xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: June 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Good Works, Good News

June 25, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Leave it up to a kid brother to be a kidder. 

A few Saturdays ago, when I was about to convene an organized flood relief effort and dispatch volunteers to various homes in Cherokee, my brother Genniser called me from Florida. 

“Let me get this straight,” he said.  “Three years ago you all had a flood and tornado hit the town.  Last year you had a fire.  Then you had a drought.  And this year you had an even bigger flood.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, sheepishly.


I have to admit that these last three years have had their fair share of challenges for this congregation and this town, but I am delighted to share some good news with you:


Thanks to a push of volunteers last week, including some groups from out of town (Mitchellville UMC outside Des Moines and Buena Vista University in Storm Lake), we have now addressed all of the flood damaged homes given to us from City Hall.  We are therefore announcing an end to organized volunteer flood relief days.

Since the flash flood that devastated Cherokee four weeks ago yesterday, we have sent a total of 84 volunteers (a majority of them from this church) out into the community to work nearly 700 hours of service to people who were unable to help themselves.  They performed a variety of jobs, including mucking out basements, scooping mud, power washing, shoveling yard debris, hauling wet carpet, cutting fallen trees, preparing meals, and offering comforting words to grief stricken residents.   Now, all of those jobs are completed (except for one ongoing project, which you can read about below) and there are many people to thank.  Specifically, I’d like to acknowledge the following folks in our church (in alphabetical order) for the way they put God’s love into action in such tangible ways:

Dave and Linda Appleby
Laura Benson
JoAnn and John Bieber
Hannah Burkhart
Linda Burkhart
Mary Jo Carnine
Linda Christensen
Grace and Madelyn deVega
Connie Hankens,
Louis and Sheree Hausmann
Sherry Held
Missy and Carson Jenness
Sally Knoben
Shelley and Larry Lenz
Marlin and Sherry Lode
Mary Jo Poggenklass
Betty Point
Diane and Jake Rochleau
Kirk, Nolan, and Ben Sampson
Craig and Monica Schmidt
Melissa and Kenny Schlenger and kids
Zack Taylor
Tasha and Cole Timmerman
Joe Vannatta
Dawson Voge
Loren Woltman.

Naturally, we don’t offer ourselves to the community for recognition; we do it because our commitment to Christ and the mission of this church compels us to do so.  Nevertheless, you all can know that people in this town have taken notice of the difference you have made.  Many residents have told me that though they have spent years away from organized religion, they want to start attending worship at St. Paul’s.  (I even saw some of them in church last Sunday.)  Some of the volunteers who joined us in our efforts have also started coming to St. Paul’s.  And just yesterday, Don Eikmeyer, the city administrator, told me that he wants to publicly recognize our efforts at the next city council meeting in July. 

You all have been a living embodiment, and fulfillment, of Jesus’ command to “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  So, in answer to my loving brother, the question is not what I am doing to this church. 

Look at what God is doing through this church.

Grace and Peace,


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

We encourage you to come to an important information and feedback meeting at the church tonight at 6:30 in the sanctuary.  You will hear the latest developments in the reconstruction of our kitchen and dining hall, and you will have an opportunity to give the Trustees and the Building Committee your feedback on some critical decisions before us.

The one outstanding job related to flood recovery involves the installation of drywall at the home of Bob and Sandy Kirschner, whose home just north of town had to be stripped down to the studs since flood waters rose into their main floor.  The amazing duo of Greg and Marie Conklin with Neighbors Across the Land will be returning on July 5-6 to install new drywall, and they are looking for anyone to come help.  If you are interested, let me know.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Summer Reading List, 2013

June 18, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It’s that time of year again.  While summertime continues to be a busy season for ministry at St. Paul’s, I would invite all of us to find some time to recharge, renew, and kick back with a good book or two.  Once again, here is my summer reading list, which I hope to tackle between now and the end of August:

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson:  This has been on my wish list to read for a while, first introduced to me at my writing workshop with Eugene Peterson in 2009.  Recently, Rev. Ethan Sayler at the Memorial Presbyterian Church invited me to read it along with him, and though I am only about twenty pages into it, it is some of the finest writing I have read in years.  It is written from the perspective of Rev. John Ames, a retired minister living in Gilead, Iowa, who is writing a letter to one of his sons, including reflections on fatherhood, faith, friendship, and the hidden beauties of life.

