Items filtered by date: January 2017
29 January 2017

Church Well-Being 2016

Jane Rantz & Bill Tenney

Address Delivered January 29, 2017


Let us pray together:


Deliver us, God, from the temptation of accepting the world that we see as the only world that is. For the world that we see is not the world for which you created us. Give strength to our pursuit of true knowledge, and to a life lived in your presence and in your mystery.


We give thanks and praise for the movement toward broad inclusiveness here in the diverse community of Maple Grove. We pray that even though at times we do not think alike, you will enable us, God, to love alike.


Open our hearts, our minds, and our doors. May we invite others to join us as we see Christ in every person we meet. We know we can experience a glimpse of heaven on earth when we make that spiritual connection with others.


Guide us in this New Year to be all that we can be for you! 

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


Brothers and sisters in Christ, we come to celebrate the end of a year dedicated to being one in Christ, and in the beginning of another year. The Book of Revelation promises a new heaven and a new earth, not an escape from earth. We seek to live on earth as Jesus did, making heaven and earth one.


How do we live this heaven on earth? By being willing to journey beyond our comfort zones to discover the world for which we have been created. We invite the Christ in us to live through us, loving our neighbors, our community, and our world. This is not a love that begins and ends just in warm feelings; it is a love that speaks in courage, in patience and kindness, and by being and by doing.


Bill and I want to share how Maple Grove has lived our mission statement of being an open community of Christians who love God and serve our neighbors.


Like Paul, we are called to foster a culture of invitation to Christian community. We have grown: We are committed to an ever-deepening relationship with God.

We have been transformed: We have formed life-changing relationships while serving others.


We are blessed by the leadership of Pastor Glenn, Cathy Davis, and Dawn Nauman. They help and encourage us to ponder their messages and be all that we can be as disciples of Christ. They love and support us through good times and bad. Thank you, Glenn, Cathy, and Dawn!


We’re thankful for the service of Eve Hathaway, who is the heart and soul of our church office. Thanks to Chip Austin and Terrell Brown, who take pride in the care and upkeep of our facility. Thanks to Sue Fletcher and Nancy Gay, whose ministries reach out to care for our absent and elderly members. We are grateful, too, for the loving care that Mandy Wray, our nursery coordinator, provides to the very youngest visitors to Maple Grove, and for the service of our additional nursery coordinator for 2017, Michelle Sekuskey.


We are blessed by the musical gifts of Len Bussard, Greg White, Rev. Michelle Baker, and our inspiring choirs. When the Chancel Choir sings, we hear scripture and messages of the love and peace of Christ woven into melody and harmony. When the bell choir rings, or New Song or our gifted soloists sing or play their instruments, they help put us in touch with God’s holiness and majesty. We deeply appreciate how much all of you do for us.


Thanks to the Maple Grove Players, who through drama, humor, and music deliver God’s message in our church and through their outreach programs to other groups in our community.


A few weeks ago we completed a successful capital campaign under the leadership of the Bennetts and Freers and their team members. Thanks to all of them and to those who have contributed to the campaign and committed to paying it forward to keep the physical facility of Maple Grove going for following generations. We have been the beneficiaries of those who came before us and with their faith and commitment laid the foundation and built upon the rock that became Maple Grove United Methodist Church at Henderson and High. Our pledged amount to the campaign to date is $875,000, and we have already received first fruits of $201,000. Projects to improve safety are beginning.


The capital campaign is a three-year effort, and if you haven’t already pledged, please consider doing so as you are able in the future.


Based on a successful stewardship campaign, our financial figures for 2016 are great! Total income was $571,649. Total expenses were $560,667 giving us a surplus of $10,982. This is the second year in a row we have finished with a surplus. Total church income was up, and expenses were held down. Our budget for 2017 is $572,434, which is a 0.72% decrease over last year’s budget. If you have not already made a commitment to the operating budget, please note that pledges are always gratefully accepted!


Last year we welcomed 33 new members to our Maple Grove family. Our total membership was 587. We had 117 first-time visitors.  


