All posts by Gary Poole

A Crack Is How Light Gets Through

While in graduate school some twelve years ago, two of our children, Walker and Kate, arrived at our house with their newly acquired prized possessions – two puppies.  Since the kids were in residences that didn’t allow pets, they asked if we could temporarily house their new friends.  Mojo and Hesse were two small bundles of fur from the same litter, a Newfoundland and Collie mixture.  They were cute and we couldn’t say no.  Somehow the temporary housing evolved into a six year pet-sitting adventure.  Finally, the kids moved into housing that allowed pets.  We said our goodbyes, but we always looked forward to our hellos when the kids came to visit us with the dogs.  This fall old age and related health issues caught up to Mojo and Hesse.  In November we said our last goodbye to Hesse and mourned his absence from our son’s life.  Last week we received the word of Mojo’s death from our daughter, Kate.  Even with pets, death is never easy.

Recently, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards, died following a six-year battle of cancer.  From the time since the terminal diagnosis, Elizabeth engaged in advocacy for the poor, for helping cancer victims and a host of other causes.  She was a remarakble lady.  As I watched the Good Morning America show this morning I managed to capture a segment with an interior decorator who was trying to teach us how to keep decorating after the holidays so that we won’t go into some visual funk.  One of his comments included how he had worked designing the kitchen of Elizabeth Edwards.  In her kitchen he had spotted a wall hanging that said, “A crack in everything is how the light gets through.”  Actually, the correct quotation comes from a song by Leonard Cohen called “Anthem.”  The lyrics say – Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.  There’s a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets through.”

During this Christmas season there are many people who emotionally struggle.  For them “Peace on Earth” feels far away.  Some churches even offer “Blue Christmas” worship services, helping people to make it through a holiday that seems less than festive.  I would imagine that people who find themselves suffering through Christmas feel that somehow they are outside of the Christmas spirit.  For me, however, these are the people for whom Christmas is intended.

When Mary discovered she was going to be a mother, she was so anxious that she traveled to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also expecting a child.  Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, became parents to a son, John, who eventually became known as John the Baptizer.  In speaking about the impending birth of his son, Zechariah said, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Today, I find myself sitting in the darkness.  A good friend of mine, Ken Bracken, died last week of pancreatic cancer.  He was pastoring the Christ United Methodist Church in Burton, Michigan.  Ken was a second career pastor who entered the ministry out of the Central United Methodist Church in Waterford, Michigan, a church that I once pastored.  I will miss Ken and his spirit.  Like Elizabeth Edwards, he also battled cancer for several years.  With his absence I am living with a crack in my life.  But knowing Ken and the wonderful way he often butchered English grammar, I can hear him saying, “You know, man, you just gotta look for the light.  It’s there.  You know what I’m saying?”

Yeah, Kenny, I know what you’re saying, but sometimes the darkness feels so strong.  So I’ll wait.  I’ll look for the light.  I’ll look for a star.  I’ll sing “Silent Night” with a sense of anticipation that God’s grace will be born once again in our lives.

Miss Cass Pageant

Every year Cass Community Social Services holds several fund raisers.  At Nardin Park we have become very involved with their annual golf outing.  Part of our motivation came from two ladies who served on the planning committee – Bev Fletcher and Susan Miller.  In 2011 the golf scramble is being held on September 19.  So, golfers, hold the date and plan to join us.  We sent 5 foursomes last year and we’re aiming for 6 in 2011! 

One year I attended a CCSS fund raiser that didn’t raise all that much money, but it was certainly a lot of fun.  It was the Miss Cass Pageant.  This is an annual beauty pageant where the contestants include the mentally impaired and developmentally disabled.  When I first heard of it I thought it was a recipe for disaster.  With a lot of suspicion hovering around my head, I steered my car down to the Cass United Methodist Church in Detroit that hosts the event.  An hour and a half later I emerged a total convert!  I went home blabbering to my wife, trying to describe the experience and failed miserably.  The next year Susan went with me and kept doing so for several years.  One year she was asked to be one of the judges for the pageant.

We’ve missed a few years, but this December we once again resumed our pilgrimage and we invited Bev and Al Fletcher to join us.  What an evening!  There were 18 contestants.  They participated in three areas – talent, evening gowns and answering questions.  Paula Tutman, reporter for WDIV, Channel 4, was the emcee.  The men of Cass Community Social Services also participated, decked out in their tuxedos, escorting the contestants, and even performing a musical number on their own.  This year the theme was “A Chorus Line.”

