Lessons & Carols: Exercises in Simple Worship

 
In the Anglican tradition, we have inherited many pieces of liturgy over the last two thousand years. So, it may be a bit surprisingly to learn that the service of Nine Lessons and Carols is a fairly recent invention, celebrating its one-hundredth birthday only this year.
 
While there had been services of alternating scripture readings and carols going back to the mid-1800s, the service as we know it today was constructed out of the grief and horror of the First World War, which had ended only 6 weeks before Christmas Eve, 1918.
 
The author of the service was The Rev. Eric Milner-White, a graduate of King’s College who was appointed chaplain at the college in 1912, four years after his ordination as a priest. When the war broke out in 1914, he volunteered as a military chaplain and witnessed the horrors of trench warfare on the Western front.  “Most of life is at night,” he wrote in a letter back home, “and the nights are filled with prolonged terror—a horrid, weird, furtive existence. … Battle is indescribable, unimaginable. A continuous firework of light balls goes up from the German trenches. But most awesome is the noise. We feel powerless against those splitting cracks and roars, and dream of the metal tearing its way into the bodies of poor men.”
 
Decorated for courage under fire in combat, he was released after what he called “a battle of special horror” in early 1918 and returned to King’s College, where he was appointed Dean. After the end of the war on November 11, he set out to create a special Christmastide service “as a gift to the city of Cambridge” that would serve two purposes.
 
First, he wanted to grieve the loss of young men from the city, and especially from his own college. Twenty-three percent of the members of King’s College had died during the war, including Milner-White’s roommate. Today in the chapel of King’s College is a list of the names of the dead on an engraved plaque; a much later dean of King’s College noted that this list was assembled long after the first Lessons and Carols service. This is because on Christmas Eve, 1918, it was not even known exactly who among the members was alive or dead.
 
Second, Milner-White wanted to reform liturgical practices so that the simple beauty of Christian worship would shine through and attract those who had lost their faith in the horrors of the war, whether serving in it or watching it take place. There is intellectual depth to the service; in Milner-White’s own words, “the main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God” as viewed “through the windows and the words of the Bible.” Yet he aimed at simplicity rather than complex explication of God’s purposes in human history; rather than a lecture, he wanted the focus of the service to be on “colour, warmth, and delight.”
 
Milner-White devoted the remainder of his life to the theme that the simple beauty of Christianity offered hope to an increasingly secular culture without hope. He sparked a new interest in stained glass windows as a means of expressing simple Christian truth in beautiful form. He wrote several simple prayers, one of which made its way into the forthcoming Prayer Book of the ACNA as the first Prayer for Mission in Evening Prayer:
O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore: Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men, women and children everywhere love you and serve you in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As you listen and worship during Lessons and Carols, occasionally contemplate that the simple service offers an expression of hope that despite the mess that humans have made of our world, God has a plan of redemption for it.   For more reading pleasure, an interview with William Edwards, author of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (Rizzoli, 2004), can be found here.   Fr. James Manley is an assisting priest here at Servants. He has recently discovered the joy of cooking on cast iron over a 200,000 BTU propane flame (and still has his eyebrows!)
 
 


