xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: October 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Remembering the Saints

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

In a few days we will gather for All Saints’ Sunday, in which we will name those in our church and the wider community who have died since last November.  We will ring a bell and a light a candle in their memory, and prayerfully reflect on their enduring legacies in our lives.

I have done thirty-one funerals this year, fifteen of them members of the church.  To fight the temptation of collectively treating them as mere statistics, I have developed over the years a practice of preparing for All Saints’ Sunday by rereading the eulogies I preached at their services.  This helps me remember that the names we will read are not faceless numbers, but storied lives drawn into and defined by human relationships.  They were your parents, your children, your grandparents, and your siblings.  They joined you for ballgames, met you for coffee, shoveled your snow, and brought you soup when you were sick.

But more importantly, they were – and are - living and lasting embodiments of the Christian faith.  They exemplify the holy life, model for us a life well-lived, and bear witness to the eternal truths of the gospel.  And this time around, I discovered just how much this particular group of saints illuminates the Scriptures for us.


We remember Dale Nelson and Don Henderson, real-life prodigal sons who returned home to restored relationships with their families, and a reconciled relationship to God.

We remember Bob Lundquist, whose boundless optimism and fearless grit in the face of an eleven-year battle with cancer exemplified Paul’s exhortation to “not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

We remember Terry Burkhart, whose amazing story of redemption from alcoholism and his self-giving love for others is nothing short of a resurrection story.

We remember George Moore, whose ninety years of life were marked by a commitment to the narrow, costly road of following Jesus, grounded by his beliefs about his own baptism.

We remember Bob and Phyllis Torrey, married 68 years ago last June, who died a mere six weeks apart this fall, for the way they epitomized the bonds of love and commitment in marriage.

The list goes on, of course.  And amid the remembrances of the past year is the way we eulogized our own kitchen and dining hall.

Shortly after the fire, I received an email from my friend Greg Jones, a faculty member at Duke Divinity School, and great-nephew of Victor Schuldt, former pastor of St. Paul’s after whom the Schuldt Dining Hall is named.  He offered his prayer and condolence to our church family, and shared with me his own memories of “Uncle Vic and Aunt Ruth:”

Victor Schuldt was my great-uncle, the younger brother of my grandfather Arthur Schuldt (who was also a Methodist minister in the Iowa Conference). I remember when Uncle “Vic” (as I knew him) and Aunt Ruth (his wife) were in Cherokee when I was a young child. We would see them every summer up at Lake Okoboji.

Uncle Vic and Aunt Ruth became even more important in my life as they retired in Denver, where my family lived. They became an additional pair of grandparents for me during my teenage years, and I loved and admired them both very much.  I had a high school teacher who stopped me after class one day.  She told me that a relative of mine named Victor had visited her home the day before to invite her to come to their church.  My teacher said, “I’m not the church going type, and probably won’t ever be. But if there was ever anyone who could tempt me, it would be your relative.  He was one of the most gracious and kind people I have ever met.”

In retirement, Uncle Vic was a minister of visitation at a church in Denver, and his pastoral gifts were regularly in evidence.  I loved to hear him talk about his commitment to ministry and his love for the people with whom he ministered.  He took me out on the golf course from time to time and those were conversations that I still cherish.  Uncle Vic was amazing in his commitment to visitation and pastoral care – it was one of my most vivid images of him as a pastor.

I’m honored to be serving in the shadow of Victor Schuldt.  And if I ever need to be strengthened by his commitment to ministry and reminded of his love for the church, I need only join you at the communion table.  As a result of the fire, all of our communion hardware was irreparably damaged.  So in memory of Uncle Vic and Aunt Ruth, Greg and his wife Susan Pendleton Jones sent us a gift of $500, which we used to purchase a beautiful new chalice given in loving memory of Victor and Ruth Schuldt.