The women of varying ages, sizes, impairments and disabilities were so excited to be on stage.  These are ladies who have rarely been noticed throughout their lives.  They have struggled.  They have been counted out.  They have been discouraged.  But not this night!  On this night they were beautiful!  They were displaying their talents.  Some danced.  Some sang.  One played the piano.  Let’s just say the dancing was more enthusiastic than accomplished.  The singing was more joyous than melodious.  The piano player picked out a tune with her right hand only.  But the people cheered and applauded for every one of them.  For these ladies to have the joy and the courage to perform and to do it with such exhuberance was spectacular!

When it came time for the evening gown procession, each woman felt a beauty in their lives they had never felt before.  The donated gowns didn’t always fit perfectly nor did each contestant glide along the floor with sophistication, but never have I experienced such an elegant moment at this!  When the questions were asked of them (What is your favorite color and why? or What is your favorite ice cream and why?) some contestants were clear and articulate and some of the ladies could only make sounds that never formed words.  But the hearts of the audience responded enthusiastically to every answer.  Applause!  Applause!  Applause!

At the end of the evening a winner was prounced.  Her name is Gail.  But every contestant was a winner, and so were all 300 people in attendance.  All of the ladies in the pageant hugged each other.  Everybody was thrilled.  And I thought, how wonderful it was to help people to know how beautiful they really are.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could do that every day with every one we meet?

Thanks Giving with Thanks Living

Over the last two months there is a group within the church called the Nominations and Leadership Development Team that is responsible for identifying, deploying, and monitoring spiritual leadership for the church.  Nardin Park has 30 Boards, Committees and Ministry Teams in place to accomplish the ministries to which we have committed ourselves.  We need lots of people who are willing to give of their time and energies to make these ministries happen. 

This year alone almost 100 people were approached by the Nominations Team and most of the people responded with a “yes.”  Many of those who said, “no” offered an alternative place where they could serve and most of the time we were able to accomodate them.  Thankfully, I can report that approximately 240 people are willing to dedicate their talents in making Nardin Park a vital and vitalized congregation.  Praise God!

I’m especially excited that several of our youth took the initiative to expand their ministry above and beyond “youth” ministry.  We now have someone on the Worship Team (Elizabeth Morrison), the Family Life Team (Julia Lederer), the Audio Team (James Allbery) and for a fourth year in a row we have a high school youth (the second year for Jake Lockledge) attending the Detroit Annual Conference as one of our three members representing Nardin Park.

It is exciting to experience people who are excited about being in ministry.  Since Thanksgiving is a couple of days away, the obvious thought scurrying around in my brain is that when we experience a sense of gratitude for our life and our faith we begin to seek ways in which we can live out our gratitude.  In other words, thanks-giving becomes thanks-living.  It’s a joy to watch! 

It’s far more fun to watch than the Detroit Lions!  By the way, what genius continues to schedule the Lions to play on Thanksgiving against some of the National Football League’s best teams?  Can a Lion really devour a New England Patriot on Thanksgiving Day?  Isn’t that like rooting for the turkeys to do in the Pilgrims?  Of course I’ll be in front of the tv screen and I will enjoy the game.  My enjoyment, however, comes from the company we’re hosting.  All of our kids, their spouses and our granddaughter will be with us.  My sense of gratitude is simply overwhelming.  I pray that my thanks-living can match the fullness in my heart.

Youth Inspired

Last Sunday I walked into the church building as usual but the rest of the Sunday morning experience was different for me.  Yesterday was High School Youth Sunday.  Under the direction of Rev. Susan Youmans the youth developed a worship theme, planned the mechanics of the service and provided the talent and leadership for the worship hour.  My wife and I chose to sit in the balcony.  We have a faithful balcony crew of worshipers who are not use to seeing me in their domain.  They reacted; I responded; and it was fun.

The theme was “Something New,” based on Isaiah 65:17.  We were warmly and humorously greeted by Robert Paquette.  We heard an enthusiastic rendition of “Shine Your Light” by the New Generation Youth Choir.  Tommy Moening delivered the morning announcements with precise clarity and enthusiasm.  We appreciated the musical talent of Christine Nicholson, flute and James Allbery, violin as they played “Seek Ye First,” an arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon by Jim Allbery.

Vivacious Julia Lederer presented a Children’s Message.  James Allbery led us in our time of prayer.  Patrick Paquette read scripture.  David Green led us through our time of stewardship.  We watched a visual powerpoint presentation created by Christine Nicholson.  We heard three personal statements of faith and mission by Kelsey Duntley, Jake Lockledge and Julia Lederer.

The worship service had an energy and a flow that was deeply appreciated by everyone, especially me.  What struck me about these high school youth was their poise and their commitment to their faith.  We hear all kinds of horror stories about the younger generations, but with these young people all of the possible troubles for the future melted away and was replaced with such words as “hope,” “potential,” “compassion,” and “faithfulness.”

