Toward Common Prayer

Greetings from the Mountains of Virginia. After completing my second Doctorate of Ministry class at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania last week, I’m off on the Appalachian Trail for a few days of vacation. Many of you know that I try to walk the trail for a short section with my brother Zack. This year we move into southern Virginia. My mind is full of new ideas and spiritual insights from the class, and I’m sure by the time I see you June 24th, there will be much to share. I hope you too will be enjoying some Sabbath rest this summer.
I write to you today, to let you know that on July 1 we will be making a few small changes to our Sunday liturgy. I want you to know that I don’t take these changes lightly and I’m aware that the idea of liturgy is that you will know the service and allow it to flow from your heart as a habit of spiritual formation. Liturgy reminds us that we are a part of something that is much bigger than us. I’m of course referring to the Church, the Body of Christ in the world.
So why are we making changes to our liturgy? Short answer: to be in step with our communion, the Anglican Church in North America. As some of you know, our province has been working on an approved liturgy for North America and these few changes are the last adjustments before the new prayer book is ready for publishing some time in 2019. This is very exciting as we’ve been without a printed prayer book now for 13 years. If we don’t adopt these changes will be out of step with our sister Anglican churches, and that is not the idea of common prayer.
There is one bit of news that I hope you will find exciting in these changes. The new prayer book allows for the response to “The Lord be with you,” to return to the familiar “And also with you.” This is actually just an option, but as we are currently the only ACNA church I am aware of that uses, “And with your Spirit,” we will take the option and return to those familiar words. I think most of you will be pleased. The reason we are making the small changes to the liturgy is the same reason we are returning to “And also with you,” namely, so that we can pray in union with our sister ACNA churches.
I will see you this Sunday and we will continue to journey together in God’s mission in Gainesville. In the meantime, please pray for me on the trail and all of those Anglican leaders gathered in Jerusalem for the Global Anglican Future Conference.
May the Shalom of God rest upon your hearts,

With Thankfulness to God

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:15-17


In the passage above, the Apostle Paul wraps up his summary to the Church in Colossi with three reminders of thanksgiving. First, as Christ rules your heart producing peace, “be thankful.” This is our salvation; Christ has brought us peace. Second, as a member of the body we are to minister to one another through teaching, admonishing, and singing “with thankfulness.” And third, as we go about our lives, whatever you do, do it in obedience to Christ, “giving thanks to God the Father.” So whether it is our salvation, our life as a Church community, or our work and activity individually - Paul says it is to be smothered in thanksgiving.
This is a reminder as I write this article, which is once again filled with my own thanksgiving. Paul would say, “and so it should!” So much is in transition with our new buildings, and I continue to give thanks for how the Lord calls His people to labor for the common effort to ready a place for worship and ministry. Last Sunday, I failed to mention that thirty people came out to clean, paint, repair, trim, pressure wash, organize, and improve our facilities. Thanks to all who showed up. If you couldn’t make last Saturday, consider coming out for gutter cleaning at Littlewood this weekend. Then last Tuesday a team of seven women and men arrived to tear into what was the Theater room, working tirelessly to remove the choir steps so that this multi-purpose room can better serve our children, youth, and adults. When you’re by the church next, peek in to see how much floor space was created by our demolition team! Well done.
I also need to thank some folks from outside our church who blessed us this week. First, Amanda Allen, a local photographer, who blessed us with the pictures from our Pentecost service. The photos will be incorporated into our website and available to view there and on social media shortly. Amanda has graciously given us these photos for free. Bless you, Amanda, for capturing our Grand Opening and also allowing us to visually show the community of SOC to all those who visit us online. Then, second, I must acknowledge Jason Stefansen (brother of our prayer intercessor Scott Stefansen), who on his vacation from work as lighting expert, volunteered to come down to Gainesville to work on our spotlights in the Sanctuary. Jason got two spotlights working for this Sunday, which means you will actually be able to see the faces of our clergy and servers, plus it brings more light into the Sanctuary as a whole. Jason has already promised to come back and do some more work with our lighting and electrical system. Thank you, Jason. Third, Jason’s work could not have been accomplished without the loan of a lift from Westwood Hills Church of God. How generous this church has been to us in loaning their lift. Also, special thanks to our own Bill McCrea, who is the keeper of the lift while it’s in our possession. Yes ladies, that’s the large piece of equipment you see on the way to the women’s bathroom on Sundays. (Just temporary, I promise).
Lastly, I want to end this article by acknowledging Mrs. Susan Staley. For the past two and a half years, Susan has been an amazing administrative asset to SOC. First volunteering one day a week, then two days, finally becoming our office administrator last year, Susan has brought organization to the office and has given care for the details of running a church office a new level of excellence. Some of you may know that Susan has learned to play the dulcimer over the last few years and so now has felt a calling to leave her administration ministry for a music ministry to the sick and dying. If you visit a hospital or hospice care, you may hear or see Susan ministering to the care givers or patients there. Susan will be greatly missed in the office but we are grateful for these years of ministry and bless her in her calling to music ministry. Susan, we are so thankful for your willingness to use your gifts for the building up of our congregation.
So you see, fellow servants, there is just a lot to be thankful for in this season of our life together. Please continue to pray for safety for our volunteer workers and contractors, and also for those in the body traveling during the summer. While you are away, don’t forget that you can view our services live on Facebook each Sunday and, of course, give financially online. Our giving to the Lord is one of the tangible expressions of our thanksgiving for all the Lord is doing in our lives.
Onward and Upward,