This Sunday, when we gather around the table to observe communion, I’ll be elevating that chalice, as a reminder that Victor, Ruth, and all of the saints are gathered with us.  Their lives illuminate the scriptures, call forth the promise of the resurrection, and challenge us to make holiness a part of the present.  Most of all, they remind us that we are not alone.

We hope to see you this Sunday, as we remember the saints together.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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



INGATHERING THIS SATURDAY
Join United Methodists across the state of Iowa in support of our annual Ingathering.  This Saturday morning, starting at 7:00, volunteers are needed at the old Sanford Home Health building to receive donations and load boxes on delivery trucks.  Those supplies will be sent directly to people in need all around the world.  Then, at 10:00am, gather for a program at WITT featuring speakers, videos, music, and a meal.  There will be representatives and displays from mission agencies, as well as crafts for sale and a quilt auction.

NEW YOUNG ADULT SMALL GROUP
A new study for young adults begins tonight at 6:30 in the church library.  For more information, please contact Liza Parker at 261-5492 or lizafullada@hotmail.com.  Come take your faith to the next level and enjoy some fun company.

RELIEF FOR STORM VICTIMS
The United Methodist Committee on Relief will be heavily involved in relief and recovery efforts for those affected by Superstorm Sandy.  You can donate money to UMCOR through the offering plate, by making your checks payable to St. Paul’s and designating them for “Sandy Relief.”  You can also donate directly online and read the latest developments at UMCOR.org.

FOOD DRIVE FOR MID-SIOUX AND I.C.
The Missions Committee is sponsoring a food drive for the food pantries of Mid-Sioux and the Christian Action Program at Immaculate Conception.  During the Sundays of November, shopping carts will be in the narthex and north entrance to collect the following items:  Canned Fruit / Frozen Juice / Applesauce / Corn / Peas / Green Beans / Pork & Beans / Manwich / Ketchup / Soup / Crackers / Tuna / Tuna Helper / Hamburger Helper / Peanut Butter / Jelly / Pasta Sauce / Long Spaghetti / Elbow Spaghetti / Diced Tomatoes / Pancake Mix / Pancake Syrup / Stuffing / Pasta & Sauce / Mac & Cheese / Instant Potatoes / Cookies / Jello / Cereal / Cake Mix / Cake Frosting / Toilet Paper / Eggs / Margarine / Cheese Slices (Wrapped) / Hot Dogs / Hamburger / Chicken / Ramen Noodles / Laundry Detergent / Hand Soap / Instant Potatoes / Pancake Mix / Cake Mix / Frosting / Jam.

TIME CHANGE THIS WEEKEND
Just a reminder to “fall back” one hour this Saturday night as we switch back to standard time.



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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Be Still

October 23, 2012


Dear St. Paul’s Family,
















Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10
















Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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




CHILDREN’S SABBATH OCTOBER 28
Join us this Sunday for our annual observance of the Children’s Sabbath, a program sponsored in part by the United Methodist Women.  The children of St. Paul’s will lead the service and draw your attention to the needs of children around the world.  The theme this year is “Pursuing Justice,”  and the theme verse is Zechariah 7:9:  “Show kindness and mercy to one another.”

YOUTH CINNAMON ROLL SALE
This Sunday will also feature our annual cinnamon roll fund raiser for our youth group.  All the proceeds will fund donations to the Midwest Christian Children’s Home, for which the youth will buy Christmas presents and deliver them in December.  If you would like to donate items, please contact Lisa Sampson or Karla Wilkie.

