xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: July 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"They Need Not Go Away"

July 31, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

On rare occasions, the gospel writers move from being objective sideline reporters to becoming intuitive mind readers, weaving both the actions of Jesus with his attitudes, and giving us a glimpse into the innermost workings of his mind and heart.  One such passage is Matthew’s version of the feeding of the miracle:

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

The original Greek word for
compassion literally means “gut-wrenching.”  Specifically, it is the word “splanchnidzomai,” and is related to the splanchnic nerve that connects to the stomach.  For Jesus, seeing the needs of the crowd was a punch to his gut.  His reaction was no mere pity; nor was it simply “feeling sorry for them.”  It was visceral and real, twisting his stomach in knots.  

It is easy to envision a Jesus who keeps his emotions in check, calmly and steadily aiding the masses with commendable efficiency.  But Matthew and Mark are the only gospels to share with us Jesus’ gut-wrenching motive, and it is to illustrate a point.  Jesus not only ministered to but also identified with the suffering of the people.  They were not anonymous victims, or numbers on a roster, or appointments on a calendar.  They were real people, with real stories, and real pain.

Your storm relief team is just hours removed from returning from three days of work in Cedar Rapids.  Collectively we put in over 100 hours of work in two residences and a church, removing debris and doing demolition, in the midst of a community shell-shocked by the catastrophic results of last month’s floods.  Cedar Rapids alone has lost 5400 homes in only a nine-mile radius, with an estimated 1 billion dollars in total damage.  We worked at St. James United Methodist Church, one of three Methodist churches severely damaged by the floods.  Of their 125 families, 67 lost their homes, including the parsonage.  Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article covering the latest news in Cedar Rapids, including a picture of the street where we were working.  (

In a word, the scene was gut-wrenching.

But Matthew’s feeding story takes a turn toward the unexpected.  His is the only gospel to record Jesus’ words to the disciples that utterly undermined their expectations and intentions.  After the disciples had tried to give Jesus a reality check, telling him that there was no food and little time to care for this massive need, and encouraging Jesus to cut the people loose to care for themselves, he offered this word:

“They need not go away.”

Perhaps the disciples were simply being pragmatic; we wouldn’t blame them.  Perhaps they subscribed to the well-worn conviction that people like this needed to help themselves rather than wait for a hand-out; that’s a popular sentiment today.  Or maybe, speaking out of  fatigue and frustration, desensitized to this suffering by one massive need after another, the disciples were simply hoping that ignoring the problem would make it go away.  Regardless of their motive, Jesus’ response was a reversal that must have caught them by surprise.

They need not go away.  You give them something to eat.

I don’t know about you, but that word brings to me equal amounts of hope and apprehension.  On the one hand, we are both empowered and entrusted with the capacity to effect positive change in the world, even against the most dire circumstances.  Being the church today means providing the greatest possibility of transformation to the lives of people living in “a deserted place,” when “the hour is late.”  

But if we’re honest, we carry doubts that we are the right ones for the job.  Might this be too heavy a burden for such weak, fallible hands?  Doubts rise:

•    “What good will it do to reach out to one person in love, when millions are in need?”
•    “What if I do my part, but it still doesn’t seem like enough?”
•    “I’m no spiritual giant.  What can I do when I have faults of my own?”
•    “If I tell my friend about Jesus, what if it falls on deaf ears, or turns him away?”
•    “The need is too great.  What can one person do?”

It’s in these moments that Matthew would remind us of the punchline at the end, because it’s a doozy.   Allow me to paraphrase:

Then, taking these seemingly insignificant efforts, he looks up to heaven, blesses them and breaks them, then gives them out to those in need.  Then, surprise!  All eat and are filled, and there is more than enough!

In the end, we are left with no excuse but to live out our calling as an agent of hope and possibility in the world.  

When we respond to disasters and help those in recovery,
When we invite someone to church and tell them about God’s love,
When we live out our faith in our homes and our work places,
When we join in united prayer for the needs of the world,
When we advocate for the voiceless and point those who are lost homeward,
And when we do so out of a compassion much deeper than pity,

Then the hurting need not go away.  We can give them something to eat.