The Collective by Don Lee:  My “fun” read for the summer, about a group of young Asian American writers and painters who join together to form a club advancing their art in the community.  Their story explores issues of racial identity, artistry, love, and friendship, with vivid prose and humorous insights into what it means to be an Asian American. 

Apostle Paul:  His Life and Theology, by Udo Schnelle:  I am planning a sermon series on the life and ministry of Paul towards the end of this summer, which will include background information on his missionary journeys and overviews of each of his epistles.  This book by Udo Schnelle is considered by many scholars to be a definitive work on Paul and his writings, and given that it is 700-pages long, I can believe it. 

Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben MacIntyre.  I’m am already about fifty pages into reading this supremely engaging story about the cunning work of a group of Allied spies who successfully misdirected the Nazis into believing that the D-Day invasion was taking place on a different beach head from Normandy.  It is so well written that it reads better than any fictional spy novel I have read in recent years.

I am a Follower by Leonard Sweet.  I am reading this as part of a Facebook discussion group of about fifty church colleagues led by my friend Dr. Steve Harper of Asbury Theological Seminary.  Sweet’s latest book explores how one’s leadership should emanate from a passionate commitment to Jesus Christ.  The idea to use the “Sasquatch Man” video clip at last month’s Trinity Sunday / Graduation Sunday sermon came from the introduction to this book. 

So, that’s my stack of books for the next few months.   It’s a mixture of works for fun, intellectual stimulation, and professional development.  I’d love to know what’s on your reading list for the summer.

Happy Reading!

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

The end is now in sight!  Over the past three weeks, St. Paul’s UMC has spearheaded ten organized volunteer days, with around 75 different individuals contributing about 600 total hours of service to the community.  We have been able to address dozens of homes in Cherokee, and with enough volunteers this Saturday, we will be able to cross off all of our remaining homes from City Hall.  We will not have an organized day this Friday, so consider coming to help this Saturday at 9:30 at the church.  Thanks to all of you have so diligently helped put God’s love into action over the last three weeks.  People in this community appreciate you!

Amid the travel and leisure time this summer for you and your family, please continue to remember your vows of membership to support St. Paul’s with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Help us avoid our usual “summer slump” by joining us for worship and being faithful in funding the various ministries of this church with your financial support.  If you would like more information on setting up automatic withdrawals from your checking count, contact our Financial Secretary Sarah Cook. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Prayer for Pastors

June 11, 2013,

I am sending today’s Mid-Week Message to you in between Annual Conferences in Iowa and Florida, in which hundreds of delegates from across those two conferences gather every year to celebrate ministry and make important decisions for the future.  It is also an important time for clergy and lay people to reconnect with each other, sharing the highs and lows of life and ministry over the past year.

It is in remembering such moments of triumph and pain with my fellow clergy that I am reminded that pastors everywhere need the prayers of the people they serve.  So, once again, I am asking that you take some time today and in upcoming weeks to keep me in your prayers, as well as any other pastors that you know.  Fulfilling my call to serve you and advance the good news of Jesus is one of the highest privileges of my life, second only to being committed to my family.  And even when times are toughest, I am buoyed by the love and support so many of you continue to share with me so freely and generously.

I offer the following prayer to you, which you may use to spur your own prayerful imagination.  Writing this prayer and offering it you reminds me of the way Charles Finney described the power of a praying community:  "Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together.  Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other's hearts in prayer."