FOOD DRIVE FOR MID-SIOUX AND I.C.
The Missions Committee is sponsoring a food drive for the food pantries of Mid-Sioux and the Christian Action Program at Immaculate Conception.  During the Sundays of November, shopping carts will be in the narthex and north entrance to collect the following items:  Canned Fruit / Frozen Juice / Applesauce / Corn / Peas / Green Beans / Pork & Beans / Manwich / Ketchup / Soup / Crackers / Tuna / Tuna Helper / Hamburger Helper / Peanut Butter / Jelly / Pasta Sauce / Long Spaghetti / Elbow Spaghetti / Diced Tomatoes / Pancake Mix / Pancake Syrup / Stuffing / Pasta & Sauce / Mac & Cheese / Instant Potatoes / Cookies / Jello / Cereal / Cake Mix / Cake Frosting / Toilet Paper / Eggs / Margarine / Cheese Slices (Wrapped) / Hot Dogs / Hamburger / Chicken / Ramen Noodles / Laundry Detergent / Hand Soap / Instant Potatoes / Pancake Mix / Cake Mix / Frosting / Jam.



To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Stench of Sin

October 16, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It took us five years of living here, but we finally had our first skunk attack on Sunday night.

I use the word first loosely, of course, as I’d quite prefer never to have another one in my lifetime.  And while the word attack connotes more aggression and violence than what actually unfolded, it certainly felt like a bomb exploded in our house.  A stink bomb, that is.

The fireworks started around 8:00, as Micah, our three-year old puppy, was barking incessantly outside on our deck.  I was in the bedroom and  asked the girls to go check on her, but after several minutes Micah barked even more loudly.

Apparently, the dog had discovered the critter under our deck, and her herding instincts immediately kicked in.  She darted under the deck and stormed after the skunk in a blind rumble, narrowly escaping a direct hit by the spray that quickly covered the beams and planks of the deck’s underside.  By the time I realized what was happening, our poor puppy was reduced to helpless surrender in the middle of the yard, rubbing its nose tenderly in the grass.

And then the stench came.

Though all of our windows were closed at the time, the foul odor wafted through the topside of the deck, through the exterior walls, and into every sorry surface of the main floor of the house. The fragrance was unspeakably rank, an invisible, albeit billowing, mixture of burning rubber and locker room sweat, with notes of decomposing road kill and putrid musk.

I instinctively covered my mouth and nose with my hand, and went back inside to look for the girls.  Grace was in the living room, huddled in a ball on the coach, her furrowed brow revealing a shock too strong for words. Madelyn tried to distract her brain from the smell, plunging her nose into a nearby jar of peanut butter, the first item she could find within reach.

After scrubbing the dog in the bathtub, I conducted a furious Google search for homemade, household, odor-fighting weaponry.  After a quick trip to the grocery store, I returned with an arsenal of five large, scented candles (“clean linen” fragrance), a giant jug of vinegar and disposable bowls (for placing around the house to soak up the odor), a box of mothballs (to sprinkle under the deck to drive the skunk away), and several cans of room deodorizer (pointless against skunk odor, but an effective placebo for my psyche).

Needless to say, we had a pretty miserable night. And while the house smelled better yesterday morning, skunk odor has remarkable staying power, lingering in the air and adhering to surfaces like sandspurs on a sasquatch.

Preachers have developed a unique coping mechanism to deal with such comic misery.  We turn them into sermon illustrations.  We look for the teachable moment, even if it has to be manufactured, in order to find some pragmatic value in the face of sheer dreariness.    So, pardon me if comparing a skunk’s stench to the problem of sin seems like a crude stretch, but I am typing this message on a keyboard that smells like sweaty socks, so I’m going to go ahead and make whatever connection I want to.

Sin creeps into our lives and settles in to stay, an ever-present menace that lurks and lingers around every corner. It is not to say that sin is an external force that preys on us; it is, in fact, even worse than that, an inherent part of our existence against whose effects we are blind.

Susanna Wesley, the most significant spiritual influence on her son John, wrote a letter to him on June 8, 1725, in which she gave him her fullest explanation of the power and nature of sin in one’s life:

"Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself."

Because the power of sin is so stealthy and steady, trying to combat it with our own efforts alone is like trying to fight skunk odor with Febreeze.  We may cover it up, but we can’t conquer it.  We may obscure it, but we’ll never eliminate it.  Instead, the only effective treatment for sin is surrender.  We must acknowledge our powerlessness against sin and submit to the cleansing agency of the cross, which “blots out our transgressions” and washes us pure.