Jake Lockledge delivered the morning benediction: “Yesterday’s the past and tomorrow’s the future.  Today is a gift – which is why they call it the present.”  It is a quote from Bill Keane, cartoonist and creator of “The Family Circus.” 

Today is a gift, a present from God.  And so are these Youth.  Thank you for your inspiration.

The Gift of Jayden

     One Sunday morning Paul Merritt introduced me to a young guest that he had brought to church.  Jayden is four years old with a wonderful smile and a charming personality.  He had never been in a church building before and was quite taken with all of the people and especially our Sunday school.  During the worship service Jayden came to forward during our “Ministry with Children” time.

     Our scripture theme for the morning was taken from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, verses 11 through 19.  It is the story of how Jesus healed ten lepers, but after they were healed only one leper returned and thanked Jesus for what he had done. 

     I handed out to each child a baggie that contained ten pennies.  I told them it was a gift, just like the gifts that God gives us each day.  God gives us such gifts as love, hope, joy and caring.  As we receive these gifts we become thankful, so thankful that we want to actively give thanks.  I then showed them an offering plate and said to them that every Sunday we show our thanks to God through our giving.  If we felt that God had blessed us with ten pennies, then we could say thanks to God by giving one of those pennies to God, BUT it was their choice.

     Every person exercises their choice in saying thanks.  Some people would keep all ten pennies.  Some would be thankful that they could keep nine pennies and more than gladly give one of the pennies to God.  So as the children left to go to Sunday school they could put a penny into the offering plate or they could keep all ten pennies.  It was their choice.  Each child was happy to reach into their baggie and pull out one penny into the plate.  After all, they still possessed nine free pennies they didn’t have before.

     The last person to leave that morning was Jayden.  As he approached the offering plate a big smile came over him.  He emptied the entire baggie of ten pennies into the plate!  He was so thankful to be in church that he couldn’t stop himself from giving all of his gifts to God.  When I saw the joy on his face my heart almost leapt out of my body!  He didn’t stop to count the cost.  He didn’t ask how the money was going to be used.  He was simply happy to give it all to God!

     When I saw Paul the following Sunday morning we talked about Jayden’s amazing generosity.  Paul then told me about a gentleman who came up to him after the worship service and handed him a dollar for Jayden.  The man told Paul that one of the values that were taught to him as a child was that when we are giving with our lives God multiplies our generosity ten-fold.  Jayden had given ten cents.  He wanted Jayden to have a dollar – ten times the ten cents.  For the man, Jayden had been a blessing to his life and he wanted to bless Jayden.  Generosity brings even more generosity.

     I don’t think people should give in order to get even more, but I do think that when people become giving there is even more giving to be experienced in their lives.  The theme for our 2010 Stewardship Campaign is “Let God Lead.”  And God did just that.  God led through the grateful heart of a four-year-old boy.  Jayden, you helped me to experience once again the purity of giving, asking for nothing in return.  There is a smile on my face and joy in my heart.  Thank you.

Call to Action Breakfast

For almost my whole life I have been a “night” person.  I stay up late to read, to watch old movies, or maybe even to enjoy a video game.  That’s the kind way of saying I’m not a “morning” person.  I usually only need about 6-7 hours of sleep per night, so I do get up in the morning.  Or at least my body gets up in the morning, but my mind normally takes a couple of hours to catch up with everything else that is going on.  There are very few things that can trigger my desire to get going in the morning.  Oh, yeah, there’s the 8 am Tuesday morning group of men that eats breakfast at the Farmington Ram’s Horn.  And then again, there’s the 8:30 am Saturday morning group of men that gathers for a doughnut, coffee and conversation around whatever book we are studying.  But as for anything earlier than 8 am – well, good luck at rousing me out of bed.

Having declared my shortcomings, I must confess there is one lady who can get me out of bed for a 7:15 am breakfast every year.  No, it’s not my wife.  It’s Betty Nicolay.  She invites me to the annual Community Breakfast of the Call to Action Coalition of Farmington/Farmington Hills.  This group vows to “break the silence” surrounding alcohol and drug use, physical and emotional abuse, addiction and domestic violence in our community by promising to intervene and support where needed.  Betty was a founder of the Families in Action group that eventually grew into the Call to Action Coalition.  She was honored for her 30 years of service and leadership in both orgnizations.  At the time of her recognition she was awarded a plaque, announced her retirement from the group, and received a well-deserved standing ovation for her years of devoted and dedicated service.