Sustaining Our Mission

 
Servants of Christ Anglican Church is an amazing community—full of kind, caring, faithful people who see a need and jump right into action. Fr. Alex and the other clergy are exemplars of servant-leadership who inspire, instruct, and model authentic lives full of grace and truth. I often describe this church as: “we see a need, and we meet it.” This is a high praise for the character of Servants! We love because God first loved us. Fr. Alex leads us so well to serve Christ and reach others through prayer, praise, service, and community. I was thrilled to be invited by Fr. Alex to explore and recommend options for how Servants of Christ can improve internal systems for fulfilling, expanding, and sustaining our mission together.
We already know “what to do,” but as we grow, we need to become more intentional about “HOW we do what we do”; what are the criteria by which we make decisions? What are the essential values that guide our decision-making? How do we maintain focused and healthy ministry? How do we communicate well between various areas of the church? And importantly, how do we as clergy and staff—equip, train, support, and resource lay leadership in ways that help you accomplish the tasks, for which God has called you? My calling for the past four decades has been in non-profit organizational leadership and strategic, missional thinking, I have learned over the years that Christ calls us to build both impactful AND sustainable ministry in a hurting world. This requires not only “doing ministry” but developing structures for “HOW we best can sustain ministry.” Good structures allow for growth with integrity. Good systems helps us maintain who and whose we are. We are part of the Body of Christ, called to worship and serve, in this place… at this time… and in ways that allow us to grow and thrive. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:18a that “Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.” In Romans, Paul expands upon the importance of each member of the body being able to express the gifts provided by the Holy Spirit, for the unity and mission of the church: "Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly." Romans 12:4-8 So for a body to function, it requires several internal systems to work well, especially during times of growth or rigorous exercise. At Servants, God has given us a new building and instilled in us a continuing commitment of “making disciples, learning to do all that Jesus said.” During this time of transition, I have been able to communicate with several people in our fellowship to learn more about structure and individual roles (remember, Kathy and I are still relatively new). Fr. Alex has tracked my progress closely and we meet weekly to process any suggestions. Our intention is to have new organizational processes in place by the annual meeting in January. We will continue to prayerfully improve upon these structures over time and modify them as needed. This brings us back to our opening scripture from Proverbs: "We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps." We are trusting God to determine our steps that allows us to grow and reach many new people who are currently without a church home—while carefully maintaining a healthy community of believers who love each other and the mission before us. Pray for Godly wisdom in each step as we make our plans. God is working… in our church, and through our members, for the sake of others. What an exciting time to be part of Servants of Christ Anglican Church! Dcn Bob Ayres   A lover of great coffee, Bob especially enjoys sharing a cup with his wife, Kathy. They have been married over forty years and have five grown children and ten amazing grandchildren. Bob and Kathy are the founders of Deaf Teen Quest, a national ministry of Youth for Christ USA where Bob is still on staff. Bob has a Doctorate of Ministry and two masters degrees and was recently ordained to the diaconate in the Anglican Church. His undergraduate degree is in education from the University of Florida. But most importantly, Bob loves Jesus because Jesus loved him first.


Intro to Advent

 
On Sunday, December 2, 2018, we will enter the first season of the liturgical year, Advent. For many, there may be three phrases or words that may be unfamiliar or strange in that introductory sentence. The first is “the first season,” next is “the liturgical year,” and last is, “Advent.”
 
Just as our secular calendar has seasons - winter, spring, summer, fall - so too does our Christian calendar. However, instead of four seasons, the Christian calendar or, “liturgical year,” has six. The seasons of our “liturgical year,” begin with Advent (the "first season" and continue through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In each of these seasons our worship has its focus on the different aspects of our walk with Jesus, our risen Lord and Messiah.
 
Advent" is the beginning of our liturgical year and carries with it a dual meaning.  As you may read in the article below, the word Advent comes from the Latin, adventum, which means “to come.” So, in this season we are looking forward to what is to come. We are looking forward to the coming of our Lord as the Baby Jesus, AND we are looking forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus when He returns to take His Church to reign with Him in His heavenly Kingdom.
 
-Fr. Michael La Cagnina
 
 
 
 
The following article was originally published at anglicanpastor.com on November 18, 2018 by Joshua Steele.
 
 

What is Advent?

Advent is the first season of the Church year. It lasts for four weeks leading up to Christmas Day on December 25: (To learn more about what the Church year is and how it’s different than the civil calendar, click here.)

Why is it called “Advent”?

“Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming or arrival.” Used by the Church, the word refers to:
  1. The “arrival” of Jesus Christ when he was born on the original Christmas Day
  2. The upcoming “arrival” of Jesus Christ when, as Christians believe, he will return to judge the living and the dead.
So, the season of Advent is a season of preparation and waiting:
  1. first for Christ’s second coming to judge the living and the dead (2 Pet 3:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3), but also
  2. to celebrate Christ’s first arrival at Christmas.
Just as the Israelites awaited a Messiah to fulfill God’s promises from Genesis 3:15 to Jeremiah 31:31-34 and beyond, so Christians await the return of Jesus the Messiah make all things new (Revelation 21).