Maple Grovers love God and serve their neighbors in over 75 active ministry teams, thanks to the large number of ministry volunteers and team leaders. Among the mission and outreach ministries are groups that served here in Columbus at the NNEMAP Food Pantry and the New Life United Methodist Church Clothing Room. In partnership with the Clintonville Resources Center, we served dinner the first Thursday of each month and provided other food for the hungry: Sunday breakfasts, sack lunches, summer lunches for kids, and non-perishable food donations. We prepare and deliver sandwiches twice monthly to the Faith on 8th Men’s Shelter.


Our adult mission team traveled to Andrews, South Carolina, and completed repairs on mobile homes that had been damaged by storms. We hosted Feed the World, which provided food to people in need locally and around the world. (It was an amazing event, and if you missed out on participating last year, be aware that we plan to host it again this year in the month of August.)


Also in 2016, we completed our three-year 30-thousand-dollar pledge to Imagine No Malaria as our world outreach part of the Christmas in July campaign. Thanks to your support over the last three years, we helped save three thousand lives in Africa.


Maple Grove served 225 Thanksgiving meals in Fellowship Hall and delivered leftovers to local shelters. We provided 140 food boxes to Bethlehem on Broad Street. (There are only 153 days until our next Christmas in July!)


Maple Grove continues to add study groups for spiritual formation. Thirteen classes meet faithfully every Sunday morning. Seven other classes meet during the week. The following short-term study groups were offered in 2016: Disciples Path, We Make the Road, For the Love of God, Soul of a Pilgrim, Open the Door, Unusual Healings, and several Covenant study groups. Three Love Our Neighbor events were held during the summer. These included lunch and time to explore topics of Differences & Sameness, Conflict Resolution and Reconciling Ministries. Each event was attended by 60-70 people.


Four of our members are training as Stephen Ministers as we partner for training with Overbrook Presbyterian and North Broadway UMC. This will give us a total of 17 active Stephen Ministers. We also trained four more Hometown Service Volunteers through the HEROES program.


Twenty-seven women participated in a spiritual retreat at the Lial Renewal Center. Twenty-nine women attended an Advent Contemplative Gathering. There are two active United Methodist Women’s Circles.


The God-Centered Wellbeing Team put on an Emotional Resilience workshop, which drew 50-60 attendees. God-Centered Wellbeing also continued growing a variety of human connection groups in 2016.


The Teenage Youth group has 12 active participants. Our teens participated in the annual CROP Walk, sang carols to homebound folks, took Valentines to Wesley Glen, partnered with CRC to rake leaves for our senior neighbors, made sandwiches for Faith on 8th, led a Christmas Eve worship, and learned about mercy and justice.


Thirteen participants went on an unforgettable youth mission trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Their experiences on that trip included attending a service addressing racial violence, serving dinner at a homeless shelter, working at a Baptist boys’ ranch (where they heard heartbreaking stories of abuse, broken homes, abandonment and addiction, but also of gratitude for the ranch and for a God of love, forgiveness and second chances). Also in Tennessee, they volunteered at the Lisieux House for women in recovery from addiction and human trafficking, and heard more stories of second chances by the grace of God. They visited with residents of a rehabilitation facility, and they toured the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.


Ten seventh and eighth graders completed confirmation in May of 2016.


Dawn Nauman’s ministry to children continued with the process where all kids in the fourth through the sixth grades had the opportunity to study the same scripture and develop a presentation (In Project Sunday School on Sunday mornings and Tween Ministry Incorporated, or TMI, on Sunday afternoons). There were two Project Sunday School music and drama performances during worship in 2016. Both were based on New Testament scriptures—one on healing, and one on thankfulness. More than 25 kids participated in each of these events. At 8:30 services, TMI gave the message twice, on healing and on thankfulness.


Children and youth ministries continue to embrace our sanctuary’s audio-visual system, probably more than any other group, as they incorporate technology into their interpretations of the Bible.


Our Child and Family Support Group met twice last year to develop and support ministries for children and tweens at Maple Grove.