It’s so good to be the church,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Matthew 14:13-21

13  Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
14  When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
15  When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’
16  Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’
17  They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’
18  And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’
19  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
20  And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
21  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

As part of our ongoing celebration of our 150th anniversary, we are grateful to have Rev. Ray Hampton, who served as my immediate predecessor from 2002-2007,  as our guest preacher this Sunday.  His wife Rhonda, who served as our choir director, will be offering the special music for the service.  On August 17, we observe our official sesquicentennial, with a worship celebration at 9:30 followed by a luncheon in the Fellowship Hall.  We invite those whose last names begin with A-M to bring desserts, and N-Z to bring salads.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


July 22, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

If you’re looking for a hero, try a theater near you.  

‘Tis the season for blockbuster movies, and lately it’s been a fanboy’s dream:  
Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy, Wanted, and most recently, Batman, have turned our neighborhood theater into a perpetual comic book convention.  

Far be it for me to extract too much meaning out of mindless pop culture, but I have thought about a connecting thread among all of these movies.  Each film’s plot is anchored on the premise that the main character becomes a hero by overcoming his shortcomings.  His journey is one of becoming more than he is.  

This has been the great American plot summary.  We love authority that rises from anonymity.  We gravitate toward politicians who can prove that they rose to power despite their past, because it makes us think we can do the same.  Our cultural landscape is filled with images that reinforce the point: the rugged individualist, the cowboy at high noon, the astronaut in outer space, the home run king at the plate, the home town boy made good.  

We are a nation built on notions of individual achievement:  overcome your shortcomings, and you can rise to greatness.  There is a hero in you waiting to emerge.

But what has this mentality done to the Christian faith in our culture?

I suggest that it has brought a radically privatized, individualized dimension to American Christianity.  It means that we have transferred the hero’s narrative to our own journeys of faith.  We think, “If I can just get my life right with God, if I can just live the kind of life I’m supposed to live, then I can do great things for God.”

So, we get bestselling books that tease us in that direction.  Their titles are  dead give aways to this trend:  

  • Your Best Life Now (Joel Osteen)
  • The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren)
  • Facing Your Giants (Max Lucado)
  • Look Great, Feel Great (Joyce Meyer)

We might as well have a book titled,
How to Become a Spiritual Superhero and Rise Above Being Just an Ordinary Nobody.   It would be an instant bestseller.

The Christian church has had to deal with this kind of ultra-privatized spirituality before.  In fact, it didn’t take long before the fledgling Christian movement had to deal with a belief system called Gnosticism, which was growing in popularity among those who believed that ultimate power and ultimate light were to be found through a radical turn
inward.  Gnostics believed that the way you find that power is by discovering it in you, overcoming your fleshly barriers, and expressing it.  We see this on the big screen:  When Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Clark Kent break out of the confines of their alter egos, they become superhuman.  Otherwise, they are ordinary - and vulnerable.

There are several problems with having this as a guiding narrative for the Christian faith journey.  First, ours is an incarnational faith.  The task of the Christian is not to escape what it means to be human, but to be “living sacrifices” to God, embodying God’s love with every aspect of our being.  

This is the problem with that tired cliché:  “I’m a spiritual person; I’m just not that religious.”  What this suggests is that it is possible to be a Christian inwardly without being a Christian expressively or relationally.  This form of modern-day Gnosticism suggests that we can believe the right things without practicing the right things.  

Second, a full and complete reading of the Bible will not allow us to view the Christian faith so individualistically.  When Jesus is proclaimed as Lord in the New Testament, he is not just the
In the Garden Lord that “walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own.”  He is also the “Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all Nature.”  His rule is over all of creation, and over all peoples, despite our tendency to think that it’s just all about “me and Jesus.”  

Third, ours is a faith rooted in community.  Whenever the work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the New Testament, it is always in the context of its work in and through the community of faith.  Spiritual gifts are given for the work of the church.  The fruit of the Spirit is given for the edification of the community.  The letters of Paul are written to communities faith, not just individuals, and they are meant to strengthen their love for each other and their commitment to their mission.  That is why, in order to grow most consistently in your faith, you should do so in the context of community:  in worship with others on Sunday and studying the Bible with others in a small group.

Ultimately, this vision of an alternate community is one of the most subversive aspects of the Christian faith to modern American culture:  the world will not be transformed by the sum effect of individual “heroes” rising beyond their inadequacies.  It will be transformed by the collective work of the body of Christ:  a wholly distinct community that advocates and models a radically different ethic, based on the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  

We are, together, more than we can ever be on our own.  We need each other to grow in our faith, and the world needs the full complement of our individual gifts in order to effect change in the world around us.

