All posts by Gary Poole

it’s Saturday at the Park…


I love short sayings.  Our Vacation Bible School comes with three short imperatives:  Grow in Faith.  Have Fun.  Change the World.  That’s a great package and Nardin Park UMC has a great VBS team to help our youngest experience each element.

Our Kids at the Park week begins Monday morning.  I’m taking a break from my preparations as the Community Site facilitator to write this.  At the Community Site, we will observe and explore how we live in community, who our neighbors are–including all the plants and animals around us, and how we can make better choices with our resources.  One of the activities is making cloth napkins to use instead of using disposable paper napkins.  I LOVE cloth napkins!!!  I own way too many and still collect them from rummage and garage sales.  We will create some nature art and look at how God has designed seeds.

Seeds carry new life from place to place.  The Word of God is a seed planted in our lives.  Seeds are like short sayings, that once unpacked, can fill up a lifetime.  Dale shared six words a few weeks ago, three short sayings.

  • God-Centered
  • People-Focused
  • Spirit-Led

These are Community Site statements.  Wherever we find ourselves, whatever choices we are about to make, whatever learning we are about to encounter, we can ask if we are beginning with God at our center, if we are acting in ways that bless and affirm others, and if we are listening to the Holy Spirit as we go forward.  We live in commmunity with all the ways we experience God in Christ and Spirit and Creator.  We live in community with all of creation.  My prayer for all of us next week is that we will allow some of God’s love to be planted in us and that love will grow.

I hope anyone who would like to hear a little more about the Parable of the Sower and how it can help us stay God-Centered, People-Focused, and Spirit-Led will join the “adult” version of ReNew at 7pm Monday through Wednesday.  (And to fulfill the “Have Fun” of VBS, return on Thursday to celebrate with all the Kids at the Park for a Pizza Party in Mercer Hall at 7pm!)

Now more than ever we are aware of how our choices and preferences challenge this planet to sustain us.  Now is the time to begin new habits and learn how our actions can contribute toward a healthier and more sustainable use of resources.  Learn about Urban Agriculture, Green Gardening, and Responsible Recycling from local experts and practitioners.  Give your own soul garden some weeding and watering and replenishing!

Spend a few minutes reflecting on The Parable of the Sower (, then visit the site below and check out some new ways to use those closet organizers and soda bottles.

Finding the Bottom Buttons

One of my ministerial friends over the years has been Dick Cheatham who is now retired and living in San Antonio, Texas.  Dick plays a “mean” clarinet, I “tickle the ivories” and we share a common love for jazz.  Actually, at one time there were 5 of us clergy types that comprised a jazz group and occasionally played at the Detroit Annual Conference gathering at Adrian College.  We had a lot of fun!

Dick is now an author and I recently purchased his book, Can You Make the Buttons Even?.  In Chapter 2 he writes about his experience around the book title:  “When I was a young boy living in the southeast corner of Detroit, morning was a rich experience.  No matter how often or urgently Mom would remind us of the need for haste I usually headed for the door at the last moment, grabbing for whatever the weather called for on my way.  In winter this usually required a bit more time.  Michigan winters can be brutal.  I invariably began the buttoning process somewhere in the middle of my coat, donning hat and scarf between buttons.  Often, in my haste, I began with the wrong button in the wrong hole.  By the time I was finished part of the coat was scrunched up around my neck, while one side dangled limply alone at the bottom.  In frustration I would turn to Mom and plaintively ask, ‘Can you make the buttons even?’  In response she would begin unbuttoning them and then start the process from the bottom, saying, ‘Dick, if you get it right at the bottom it will come out right at the top.'”

As I read his words I thought about my life, my life with the church and the life of the church itself.  There are times when I simply need to re-button my life, beginning at the bottom, the basics of what life and faith is all about.  For me, summer is a good time to do this, although I’m certainly not going to limit myself to only one time a year.  I think we all need to take the time to realign our priorities.  What are our bottom buttons?  What do we need to do first in order that everything else even has a chance to be even?

Later on in the chapter, Dick writes: “Examine the way you spend your money and your time if you want to make your buttons even.  Show me your checkbook and your personal calendar and you will have shown me much of your value system.  These are the bottom buttons of your life.  If they are not in the proper place, nothing else will fit correctly.  Take a look at them.  Are you comfortable with them?  Do they represent what you want your life to be – what you want your soul to become?”