TMI kids in fourth through sixth grades continued to meet on alternating Sundays and for fun Friday evening activities. Attendance swelled to an average of 20 children (up from five in the first year and 18 in 2015). TMI continues to be an invitational ministry. Kids brought their friends to our Friday night activities and on Sunday evenings. They also took field trips for swimming at an indoor pool and for bowling. Members of TMI and their families prepared and served pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and assisted with the children’s Easter egg hunt.


We presented the Justin Roberts concert, which welcomed neighbors to our green space for a great family-oriented day.


Vacation Bible School was well attended, with more than 60 children and a strong group of leaders, including many teens and tweens from the church. We continue to use the small-group model, which allows leaders of all ages to develop strong relationships with children and work with peers within the church. During VBS, we raised money and awareness about type 1 diabetes, an illness that struck one of our Maple Grove families during the past year.


Advent and Christmas at Maple Grove was a great experience, with more than 35 children participating in the Christmas pageant. Church member Valerie Aveni provided music leadership, and the kids performed in a wonderful pageant that included both vocal music and bells. Kids also were invited to share their talents before the service. This year, many new families from the neighborhood or who have found our church by being invited to TMI events participated in the pageant.


In December, Maple Grove hosted a potluck for folks interested in building bridges between families in the Muslim, Methodist, and other communities in and around Columbus. More than 80 people gathered to get to know each other. This ministry of Muslims, Methodists, and More continues in 2017.


Late in 2015, a group of Maple Grove members joined together to promote our church’s openness to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, economic status, or a number of other descriptors that have been used in society to discriminate and divide God’s people.


This group grew in number as its work progressed. They crafted a statement of welcome, emphasizing the full inclusion of all of humanity, in all its diversity, in the life and ministries of Maple Grove. In the spring of 2016, the group presented this statement of welcome and inclusiveness to our church’s Administrative Council for approval. The council unanimously approved the statement, and it now appears on Maple Grove’s website. (We note that a church’s website is now, for many people, the primary means of finding out about a church before trying it out on Sunday.)


As a further public step in our movement toward broad inclusiveness, Maple Grove members were invited to vote at our November 2016 charge conference on whether to become a Reconciling Congregation, joining other area United Methodist churches in welcoming “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities into the full life of the church.” The reconciling designation allows people who are unfamiliar with Maple Grove, and perhaps are looking for a church home in Clintonville or nearby, to see that we are a church that welcomes one and all—something those of us who have already found our church home here know but that may not be readily apparent to folks who haven’t worshipped with us yet.


The proposal to become a Reconciling Congregation passed overwhelmingly, and we celebrate Maple Grove’s progress toward broad inclusion of all God’s people in the life and work of the church.


This is a day and a year of new beginnings. Let us draw near to God, praying for the willingness to deeply listen to each other without judgment, to be of comfort and compassion to one another even when we do not think alike, and to be united in our loving and living in a way that brings heaven to earth. Together, may we have the heart of Christ to take the next step, and the next, and all that follow!


22 January 2017

Matthew 4:12-22

Not Alone

January 22, 2017          Maple Grove UMC


          Today’s gospel story is an early turning point in Jesus’ life.  He has submitted to baptism and heard those amazing words, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Then the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness where he fasts for forty days and is tempted by the devil.  There are many ways to think about these temptations, but in one way or another they all have to do with whether Jesus will make his ministry about himself—his own power, his own glory, his own ego--or let his ministry be about God and God’s will.  Then on the heels of that, Jesus learns that the one who had prepared the way for him, John the Baptist, has been arrested by Herod the King.  In other words, it is now his time.

          Bible scholar Joseph Donders writes about this pivotal moment in Jesus’ life.1 “The first thing Jesus did,” Donders writes, “when he heard that John the Baptizer had been arrested, was leave Nazareth forever.  He chose a new home, his new headquarters, at Capernaum.”  It’s like this geographic move represented a spiritual movement, a life change, that Jesus was going through.