What are some common practices during Advent?

What’s the difference between Advent music and Christmas music?

Perhaps the classic piece of Advent music is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” because it reflects Advent’s emphasis on waiting and expectation. Christmas music, on the other hand, emphasizes the joyful celebration of Christ’s arrival at the Incarnation. “Joy to the World” comes to mind, but if you read the lyrics to that song closely, you’ll notice that they’re actually about the second coming of Jesus, not his birth. So, maybe think of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” as a paradigmatic Christmas song.

Songs for Advent

Here are some of the better-known songs from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s helpful list of Songs for Advent:
  • Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus – Charles Wesley
  • Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes – Philip Doddridge
  • Imagine – Keith and Kristyn Getty
  • Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence – Gerard Moultrie
  • Love Divine, All Loves Excelling – Charles Wesley
  • My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout – Rory Cooney
  • O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – ancient hymn
  • Of the Father’s Love Begotten – Aurelius Clemens Prudentius
  • Savior of the Nations, Come – Ambrose, 4th century; Martin Luther
  • Soon and Very Soon – Andraé Crouch
Check out the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s list of Songs for Christmas as well. I also highly recommend the following:

Advent Collects and Collect Reflections

In the Anglican tradition, each week of the Church year has a special prayer, called a “collect,” used during Sunday worship and then for the following week. Here are the collects for Advent. If you click on the titles, it will take you to the Anglican Pastor Collect Reflection for that week—a short blog post to help you reflect on the collect!

The First Sunday in Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent; Annunciation

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Other Advent posts at Anglican Pastor

If you’d like to learn more about Advent, check out the following posts at Anglican Pastor:

Other Advent resources

Check out the following resources to learn more about Advent and how to celebrate it:
 
 
 
 
Fr. Michael is an assistant clergy at Servants. He is a retired rector of a congregation in High Springs, FL and still lives there with his wife, Joyce. You can most often find Fr. Michael volunteering to help when he is able and offering solutions for various conundrums that arise in ministry work. 


The Future of Our Churches

 
At the beginning of this month I was blessed to attend the Young Anglican Project and Rooted Conferences in Nashville, Tennessee. The Young Anglican Project is a group designed to help Anglican Youth Programs throughout the United States. The first day of the gathering we were fortunate enough to spend the day with Archbishop Foley Beach. Foley Beach++ spoke to us about the future of the ACNA. He said that future is our students. His desire is that the local Anglican Church will long for the youth of today. He told us to get out there and build relationships. Programming will only get you so far. You have to know your students. His exact words were, “Students spell love: T-I-M-E.” Listening to him speak about his childhood and getting to know him on a more personal level, reminded me why I love youth ministry. Our students just want someone to be real with them, and for us to know who they truly are. I don’t have to pull a rabbit out of my hat and entertain them. I just have to listen.
 
Later that day Foley Beach++ asked us what struggles we have in our ministries. Some spoke of parent involvement, community involvement, how do we instill a life of prayer in our students, and the fact that we have a small number of students in our youth groups. Others spoke of suicide, depression, gender confusion, and same-sex attraction. These are all problems that we are facing in some shape or form within our own groups. We also brought up areas where we were seeing success. Some of those areas where: students leading small groups, students having a heart for missions, and multi-generational relationships.
 
Then he asked, “How does your youth ministry fit into the overall ministry of the Church?” I sat with this question for a while. Then I looked at our service from the pew on a Sunday morning. I see some of our students serving in different rolls, for example music team and acolytes. Then I asked myself, is that enough? How do we instill a desire for our youth to not be an audience member, but an active participant on Sundays and beyond? The next question he asked was who are the people in your church that are being discerned to work with the youth? Who and what do these people that help us run our youth groups look like? Is our help multi-generational? What does support look like from the church? Foley Beach++ told us not to answer these questions ourselves, but to get support from our parish.
 