This is why it is so important for us to enter this celebration of our 150th Anniversary with the acknowledgment that the kingdom of God is advanced in and through the collective efforts of a committed community of faith.  It is a work not just relegated to a long string of appointed pastors, or a few memorable, prominent Christians.  It is, in fact, built with the joint efforts of ordinary, every day followers of Jesus, just like all of you.  

The world needs a hero, and the body of Christ can provide one.  Indeed, it still good to be the church.  



The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

We begin our Sesquicentennial Celebration this Sunday with the return of Rev. Bob Davis, who served the church from 1977 to 1986.  He will be preaching one of his famous “Sermons in Song,” and the service will be followed by an ice cream social and games for the children.  Rev. Ray Hampton joins us on August 3, and our Sesquicentennial Service is on August 17.

A team from this church is leaving next week, July 28-30, to spend a few days in the Cedar Rapids area.  You can support the team through your prayers and your contributions of time and materials for their work.  Consider contributing toward the fund to pay for gas, meals, and (designate checks to “Storm Relief Team”).  A list of items needed for the team’s recovery work is available in the church office.  At this time, donations of clothes food items for the victims are not advised.  Thank you for your support and prayers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Storm Recovery

July 15, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The apostle Paul begins his second letter to the church in Corinth with the notion that when anyone in the body of Christ suffers, it is a joint suffering with the whole Christian community:

If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.  (2 Corinthians 1:6-7)

As we continue to watch fellow residents of Iowa clean up and recover from devastating storms and floods around the state, we are reminded that all of us share the mutual burdens of suffering and consolation.  

From July 28-30, members of this church will be heading to the Cedar Rapids area to assist in the recovery efforts.  We are grateful for the many ways that people in this church and in this community have come together to put these plans together.  Holzhauer Motors is donating a 15-passenger van for us to transport personnel and supplies.  HyVee Drugstore has donated supplies for a first-aid kit.  We are partnering with Morningside College in Sioux City and led by the Rev. Kathy Olson, who is a trained leader with the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.  Many of you have already contributed many items for the trip.  We are coming together as a church and community, to join in the consolation of those in need.

If you would still like to help, there are a number of ways to take part:

1.  Join us on the team. We will primarily be responsible for debris removal, and we are in particular need of men who can assist with larger items.  While our trip is scheduled for three days, you can come for just a day or two, depending on your schedule.  Volunteers need to be at least 14 years old to participate and a recent tetanus shot (within the last five years) is required.

2.  Make a financial contribution towards the team’s cost for the trip.  We can certainly use assistance in paying for gas, meals, and supplies needed to do our work.  Make your checks payable to the church and designate them for the “Storm Relief Team.”  

3.  Donate or loan out any of the following items that we will need for our work.  Note that at this time, clothing and food donations for the victims are not advised.

Items for the Team:

  • Monetary contributions for gas, food, and supplies
  • Bottled water
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Airbeds w/pump

Items for Debris Removal:

  • Grain Shovels
  • Utility knives and blades
  • Wheel Barrow
  • Hammers
  • Dolly
  • Extension cords/power strips
  • Construction garbage bags
  • Shop-vac with dust bags and for water removal
  • Reciprocating saw (battery powered helpful)
  • Tape measures
  • Jig saw
  • Assorted tapes (electric/duct/plumbers)
  • Floor squeegee
  • Carpet knives and blades
  • Crow bars
  • Sledge Hammers
  • Drop Lights
  • Push brooms/dustpans
  • Drills (battery powered helpful)
  • Skill Saw
  • Step ladders/work platforms
  • 4 or 6 ft levels
  • Chalk/chalk lines
  • Assorted screws/nails

Items for Cleaning (a.k.a “flood buckets”)

  • 5-gallon bucket with resealable lid
  • Bleach (two 1-quart or one 82 oz. bottle. Do not include bleach if you are shipping the bucket through the US Postal Service, UPS or FedEx)
  • 5 scouring pads
  • 7 Sponges
  • 1 scrub brush
  • 18 cleaning towels (reusable wipes)
  • Liquid laundry detergent (two 25 oz. or one 50 oz. bottle)
  • 1 household cleaner, 12-16 oz. bottle
  • Disinfectant dish soap, 16-28 oz. bottle
  • 50 clothes pins
  • Clothes line (two 50 ft. or one 100 ft.)
  • 5 dust masks
  • 2 pair latex gloves
  • 1 pair work gloves
  • 24-bag roll of heavy-duty trash bags, 33-45 gallon (remove roll from box before placing in bucket)
  • 1 Insect repellant spray, 6-14 oz. can (If aerosol, cans must have protective caps. See Special Requirements below.)
  • 1 Air freshener, 8 or 9 oz. can (If aerosol, cans must have protective caps.)