It’s All About Timing

Our church took an important step as a parish when we purchased our own space April 5th. The first fruit of that step was evident in the worship we experienced in our first two services in our new sanctuary. Not unlike the purchase of a first home, there is a level of maturity that comes for a congregation that moves into its own space. Now as I repeatedly tell the story of our new church home to different people outside the congregation, I can see God’s provision and timing even more clearly. I firmly believe this was the right decision and the right time to buy a building.
What about you? No, I’m not asking you whether you think it was the right timing, but I am asking is this the right time for you to take the next step in your own commitment to this body and our ministries in and out of our church walls. I like to think our relationship with God is like riding a bike. A bike has two pedals; the Christian life also has two pedals. For followers of Christ, one pedal is our faith in God; the other pedal is our response in obedient action. And like riding a bike, it’s much easier and enjoyable when you are moving forward!
Is the Lord calling you to join Servants officially? Are you ready to take a place on a ministry team? Is there a burning passion to serve in a particular place that you’ve been reluctant to mention? Already our church is experiencing growth in attendance just over these first two weeks (even though I asked folks to wait until May 20th, haha). If you have been around SOC for a while, you will likely be asked to consider a place of service or ministry. Could this be your own moment to step up?


Onward & upward,
Alex +

And so the work begins…

Our first Sunday in our new worship space is almost here! After closing on April 5th, our facility team began working with great speed and determination in preparation for this weekend. As I write to you, the new carpet is about to be laid in our sanctuary (around the altar). Our pews are now sitting in the nave (see we have to learn to use the proper liturgical terms again) and the gifted statue of “Jesus the Good Shepherd” will shortly be moved from the Langelands’ home to the narthex (area outside the doors of the nave) where people will gather before and after the service. This is a very exciting time in the life of our parish.
There a so many folks to thank for this process including the great number of volunteers who have showed up since the 5th of April to clean and prepare our new space. I do want to especially acknowledge some folks who have done the “heavy lifting” in this process. First, Ramona Chance who offered legal advice and worked diligently to help us form the condominium association, and acquire our financing. Also Ken Langeland, our junior warden, who worked tirelessly with the vestry to negotiate the purchase and is now working with our facility team. Last but not least, Daryl Johnston, who heads up our facility team. Daryl is managing our moving process and is leading a great group of leaders who are tackling a long list of “to do” items. I owe a great deal to these three people for keeping us on track over the last six months. Please let them know how much you appreciate them for their hard work.
Sunday is not the finish line. Some of you will recall those were the words of Bishop Neil when he was with us in March. Although this has been a day we have prayed for and longed to see – especially those of us who have been here since our first service January 8, 2006 – we cannot rest now that God has given us a permanent home. Sunday is just the beginning of our life as a parish within a secure base from which to minister to our community. That is why I think it is especially important that in the midst of our move, we have adopted a parish-wide initiative to “Love Littlewood.” Littlewood Elementary is right next door and Justin Smith and his team are leading us in ways to bless Littlewood. Several servants have begun offering tutoring and mentoring at the school; several more participated in the running of their carnival in March. This past Saturday, nine of us were privileged to clean the gutters of the school. I encourage all of you to speak with Justin about ways you can “Love Littlewood” with us. We have also begun a transportation ministry: thanks to all of you who have offered rides. You are a blessing to many who otherwise couldn’t get to church.
