Thursday, August 6, 2020

Expectant, Joyful

In the Christian tradition, we know that patience is a spiritual gift and that times of waiting are often followed by deep blessings.

At Wesley UMC during this time of COVID-19 when we are not meeting in the building, our Sexton, Dennis Broussard, has been taking beautiful photos for our newsletter to share those spaces that we associate with deepening spirituality and precious events but cannot see regularly in person right now. When I made this my Facebook cover photo, there were those who commented on the emptiness of the church and felt sadness. 

Dennis took this photo last week, and rather than sadness, I found it profoundly moving. In addition to his loving care of our building as our sexton, Dennis is a former Catholic priest. In this photo I can see his deep care of each of these pews which I'm sure he has wiped down countless times, as well as this view from the pulpit that liturgists, musicians and preachers (including Dennis and me) see on Sundays full of people and on other days empty as we practice and prepare for worship. 

I experience a sensation that I describe in Advent as Pregnant with Possibility when I see this picture. I experience this scene as one of preparation like Lent when we pattern our lives after the temptation of Jesus, fasting and praying and waiting for God. I am reminded of the empty tomb. Jesus is not here. He is Risen! Jesus has left the building!

For me this picture is exciting and full of energy. It reminds me of a hymn from my youth that is set to the familiar tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, below, particularly the lyric that says, "Open hearts and willing hands, Eager ears, expectant, joyful..." As I type that ellipsis, I feel all that possibility of those three little dots just welling up in my heart and soul, all of the possibilities for God's people here at Wesley and for our beloved community contained in that tiny bit of punctuation. 

This is a time of preparation. It is a time of joy and expectancy. It is a time for discerning and planning for the future. It is a time when we can start from scratch because we know the time following COVID-19 is going to be unlike the time that came before, unlike anything we can imagine.

There is grief. It is sad to leave one stage of our lives for the next. There are things we'll miss and things we cherish. For parents, the end of infancy and beginning of the toddler years can be sad, but just imagine how it feels to that toddler be walking--to be mobile with the whole world a matter of steps away! Each successive stage of life leaves something behind but opens new doors and beholds new horizons. We are allowed our grief over the past that will be no more. We can share laughter and memories at bygone days. But we also have the opportunity, like Mary--like Jesus--like that toddler to revel in anticipation of what is to come. 

We are invited to be expectant, joyful.

God bless you, Beloved.
Reverend Cheryl L. Meachen, Pastor
Wesley United Methodist Church
Concord NH

Join us for worship at Wesley UMC - Concord NH
Sundays at 10:30 on YouTube at this link.

Father, we Thy loving children
Lift our hearts in joy today,
Knowing well that Thou wilt keep us
Ever in Thy blessed way.
Thou art Love and Thou art wisdom,
Thou art Life and Thou art All;
In Thy Spirit living, moving,
We shall neither faint nor fall.

Come we daily then, dear Father,
Open hearts and willing hands,
Eager ears, expectant, joyful,

Ready for Thy right commands.
We would hear no other voices,
We would heed no other call;
Thou alone art good and gracious,
Thou our Mind and Thou our All.

In Thy house securely dwelling,
Where Thy children live to bless,
Seeing only Thy creation,
We can share Thy happiness,
Share Thy joy and spend it freely.
Loyal hearts can feel no fear;
We Thy children know Thee, Father,
Love and Life forever near.

Words Copyright, 1932, by The Christian Board of Directors; Music Arranged from Ludwig van Beethoven, Ode to Joy (Tune is also found in the UM Hymnal p. 89 "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Breath of God

Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV)

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Edwin Hatch, 1878 (UMH 420, v. 3)

Gracious and loving God,

We are so grateful always, but especially in these days, to know that it is you who have breathed into us the breath of life.

We are mindful that there are those in our world, in our country, in our Conference and in our neighborhoods that are fighting for breath.

We are mindful that disease has stricken so many and robbed them of the breath they gasp to take in.

We are mindful that oppression has held its knee on the neck of too many robbing them of the breath that you bring into being.

Cultivate in us that mind which was in Jesus Christ so that we may take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading breath-stealing disease.