It was a quotation on the plaque that attracted my attention.  Although, I must admit that I had to finally call Betty to acquire the actual wording.  Written by Claudia Black the words are: “It is not the mountain that gets moved that makes a difference.  It is the little steps taken one at a time.”  I really like that thought.

Every day we take lots and lots of little steps.  What are we doing with our steps?  Where are we going?  Some days we take steps sideways or backwards or we go off in a totally new direction.  The possibilites are numerous.  Then all of a sudden, one day we stop our steps and look to see where we are.  We wonder how we got here.  Maybe we even think about where we might be going. 

I know of a few people (actually the number is 186) who have taken steps away from the Nardin Park faith family.  They have followed little steps that took them into a direction where they began to attend the worship of God less and less.  They followed little steps that led them into giving less and less of themselves and their financial support until they finally stopped giving.  It’s easy to do.  It just takes lots and lots of little steps.  Then they find themselves wondering, “Why don’t I feel close to my church any more?”

Little steps lead us away from what we truly value, or little steps lead us to what we truly value.  Little steps.  Congratulations, Betty, for taking so many little steps that helped address a big community concern.  Actually, thank all of you for taking the little steps that each day requires.  Hopefully, those little steps move us closer to God and to each other.

Golf Scramble

On Monday, September 20 104 golfers gathered at the Fox Hills Golf Course west of Plymouth, Michigan.  Their purpose was two-fold: (1) enjoy a round of golf, and (2) raise money for Cass Community Social Services (CCSS).  This was the 4th annual Cass Golf Scramble.  I have to admit that I was walking pretty tall as the lead pastor of Nardin Park.  We had six foursomes (24) participating in the Scramble – five foursomes of men and 1 foursome of women.  Approximately $24,000 was raised for Cass with $4,000 coming from the golfers and contributors from Nardin Park. With the decline in corporate sponsorships it was important to get more people involved and we did!

CCSS is devoted to making a profound difference in thousands of lives by fighting poverty and creating opportunity for the poor, underserved, and overlooked in the community of Detroit.  They offer numerous avenues of hope to the many that walk through their doors every day, including: the Safe Haven program for mentally ill men, the Transitional Housing program for chronically addicted men, Mom’s Place for homeless women and children, the Skill Building Programs for adults with developmental disabilities, the Vocational Training Program/Permanent Jobs for unemployed adults, two Emergency Shelters, the providing of 20,000 meals a week to homebound seniors and homeless people, and Youth Services such as musical, mentoring and recreational opportunities.  Reverend Faith Fowler is the director and the incredible energy behind these ministries and the wonderful staff that coordinates all of these programs.

I gladly admit that I am not much of a golfer, but I do enjoy being on the links with friends.  I especially love the scramble format, where we play the best ball hit by one of the four team members.  One of the requirements is that each golfer must have three of their drives be used during the 18 holes of play.  So the pressure is on!  Wherever the best shot lands becomes the spot for the rest of us to hit from for the next shot.  At one time or another we depend on each other to make our way through the course.

I think there is a spiritual idea in all of this.  As people of faith we are in a scramble counting on one another to successfully play the course of life.  Yet all too often we play like we are the only ones in the game.  If we could just relax and learn to depend on one another, how much better living out our discipleship could be.  Will other people let us down?  Sometimes.  After all, I even let myself down from time to time.  All four of our foursome missed the same six foot putt, but at the end of the day we still shot a score of five-under par.  No matter what the score, I believe we do better when we work together, talk together, have fun together, and do things together.  You see, other people also lift us up.  We need each other to become the best person that we can be. 

See you on the Golf Course.  I’m usually the one looking for the lost ball!

Little Girl and Beautiful Bride

On the television stations there is currently a car commercial that shows a father standing at the front passenger side of the car with the window rolled down.  He is dangling car keys in his hands and addressing the driver of the car, a young girl around 8 years old.  He is giving her instructions on how to be careful while driving the car.  When I first saw this ad I can remember thinking, “Who would ever let such a little girl drive a car?”

After a couple of photo shots of the little girl, much of the commercial is spent on the worried look of the father’s face.  Finally, the little girl interrupts her dad, taking the car keys from him.  As he sees the keys vanish from his hand, the little girl becomes a 16 year old young lady taking the car out for the first time on her own.  The car company completes the ad by telling us, the audience, that they prepared this automobile for such a day as this.  I was so emotionally taken, that a tear surprised my face with its presence, reminding me of how fast our four children have grown.