Gracious God,

We thank you for your church, the living embodiment of Christ, empowered by your Spirit to reach a hurting world.  We thank you for the women and men who serve as clergy and lay preachers, remembering that theirs is a holy calling, for the work of challenging, nurturing and ordering the life of your people.  You have composed a rich and diverse covenantal communion, displaying a wide range of skills and passions, from all walks and seasons of life.

  • We thank you for those who are newly licensed, commissioned, and ordained for ministry, who are entering the tender years of their work. 
  • We thank you for those who have entered or are nearing retirement, for their long years of service.  May they continue to serve your Kingdom in renewed ways, contributing their energies and expertise for years to come.
  • We thank you for all those clergy persons and clergy spouses who have died in the past year, joining the great cloud of witness that accompanies us.  May their ongoing legacy be a continued blessing to us, exemplifying faithfulness in service and witness. 
  • We thank you for your presence in the midst of transition, acknowledging clergy who are moving to new churches and for congregations receiving new pastors.  Bless all spouses and families impacted by these changes, and grant to all persons strength for the journey ahead and a confidence that your Kingdom will be built by the best people serving in the right places.  
Even in the midst of our gratitude, we acknowledge hardship.  We recognize that the journey is often difficult for those who pursue your call.  We pray for those who are dealing with physical, relational, emotional, mental, or financial strains.  Grant them courage to face their limitations, wisdom to make the tough choices, supportive loved ones to surround them in their darkest days, renewed strength for their moments of fatigue, and the willingness to make necessary changes toward health and wholeness.

  • We pray for those struggling to find adequate balance between the demands of leadership and their responsibilities to family and self-care. Grant them the ability to discern healthy choices, prioritize what is most important, and to tend to those areas of life that nourish their souls and tend to their relationships.
  • We pray for those dealing with isolation and loneliness, separated perhaps by distance from close friends and colleagues, or who serve in communities where pastoral boundaries preclude close friendships with parishioners.  Foster for them new relationships of support and accountability, with fellow sojourners in the faith.
  • We pray for pastors whose current spiritual state is likened to a dry, parched wilderness. For those whose difficult years in ministry have sapped them of joy, creativity, and innovation, we ask that you restore their energies and inspire them to new ways of serving your church.  Buoy them with hope, fill them optimism and holy humor, and remind them that "the joy of the Lord is their strength." 
  • We pray for pastors struggling with congregations mired in conflict, who must mediate between people caught in sharp disagreements and taxing arguments.  Grant your spirit of peace, and empower a commitment to reason and compromise.
Renew within your pastors a holy passion for the Scriptures. Open their eyes to new interpretive possibilities, and fill them with new zeal for its preaching, its teaching, and its embodiment through their example.  May they fall in love once again with the beauty of language, and its power to name and sustain our commitment to be your people.

We give you thanks, O Lord, for all you have done in and through the faithfulness of clergy and lay people throughout the years. May we continue to serve as the living expression of your love, put into action for the world to see. May all of us be led by the one whom you sent for our sake, Jesus the Christ, who is the head of the church, and in whose name we pray, Amen.

Grace and Peace,


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

Since the flood 14 days ago, we have dispatched close to 75 different volunteers from all around Cherokee to put in over 500 hours of work, many of whom have come out to serve despite having flood problems in their own homes to deal with.  I am humbled by the commitment and self-sacrifice of so many of you.  As a reminder, we have organized volunteer days set for today, Friday, and Saturday this week. We still have a long list of houses that need attention, and folks of any ability can help for as long as they can.  Since I will be attending Annual Conferences throughout the week, Greg and Marie Conklin with the amazing organization "Neighbors Across the Land" will be coordinating the Tuesday and Friday efforts.  Meet at 9:30am at St. Paul's to receive your assignment.  It is so good to be the church.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Church Being the Church

June 4, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.”
- Mark Twain

It would be an understatement to say that this has been quite a week, for indeed, it has been quite a month.  A church member made the observation to me that we have had record snowfall, record low temperatures, record high temperatures, and now record flooding all in the last four weeks.  I had always been told that if you don’t like the weather in Iowa, just wait fifteen minutes.  I had no idea that applied to seasons of the year as well.

