Pastor Quarterly Reports
Eric Muhr, youth ministries
If past experience is any indicator, sometime between 6 and 6:03 p.m. on Wednesday, September 17, a middle school student will show up at Friends Center for middle school youth group. That student will be half an hour early. And over the course of that half hour, other students will trickle in. We’ll talk about music (favorite), school (not favorite), siblings (not favorite), sports (mixed), books (mixed), Doctor Who (favorite). There will be a prayer exercise, teaching, lots and lots of raised hands (mostly wanting to know when we get to play games). Games. Snacks. And by 8:15 or so, the last middle school student will have gone home, though there might be a left-over sweatshirt or an unclaimed pair of shoes in the gym.
I’ll be both tired and energized. Tired because being with students requires alertness, emotional investment, connection, mediation, first aid, running. Energized because of community.
Our mission statement identifies NFC as a growing community, and the students who participate in middle school youth group have challenged me to think about what that means.
Physical growth: Middle school students entering eighth grade are inches and sometimes feet taller than they were when they entered sixth grade. They’re still the same people, but they’re also more—more experienced, more adept socially, more aware of their feelings, more comfortable with who they are in the context of this community. And there are also more of them, almost 50 each week last year.
Social growth: Middle school students from three different churches all come together on Wednesday nights for programing at Friends Center. What starts as a tenuous collection of students each fall becomes—over the course of the year—a community of Christians who love Jesus, who care about each other, who want to make a difference in the world.
Spiritual growth: Most middle school students come to youth group with a basic understanding of biblical characters and events. But they don’t know how it all fits together. And they’re not sure what it means or why it matters. We don’t figure it all out in middle school youth group. But we make progress. Together. In seminary a few years ago, a fellow student offered in class that what we were learning was fascinating and important, “but you could never talk about this in church.” Except we had been discussing that very concept. In middle school youth group the previous week. The result we see in our community is a sense that God is big enough to handle our questions, that the bible exists to open up our thinking (not to shut it down), that Jesus is present with us no matter what, that other students are weird or annoying or strange (and God made them that way on purpose, so there must be something redeeming about their quirks).
On Wednesday, September 24, a student will show up close to half an hour early for that second week of youth group, and I’ll be a little annoyed that this keeps happening. But that’s when God gives me a nudge, reminds me that another aspect of being “a growing community” is that middle school students who’ve spent a week apart can’t wait to be together again.
Nolan Staples, worship ministries
In music ministries, the various ensembles that meet to lead music on Sunday mornings are a great way of growing community. I am blessed by the willingness of so many in our community to serve with their musical gifts. Bringing people together to play music is a great way to stay connected and involved in one another’s lives. I love that I can invite people who have never met to rehearse and play for worship, and we all can connect and relate with each other and create good music and worship. Our music ministries are a great way to utilize more of the beautiful voices in our church, and the more people we can invite to bring what they have to worship, the more accurate our picture of God will be. The more voices that are heard, the better we can listen to what Christ may be saying to us. By growing in community, we can know God more. By growing in community, we can help each other to better tune our lives to listen and hear what Christ has to say to us. When we grow this community of musicians who practice and prepare to sing with the congregation on Sundays, we bring this spirit of listening and tuning together to our greater community as well. I’m so glad for all the people I get to know and work with in worship ministry at NFC, but I don’t know everyone, so if you are interested in being involved in some way, please let me know!
Cindy Johnson, senior ministries
Being pastor of senior ministries is such a blessing to me. I share this blessing with Ron Stansell, Heather Denton, Sarah Grant, Jim Jackson, and Merrill Johnson. They visit people from our congregation who can’t make it to church anymore, others who do not have family close by, and still others who just need a visit. We believe this is part of NFC’s vision statement of living out love—by caring and sharing, listening and praying with one another.
You can be a part of this ministry. Let me know if you would like to share the gift of a visit. Trust me—you will be blessed.
Elizabeth Sherwood, adminstrative pastor
This fall we are going to have a simple opportunity to engage with our vision statement’s challenge of living out love during an all-church serve day (morning, actually). On October 25 we will invite NFCers of all ages to come spend the morning working together. Teams of folks will divide up to serve in these areas:
• wood ministry for Love INC• cemetery
• leaf raking • kitchen & classroom spring cleaning
• flower bed landscaping• painting projects
We will serve together from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and then gather for a simple meal together. Please save the date and consider joining in the fun of getting to know others while working together.
Gregg Koskela, lead pastor
The Wisdom Project—Changing in the Spirit
One line of our vision statement is changing in the Spirit. Part of living life as a follower of Jesus is experiencing transformation. There are many ways we place ourselves in God’s hands to be changed, and I’m excited about a new one starting this fall. Newberg Friends has a great opportunity this year to bring psychological research and spiritual development together, as we develop some new groups to help 18- to 25-year-olds develop wisdom.
What’s this all about? Paul McLaughlin, a Psy. D. student at George Fox with Dr. Mark McMinn as his dissertation advisor, has received a grant from the Templeton Foundation to collaborate with a church in a project designed to develop wisdom in young adults. For a couple of reasons I’m excited that our church is the one to get this opportunity. I love that the science of psychology has a new and growing interest in what wisdom is, and how it might be cultivated. I love that Templeton is looking for specific ways to bring the faith community and science together. As we participate in this project that we hope will help young adults, we will also get the benefit of rigorous science to test and see if our program actually makes any measurable difference. This seems like such a win/win!
