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From the Pastor

It’s hard to believe that we are almost halfway through the month of August—this summer has flown by! As we make our way toward fall, and the end of this year, there are several issues “on the table” at Big Rapids First. I want to name the present realities, and hopefully offer words of encouragement (or challenge) for our next steps.

New Governance Structure

There have been several opportunities provided for discussion and education around the potential for a new governance model at Big Rapids First. There will be another opportunity for questions on August 20 at 9AM, at the beginning of our visioning meeting. What’s next? This discussion will move to the Church Council in August for a decision, and if the vote is to proceed, a motion will be presented at the church conference in September 2022.

Building Maintenance / Projects

The work on the elevator is set to begin on Monday, August 22. This project is expected to take four months. During that time, as has been announced, we will be worshipping in the Fellowship Hall so that every person, regardless of physical limitations or handicapping condition, will be able to join us.

The challenge to find an engineer to work with us on the Elm Street stairs continues. This is the first step to making the necessary repairs to the existing structure OR in replacing the current staircase with something new.

The old boilers have been removed from the basement, and the installation of the new boilers is set to happen sometime in September. Thank you, Joe and Ken, for doing that very dirty and labor-intensive work!

There was discussion about moving the audio / video system to under the balcony that is on hold due to the cost of moving the electric service. We will continue to make upgrades to our technology to better improve the worship experience in house and online, using funds from an endowment grant. If you would like more information on this project, or to make a contribution, please let me know.

Your Trustees have been hard at work and made significant headway on addressing and prioritizing the maintenance of our building. The current Trustees are:

· Joe Compton, Chair

· Ken Draves, Secretary

· Denise Cosper

· Doug Fitzgerald

· Rex Richardson

· Ann Spagnuolo

· Jeremy Wicks

Visioning, Defining Core Values, & 2023 Goal Setting

The Church Council, and anyone else interested, will be meeting on Saturday, August 20 at 9AM in Fellowship Hall to discuss the vision, core values, and 2023 goals of First UMC. This conversation is open to anyone who would like to attend and participate.

LGBTQAI+ Discussion

A major focus of our July 31st Family Meeting was centered on offering a snapshot of the results of the poll that was sent earlier this summer. My plan is to provide a detailed written report to the congregation after the church council has an opportunity to review the results and discuss next steps.

The purpose of the poll was to give BRFUMC leaders a sense of where the congregation may be leaning, so that we can be intentional about next steps. As you should know, our denomination is at an inflection point around the issue of LGBTQAI+ inclusion, and we need to know where we are heading at BRFUMC.

As I’ve stated before, the anonymous nature of the poll was very intentional, with the hope of allowing everyone, regardless of perspective, to feel that they have an equal "voice" in the discussion. I don’t have an effective way to judge how anyone is feeling but am encouraged by the response rate of those who received the poll.

At the Family Meeting I made mention of several observations that I made in regard to the data. Below I share those, and a few others, without going into the content of the poll. Some of these come directly from the poll results, and some from conversations I’ve had with (or messages I’ve received from) individuals and families at First.

First Church is not monolithic in its understanding of LGBTQAI+ inclusion. It was clear in the poll that the majority of members and constituents support the full inclusion of LGBTQAI+ persons in the life and ordinances of the church. It was also evident that we have members who are still seeking clarity for themselves on the issues—in addition to members who are very clear in their position and do not support the use of church property or personnel for same-gender weddings, nor can they support the ordination of marriage of LGBTQAI+ persons.

First Church is not monolithic in its opinion on whether or not we should be discussing this issue right now. There are a few people who, for a variety of reasons, believe that our conversations are poorly timed or unnecessary.

What is true for the denomination is also true of us - people will, or have already, left because of this conversation. You saw an exodus when Pastor Devon was appointed at First, based on a Facebook post and people’s unfair assumptions about her. We’ve had people leave since I’ve arrived at First. There are people who are currently in the process of leaving and working hard to take as many people with them as possible. There are people who are hoping to find safe space when First explicitly names our position, but they won’t come while it’s in discussion because they’re afraid of being hurt. A significant number of people responded to the poll indicating that they would probably or definitely leave if their opinion is in the minority. This is the nature of challenging times in the church - we are a voluntary institution, where each person decides for themselves, what issues are important and worth staying (or leaving) over. As your pastor, I ask myself the question, “Does First have the desire or emotional energy to sustain this conversation for the next two years?” I’m fairly confident I know the answers, but I’ll lean on the lay leadership of the church to inform me and guide our next steps.

As you can imagine, I have opportunity to be in conversation with many people at First who are varied in their opinions about LGBTQAI+ inclusion. It would serve us well to remember that while people may take differing positions on this issue, we are all children of God and serve the same Christ. When we let our emotions take control it becomes very easy to demonize and “other” people - even people we love and have worshipped with and served alongside for decades. We do not have to think alike, to love alike - but we do have to think and love like Christ!

Our community is watching, and waiting, to see how Big Rapids First UMC will respond to the question of full inclusion of LGBTQAI+ persons. What type of a witness will they see, hear, and experience? That’s a decision we get to make. Choose wisely, beloved.


Pastor Jeremy

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