Cultivate in us that mind which was in Jesus Christ so that we are compelled to stand up against the oppression that steals the breath of your beloved children.

When we do not have the words,

When we cannot fathom the circumstances that have befallen so many in this pandemic,

When we cannot imagine the grief of the mothers whose children have been senselessly killed,

Send us that Spirit which intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Send us that Spirit which breathed the church into existence at Pentecost.

Search our hearts. Set us straight.

Help us in our weakness.

Breathe in us, Breath of God.

Rev. Cheryl L. Meachen, Pastor
Wesley United Methodist Church
Concord NH

Join us for worship at Wesley UMC - Concord NH
Sundays at 10:30 on YouTube at this link.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Beloved Community

"All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

My heart continues to return to the above passage from Acts at the time of Pentecost, the birth of the Christian church. You can see that there are several elements described above that characterize who we are as God's people in the world:

1. Together
2. Give of ourselves in order to give to others
3. Spend time in the temple
4. Break bread 
5. Glad and generous hearts
6. Praise God
7. Receive new people daily

We're able to praise God walking through the woods or sitting in our living rooms. We're even able to give generously, be glad, share virtual communion and have visitors to our virtual services.

But it is a challenge to be together since we currently cannot spend time in our "temple."

We can be formed spiritually through prayer and study of scripture. We can worship together while apart. We can generously provide to those in need.

But what about community. We yearn for togetherness -- the very thing that spreads this horrible disease of COVID-19. I'm sure it breaks your heart as it breaks mine that we are being told that singing and hugging and sharing meals and being together in groups are potentially deadly. We are compelled by our faith to care for our neighbor by wearing masks and socially distancing. We are compelled by common sense to stay home for the time being.

But what about community. How does one form beloved community in this time of coronavirus? We at Wesley have tried to encourage groups, teams, committees, nests and individuals to keep connected by phone, postal mail, email, Zoom, text and Facebook. Personally, I've been building relationships with my neighbors. The person who used to be "that lady who walks by twice a day with her ski poles" now has a name, a familiar face and a remarkable connection as the mother of my high school class salutatorian. I've made friends with "the guy with the Jack Russell terrier." I talk to the neighbors on either side every day now rather than every once in a while. It's pretty cool. I don't think it would have happened without the pandemic, at least not this soon after moving here.

So it is possible to build community. It is possible to maintain community. This time is very stressful, wondering what comes next. So take good care of yourself. Sleep well. Eat well. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Take care of your soul. Remember that Jesus calms our anxious, fearful hearts. 

And most of all, reach out when you're feeling lonely. Chances are, the person you choose to call, needs someone to talk to too.

Rev. Cheryl L. Meachen, Pastor
Wesley United Methodist Church
Concord NH

Join us for worship at Wesley UMC - Concord NH
Sundays at 10:30 on YouTube at this link.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

15 Years

"I will give you pastors after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding." Jeremiah 3:15

My Dad gave me a poster with the above words on it shortly after I first became a pastor 15 years ago. It has hung in every church office I've occupied since then. I invite you to share some memories of these years with me below.

This is a week when United Methodist pastors across the connection are moving to new appointments, leaving old appointments, retiring, beginning or staying, looking forward to the next year. I've sometimes described it as musical chairs to non-Methodists, when everyone moves to the next seat in the midst of a melody of love and care for our precious congregations.

I served my first church in Marlow NH from 2005-2009 and it was a dear place that deeply formed me. It was a quarter time appointment which enabled me to continue my job supervising the legal clinics at Franklin Pierce Law Center, caring for my young son, getting my undergraduate degree in Human Services from Franklin Pierce College, continuing in the first year to worship at Rejuvenation! and sing with EP each week and begin my time at Boston University School of Theology. This precious community holds a dear place in my heart. My field education (internship) was to a second church, East Lempster UMC to see what Christian community might rise from the ashes after that church had closed four years previously. 