          Donders goes on:  “The second thing [Jesus] did was start to preach.  His message was short and clear.”  It was, in fact, the very same message preached by John: Everyone repent!  We all need to change our hearts and minds, to let go of the old and embrace the new, for the Kingdom of God had come very, very near. 

          “But preaching,” Donders acknowledges, “is a strange thing.  Preaching can be frustrating.  As a preacher,” he says, “I know very well what I am talking about.  You can preach and preach, people can listen and listen, and you just wonder what all that preaching and all that listening accomplish.  I am afraid,” he admits, “that very often they accomplish nothing at all.  Something else must be added. . .”

          So “according to today’s gospel, Jesus did a third thing.  He left Nazareth, he started preaching, and he decided not to remain alone.”  He decided to associate, to unite himself with others, to create a community.  He called Simon and Andrew, he called James and John, and afterwards he called many others.  In our day, he has called you and he has called even me.  Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, but at this early turning point in his ministry and life, he decided not to remain alone, but to do his work and to live his life in the company of others.

          I suspect there were times when Jesus regretted that decision!  As lonely and as limiting as can be to be alone, living in community has challenges of its own.  The Twelve that Jesus chose to be closest to him neverendlngly misunderstood him.  They asked exasperating questions.  They were afraid of him when he walked on the water, and they deserted him when soldiers came to arrest him.  He would frequently get frustrated with them, and call them, “You of little faith.”  And of the Twelve closest to him, one betrayed him and another denied him.  Even for Jesus, community—being with others--involved conflict and disappointment. 

          But still, he did it.  He called Simon and Andrew, he called James and John; he called many others and in our own day, he has called you and me.  This was, Donders says, “normal and logical for anyone who wants to change anything in this world.  When you want something to be done, you associate, come together, network, unite, and do it together.  That’s what Jesus did.”  There’s an old joke that Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God and wound up with the church. . .  We chuckle, perhaps, because we sense the great and unfortunate difference between the kingdom of God and the church as we know it.  But really, the joke isn’t true.  Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God AND he came to found the church, to be with people, to bring people together in his name to show the world until the end of time what love and forgiveness and acceptance and unity of spirit look like. 

          After his baptism and temptation, after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus left Nazareth for Capernaum, he started preaching, and he decided not to remain alone. 


          But there’s more to it even than that.  Jesus also decided not to let his disciples remain alone.  He didn’t just say, “Follow me—I want to be with you.”  He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Jesus calls us to be with him, and he tells us to call others to be with us and him.  This is what at Maple Grove we call the ministry of invitation--reaching out to others to say, “Come and see who Jesus is; come and see what Christian community can be like.  Come and see.”

          This ministry of invitation is admittedly hard most of us.  One of Administrative Council’s goals last year was that everyone would invite at least one person to a Maple Grove event some time during the year.  Sounds simple enough on paper, right? Well, on the commitment cards last fall, we gave people a chance to report how they did.  53 people said, “Yes, I invited someone in 2016.”  That’s not quite everyone. . .  But the good news is that 93 people said they intend to invite someone this year.  In other words, invitation is hard, but we are learning and gaining confidence, and we are committed to fishing for people.

          Jesus makes this ministry of invitation easier in two ways in this gospel reading.  One thing is this:  family counts.  Simon and Andrew are brothers.  James and John are brothers.  When inviting others, Jesu wasn’t talking about going door to door or accosting strangers on street corners.  We start with brothers and sisters, parents and children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Family counts.

          The second way Jesus makes invitation easier is this:  our invitation comes out of who we are.  To these fishermen, Jesus says, “I will make you fish for people.”  To construction workers he might have said, “I will make you builders of the kingdom,” to IT folks, “I will make you network people,” or to coaches, “I will make you recruiters for Team Jesus.”  Well, you get the idea.  Just be who you are, and use who you are to build relationships for Jesus.


          God-Centered Wellbeing is a movement, or maybe better, an emphasis, a way of being mindful to keep God’s love at the center of all that we do and all that what are.  And we start with our relationships.  Jesus chose not to remain alone, and he urged his disciples not to remain alone, but to be in holy relationship with others. 