That act of submission, however, is not entirely passive.  It must be a daily act of the will, a regular, intentional choice to deny our temptations, counter our sinful instincts, and revert our hearts that are turned inward upon themselves.  And once we do, once we make a willful obedience to Jesus Christ a regular pattern of every day life, once we choose to live in generosity and service to others, then the stench of sin is thoroughly removed, and replaced by a kind of fragrant life that only the Apostle Paul could describe:

But thank God, who is always leading us around through Christ as if we were in a parade. He releases the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere through us.  We smell like the aroma of Christ’s offering to God, both to those who are being saved and to those who are on the road to destruction. We smell like a contagious dead person to those who are dying, but we smell like the fountain of life to those who are being saved.  (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)


Don’t you think the world could use an aroma like that?

Now, you’ll have to excuse me.  I have to refill the vinegar bowls.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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


CHILDREN’S SABBATH OCTOBER 28
Join us at the end of the month for our annual observance of the Children’s Sabbath, a program sponsored in part by the United Methodist Women.  The children of St. Paul’s will lead the service and draw your attention to the needs of children around the world.  The theme this year is “Pursuing Justice,”  and the theme verse is Zechariah 7:9:  “Show kindness and mercy to one another.”

YOUTH CINNAMON ROLL SALE
October 28th will also feature our annual cinnamon roll fund raiser for our youth group.  All the proceeds will fund donations to the Midwest Christian Children’s Home, for which the youth will buy Christmas presents and deliver them in December.  If you would like to donate items, please contact Lisa Sampson or Karla Wilkie.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Work of Worship


October 9, 2012

Last Sunday the Confirmation kids discussed the topic of worship, and I shared with them the following piece that I wrote a few years ago.  I told them to listen carefully to the details, and to tell me at the end how they thought this connected to worship:  

The service begins with the gathering of the people, who enter the space and find a seat, each with an unobstructed view of the action.  There is a mixture of people, ranging from the first-time visitors to those who come so frequently that their seats are designated for them.  Ushers greet people at the door, handing out programs that list the order of the proceeding and the names of the principle players.

The service begins with the procession of important people, followed by the singing of an opening song.  Then, following an invocation, the people become hushed with anticipation for the service to begin.

Soon, the congregation is swept up in the energy and passion of the unfolding drama, as the leadership draws them into a compelling tale of good vs. evil, sacrifice, and finding your way home.

For a moment, the people are transported from the realities of their every day lives and immersed in a story that causes them to feel part of something bigger than themselves.  Through their own participation, they become part of the narrative.

The congregation speaks spontaneous words of affirmation.  At times they are prompted to gesture, clap, and recite their allegiance and commitment.  Their standing and sitting becomes part of the ritual, unscripted yet somehow anticipated. 

The service draws toward its conclusion with a final song, followed by a clear end to the event. The people depart, to reenter their daily lives, having been moved and motivated by the proceedings of this time.

When I asked the kids what they thought this story was describing, all of them said it sounded like a pretty typical worship service.  The ushers, bulletins, hymns, and sermon seemed to all be reflected in the piece.   But then, I surprised them with a twist. 

I told them that I didn’t write these words to describe a worship service, but as I was chronicling the events of a baseball game I was watching.  After their jaws hit the floor, I read it again, and asked them to make some different connections:

The service begins with the gathering of the people, who enter the space (baseball stadium) and find a seat, each with an unobstructed view of the action.  There is a mixture of people, ranging from the first-time visitors to those who come so frequently that their seats are designated for them.  (season ticket holders)  Ushers greet people at the door, handing out programs (scorecards) that list the order of the proceeding and the names of the principle players (roster).

