • In 2011 I’ll remember that worry, pettiness and discouraging words are just wastes of time.
  • As each days ends, I will sleep the sleep of a contented child, excited with expectation because I know 2011 is going to be a very good year in my life!