          Jesus made his decision not to remain alone at a critical and stressful time in his life—after his baptism and his temptation in the wilderness and after the arrest of his relative and forerunner, John.  My own personal tendency in critical and stressful times is to isolate myself, to withdraw and protect myself and lick my wounds.  But that is not the call of the gospel.  Here’s how Donders puts it:  “[Jesus’] followers are not allowed to merely stay at home, criticizing and complaining. . .  We, his followers, are not allowed to remain alone, safe and secure.  We, his followers, are asked to associate ourselves with him and with one another in an organized and efficient drive to chase away the evils that terrorize our [world]. 

          So “please, sister,” he concludes, “please brother, don’t remain alone, don’t just criticize.  That’s too easy.  Let us unite, let us come together in [Christ’s] desire to shape God’s new world.  Let us associate, let us move together with him in the direction of the Kingdom.” 

          The answer for Jesus and the answer for us, is this:  not to remain alone.  We’re in this together.


1 Joseph P. Donders, “Not Alone,” Alive Now (January/February 2006), 34-36.



08 January 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

No Matter What—You Are a Child of God

January 8, 2017


          No matter what—you are a child of God, precious and beloved. No matter how high you climb in life, no matter how many degrees you may get or how many people may serve and respect you, you will never achieve a title higher than you received at your baptism:  child of God, precious and beloved.  And no matter how low your heart may sink, no matter what is done to you or how you may disappoint yourself, baptism never rubs off.  No matter what--you are a child of God, precious and beloved.


          Baptism has many different meanings and associations. The word ‘baptize’ means literally to dip or to wash, so baptism represents the washing away of sin and the cleansing of our souls.  Baptism also symbolizes dying and rising to new life.  In immersion, when we go under the water it is like dying to our old life, and when we come back up, breathless and gasping, it is rising to the new life God makes for us in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is also a sacrament, the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; or in John Wesley’s term it is a ‘means of grace,’ that is, God is present to us in all sorts of ways and places, but there are certain places where God has promised to be, where God’s grace is reliably present, and baptism is one of those places. 

          So baptism has many meanings and associations, but two above all stand out in today’s gospel reading. First, solidarity.  On the day when Jesus came to be baptized by John, as Barbara Taylor imagines it, "the place was teeming with sinners—faulty, sorry, guilty human beings—who hoped against hope that John could clean them up and turn their lives around."  Probably most of them hadn't done horrible things, but if not, they may havehad horrible things done to them, or experienced the horrible side of life.  They were troubled and weary, ashamed and wounded, and they were coming for baptism so they could feel clean again. 

          And then Jesus showed up and got in line with them.1 John tried to talk Jesus out of it: “No, no, I need you to baptize me, not the other way around.”  But Jesus insisted.  You see, Jesus didn’t only come to give his life for us.  He didn’t stand up front and lecture us or shout encouragement from afar.  He came to be with us, to be one of us, to stand in solidarity with us in all our trouble and weariness, in all our shame and woundedness.  We have baptism in common not only with one another and all other Christians, we have baptism in common with Jesus himself.  He comes and gets in line with us; we are in this life together, Jesus and us.  Baptism is about solidarity.


          But here’s the rest of the story:  Baptism bestows on us an identity.  As Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  So important are these words, that they are repeated verbatim at the Transfiguration.  Jesus becomes dazzling white as his disciples look again and again the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  And one assumes that in less public ways, God was always whispering these words to Jesus.  When Jesus was tempted by the devil, he needed to remember who he was—the Son of God, precious and beloved.  When the Pharisees criticized him and the disciples failed to understand, he needed to remember who he was—the Son of God, precious and beloved.  And when he wrestled in Gethsemane with the prospect of dying, he needed to remember who he was—the Son of God, precious and beloved. 

