A Word of Encouragement

A New Year’s Eve Message from Pastor Sara

Hi Church – it’s Pastor Sara – and it’s New Year’s Eve.

Can you believe we’ve made it to the end of 2020?  What a year this has been!  I appreciate you taking a few minutes with me here at the end of the year to reflect back with gratitude, and to look forward with hope.

Pastor Justin and I were at a meeting a few weeks ago, and he was asked to give the closing prayer.  Justin started by saying, “let’s think back on the year 2020” – and I didn’t say it out loud, but I just thought “Ugh! I don’t want to do that!  I’d just as soon forget 2020 ever happened!”

But then I started thinking – actually, Justin is right.  A lot of good stuff happened in 2020, too – some of it despite the pandemic, and other things because of it.

Let’s just take a quick look back and remember some of the great stuff we did together this past year – this will be our Wesley Year in Review:

WORSHIP – We started in January with “The Walk,” and had a record-number of people using the devotional, praying 5x/day, participating in studies, and even walking through our neighborhood.  Little did we know how much we would need that spiritual grounding in the months ahead!

Then we started a “Spoiler Alert” movie series – but got interrupted by COVID-19.

Still, we did a quick turnaround and learned to make movies, ourselves. By the end of 2020 we had produced 41 online Sunday morning services, plus Holy Week, Christmas Eve, and two interfaith prayer services.  We learned together about kingdom parables, loving our neighbors, and most recently, Incarnation.

We produced 252 daily devotionals this year including 42 Saturday Music Specials.

We offered 8 small group studies including a joint study of Justice with Wayman AME Church, and equipped several ongoing fellowship/study groups to continue their own meetings online.

That’s just adults.  We also continued our youth and children’s programming every single week and added some creative new events like “Low-Budget Homecoming” and a “Virtual Lock-In” for SURGE, and hundreds of home activity kits for Easter, Pentecost and Advent.  Advent kits for adults included candles and a daily devotional led by our own Wesley families.

40 congregational caregivers reached out to about 160 of our more isolated members to keep them connected through cards, calls and visits.  And our Prayer Shawl ladies kept knitting and crocheting, recently delivering 40 shawls to the Cancer Center.

Our UMW circles delivered care packages to friends in retirement and nursing homes.

And we managed to complete a confirmation class and confirm 10 students, including 2 baptisms.  We also baptized one baby during COVID (you’ll see that in worship on Jan. 10), at celebrated 5 new births on All Saints Sunday.

We planned 19 “Paint the Town Wesley” events on Wednesday evenings to keep our congregation connected, including everything from tie-dye to bucket-drumming to scavenger hunts to silly holiday games on Zoom.  We really had an amazing amount of fun together as a church family this year.

But of course we also reached out way beyond ourselves in 2020, because that’s what Wesley does.

We continued our hands-on ministries, with adaptations for COVID, to Safe Harbor and Midwest Food Bank, served 40-50 families through Loads of Love, and provided paper goods and food to an increasing number of families through WDM – nearing 600 families reached by WDM in both November and December.  Church & Society collected and sent $1200 to three local food pantries, and socks & underwear to elementary schools for emergencies.  You need to know, if you don’t already, that Wesley has been serving the homeless and needy in amazing ways this year, and we’re going to keep on doing that!

We supported several projects specifically during COVID to help school children and families dealing with remote learning, including purchasing school supplies and 250 sets of headphones.

And miraculously, in this tough financial climate, we were able to meet our pledges to Habitat for Humanity, the Baby Fold Festival of Trees, MERGE student ministry, Faith in Action, and a variety of overseas mission projects.

The Missions Committee raised over $5000 for 16 organizations through our Advent Offering.

UMW were able to raise and give $10,500 in UMW love gifts to several local agencies and our own Wesley Bright Beginnings, despite the cancellation of the Rummage Sale, due to some pretty dedicated work making candy bar snowmen and elves, and helping WBB sell pies.

Wesley, you are an incredibly generous church!