A couple of things to keep in mind: there will be a need for interior painting and light moving over the next couple of weeks. Please contact the church office if you have some time to volunteer. Our facility team will definitely need your help. Secondly, while we start worshiping in the new space this week, we recommend inviting new people to our May 20th service (Pentecost) so that we have a couple of weeks to work out the kinks. Third, for the month of May, our children will continue to use rooms B-5 and B-6 as usual. This will allow the facility team to prepare our new spaces for the kids once the church space is ready. Lastly, please remember your regular tithe plus offerings for our building fund during this time of transition. I am so thankful for the generosity of this congregation.
And so the work begins and ministry continues. Together we are offering a redemptive experience of the Church to our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. What could be more important?
Onward and Upward,

Not My Will, But Yours – Day 40

The theme of the devotionals has been calling; many have found and are living out their calling, but many of us don’t feel one or aren’t in the position yet to live it out (incidentally, I’m in this third group). What do we do about that?
One answer is to pray about it, and trust in the Lord to reveal it to you. This is good advice, but we don’t dictate the Lord’s timing. It may be years before you feel a calling. It may be never. So what do we do in the meantime?
This is a question that faces all of us. The church is living in the meantime between the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus and His return, when all will be put to rights, when at the name of the Lord, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. But that hasn’t happened yet. It may not in our lifetimes. So, again, what do we do in the meantime?
This question looms large in the background of the epistles. Then as now, there’s an inherent tension between waiting, as when the scriptures repeatedly instruct us to wait on the Lord, and doing, as when Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. This is a tension that has to be worked out, prayerfully, in each of our lives; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question. And yet the scriptures and the Church provide guidance to us. Each Sunday, Fr. Alex or Fr. James dismisses us with the exhortation to go into the world “to do the work You have given us to do, to love and serve You as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
This would be a difficult thing even if we weren’t sinful creatures. Calling or no, discerning the work He has given us to do is no easy task. I believe wisdom consists in knowing how to apply what we know to what we do in the world. It is both God-given and hard-earned. So what are we to do if we don’t have enough wisdom for a given situation? We cannot simply “follow our heart,” because we know that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV) We often don’t even desire what the Lord desires, let alone know how to bring it about.
I think the answer must be to pray for wisdom and to act, trusting that the Lord will transform our desires, guide our paths, and bring us to our calling, even if we don’t yet know what it is.
For now, we pray along with Jesus in Gethsemane, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Justin Shoemaker
Justin came to Servants three years ago. He’s a scribe in an emergency room in Palatka, FL and volunteers at youth group each Wednesday. He enjoys readings and playing soccer, and would usually rather be skiing.