That feeling merely compounded itself on Saturday, August 21, at 4 pm.  My daughter, Kate Miller, stood in front of me and beside a young man named Kris Ambrose.  It was their wedding day.  We were outdoors at Riverside Receptions near Centreville, Michigan.  An irritating, dripping rain stopped at 2 pm, the sun made an appreciated appearance, and the temperature reflected more accurately what most Michigan summer days feel like.

The Bride’s mother was nervous but looking extremely radiant and beautiful.  The Bride’s grandfather (my father) walked her down the aisle.  Due to my invalid mother he had not been able to be present at the weddings of our first two children, Sam and Sarah.  With mother’s death, dad was able to be with us for this occasion.  Kate asked him to be her escort.  My wife, Susan, and I were deeply moved and I know that dad was very grateful.

As Kate and Kris stood before me I looked at them both.  Kris stared at Kate with such love in his eyes that it made my heart beat with joy.  When I looked at Kate, I was like that car commercial dad.  I saw a blonde, curly-haired, little girl, full of life and energy, marching toward life with boundless determination. 

Right before the wedding began I reached in my pocket to check on the status of my handkerchief, only to discover its absence.  The thought that came to mind was, “You can’t cry, Miller.  You don’t have a hankie!”  Actually, I did pretty well.  Then as I was pronouncing them husband and wife I began staring at Kate, realizing she was now a wife, only to see her staring back at me with such grace in her eyes that I simply began to melt.  I buckled, but kept going, somehow managing to hand over the car keys to her.  Oops, I mean…well, you know what I mean.

At the wedding reception I gave a toast.  Toasts are words of appreciation, of personal support and wishing people well.  I wish all of you well, but this toast is for Kate and Kris.

“From Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Florida and Michigan you have come together as family and friends of Kate and Kris, celebrating their love and vows of marriage.  We thank you.  As I look at my daughter, Kate, I can’t help but reflect on all the years I was lucky enough to watch her grow and become the beautiful woman she is today.  She captured my heart on the day she was born, and I became more and more in awe of her as the years passed by.  She’s my little girl and my ray of sunlight, and no matter what her age, she’ll always be those things to me.

Today, as I watch her marry Kris, I am filled with pride and I am confident that they are about to embark on a wonderful journey.  Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and marriages blossom when we love the ones we marry.  I lift my glass and toast Kate and Kris.  May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet; enough hope to keep you happy; enough success to keep you eager; enough friends to give you comfort; and enough determination to make each day a better day than yesterday.”

Colonial Spanish Mustangs

Susan and I recently returned from our annual vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We gather with her side of the family (the Anderson clan) for a week of rest and renewal and chaos.  We cram 23 family members and friends into a 9 bedroom home that can sleep 20!  It’s wonderful and relaxing.  The house is located some 9 miles north of  the little town of Corolla, reachable only by 4×4 vehicles since there are no paved roads, only sand.

The area also hosts about 100 free-roaming Corolla wild horses.  They are descended from the horses of the Conquistadors, brought to the New World from Spain as well as from Spanish breeding farms in the West Insides.  They were the best horses of that time – a mixture of Spanish Barb, Arabian and Andalusian bloods that created the Colonial Spanish Mustang.  Lucas Vasquez de Allyon sent an expedition to the Cape Fear area of North Carolina in 1521.  Ship’s logs document the Spaniards leaving their horses behind during a Native American uprising.  The herd is protected and monitored by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Some mornings we awoke to the sounds of a stallion and three mares feeding on the inward side of the house.  One afternoon three young stallions joined us at the beach, ignoring our presence completely.  They played in the water and rolled in the sand.  They chased each other as playfully as any of the other “kids” who were enjoying the Atlantic Ocean.

Playful could best describe our vacation.  We were playful not just with actions, but in our attitudes and in our relationships with our family.  About the only thing we took seriously each day was the time that dinner would be served.  When we are rested, when we are thinking of others in a positive way, our souls become playful.  This is a lesson that I need to place in my memory bank and pull out to review constantly.  There are so many experiences that can take the playfulness out of our lives.

When you see me, ask me to see the pictures of the horses on my i-phone.  I’m not a great photographer by any means, but these few photos will stay with me for a while, reminding me of God’s playfulness in my life and my need to be playful with my life and my faith.

So That…

Years ago, when I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree, one of the presenters was Leonard Sweet, profilic author and seminary professor.  Somebody remarked about organizing a planning “retreat.”  Dr. Sweet vehemently responded that Christians should never retreat.  They should only advance.  And, true to his view, from then on every time there was a gathering of people in what most of us would refer to as a retreat setting, Sweet would advertise the gathering as an “advance.”