For regular updates on recovery efforts throughout the state, visit the conference website at iaumc.org.

Together, let us fulfill Paul’s call to share in the suffering and the consolation of others.

It’s still great to be the church!


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955


This Sunday is the last in our sermon series on the Psalms, and we conclude with a sermon on trust based on Psalm 121.   These words have reminded generations of Christians of the power and provision of God in times of need.  Come to church this Sunday with whatever burdens you are carrying, and join others in receiving the comforting words of this passage.  This would be an excellent service to invite a family member or friend you know who is dealing with difficulties in their lives.

Psalm 121:1-8
1  I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
2  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
3  He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4  He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7  The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.


We are hosting a gathering of United Methodist Men from around the district this Saturday, July 19, from 2:00-5:00pm.  All men in the church are invited to attend.  Volunteers are needed for parking, greeting, providing refreshments (snacks or desserts), and serving in the kitchen during the break.  Please let the church office know of your availability.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How Great Is Your Faith!

July 9, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

On July 4th, the Florida Catholic news service website published an article about a pretty remarkable woman.

Her name is Susanna, and she lives in Tampa, FL.  She has discovered a unique way of spending her daily devotional time with God.  Every morning she sits down at her desk and hand copies a portion of the Bible.  She started months ago with Genesis 1:1 and wrote for 100 minutes straight, and then the next day she picked up where she leaves off.  100 minutes, every day.

There’s another catch.  She does this first in English, and then she goes back and writes the same passages in Korean.  You see, Susanna grew up in Korea, and spoke very little English when she arrived in the United States 20 years ago.  So, she began this little project, writing the words of the Bible in English, in a language she could not understand, doing little more than copying the symbols and lines by hand.  

Eventually, her English handwriting became smoother and less messy.  As she learned to sound out the words, she began to learn many of her first words in English because of this exercise.  And now, when her English-speaking Catholic priest does the mass, she can recognize what he is saying.

When the interviewer asked her why she began to do this, she said simply, “I do this in order to write a love letter to God, every day.”

If we were to overhear a conversation between Jesus and Susanna, he probably would say, “Woman, how great is your faith!”

That’s what Jesus said to a certain woman who came to him for help with a daughter who was being tormented by a demon.  We don’t know her name, but we do know her ethnicity.  Like Susanna, she was a foreigner.  She didn’t look the part of someone who would normally be ministered to by Jesus.  But she took a risk.  She decided that her cultural barrier would not preclude her from receiving a blessing from Someone that she believed wanted to reach out to her.  So she came to Jesus.

Jesus’ words to her might read as condescending:  “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But maybe we can hear a different tone.  A gentler, more inquisitive tone:  “You know, don’t you, that this is not normally how this works?  The rules of the game, of cultural and society, find your request unusual?”

In that light, the woman’s response is more profound:  “Yes, I know society’s ‘rules.’  But I believe your blessings, even the leftovers of your blessings, are enough to break down those barriers.”

It’s interesting, in the gospels there are only two people who manage to impress Jesus with their faith.  There is the Roman centurion in Luke 7 (“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”) and there is this Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 (“Woman, great is your faith!”) .  What’s special is that in both cases the individuals are outsiders, willing to take great risks in seeking the help they knew Jesus could provide.  It is that risk-taking, barrier-busting courage, to buck cultural expectations and shed social constructs, that ultimately impresses Jesus.  

So how about you?  What kind of risks are you willing to take for your faith?

  • How about breaking cultural expectations of over-achievement and upward mobility and carving out a little more time in devotions with God, following the sample of Susanna in Tampa?  
  • How about breaking cultural expectations of self-centeredness and egocentrism and going out of your way to minister to someone in need?
  • Or, how about this:  how about breaking cultural prejudices and recognize the way that your actions, as harmless as they may have seemed to you, may have caused barriers of division between you and someone else?  Maybe that person is willing to forgive you, if you’ll just admit your faults.

Wouldn’t it be great one day to hear Jesus say to you, “How great is your faith?”