The service begins with the procession of important people, (introduction of the players) followed by the singing of an opening song (the national anthem).  Then, following an invocation (“Play ball!”), the people become hushed with anticipation for the service to begin (the first pitch).

Soon, the congregation is swept up in the energy and passion of the unfolding drama, as the leadership draws them into a compelling tale of good vs. evil (home team vs. the visiting team), sacrifice (bunts and sac flies), and finding your way home (scoring a run!).

For a moment, the people are transported from the realities of their every day lives and immersed in a story that causes them to feel part of something bigger than themselves.  Through their own participation, they become part of the narrative.

The congregation speaks spontaneous words of affirmation (cheering).  At times they are prompted to gesture, clap, and recite their allegiance and commitment (the stadium organist playing “Charge!”).  Their standing and sitting becomes part of the ritual, unscripted yet somehow anticipated (the crowd doing the wave)

The service draws toward its conclusion with a final song ("Take Me Out to the Ballgame"), followed by a clear end to the event (the final out). The people depart, to reenter their daily lives, having been moved and motivated by the proceedings of this time.

While there may be some who would claim that watching a baseball game is a religious experience, the message of this playful exercise is meant to be more surprising, even disorienting.   It is a painfully accurate indictment of how we have distorted the gift of worship into something more self-seeking than God-honoring. 

·      How often do you come to worship to be a spectator?  To listen to good music, hear a good sermon (hopefully), watch the little children in their cute outfits, and catch up on the latest news from around town? 
·      How often do you come to worship to be entertained?  To escape the realities of your life, feel better about your problems, laugh at some of the preacher’s jokes (hopefully), and leave the service with a smile on your face?
·      How often do you come to worship with a consumer mindset?  Hoping that your time in church is worth the effort.  Hoping that you don’t regret a missed chance to golf, boat, or simply sleep in.  Hoping that the service gets out on time to beat the Presbyterians to The Family Table.  

What is so special about worship?  Is it mere public spectacle, or escapist entertainment, or is there something more? 

That something more, of course, is the presence of God, who alone is both the source and the object of worship.  Let’s remember that the word liturgy, from the Latin laos (people) and urge (work) literally means the “work of the people.”  When we come to worship, we go to work.  We get busy.  We assume the greatest responsibility for which we have been created and to which we have been called:  to give God glory and praise. 

Unlike a baseball game, in which we cheer on the players, worship calls us to be the players on the field, active participants in the unfolding drama of God’s love and salvation for the world.  In that classic metaphor of “worship as theater” from Soren Kierkegaard, we attend worship to become the performers, not the audience, knowing that God is the sole spectator of all that we offer. 

Now that we are back in the sanctuary, having returned this fall from our summertime sojourn in the community center, let us also return to the heart of our mission, and the reason we gather every Sunday morning:  to put God’s love into action.  May that renewed emphasis inspire us to worship God with greater enthusiasm, deeper joy, and a fuller commitment to the way and will of God.

So get on the field, St. Paul’s, and let's plaaaay ball!

Magrey  


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


PRAYERS FOR THE WORLD
The website shared during last Sunday’s World Communion service was www.oikoumene.org.  The site is sponsored by the World Council of Churches and offers a guide for specific needs of every country in the world over a 52-week period.

HELPING HANDS VOLUNTEERS NEEDED
The Helping Hands team would like volunteers this Saturday to help with yard work and winterizing the home of Ellen and Don Henderson.   Many of you know that both Ellen and her son have been dealing with severe health issues, and you can really make a difference by pitching in to help them out.  The time is from 10am to 1pm this Saturday, and you can contact Sheree Hausmann to sign up.  


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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The New Bible in Our Pews

October 2, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I will always admit a certain nostalgic affection for the King James Version of the Bible.  My very first Bible was a KJV: a brown, imitation leather edition given to me as a Christmas present by my father in 1978, when I was five years old.  He purchased it with S&H green stamps, from the redemption store in our hometown.  He wrote a dedication inside the front cover, which read:

Dearest Magrey,  May you make His words in this Holy Book your guide in life from this day and hereon!  And then he quoted the words of Proverbs 3:5-6:  Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  - Daddy.