Paul, Mark, Megan Anna Neff, and I are developing the curriculum, which is centered around a small-group meeting once a month as well as individuals doing their own work between sessions. We’ve worked together to develop a definition of wisdom that reflects both psychological research and our own Quaker perspective. The working definition we’ve developed is this: “Wisdom comes from the history of our regular individual and corporate practices which lead to making decisions in line with the character of Christ.” Wisdom isn’t just being taught “the right answer.” It’s a way of life based on discernment. There are practices that help us discern and then act in ways that are more and more Christ-like. It won’t be the goal of these groups to teach right answers to ethical problems but to give practices and experiences we hope will help the character of these young adults grow, bringing out consistent decisions and actions that are more in line with the character of Christ. (If you’re interested in more thoughts about this, read Dr. Mark McMinn’s blog posts: here and here.)
Each group session will include community building, looking at scripture, examining a difficult contemporary problem, some waiting and reflection, and then questions that encourage integration of life experience, scripture, and the contemporary issue being raised. Between sessions, each individual will have some wisdom practices to try out. Paul will recruit 70 students; half will go through the curriculum this year, while the other half serves as the “control” group for comparison, to see if we can discover any measurable difference in the students we are working with. Then the following year, the other half will get the opportunity to go through the curriculum in groups as well.
These groups will meet once a month from October through May. If you fit the age range and would like to be part of these groups, or if you would like to be a facilitator, please contact me.
Michelle Akins, children and family ministries
Child Advocacy—Listening to Christ
I’ve found Newberg Friends Church to be a place where people of all ages and interests can participate in—or find support to create—ministries, small groups, missions, and classes that enrich their walk with Christ. The beauty and sometimes the struggle in a church our size is that we don’t always believe, know about, engage in, or care about the same thing. Our concern and enthusiasm is diversified. There is no way I can get every NFCer to teach Sunday school, learn how to be a Godly Play Storyteller, hold babies, or play with preschoolers. And that’s OK. During almost 6 years here on staff and 14 years as a part of the congregation, I’ve realized we don’t need huge numbers of people participating in children’s ministry (except during VBS). We do need to continually strive to be a community of child advocates.
What? A children’s pastor asking for more people to advocate than participate? Yes. Newberg Friends has a relatively small group of people who are passionate about working with kids. These youth and adults consistently love and make time to teach Bible stories to 2-year-olds through 5th graders. We have volunteers who are pros at snuggling toddlers and even dealing with discipline issues. Working directly with children isn’t for everyone. But I firmly believe that every single one of us at NFC can become an advocate for children. Choosing child advocacy ties into our church vision statement in many ways, but perhaps the greatest is: listening to Christ. Christ calls every one of us to “let the little children come to me.” Jesus calls us to respond to, respect, and acknowledge children. When we listen to Christ’s words we are asked, or may I dare say commanded, to value people of all ages for who they are today, not who they might be someday. If there is one reason for my position on staff, it is to encourage us to be a congregation of child advocates.
Find a way to advocate in a manner consistent with how Christ is speaking to you. Pray for full teaching teams for each and every Sunday morning classroom. Who knows—you might find God asking you to volunteer! Encourage those around you who enjoy working with children to consider joining children’s ministry at NFC. Regularly show your appreciation to our teachers, volunteers, and classroom substitutes. Consider giving monetarily to children’s programming and camp scholarship funds. Attend our orientation program on September 4, at 10 a.m. or 7 p.m., Room 132, so you are aware of our plans and procedures for children’s ministries. As always, contact me with questions or ideas. Let’s advocate together!
Steve Fawver, spiritual health and care
I sometimes hear from folks who feel they would like to develop more intentional connections with others here in the NFC community. I love hearing that! It has been so good to connect with others, and there are such amazing folks around these here parts (said with a back-country drawl). Here is what I want to suggest to each of you reading this right now: If you want to make connections, why not gather with a few others on a regular basis? You can do it! We will continue to have some options for folks, but remember that it is a great time to start your own group as well. See below for some suggestions for starting a group:
Prayer: Pray for direction and insight and notice what God is up to in and around you.
Leaders: Talk to one or two others and invite them to help set a plan. Decide who is going to “facilitate,” “lead,” or “coordinate.” This is a key for the health of a group.
Focus and resources: Pick a focus.
Decide if this is a prayer, study, sharing, fellowship, or ministry group.
Find a book or other helpful tool.
Use something that has been transformative in your life.
Time frame: Pick a beginning and an end date. It is helpful to have some parameters to clarify the plan for the group so people know what to expect. Most individuals don’t want to sign-up for something that may last for eternity!
Place: Pick a place to meet. There are rooms at NFC, or it might be good to find a home, coffee shop, or other gathering place. If this can be somewhere other than the “leaders’” home, that frees them from too much responsibility.
Spread the word: Connect with people you know, newer folks at NFC, or others who might be interested in a group. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for options as to communication to the broader community at NFC.
Give it a try: Jump in and try it out! Hopefully this can be a group that is meaningful to you and others. Feel free to contact email@example.com for support, prayer, and other resources.