When There’s No Calling – Day 39

The question of calling has always been a difficult one for me. I have often struggled with the desire for a specific mission in life – a primary focus that would unite the various aspects of life. But I don't feel that I have that clear calling. At times, I assume that it must be my own fault, that I don’t have the proper relationship with God and am not seeking to hear Him fervently. At other times, I assume that different people need different things, and God hasn’t seen fit to provide me with that focused mission that others seem to have. There is probably truth in both.
It was somewhat ironic to me a few weeks ago when Fr. Alex mentioned me in his sermon on calling. Among the list of people who have a clear calling – such as David to leading music and Mary to intercessory prayer – he included me, listing several places of service. (I would contend that my actual service is less impressive than he would have my "resume" sound, but I digress.) The irony to me was that I don't feel like a very good example of calling. Some might say I have the spiritual gift of helps, which I would describe as "doing the job that's needed." I don't know whether this can or should be considered a calling. It certainly does not meet my traditional definition.
So what do I do with that? I serve where I can. I work with several people to lead a community group that gathers monthly to strengthen relationships and serve together. This last fall, I had the opportunity to lead a financial class with Adrienne. I play music on Sunday with the music team. And other odds and ends such as organizing the AV team.
What do all of these things have in common? Nothing, as far as I know, except that they are opportunities to serve. I continue to wrestle with the question of calling. I continue to pray for clarity and direction. And I continue to serve.
Perhaps this is a question with which you also wrestle. I would encourage you to step out and do something. Be intentional, seek the Lord's direction, but then go. Don't let your uncertainty keep you from the opportunities that God has placed in front of you.
Jose Boada
Jose joined Servants in 2006 and has served in various capacities over the years. Outside of Servants he enjoys Gator sports with his wife Adrienne and their daughter Audrey.

An Interview with Alan – Day 38

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14
Q. You have a ministry of working with children one Sunday a month. How did you get involved in that?
A. Well I don’t think you can say what I do is really a ministry. At least that’s not how I see it. For me it is just a really fun thing to do and I wouldn’t call it work either. But to answer your question it started when Deb Daquila who was working in the toddler room suggested that I give it a try.
Q. Why do you think she did that?
A. I don’t know but probably because one of my jobs as an usher is to count everybody in attendance at the service and that includes the children and adults that take care of them in their classrooms. I would usually have something to say to the kids like “How is everybody? Are you having fun?” etc. before I left with my count.
Q. What did Deb do?
A. She suggested that I might be good with the kids and I should volunteer in the toddler room. For some reason I said yes. That was several years ago. Now I am with the pre-k kids.
Q. What background do you have that might have led you to want to be in children’s ministry?
A. I’ve always liked little kids. I like being with them and seeing how they operate, how their minds work, stuff like that. Dawn and I were never blessed to have children. Maybe being with little children one Sunday a month helps make up for this. Maybe being a school teacher was a way of compensating for this. But those were high school kids, a totally different animal. (Dawn taught high school math for 35 years. I came to teaching as a second career and taught high school social studies for 22 years.)
Q. What else would you like to say about your ministry?
A. As I said before I don’t really consider being with little kids a ministry. That implies work, and to me it is not work. It is really a fulfilling time for me, so much so I often prefer to be in the pre-k room than in the adult service. I really truly have fun with the kids. I draw and color right along with them. There are pictures I colored with them on my refrigerator. Also, Marissa their teacher (remember I am just a helper), does a great job with the kids. For me it is a great blessing to be recognized as Mr. Alan and to see these little ones grow and develop. Often I must say I am somewhat envious of the parents of the children in our church. I am blessed, truly blessed, to be able to help the parents have a few moments to enjoy their church experience. Wait, maybe that’s the whole point of ministry: that it is NOT work, that it can be fun and it is certainly a blessing. The blessing is in the giving.
Alan Cox
Alan is retired, but spends most of his days working on repairing his home that was damaged during Hurricane Irma last year. He and Dawn have been blessed by the many people at Servants who helped with clean up and have prayed for them through this time. Alan is an usher and recently stepped up to help with the sound ministry.