I believe those are good questions for our personal lives.  Our checkbooks and calendars are evidence of what we think is important.  For me, however, my bottom button takes an additional direction that includes these questions:  Am I helping people experience the love of God in their lives?  Am I helping people experience the love of God with their lives? 

What are your bottom buttons?

Are we there yet?

My traveling companion jokingly asked “Are we there yet?” as we made our way back from The Detroit Annual Conference held in Adrian last month.  We were both exhausted from four days of connecting with friends both old and new, eating, worshiping, walking, and drying ourselves and our stuff (Lenawee County received FIVE INCHES of rain in one day!). 

The idea of coming home was pleasant, if not downright exciting.  Thinking about that wonderful place where you are welcomed and accepted, where a favorite chair and an affectionate pet are waiting for you.  No one else.  Just you.  There is nothing quite like home-sweet-home.  

My mind began to wonder about all that everyone at home had been doing while I was busy with everyone and everything at the conference.  What have you been up to?  Thinking about?  Working for?  Are you there yet?  Where do you want to be?  What do you long to be?  Dream of? 

What does it look like when we arrive at our destination?  Are we ever finished?  Or are we simply being prepared for the next journey? 

As my traveling companion and I enjoyed the sunny afternoon on our drive home, we began to talk about God’s call on our lives and how we know what it is and how we get there.  While I have a GPS device in my car to help me navigate the road and a Google Map app on my phone to do the same (with a Rand McNally Road Atlas tucked in the large pocket on the back of my seat), our conversation turned to asking what do we need to navigate our God-journey?  How do we know how to go?  Where to go?  When to go?   Who and what to bring with us? 

Years ago a spiritual friend helped me to discover that my “God” roadmaps were usually written in my own handwriting.  Within a matter of months, sometimes even days, I could find myself in the midst of something I had described in a journal.  Prayers written down in the past became pathways to a future.  While thinking about how to answer “Are we there yet?” I recalled the list of goals I set for myself this year.  One of the goals was to write more.  I hadn’t been paying much attention to my list until returning home to a request to blog for the new church website. 

I’ll be writing and watching for where God will lead me next.  I’ll be praying for my companions on the way. I’d love to hear what you’re working toward, longing for, or just dreaming about.  I’d love to hear how you know when you’ve arrived or when you know you are being sent.  Maybe there will be new paths to follow as we share our dreams.  Send me yours, if you want to.  Or just write them down for yourself. 

Yours in the journey!  Susan

Faith Family

When I first arrived at Nardin Park in July 2006, I was simply the newest pastor in a long line of clergy who has faithfully served this amazing congregation.  During that first month I officiated at three funerals: Ken Wotowicz (40), Doug Black (72) and Eliabeth Weber (49).  Not knowing these people, I listened intently to the families tell their stories and hopefully ministered in a way that honored the deceased and a brought a word of comfort and hope to the people who were left with a void in their lives.  My heart was with these families, but there was no personal history with them.  Over the last four years I have offered words of remembrance and words of hope for 58 people from our Nardin Park family.

Over the last three weeks or so I once again officiated at three funerals: Kay Blakeney (95), Lew Fitchett (95) and Trudy McDonald (92).  The words of remembrance and the words of hope were once again shared, but funeral services are becoming different for me.  These are no longer people who just need my ministry as a pastor; these are people whom I have come to know and appreciate.  I minister, but I also need to experience our mutual faith since I also feel the void of these people not being in my life.  Whether it is Kay’s generous passion for her church, or Lew’s slow walk to his pew on Sunday morning and his love for mission, or Trudy’s mad flurry of activity and her boundless enthusiasm, they will be missed.

The best words that a pastor can hear after a funeral service are, “You made it so personal.”  Death is personal.  Our relationship with the deceased is personal.  Our faith is personal.  God’s relationship with us is personal.  Yes, the goal is to celebrate the person’s life and their entrance into life eternal as personally as possible.

After the memorial service for Lew, a man approached me, told me that he was in his mid-seventies and then commented that he appreciated the words said about his friend.  He then stared into the air and asked a question that he really directed to himself, “I wonder what people would say about me?”  Then he refocused his attention toward me and said, “I guess it’s not too late to make sure something good is said!”  And with that statement he rushed off to join with the others who were devouring the luncheon in Mercer Hall. 