Nothing quite makes us feel more powerless as human beings than when confronted by the whim and force of Mother Nature.  We cannot control weather events, despite our best efforts to predict and prepare for them.  Mark Twain was right. 

We can, however, pull together in community to give assistance to each other in the wake of devastation.  To date, all of our major roads into town have reopened, the river has receded to a manageable level, and public areas have been cleaned up to project normalcy.  But look behind the closed doors of people’s homes, and you’ll find a very different story.  There are many, many houses that still contain mucky, mud-filled basements with belongings that have yet to be hauled out.  Many folks on the outskirts of town are still without running water, including many of you.  A number of residents are overwhelmed by the sizeable corn field debris that has washed up in massive piles in their backyards. 


Last week, one of our volunteer teams cleaning out a local basement discovered a small, wooden cross covered with mud.  The resident told us that the cross was made by one of her daughters as a gift, and therefore had sentimental value.  But now, she would use the cross to remember the loving and willing hands of the church volunteers who helped her remove the wreckage from her basement.  That mud-covered cross would remind her that even in the midst of chaos, God was still with her.

You and I are called to be the church at a time when this community needs us.  Your every effort to put God’s love into action will remind people that even when the storms of life crash upon us, the love of God prevails.  There are specific ways that you can be part of making that happen:

By far the greatest need right now is to have volunteers dispatched into the community to help residents clean up their homes.  The list of houses continues to grow, with new names coming in daily from City Hall.  This morning at 9:30, folks will gather at St. Paul’s UMC and divide into teams to serve throughout the community.  We have a major demolition at one house, along with fairly urgent basement cleanup at five other houses.  You can stay as long as you are able, and folks of any strength or ability are useful.  Every hand, and every minute, makes a big difference.  Additional organized volunteer days are this Friday and Saturday at 9:30am. 

2)  GIVE
The Cherokee County Ministerial Association will be expanding its benevolence fund to receive donations and provide financial assistance to victims of the flood.  All of your contributions will stay here in town to help those in need.  We will receive a special offering this Sunday, and you can make your checks payable to St. Paul’s, designated for flood relief.  If you are aware of anyone that is in need of financial assistance to replace lost items, have them call Pastor Ethan Sayler at the Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Consider replenishing the supple of cleaning buckets that have been picked up at the fire station over the last week.  It is very simple to assemble the standardized contents of these buckets by following the guidelines on the UMCOR website (umcor.org).  Completed buckets can be brought to the fire station for distribution.

Finally, you can offer a prayer of gratitude for the amazing way that this local congregation, and the United Methodist connectional system, have been responding to the flood.  St. Paul’s has taken the lead in organizing volunteers from churches across the town, receiving from City Hall names of people to help.  From last Thursday to Saturday, over 50 volunteers contributed over 250 total hours of service, enabling us to cross many, many homes off our list.

The Iowa Conference has been a great support as well.  Catie Newman, the disaster response coordinator for our Northwest District, has been in regular contact with me and Ben Shuberg, the county disaster response director, and was instrumental in transporting 270 cleaning supply buckets to us last week.  Many of those buckets have been picked up and used by Cherokee residents, and remaining buckets will be stored here in town to be used in future disasters throughout Northwest Iowa.  Tom Carver, our District Superintendent, came on Saturday with his wife Linda to contribute a long day of volunteer service at one of our affected homes.  And just yesterday, Vickie Wiedermeyer, the disaster response coordinator for the Southwest District of the Conference, arrived to make personal visits to about eight homes, assessing their needs, and providing lunch items for volunteers serving later today. 

Yes, there is much to do, as we steadily help the most needy in this community return to normalcy.  And you can rest assured that, with your support and prayer, this St. Paul’s congregation and the United Methodist Church will join with these folks, every step of the way.

Grace and Peace,


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