Well, last Tuesday some of us gathered off-site to do some program planning for the coming year, as well as simply talking about the present and the future of Nardin Park.  We called it a “Day-Treat.”  We treated ourselves to a day of reflection and action.  Hopefully, we are making decisions that will advance the ministry and mission of this congregation.

As a part of our discussion, we reminded ourselves of our purpose: “Christ-Centered, People-Focused, Spirit-Led.”  We then rehearsed John Wesley’s three simple rules of relationships: (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Stay in love with God.  Finally, we remembered our 2010 Lenten study about the five practices of ministry: (1) Radical Hospitality, (2) Passionate Worship, (3) Intentional Faith Development, (4) Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and (5) Extravagant Generosity.

These are the basic building blocks for the present and future of Nardin Park.  All of these thoughts fit hand in glove with who we are and who we are to become.  The litmus test of application will be the words, “SO THAT…” which means that we will have to know why we are doing what we are doing. 

We are offering a Vacation Bible School SO THATchildren who participate can learn the heart songs and stories of their faith so they can have something meaningful for their lives. 

We are going out of our way to make guests feel welcomed SO THATthe grace of Jesus Christ can be experienced by everyone in a warm, inviting and loving community of faith. 

We are re-working our web-site, our newsletter and our worship bulletin SO THATpeople can feel connected to God, to their church family, and to people they haven’t met.

It’s when we know why we are doing what we are doing that makes the ministries that we do valuable.  It’s time to re-examine our faith life together so that we not simply about the busy-ness of membership, but the relevant activity of discipleship.

As we enjoyed our time together on our Day-Treat, I began thinking about my own personl life.  I started injecting the words “so that…” into what I was doing and what I’m about.  My head began to spin.  Luckily, I’m going to start a 2 week vacation today and I’ll have some down-time just to let my mind wander on the important and the un-important.

Before I leave I am officiating the memorial service for Charlotte Beardsley.  She died on her 100th birthday, full of optimism and hope to her last breath.  It will be a service of celebration for her life and her entrance into life eternal.  Think of all the “so thats…” in her life.  Wow!

Trigger and Otter

Last week my oldest son, Walker, sent me an email regarding a story from National Public Radio.  He sent the story because as a kid I was addicted to westerns.  Actually, I still can’t pass up an old black and white cowboy movie.  On television the king of the cowboys was Roy Rogers.  I remember that on one Christmas I received two Roy Rogers chuck wagon sets, one from my mother’s side of the family and one from my father’s side.  I had a wagon train!  I still have one of those chuck wagons.  Wonder what it would fetch on ebay? 

Well, back to the NPR story.  On July 14 and 15 Christie’s Auction House in New York sold off Roy Roger’s memoribilia, including cowboy hats, boots, guitars, and even a 1964 convertible that was decorated with six-shooters as door handles.  The highlight of the sale was Roy’s faithful horse and fellow performer, the ever-trusty Trigger.  Trigger was just as much of a movie star as Roy.  During World War II Trigger and Roy performed all over the country, raising millions in the sale of war bonds.  When Trigger died, Roy was so sad that he hired a taxidermist to stuff the famous horse.  Trigger, who died one day before his 31st birthday, in 1965, was on display for many years at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California.  He was placed in his most famous rearing position, his front hooves high in the air.

Of course, the idea of stuffing your equine best friend is a little beyond my comprehension.  I do have a colleague that possesses a family heirloom that has been passed from one generation to another.  The heirloom is a stuffed otter.  My friend usually decorates him with a Duke University t-shirt.  One year, after Susan and I visited he and his wife in Florida we sent him a University of Michigan t-shirt for the otter to wear so that the poor animal wouldn’t be embarrassed during football season.  As cute as that otter may have looked, I still couldn’t imagine him decorating the living room of the parsonage.

Trigger was sold for $265,000 to a RFD-TV station in Omaha, Nebraska.  The station plans airing old Roy Rogers movies on Saturdays with Roy Rogers Jr. introducing each film with Trigger as a backdrop.  Also sold were the handwritten lyrics and music to the song, “Happy Trails.”  The silver jeep Nellybelle sold for $116,500.  Overall the sale brought in $2.98 million.  I doubt if my friend, Leigh, could get any money for his family otter, but then again, who knows?

There is probably not a stuffed horse or otter in our homes, but I would venture to say there are other monuments to our lives that take their place.  They are a tribute to some memory, reminding us of what we have considered valuable.  The questions for me are: (1) “What is really valuable in our lives?” and (2) “When we do find something that is truly valuable, what price are we willing to pay?” 

Well, happy trails, to you, pardner, until we meet again.