Flashing Neon Signs – Day 37

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (ESV)
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me.  Don’t stop them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people who are like these children.’” Matthew 19:14 (Holy Bible- Easy-to-Read Version)
Having Littlewood Elementary school right next door to our campus is just too obvious of a sign. To me, it represents an invitation to be salt and light in the world of those who are heavy laden (teachers) and give time in the name of Christ to our community. I mean, do we need flashing neon directions from God? But I was past the elementary years with my children and didn’t quite know how to engage. When Justin Smith did the initial work of setting up a pathway over there, it again became obvious to me that my sign didn’t need to include a 2x4 over the head. And volunteering is encouraged by my employer, even allowing paid time up to an hour a week. It was what people refer to as a “no brainer.”
Nevertheless, there were hoops to jump through. Application, scheduling, permissions, assignments... You know nothing comes easy, even if it seems it should be. But now, I am engaging with 4th grade children during Monday morning math lessons, learning their names, their strengths and helping overcome some roadblocks with them. I was dragging last Monday, there was a traffic jam, too much to do at work, and it was raining. Trying to fool myself, I made a promise to myself to just show up, and I can bail out after an hour instead of doing the whole hour and a half. But when I arrived, I realized that the teacher was now counting on me and had me included as part of her lesson plan! The entire hour and a half flew by doing fraction task cards with 3 or 4 children at a time. I learn this repeatedly, that His yoke is easy and burden is light. I was refreshed afterwards, and nothing was missed at work after all. Bill and I are doing this together. It gives us a common experience and something simple and easy to do, something outside ourselves and our family. It gives us a peek into the current situations in public elementary schools and the lives of children of all races and abilities. We are connected to children again, and maybe we can learn from them, how to be like them to receive Gods kingdom.
Emily Wilson
Emily, married to Bill McCrea, has 3 sons all grown up. We did our best to bring them up in the way of the Lord, having been part of this community of believers since 1990. I have learned way too many lessons with a proverbial 2x4 over the head and hope that those days are behind me. It would be nice to have flashing neon signs from God more often!

The God of Endurance – Day 36

The idea of a calling to a specific ministry has been hard for me for a couple reasons. On one hand, there are so many momentary, daily, weekly opportunities to serve those around me as I go about life. Being available to my neighbors, helping my aging parents, encouraging my children after a hard day at school, these are all worthy and necessary. God already has me in these roles. Does taking on additional ministry mean I might be neglecting the roles He has already clearly put me in? My other struggle with the idea of a calling to ministry is my fear that it will bring more attention to me than glory to God.
Last fall, Ethan and I became licensed for foster care. We are trained and equipped (as much as one can be) to temporarily care for a child who has been removed from their family of origin. One of the most common responses I hear when people learn of our endeavor is, “I don’t know how you do that,” or even, “Wow! You guys are amazing!” While I know the intentions behind the comments are sincere, they make me cringe with embarrassment. I want to say, “I am actually a complete mess. I am just putting one foot in front of the other, and my only real strength comes from Jesus.” The problem is that conversation usually happens when I run into an old friend at the grocery store, or an acquaintance at our kid’s basketball game is politely trying to tally up the number or children we have in tow. I guess I need to develop a concise way to explain this calling our family has taken up is not us trying to save the world, but a really incredible way God is bringing healing and restoration to our community.
I just wanted to be honest about my own personal reservations with recently taking up a new ministry in hopes that I might address fears or hesitations my brothers and sisters might share. Now I will try and give a little background on our road to become a foster family.
I have always loved children. My degree from UF is in Family, Youth, and Community Sciences. All my favorite jobs involved working with children. We are in the midst of raising a family. I think when we are wondering about a call to ministry beyond our immediate family and vocation; we usually don’t have to look too far. (“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” 1 Corinthians 7:17) What are your gifts? What have people told you you’re good at? What are you already doing that could be expanded to include more of God’s kingdom locally? Live the life that is unfolding before you.
Ethan and I started to learn of more and more friends who were fostering. We learned more about the need for people to step into the role and saw what it looked like firsthand through friends. All of a sudden it seemed like an actual possibility for our lives. Then, for me, the experience that solidified the desire to foster was visiting an orphanage in Haiti, specifically the orphanage where my niece spent the first two years of her life before she was adopted by my sister and her family. I was struck, knowing these children were in limbo – somewhere between the family they were born into and permanency. I thought of my niece and longed for each of the children in her orphanage there to have the “bridge” they deserved during that time of limbo. That these image-bearers would be comforted when they cried, fed when they were hungry. I felt the weight and importance of that role, even if for just one child.
A few months after that trip to Haiti, Ethan and I started the training for foster care. We agreed to go into the training with an open mind, but still not fully sure if God was calling us. To be honest, I never felt any intense moments of clarity, just a steady nudge toward the direction we had started heading. I knew that foster care would be difficult in a variety of ways, but I’ve also learned that in challenging seasons God is near. His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
Since becoming licensed, we have had three short term foster placements. It has been a privilege to get to know these children, even in the short amount of time they were with us. God has taught me so much about His character through the challenges that came with welcoming them into our home. There were moments when I was very aware of my shortcomings and God gently reminded me that He is the God of endurance (Romans 15:5). I don’t have to meet all the needs because He is enough. Do you have a desire to serve in a certain area, but you just don’t know if you have it in you? Certainly, your strength and character are limited, but God is unshakable. Our hope is in His perseverance, not ours.
Valerie Stonerook
Valerie is a wife, a mother of four biological children, and a foster mother. She’s an active participant in The Share women’s Bible study, loves college students (and children, as she mentioned), and volunteers with Young Life.