When we look at a head stone at a person’s grave we often see their name followed by their birth date and their death date.  In between the dates is a dash (January 14, 1918 – June 6, 2010).  It is that dash that represents our lives and the manner in which we have lived them.  The dash for Kay, Lew and Trudy represented 282 years of living.  Wow!  Their dashes were filled with family, friends and faith.  I pray that my dash will be the same.

A Family Feeling

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, Susan and I traveled south to Indiana to be with my father.  Originally, our plans included being with our daughter, Kate and her soon-to-be husband, Kris, but after a phone call to Dad and hearing his voice we felt that our time would be better spent with him.  As you may remember, my mother died last fall and Dad is now alone.  Sixty-seven years with a remarkable lady and for the first time since he was eighteen years of age Dad now greets each new day in a different way. 

For a Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis (Think Indy 500 Raceday!) the traffic wasn’t all that bad and we were glad to see him.  He was all tan from working several days in the yard.  His skin is a little more wrinkled and the spring in his step has pretty much sprung, but he had a smile on his face.  After unpacking the car he told us that his sister, my Aunt Gretchen (age 92), had fallen and broken her elbow.  So on Sunday, we drove over to Rushville, Indiana, to visit her in the hospital.  There we were met by her two daughers, Sharon and Kay.  I had seen all of them at my mother’s funeral, but before that more than a dozen years had lapsed since our last visit together.

Aunt Gretchen looked worn out.  Surgery was needed, but she decided that at the age of 92 she wasn’t going to put herself through all of that “nonsense.”  In two weeks she will enter a rehab center.  She’ll never be able to raise her right hand above her head anymore.  We talked together for over two hours, remembering times and experiences that I would have never thought of on my own.

When it came to leave, I asked her if she would like a word of prayer.  Without hesitation she answered, “Yes.”  So we stood around the bed, hands joined and heads bowed.  During the prayer, I realized that I wasn’t praying as someone’s pastor; I was praying as a member of the family, a family who has known each other and gone through so much over all these years.  When the prayer ended, Aunt Gretchen didn’t say, “Thank you for the prayer, Dr. Miller.”  She softly uttered, “That felt good, Dale.”

I know that as a church we come and go in each other’s lives.  Sometimes we see each other a lot; sometimes we barely recognize one another.  Sometimes we go through intense pain together; sometimes we experience wonderful celebrations together; and sometimes we go through periods of not being involved with each other.  We don’t always feel like a close-knit family, but we are a family nonetheless.

Sunday mornings are a time of worshiping together as a family of faith.  When I don’t see some of the family members I get worried and mourn their absence.  I like being around you people.  After a worship service I don’t necessarily need people saying, “That felt good, Dale.”  But I would hope that people could say, “I felt God in my life and in our life together this morning, Dale.”  What else could a faith family member hope for?


  We all do it.  We wonder, at one time or another, if we are in the right place doing the right thing.  Should I spend time with these friends or those?  Should I move my investments?  Should I change jobs?  Should I go back to school?  Should I choose this college or that one?  Should we get a dog or a fish?   

We choose what is most comfortable or familiar.  We also choose what is most challenging and adventurous.  Depends on the day and whether we are worried about fitting in and finding “home” or if we need an adrenalin rush to feel alive. 

Our temperaments or personalities drive most of this without us even giving it a moment’s thought.  We just know what we need and go for it.  A quiet morning on the porch considering nothing.  An afternoon drive with the top down in the Mustang. 

I found pink forget-me-nots about a week ago and have been planning the best place for them in the flower beds around the parsonage.  They have particular temperaments and require specific conditions to thrive.  Once planted, they can’t change their mind and move around, so I have to choose wisely.  Today they are getting acclimated to a new space.  I’m watching them to make sure they are thriving before I commit them to a permanent  home. 

This got me thinking about the community I’m introducing them to–this hodge-podge collection of flowers and foliage I call a garden.  There are no copy-cats, but there are some scene-stealers.  There are a few renegades who like to take up more space and crowd others.  And some shy ones I secretly wish would get a little bolder, bloom longer, and bigger.  Some love the spotlight and others flourish in the shade.  I know them all by name and anxiously await their presence.  Everyday I walk among them and check to see if they are okay.  I remember learning their names from a grandmother or neighbor or friend when we were first introduced. 

Forget-Me-Nots captured my heart when I was about five years old.  My grandmother taught me that they remind us of true love, hope, and remembrance.  Funny the stuff you keep in your head!  