Over the Fourth of July weekend our family gathered for our daughter Kate’s Bridal Shower in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Our children and their families either flew or drove in from Virginia, Florida and Ohio.  My 86 year old father even drove up from Indianapolis, Indiana.  The focus of the event was on Kate, but the newest addition to the family, 3 month old Madison, received the most attention.  Everyone wanted to hold her and make her smile.  At three months a smile is her biggest accomplishment. Well, that and a good toot.  I look in her eyes and wonder what life will be for her.

Back in 1997 I looked in the eyes of another little girl.  Actually, I looked into her eyes and the eyes of her sister as well.  Her parents had just joined the church I was pastoring.  The girls were four and three years old.  When they came to church they were always dressed the same, all pretty and petite.  They were cute little girls.  They always stood in the receiving line with their parents after the worship service and greeted me with a handshake.  Two years later I baptized the newest addition to their family, a little boy named Nicholas.

During the last 10 years I lost contact with the kids, although I saw the mother at meetings about once a year.  This last year I got to shake the hand once again of this little girl who is now seventeen years old.  Her name is Jessica Arnold and she was being introduced to the Detroit Annual Conference at Adrian College as a person who had helped enhance our conference’s covenant relationship with Liberia.

Jessica decided that she needed to become more involved with helping people.  She began by collecting books and funds for the C.W. Duncan School in Monrovia, Liberia.  She established a Board of Directors, created a Facebook page and began promoting her project.  The money she raised was for student tuitions.  The books she collected were new and used textbooks.  She raised more than $5,000.

After the presentation I had the opportunity to talk with Jessica and her mother, Nancy.  I told her that I was so proud of her – not just because of what she had done, but because of the person she had become. 

When I think of Jessica, I think of our Nardin Park youth who are giving of their time and effort in Tennessee for the Appalachia Service Project.  I think of the youth who participated in the 30 Hour Famine and raised more than $5,000.  I think of all the Middle School Youth who will be participating in our Middle School Service Week, donating hours of their time in service to others.  As I think of them, I think of my little “Maddy,” and what she will become.

Years ago I was talking to a teenage boy.  I was sharing with him that I thought he possessed a great deal of potential.  I intended my comments as a compliment to who he was and who he was becoming.  Unfortunately, he didn’t receive my words with great enthusiasm.  Rather, he stared at me and muttered, “Thanks, but I don’t need that kind of pressure!”

All of us have potential.  Some days we live up to our potential.  Some days we don’t.  I always enjoyed the challenge, but then again, I guess that for some people potential puts them under a burdening pressure that is uncomfortable and repressive to their personal growth.  Perhaps, it’s how we perceive what potential offers to us that makes the difference.  For me it is an open door inviting me into a future full of possibilities – even at my age!

There are so many wonderful people at Nardin Park.  There have been so many wonderful ministries that have taken place over the years.  There is so much potential here.  There is still much left to do and to become.  The same is true for each person’s individual life.  May God help us to live into our potential.

Independence Day

Over the years I’ve had many opportunities to participate in community theatre productions.  While in Flint I was able to be a part of the musical 1776.  I played John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.  When the 4th of July rolls around each year I think of that musical and the historyof our beginning as a nation.  I am grateful for such men as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and John Adams.  The labor pains of independence were agonizing and yet the birthed nation has now served as a beacon for freedom for 234 years.

The Fourth of July is also known as Independence Day.  We look forward to the fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, political speeches and cermonies.  This year July 4 falls on a Sunday.  The first time that July 4 as a holiday fell on a Sunday was 1779.  That year the holiday was celebrated on Monday, July 5.

It is a good day to remember the founding values of our nation and to make a pledge to renew our commitment to those values.  We look at our national flag and think of the progression that we have experienced with stars being added as a new state joined the Union.  We hear the “Star Spangled Banner” and think of the conflicts that we have endured for the sake of liberty.  The 4th of July is an emotional day calling us to reclaim our passion for the virtues for which our country stands, a day when we stand up as a citizen of this nation.  It is a day of goose bumps and pride-filled chests.

If this is the day that excites us about our being United States citizens, what is it that excites us about being Nardin Park citizens?  On Pentecost we clothed ourselves in garments of red, held a picnic and rejoiced in the guiding of God’s spirit at this church. 

During our Vacation Bible School green became our color as we looked at being good stewards of our world.  The closing program on Thursday night was a giant festive occasion complete with a musical program and pizza!  As one VBS mother said to another, “I take my kids to a lot of VBS programs, but this one is the best!” 

Last Sunday we commissioned our 21 member ASP (Appalachian Service Project) Mission team all clad in their dark blue t-shirts as they prepare to go Tennessee for the 32nd annual ASP trip.  The Team took a pledge before the congregation to be the eyes through which Christ sees, the mouths through which Christ speaks, the hearts through which Christ loves, and the hands through which Christ works.  What a wonderful witness they are to our faith!