The following year, when I was in second grade, I wrote these words on the next page, in that same Bible:  I asked the Lord Jesus to come into my heart.  Sept. 5, 1979 – Magrey deVega.

I still have that Bible on my shelf, of course, and though I rarely use it for personal study, I still open it to read my father’s dedication.  His words, you’ve noted, are in the same style of Jacobean English as the King James Bible itself.  My dad does not speak to me in that fashion, of course, but his written words communicated a kind of grand austerity that underscores why the King James Version is still so popular today.

WHAT’S IN A WORD?

Since then, I’ve moved through other preferences for biblical translations.  I read the New American Standard Bible through most of my junior high and high school years.  My home church had a steady supply of Good News paraphrases in its youth group meeting room.  I finally settled on the New Revised Standard Version during college and seminary, which is the version that we had in our sanctuary prior to our fire.

There is value in referring to different translations when trying to interpret a text, just as it is wrong to believe that any one translation is more divinely superior than any other.  All interpretation, after all, is a human endeavor, an imperfect effort at taking ancient words and placing them in contemporary contexts.  Even Desiderius Erasmus, the 15th century Catholic priest and Christian humanist who translated the Greek into the Latin version that Martin Luther would later use in his German translation, admitted the limitations of translating a text:  “Let them not drag me into court if the text does not agree with the original word for word, for, try as you may, it cannot be done.” (Erasmus, Apologia 170:20-1)

It may be hard for some to admit, but that is even the case for the beloved King James Version.

I’m reminded of a classic scene from the delightful British comedy The Vicar of Dibley, in which Alice, a sort of assistant deacon at the church, reads from a King James Bible during a worship service.  The pages of that Bible were written in an Old English script, in which the “S’s” looked more like “F’s,” resulting in this embarrassing public recitation of Song of Solomon 6:2:

“Ye are the falt of the earth and fainted. God shall feal your endeavors until ye fit on his right hand.  Therefore fight the good fight for his fake, and he shall be thy  - - - .”

Needless to say, the vicar Geraldine interrupted her before she had a chance to mangle that final word, “succor.”

THE NEW BIBLE IN OUR PEWS

Well, so there is no one perfect translation of the Bible.  But the new Bible in our sanctuary pews is one of the latest efforts to come up with a version that fuses the best of biblical scholarship with the accessibility of today’s reader. It is called the Common English Bible, published by Abingdon Press, the publishing arm of the United Methodist Church. Whereas our former New Revised Standard Version Bible is simply an updating of the old Revised Standard Version, which itself is merely an updating of the King James Version, the Common English Bible goes right back to the languages in which the Old and New Testaments were originally written.  Seven hundred scholars and pastors, spanning twenty-four denominations, worked together to build a translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, making it resonant with today’s modern English.  

When our prior pew Bibles were ruined by smoke last February, our insurance policy gave us full replacement value for replacing those Bibles.  Rather than buying Bibles that matched our new ones, the Worship Committee considered the new translation and was quickly sold by its more accessible language, along with the larger print and decorative cover that matched our sanctuary d├ęcor.

We believe that the new Bibles will serve St. Paul’s for generations to come, and will strengthen one of this congregation’s core values:  “To be a People of the Word:  We share a foundation in the written words of the Bible, and a passionate devotion to the living Word in Jesus.”

Together, let us live into the words of Proverbs 3:5-6, in the language of the new CEB:  Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence.  Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey  

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



WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY
We join together in our annual observance of our mutual connection to Christians all around the world with our World Communion Sunday service.  We will also be taking up a special offering that funds scholarships for ministry-related students attending Methodist schools around the world.  This is one of six offerings required by the Discipline and the proceeds help our Rainbow Covenant Missions effort for this year.