I was then appointed to Brattleboro VT to First United Methodist Church from 2009-2016 where I finished my seminary career traveling to Boston several times a week and serving the church full-time. Some of the unique characteristics of that church were that we did billowing - a form of dance with long flowing bands of cloth. We had a community garden that produced hundreds of pounds of vegetables for community feeding programs. We held an annual Drive Through Nativity driving around the church with luminaries lighting the path through nine scenes of scripture leading up to Christ's birth. I also enjoyed significant ministry with incarcerated individuals through the Brattleboro Community Justice Center during my tenure here. In the last two years of my appointment here I also served Leyden United Methodist Church in MA. I would conduct an early worship service in Leyden and then travel to Brattleboro for a second service each week. Leyden is a farming community with wholesome and loving people whose teddy bear prayer ministry is heartwarming as they pray over the bears and deliver them to those in need. Leyden has a booth at the Franklin County Fair where they make the most delicious homemade meals for fairgoers each year with pounds and pounds of carrots and onions and potatoes. We would hold our worship service in that booth on the Sunday of the fair for all to join!

From 2016-2019 I served Lake Sunapee United Methodist Church (2/3) and Grantham United Methodist Church (1/3) as a full-time appointment. Grantham is a healthy, service oriented church that innovated wonderful ways to serve the community like bringing dozens of Advent boxes filled with 24 thoughtful gifts prepared by congregants to dozens of homebound people in the community and community servants. We also innovated a delightful Gas Giveaway event each spring where we had the local gas station roll back the pumps ten cents a gallon. We then pumped gas, washed windows and brought coffee to patrons in their cars, with the church paying ten cents for every gallon and for all of the coffee we gave away. We got to know the community and shared a lot of joy and laughter! We had many successful leadership retreats, fundraisers for our partners bringing education to Sierra Leone and Blessings of the Pets. In Sunapee, I reached out to the community by serving a buffet every Friday night to the coffee house which used our space, offered weekly worship services at three area nursing homes and trained to become an Emergency Medical Responder and Firefighter with Sunapee Fire Department, spending my Tuesday evenings with 20-30 of the most wonderful firefighters and going on calls ministering to people in the community. I even got to play Mrs. Claus for the annual children's party. Santa and I arrived at the event riding on Ladder 5!

Over the course of these fifteen years I have also married dozens of couples, buried dozens of saints, baptized dozens of babies and confirmed dozens of children. In fact, one of the young women in my last confirmation class was instrumental in that church becoming the fourth reconciling congregation in NH!

I am so pleased to be beginning my second year serving Wesley United Methodist Church in Concord NH. This is a vibrant, caring and socially active church, healthy in its interactions and deeply spiritually grounded. I can't wait to see what we'll do together in Christ's name through Christ's love for the people of Concord and beyond.

Rev. Cheryl L. Meachen, Pastor
Wesley United Methodist Church
Concord NH

Visit Pastor Cheryl's blog for inspiration and encouragement

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Author of My Life

Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, Vermont District Superintendent wrote one of the NE Conference extended cabinet daily prayers this week. Pray with me as you read her prayer and reflect on my questions below:

… All the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

— Psalm 139.16b

This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior, all the day long …
                     — Fanny Crosby, UMH #369

Author of my life,

On any given day, at any given moment,
I am ready to say to you: “Here I am!”

But there are moments when I wonder: “How long, O Lord?”
And other moments when I am assured: “You will provide.”

There are moments when I feel forgotten by you,
And other moments when I am blessed with your steadfast gift —
love forever and ever.

There are moments when I feel pain and sorrow,
And other moments when I am set free.

There are moments when I feel shaken by the powers around me,
And other moments when I am revived by grace, 
like one receiving a cold cup of water in the heat of the day.

There are moments of darkness and death,
And other moments of light and life.

Author of my life,

On any given day, at any given moment,
I am ready to say to you: “Here I am!”

Thank you for already knowing, forgiving, and accompanying me 
through all of the other moments
as my story unfolds in your keeping.

I cannot wait for the next chapter. 
The title is Welcome.


Rev. Jill Colley Robinson

What is the title of your next chapter?

What is the title of Wesley's next chapter? 

What has God, the Author of our life, written?

I can't wait to turn the page!