Every day there are people of Nardin Park who stand tall for their faith.  I am grateful for every one of them.  We need to renew our commitment to the values and virtues of our faith, alive and well at Nardin Park.  We need to stand up and volunteer to make ministry happen at Nardin Park.  We need to make sure our financial pledge is up to date or that our monetary giving doesn’t fade.  Currently we are over $40,000 in “the red.”  There are citizens of Nardin Park who haven’t made a single contribution to their church this year.  We need to support the incredible ministries of this church.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and we are proud of our citizenship.

So, as we experience the 4th of July fireworks, let’s make sure that the fireworks of God keeps brightening the skies of Nardin Park!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Newsletter

Our newest newsletter was posted today.  Unfortunately, somehow the front of the newsletter contained a “Parson-to-Person” from last January.  Somewhere between my computer and Rita Clarke’s computer, a “cyber-space” glitch occurred.  We will be posting the correct “Parson-to-Person” on the e-newsletter.  In case you missed, however, I am also including it here.

 June 17, 2010


     Last night at Church Council David Burgess, Chair of our IT (Internet Technologies) Ministry Team, presented us with a wonderful visual run through of what our new website provides us. 

l) Did you miss last Sunday’s worship service?  Then you can find a podcast and listen to the sermon.  

2)Did you forget when Vacation Bible School starts?  Then you can check out the church calendar. 

3) Have you misplaced your newsletter?  Then you can read the current newsletter on line.

4) Do you want to receive the latest announcements about the happenings and people at Nardin?  Then you can sign up to receive direct emails from the church.

 In the future we will also be able to register on line for that fall Bible class, or to sign up for that Advent Family Celebration.  It’s simply amazing how we will be able to stay closely connected with each other.  [Printed newsletter will still be available upon request.]

     In the midst of all this marvelous technology I received an e-news report from the Barna Research Group that included this statement:  “In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, many Americans feel more connected to people than ever, but a new national survey shows that Americans are not just connected to each other.  One of the dominant connections in people’s lives is with Jesus Christ.  In fact, more people claim to be closely connected to Jesus Christ than have a Facebook page or Twitter account.”

     The Barna study, conducted among a random sample of 1,002 U.S. adults, discovered that two out of every three adults (67%) claimed to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus that is currently active and that influences their life.  The age break-down of the responses included 72% of adults 65 or older, 70% of Boomers (ages 46-64), 65% of Busters (ages 27-45) and 52% of Mosaics (ages 18-26).

     I pray that our new web site will not only connect us together as the Nardin Park community of faith, but that people we don’t even know can be connected to Jesus Christ through us.  It truly is an exciting time to be the church!                                                                   

               In hope and confidence,


Grandma’s Back Door

Wonder Bread Rug

(Image of a Wonder Bread bag from a Folk Art Museum!)

I was always fascinated by the crinkle-crackle of the mat just inside Grandma’s back door. Crocheted in a circular pattern was yard upon yard of plastic bread bags. It was always fun to sit while tying my shoes and see if I could identify any of the bags from the interwoven strips now just spots of color here and there.

Grandma recycled or repurposed just about everything. If she wasn’t taking something apart to use in something else, she was putting something together. She saved bread bags, mesh bags, and even the little square plastic clips from the bags. I still have a white cross bookmark made from the bread clips in Sunday School. We might have thought Grams was just a little carried away with all this re-using and re-crafting. What I wouldn’t give to have her imagination instead of the recycling bin that goes to the road every week and the contents sent somewhere to be melted or fused into something else (recycling doesn’t always eliminate or reduce pollution!).

So I’m going to work on a new craft/creation and I invite you to join me on one way or another. I’ve found how to make plarn. Plarn is plastic yarn and it is made from plastic grocery bags looped together.  Crafters use plarn to make door mats like Grandma’s, shopping totes, play mats for kids and even sleeping mats to keep the homeless clean and dry on the ground.

Here’s how you can help–bring your plastic grocery bags (I know, you use the reusable shopping bags, but I also know you forget to grab them and end up with the plastic ones anyway!) and bread bags to Nardin Park this week when you drop your kids off for Kids at the Park VBS or when you come to the evening sessions for adults.  We will cut the bags into loops and then loop them into plarn.  As we collect the bags and cut them into strips we will begin our first sleeping mat project in simple single crochet!

Check back often for pics (I’m imagining a mountain of bags!) and watch our progress.  I’ll post the pattern and plarn-making instructions (or you can find the instructions here–