The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Matthew 15:21-28
21   Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
22  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’
23  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’
24  He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’
25  But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’
26  He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
27  She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’
28  Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Praying the Scripture

July 8, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
In preparing this week’s sermon, I was reminded of an author I read a few years ago named Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717).  She was born in France and entered a convent early in her life.  Because of her religious beliefs, she was imprisoned and spent twenty-five years in confinement in the prisons of Vincennes and the Bastille.  It was during this imprisonment that she wrote many of her books on Christian spirituality.  
Among her most famous was
Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, which was highly recommended by preachers of the era, including Hudson Taylor, Watchman Nee, and John Wesley.  
The book describes a different way of experiencing the Scriptures.  Not gleaning it for its information, like a repair manual or a recipe book. And not studying it for its technical merit, like a textbook.  Instead, Guyon encouraged people to live into the text letting it shape their lives. This, according to Guyon, takes time and patience, approaching it in a way she called “Praying the Scriptures”:
In coming to the Lord by means of “praying the Scripture,” you do not read quickly; you read very slowly.  You do not move from one passage to another, not until you have sensed the very heart of what you have read.  You may then want to take that portion of Scripture that has touched you and turn it into prayer.
After you have sensed something of the passage, and after you know that the essence of that portion has been extracted and all the deeper sense of it is gone, then, very slowly, gently, and in a calm manner begin to read the next portion of that passage.  You will be surprised to find that when your time with the Lord has ended, you will have read very little, probably no more than half a page.  
“Praying the Scripture” is not judged by how much you read but the way you read.  If you read quickly, it will benefit you little.  You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower.  Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower.  You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.
You may find that occasionally following Guyon’s prescription for praying the scriptures will give you a fresh approach to your devotional time.  You may even choose to take some time to try it now, with this Sunday’s scripture passage from Psalm 119:97-105:
Oh, how I love your law!
   It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
   for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
   for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
   for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
   in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances,
   for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
   sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
   therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.

Join us this Sunday as we explore more fully this beautiful passage of the Psalms, with a sermon titled “A Song of Obedience.” May the words of the Scripture fill you, transform you, and be sweeter than honey to your mouth.
See you Sunday!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What a Year

July 1, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

This message comes to you from Chicago, as my family and I spend a week here on vacation.  The trip over afforded me some time to reflect on the fact that today marks the one-year anniversary of my first Sunday as your pastor.  In many ways, it is hard to believe how the time has flown by so quickly!

I am grateful to God for the way that you have received me and my family as new residents of Cherokee and as partners with you in ministry.  Mostly, I am awestruck when I consider all that we have been able to accomplish together.  What a year it has been!  

•    After twelve years and $800,000 in sanctuary and campus renovation debt, we celebrated the burning of the church mortgage in May, relieving future generations of the church from the burden of indebtedness.

•    Worship attendance continues to track upward, consistently topping the 200 mark.   

•    Our fall stewardship campaign focused on joy-centered, faith-filled giving and successfully produced numerous new and increased pledges for this year.  Current levels of giving are exceeding last year’s pace.

•    You have been simply amazing in your generous spirit towards missions giving.  We achieved the status of “second-mile giving” toward the Iowa Conference Rainbow Covenant Missions Giving Program, a first for this congregation.  And as we finished the first quarter of 2008, we are well on our way to increasing our giving this year.

•    Your response to the needs of those affected by the floods and storms in this state has been remarkable.  You gave $1,500 toward storm relief, all of which will go to ministering to the needs of people in Iowa, and numerous people have signed up to offer their time and energy to serve in the Cedar Rapids area the last week of this month.

•    Thanks to a generous gift and your support, the sanctuary has been outfitted with new screens, projectors, cameras, and audio/visual equipment that surpasses many congregations in the connection.  We have an energized team of new volunteers that offer their talents weekly to the production and presentation of powerful worship media.  

•    Thanks to a dedicated team of parents and adult volunteers, ministry to youth has been re-energized.  We had a successful school year of monthly outings and gatherings at the church, and youth continued to invite their friends to experience what is happening at St. Paul’s.  We confirmed a large class of nineteen mid-high youth in May, celebrating this landmark moment in their faith.

•    We have dramatically improved the technological capacities of the church office, with a new user-friendly website, improved e-mail communications with the office staff, a weekly “Mid-Week Message”, and an iTunes podcast.  We were also able to replace a badly aged copier with a new, high-end model.