          Baptism bestows on us an identity, one we need to remember all of our lives.  No matter what, it says, you are a child of God, precious and beloved.  Peter Storey, the former Methodist bishop in South Africa, a white man who opposed apartheid, tells of a party at which he and Desmond Tutu were the honored guests.  A group of black South Africans asked Peter and Desmond if they understood why they were throwing a party for them.  “Because we were with you in the struggle against apartheid?”  Their hosts replied, “No, because you baptized us; you told us who we were and remembered it even when no one else did.”2 Baptism bestows on us an identity, one we need to know and remember all our lives.

          This is a kind of high theology of baptism, that baptism has the power to change us from one thing to another.  Thomas Lynch tells of his grandmother who was raised a Methodist but married into an Irish Catholic family.  Tongue in cheek she would explain to people how she converted to Catholicism.  She would say, “Ah, the priest splashed a little water on me and said, ‘Geraldine, you were born a Methodist, raised a Methodist. Thanks be to God, now you’re a Catholic.  Amen.”  And that was that.

          One evening Geraldine was grilling some steaks on a Friday in Lent when some church officials showed up to enforce the ban on eating meat on Friday during Lent.  Geraldine calmly splashed some water on the grill and said, ‘You were born a cow, and raised a cow.  Thanks be to God, now you are fish!”  Baptism changes our identity!  But always she’d end her story with this summary:  ‘Surely we’re all children of God, the same but different.’3 Do I hear an ‘Amen?’

          Baptism makes us something new, something we weren’t before.  Now don’t misunderstand me.  Baptism isn’t magic.  God loves unbaptized people just as much as baptized people. God doesn’t need baptism; we need baptism.  And we all know that some people struggle to live out the new identity baptism has given them.  But what baptism gives us, ideally, in a way that we can take hold of and understand, is what Rowan Williams calls “the restoration of what it is to be truly human.  To be baptized is to recover the humanity that God first intended.”4


          One problem is, some of us get to thinking that we are somehow more than just children of God.  We get to thinking that we don’t have to get in line with all the other poor sinners—with poor people or foreigners, with the uncouth or the unemployed.  We get to thinking that unlike run-of-the-mill children of God, we deserve a special status amongst God’s people, what with our years of faithful service, our generous giving, our demonstrated good taste and common sense.  Surely there’s a special line for those of us entitled to such respect, and we know who we are?  But baptism’s answer is: “Well, no, actually.  There’s only the one line, the same line Jesus went and got in.  And there is no higher title anywhere in heaven or earth than “child of God, precious and beloved.” 

          There are more of us, however, who get to thinking that we are somehow less than children of God.  We may have felt the power of that identity at some point, but life has a way of wearing us down.  Years of hard work tires us out, relentless criticism wearies our spirits, family stress takes its toll, our own foolishness and negativity bring us down.  Sure, sometimes we just get worn down.  But here’s what baptism says:  No matter what, you are a child of God, precious and beloved.

          Sometimes the church itself, through its doctrine or a lack of love, causes someone to feel less than a child of God.  Marilyn Alexander remembers, “On a crisp Dakota Sunday morning, tightly wrapped against the November cold, I was carried off to the town’s Methodist church to be the delight of the baptizing family of God. . .  Thirty-two years later,” she says, “I remember my baptism.  The church does not.”  The church, she says, has denied the identity bestowed on me at my baptism because of my sexual orientation. Sometimes, tragically, churches get it wrong; but God does not.  No matter what, you are a child of God, precious and beloved.

          After the choir sings, we will say together the liturgy of remembering and reaffirming our baptism.  If you’ve not been baptized, there is nothing standing in your way.  Just come to me and state your intention, and we can make it happen today. And if today isn’t the day, that’s okay. Anticipate your baptism here today and know deep in your heart that no matter what, you are a child of God, precious and beloved. 


1 Barbara Brown Taylor, “The River of Life,” Home by Another Way (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1999), 33-34.

2 In Stanley Hauerwas, “Transfigured,” Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church (New York: Seabury Books, 2013), 85.

3 Thomas Lynch, The Christian Century (February 22, 2011), 27.

4 Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publis


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