Speaking of money,

We managed to keep our staff not only on-board, but meaningfully employed and very busy during this time!  A number of projects around the building were completed that couldn’t be done with people in the way, such as tuck-pointing the east entrance, cleaning pews and carpets, painting, and repairs.  We covered the duties of Director of Communications, Video Editor, and organist, while seeking to fill those positions.

We conducted a successful Stewardship campaign, although we are still short of our goal – so if you haven’t made your commitment yet, hopefully you’re feeling inspired!

We enabled a Safety & Security team to get our good policies implemented, and quickly formed a Coronavirus Response Team to help us stay COVID-free during the pandemic.  I’m here to tell you, Wesley has had NO incidences of transmission in the building, no outbreaks, and no one has become ill by participating in church events.  That was our goal from the very beginning, and we’re proud to have protected our people.

Whew.  What a year!  And that’s only the stuff I thought of this week; I know there has been so much more accomplished and enjoyed by groups like Next Step and Youth Cabinet and UMW circles, that they could tell you about better than I.

I guess 2020 has really been a year of creativity and resilience and overcoming obstacles.  Way to go, Wesley!  I’m really proud of you!  Despite all the challenges, frustrations and disappointments of this past year – you have really let God do some amazing things through you.  You have truly overcome.

So now I think it’s time for a re-charge, a renewal of energy – a Spiritual Re-Set if you will, to bring us to the next phase of our ministry together.

We’ll begin our new year with a Covenant Renewal service on Jan. 3, led by retired pastor Rev. Vaughn Hoffman. Vaughn graciously agreed to come lead this historic and meaningful traditional service to help us re-center ourselves in who, and whose, we are, at the start of the New Year.

Pastor Justin will help us Remember our Baptism on Sunday, Jan. 10.  You’ll want to prepare some water, and prepare your hearts, to remember the promises we made, or were made on our behalf, when we became a part of the church family.

And then for the next few weeks we’ll explore how the promises, the membership vows we keep, keep us in return: keep us happy, keep us holy, keep us healthy, keep us centered, keep us in the center of God’s will.  It’s not about new requirements or even New Year’s Resolutions.  It’s about making ourselves available for God to give us the gifts we need to start anew.  Prayer, study, generosity, service, and witness – the practices that plug us into the Spirit’s power so we can live energized and fulfilled lives.

I know it’s been easy to slip out of the good habits we had at the beginning of last year.  I was so good about praying 5x/day – and then it slipped to 4, then 3, then just morning and night.  It’s not the same when we’re not all doing it together.  But I want to invite you to re-commit to meeting us for worship every single week, on Sundays at 9am or at a time more convenient for you, because the gift God wants to give you this year is worth showing up for.

And as we get started, I’m going to encourage you to find a small group of folks to show up with you: a Covenant Group of 6-12 people to journey with for these five weeks until Lent begins.  Covenant groups will meet by zoom, or email, or phone, or facebook, or however it works for you, to lift each other in prayer, to hold each other accountable, and to make the most of this New Year as God gives it to us.

Maybe your group will be people you already connect with through small group study. Maybe they’ll be the people you miss sitting with in the sanctuary.  Maybe you want to reach out to somebody totally new, somebody who might need to be connected for the first time.

Be thinking now about gathering with a small group of Christian friends starting on January 10; the journey is much more enjoyable together.  Let’s plan on it, and make it a really good year.

Can we start with a prayer?:

O God – you brought us through a year we could not have imagined or expected.  You carried us through some of the hardest and scariest times we’ve ever experienced as a community.  And before we leave 2020 behind, we want to give you thanks for your faithfulness and love.  You held us up and guided our steps, and as we look back on the year gone by, we realize we have so much to be grateful for.

Go with us now, Holy God, as we step into 2021.  Direct our path, guard our choices, help us to lean into you and one another in covenant relationship.  May we trust you to hold us, to protect us and to work through us in the year ahead.  We give you this New Year’s Eve; we give you this transition. We give you our hope.  In the name of Jesus who makes all things new.  Amen.

See you tomorrow, Church!  I’ll tell you about my favorite scripture.  And let’s make it a great year!

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