Youth ministry is a long road. It’s spending time in real conversation with our students. It’s meeting them where they are, not just expecting that they will always come to us. It’s answering the hard questions that we may not be ready for, but the Holy Spirit is. It’s honestly looking at how our youth ministry fits into the overall ministry of our church. It’s taking the time to show and teach them what it means to be Anglican. They are not just the kids in that other building who you see every so often. How can we achieve the goal that Foley Beach++ stated: that youth are the future of our churches? Can we have a multi-generational support system for our youth and Servants? I pray that we can. I pray we all desire to know our youth on a personal level and find them where they are.
 
 
Kim Harris
 
 
Kim has been a member of Servants for four years and is the Director for Children & Families. With her husband John she has three children: Jack, Kaycee, and Katelynne.


For A New Generation

 
Our “Great Treasure Hunt” has come to an end. I cannot express how grateful I am for each person who volunteered their time and energy last week to make VBS happen. We had volunteers of all ages who filled numerous roles. We had drivers who picked up families so they could attend VBS, a live band, a snack creator, group leaders, recreation leaders, and story-tellers that brought God’s Word to life. These are just some of the roles our volunteers tackled. Here at Servants of Christ you showed what a true servant of Christ looks like. For those of you who were praying from home and keeping us in your thoughts, thank you. We felt the Holy Spirit moving, and we know He was there protecting and guiding us this week. Thank you all for filling these valuable rolls so we could help the kingdom of God grow. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
 

This week gave me a glimpse into the future of our Children’s and Youth Ministries at Servants. We are growing, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in amazing ways. We had an average of forty children, ages 2-10 years old, attend VBS this year. We also had amazing youth volunteers. When I reflect on this, I see forty plus lives that we have the privilege to help disciple for Christ. 

The exciting news is that this school year our Club 456, that is our 4th-6th grade discipleship group, could double in size. Wednesday nights during the school year our 4th through 12th graders meet for food, fellowship, and discipleship. They learn from each other. They support one another through their words and actions. The older students mentor the younger ones. The younger students breathe new life into the ministry. Some of you have helped with meals, transportation, or volunteered on Wednesday nights. We are so grateful for all of those ministries. If you are feeling lead or hear the Holy Spirit tugging at you, we’d love your continued support.

This Sunday we need your prayers. We are going to ask our students and their parents to stand up. We’ll pray over the students for the upcoming school year. I don’t know if you know this, but being a kid is hard. There is so much pressure put on our children these days, it’s exhausting just listening to them. They can’t just run outside and play after school anymore. They can’t come back in when the street lights go on. They are startled by almost every noise and wary of everyone. They don’t know what it’s like to not have a phone to look at. Trust me, separating them from their phone is akin to separating them from their hand. I covet your prayers for them. If we make the commitment to remember our young people and their families in your prayers each day, we can start to show them what the active love of Christ looks like. We all need a little extra lift each day.

Please take the time to get to know our students. They are quite amazing. They have been blessed with so many different skills and talents. They love serving in different roles, but they are young. Did you know that several of our youth were not raised in church and have no spiritual guidance at home. These youth don’t have parents who are connected to Servants or any other church body. They desperately need spiritual mentors. All of our young people need mature Christians who will speak God’s truth into their lives. I know that loving them can sometimes require a large amount of grace, but we’ve been entrusted with a remarkable opportunity to grow the kingdom. How can you get to know them? Just come up and start a conversation.

Last but certainly not least, you can join us. Join us on Sunday mornings in Children’s Church. Come to our family events and hang out with our young families. Come fellowship on Wednesday nights with the youth. The last Wednesday of every month is game night. This is where you see them in their element. Join the transportation team, and help give the students who want to be there a ride. There are so many ways you can serve.

As verse 4 says in Psalm 78, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” That generation is among us. The time is now. Let them know all the wondrous things God has done in your life.



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.