 Scriptures tell us that we are a planting of God, God’s garden.  It’s good to know that we have been planted in the place where we may both grow and bless, our lives bursting with life in ways that complement and complete God’s idea of a perfect garden.  You’ve all heard “bloom where you are planted” or at least found it on a bumper sticker.  We don’t need to worry about where we are.  We need to check to see if we are growing.     

Memorial Day weekend is upon us.  We remember.  We plant our gardens.  We hope that wherever we are, whatever choices we’ve made or have been made for us, we find ourselves in a loving, caring community to grow in.  Whether our minds are caught up in graduating high school, beginning retirement, or trying to figure out the best place for flowers in a garden, we can be hopeful.  God forgets-me-not. 


New Beginnings

Wow!  Our new website is up and running thanks to the countless hours and efforts of David Burgess and the IT Ministry Team.  There are numerous ways that we will eventually be able to use our web site. 

You will be able to sign up to receive our e newsletter, thereby saving hundreds of dollars on paper and postage.  Although you can still receive the paper newsletter if you wish.

You will eventually be able to sign up on line to attend a class or a church dinner or to enroll your child in Vacation Bible School.

You will be able to receive all church notifications on funeral services and prayer requests.

You will be able to hear the Sunday morning sermon, as well as reading the text.  Since sermons are meant to be experienced and not read, I am particularly excited about this prospect.

You will be able to click on our blogs and see what’s going on with us and what we’re thinking at the time.

As the hymn says, “This is a day of new beginnings.”  It is exciting and it is scary, because it involves change.

Someone once said, “People don’t want change.  They just want things to get better.”  Someone else said, “People resist change with all the vigor of antibodies attacking an intruding virus.”  But if we want to improve our ministries and our relationships with each other, changes are necessary.

Sir Isaac Newton once wrote, “Any object at rest tends to remain at rest.  An object in motion tends to remain in motion.  Every action gives rise to an opposite reaction.  Force equals mass times acceleration.”  As people of faith, we have no option but to change.  Change is not for the sake of change, but for the sake of following Jesus Christ.

We affirm that God has been active in our lives and in the life of Nardin Park throughout the years.  For that, we give thanks.  We also believe that God is present in our lives and in the life of Nardin Park today.  For that, we celebrate every expression of God’s presence with us.

Yet, none of us, or Nardin Park, can say, “We are now everything God ever intended for us to be.”  So we embrace the changes that technology can afford us.  I can even learn how to blog.

Monday Musings

One of my church mothers used to sing “Count Your Blessings” all the time.  It’s an old hymn, usually reserved for Thanksgiving and old-time hymn sings.  It pops up and gets stuck in my head often.  Written by Johson Oatman, Jr. in 1897, it tells us to count what God is doing and reminds us that we will be surprised by what we discover God has done.   

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

The typical response regarding the arrival of “Monday” isn’t usually cheers.  Monday is a back to work, back to the grind kind of day for many people.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine feeling that way–feeling dread about a fresh new day.  I thought I would cheer about today and share a few reasons for being excited about a Monday morning:

  • the sunshine and birds singing
  •  remembering all the people who walked up to me on Sunday and offered to volunteer to work on the Middle School Service Week
  • thankful for the Appalachia Service Project Team 2010 and how well everyone worked together serving the Cass Community Social Services community in Detroit over the weekend
  • experiencing “body farkling” at Common Ground youth group last night (you’ll just have to ask someone about that!)
  • having the best Youth Council volunteers anyone could hope for
  • having a freshly painted bathroom in the parsonage (thank you Dennis!)
  • getting a request from a granddaughter to make cupcakes for her classmates to celebrate her birthday in October (she likes to plan ahead)
  • watching a nest of robins hatch, grow, and move on under the protection of our front porch awning
  • thinking about two babies baptized in worship yesterday and how they will grow and move on in God’s grace
  • rejoicing at the opportunity to share in this grace journey with my Nardin Park church family, and now with the addition of Leon, Carolyn, Patti, and Cathy!
  • preparing for a trip to Adrian this week to participate inthe Detroit Annual Conference and connecting with friends and colleagues
  • celebrating my husband’s birthday before I go
  • not knowing exactly what today will bring!

Here’s hoping you’ll find God’s blessings in your Monday list, even a to-do list!

Yours in the journey, Susan