This Isn’t My Calling – Day 35

My venture into youth ministry was far from glamorous. I received a call in desperation from Adrienne Boada asking if I’d be willing to sit in as an adult chaperone one week for youth group. No long-term commitment, no lesson to plan, just sit and listen. I agreed to it.
But as I sat watching those three awkward middle schoolers, I realized that I could do this. These kids needed a place to meet and an adult to supervise, and they only needed it once a week. I knew I could do that much, so I volunteered. Those kids quickly became “mine” and I’ve held on ever since.
The tricky thing, though, is that in some ways I needed them as much (or more) than they needed me. I was a new mom and I was floundering. They forget to tell new moms that, as cute as your baby is and as much work as he is, your life will quickly feel meaningless. Your previous life in which you accomplished much suddenly comes down to one objective: keep the baby alive. And though it’s practically a miracle that your baby is alive at day’s end considering how sleep deprived you are, it feels very less-than-miraculous. It feels like failure though it really, really isn’t. But I digress a bit. I felt useless and having something to do outside the home made me feel alive again in some ways.
Youth group was uncomfortable, especially as we first tried to get to know each other. But as time went on, we found a rhythm and relationships grew. As I’m coming to the end of my fifth year of youth ministry, I can look back at how God has grown the youth and myself. It’s satisfying.
I always knew my time in youth ministry would be temporary. Some may not think that five years is temporary, but I knew and still know this isn’t my calling. I am there to keep things going until the Lord brings along someone who is called to it.
Kim is called, but she can’t do it alone, and as I know that my time with the youth is slowly drawing to a close, I know Kim needs another person called to youth ministry to walk beside her. The Lord has released me – at least He will release me at the end of the 2020 school year. I’ll “graduate” with the last of my first youth groupers.
In hearing that I’d be released, I also heard the Lord quite clearly tell me I have to train a replacement. I was dropped into youth ministry the hard way – I felt thrown in the deep end, not knowing if I’d sink or swim. There’s no need for anyone else to feel that. Two years to transition from novice to leader is a good amount of preparation. This, too, is part of ministry – preparing for the day you won’t be in the ministry anymore.
Youth ministry helped save my sanity as a young mother. It has given me leadership skills I never thought I’d need or have. I’ve had to rely on the Lord for so much and my heart has grown two sizes as I’ve learned to love on these kids. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. It’s been full of discomfort, struggle, and duty, but it’s been joyful and life-giving, too.
I don’t know where you are in your search for ministry. Maybe like me you’re filling in a place you know isn’t really yours, or maybe you aren’t even looking. No matter where you are, trust the Lord. He knows His Kingdom and where He needs you. He also knows what you need. “And he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” Matthew 6:33 (NLT 1996).
Nikki Smith
Nikki joined Servants in 2012. She's in love with her husband, her kids, the written word, and Big Mama (her minivan/wagon, as named by Zac Kitchens).