Pastor Cheryl

Join us for worship at Wesley UMC - Concord NH
Sundays at 10:30 on YouTube at this link.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

May God Bless Us

Grace and peace, dear one.
 It is a time of deep unrest in our world with many things in competition for our prayers and our spiritual energy. The COVID-19 epidemic tempts us to fear for our health and financial well-being. Police killings of unarmed black people and protests compel us to dismantle systemic racism and examine our own white privilege. The failure of some to understand the sacred worth and God-directed mandate to include all LGBTQ persons in all aspects of church life creates the potential for the split of the United Methodist Church.

 With so many important, life or death issues that need to be addressed, we sometimes feel overwhelmed. I believe that the tension of these challenging times is exactly what God calls us to lean into, not shy away from. I believe, as I will say in Sunday's sermon, that God equips us for this work--that "We ARE the equipment" as written in Matthew 10:10. St. Francis offers compelling words in the following blessing that help us lean into that tension. Pray with me:

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

God bless you.
Rev. Cheryl L. Meachen

Join us for worship at Wesley UMC - Concord NH
Sundays at 10:30 on YouTube at this link.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost in 2020

Hearts on Fire” – Pentecost worship song option | MUSIC.MUSINGS ...

Today is Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the birth of the Christian church and the coming of the Holy Spirit. 

In 2020 in America this day those of us who are white are convicted of our sinfulness. We are complicit in a system in which white privilege and racism resulted in the horrific death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered by police officers.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 
When the day of Pentecost came in 2020, everyone was in their home because of the pandemic.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 
And suddenly they realized, like the rush of wind surrounding their homes on this windy day, God is still present, even when they cannot attend worship in a beloved building, right there with them in their homes. 

And deep in their hearts they heard the words of George Floyd:

"I           can't           breathe."

And the miracle of the Pentecost wind touched them through breath--through the breath of the Holy Spirit--the loving, mourning Parent-God who made George Floyd and cherished him--the Maker who knit George Floyd together in his mother's womb.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 
Fires were breaking out in cities across America, as people protested, some in masks and some not, calling for--demanding justice for George Floyd and too many others who have been oppressed and harmed and killed simply because of the color of their skin. 

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and given the ability to speak out--resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves--to stand up for their black brothers and sisters--to kneel down beside their human kin.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished...
Now these were devout people of many faiths watching the news. And at the sound of the Latino CNN crew being arrested while white news crews were waved on, they were bewildered. They began to understand firsthand what had been spoken by the activists for so long. Things must change and we ALL must participate in that change. They were amazed and astonished at the powerful truth of this new understanding.

...this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
People who had never protested before painted signs and carried them in the streets. 
People who were afraid to stand up for what they knew was right began to find their voice.
People began to share the dream described by Martin Luther King, Jr. "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Police officers began to kneel beside protesters and apologize for their colleagues' sins.
God poured out the Spirit--the Comforter--the Advocate upon all the people and they began to understand their own roles in comforting their neighbor and advocating for them--resisting evil, injustice and oppression.

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. ...
The church understood that it was not the walls of a building but the followers of the One who was also unjustly killed and raised from the dead.

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 
The pastors called the people to repentance-- to remember their baptism and be bathed in the Holy Spirit--to understand the promise of transformation is for this society, reminding them to save themselves from the corruption of this racist system by recognizing their complicitness.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The people devoted themselves to the loving teaching of Jesus Christ, entered into fellowship with the least and the lost and invited the last to be first, relinquishing their own places at the head of the table and top of the corporate ladder.

...All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2 (NRSV)
And they didn't just do this with their prayers...

or their words...

or their hopes...

They gave of themselves.

They did it with their actions...

and their wealth...

and their security...

and their privilege...

They gave it away
to ALL, as any had need.

God bless you.
Rev. Cheryl L. Meachen

Join us for worship at Wesley UMC - Concord NH
Sundays at 10:30 on YouTube at
this link.

Expectant, Joyful

In the Christian tradition, we know that patience is a spiritual gift and that times of waiting are often followed by deep blessings. At Wes...