•    We have improved ministry to our shut-ins with new digital CD recordings of our worship services.  Shut-ins have been furnished with CD players, and several have already expressed their appreciation for the clear, crisp recordings.  In addition, video recordings of the service are brought to a local nursing home, where a number of residents – members and non-members among them – gather to watch the previous week’s service.

•    A new Environmental Stewardship Group was created last spring, and their leadership marked the Festival of God’s Creation Sunday with suggestions on how to be better stewards of the environment.  Your response was strong and positive.

•    There has been universal agreement that this year’s Vacation Bible School was the best VBS ever, ministering to a wonderful group of children with high energy, excellence, and enthusiasm.  There is already talk of making next year’s even better.

•    We have improved the “look” of  the church to outsiders, with new church name tags, a redesigned bulletin and newsletter, and a new church logo and letterhead.

•    We have improved the ministry of hospitality in the church by creating rotating teams of ushers and greeters that will provide better consistency and  communication in this important ministry.  

•    We have just concluded a very popular “What is a Methodist?” sermon series, with many people commenting on how they are now more fully able to explain to others why they are United Methodist.  Many small groups were formed to join in a 30-day “Month of Living Wesleyan” spiritual disciplines journey.

•    Many of you commented on how deeply moving several of this past year’s worship experiences were for you, including All Saints’ Sunday in November, Christmas Eve in December, Baptism of the Lord Sunday in January, and the Good Friday service during Holy Week.  Thanks go to a newly energized worship planning committee and music team for putting these services together.  

•    St. Paul’s 15-minute radio spot was enhanced with digital computer production and repackaged as “Daybreak: The Radio Ministry of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.”  Many in Cherokee have commented on how meaningful this broadcast is to them.

•    You provided vital feedback to the 20/20 Vision Team with surveys back in February, with a terrific 25% percent return rate on those surveys.  The vast majority responded with very positive comments about the current state of the church.

Whew!  But here’s the best news of all.  Even with all of these past accomplishments to celebrate, there is reason to believe that the coming year will be even brighter:

•    Next month we will be celebrating our 150th anniversary, giving thanks to God for the heritage and history of this church and its ministry to the community.  We are inviting former pastors to come back and preach, including Rev. Bob Davis on July 27 and Rev. Ray Hampton on August 3.  Our big day is August 17, when we will have a grand celebration of the legacy and ministry of this congregation.  

•    Your “2020 Vision Team” will be concluding its work this fall and will present a plan to be adopted at Charge Conference.  This strategic plan will answer the questions, “What does God want this church to be and do by the year 2020?”  “What is God’s next great chapter for the people of St. Paul’s?”  The plan will include recommendations for resources, personnel, programs, and facilities.  And, it will suggest a clear, refined statement of mission and vision for the church to adopt.

•    St. Paul’s will continue to play an important role in the newly enlarged Northwest District of the conference, hosting important events such as the United Methodist Men’s Rally on July 19, an event with Larry Jane Kies, missionaries to Zimbabwe, on September 7, and a Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations workshop on September 20.  

It is an ongoing privilege to serve as your pastor, and to feed off the energy and enthusiasm so many of you are bringing to the work of building of God’s kingdom in Cherokee and around the world.  I look forward to another exciting year of ministry with you.

It’s great to be the church!


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Psalm 100:1-5
1  Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2  Worship the Lord with gladness;  come into his presence with singing.
3  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.   Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

We continue our “Songs for the Soul” summertime sermon series on the Psalms with a tour of Psalm 100.  This beautiful passage calls us to praise God with a joyful noise, engaging the worship of God with great passion and humility.  Come hear a reminder of the true meaning of worship with a sermon titled, “A Song of Praise.”

Plans are coming together for a work team to serve in eastern Iowa at the end of this month.  The team is looking to spend about three days during the last week in July in the Cedar Rapids area.  There are about eight people on the team so far, and there is room for many others.  There is  particular need for people with skills in carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, and health care.  Volunteers must be at least 14 years old to participate.  If you are interested, please contact the church office.

We are privileged to be asked to host a gathering of United Methodist Men from around the district on Saturday, July 19, from 2:00-4:30.  All men in the church are invited to attend.  Volunteers are needed for parking, greeting, providing refreshments (snacks or desserts), and serving in the kitchen during the break.  Please sign up in the church office.