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

Monday, November 25, 2013

When the Time Comes

November 26, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I have waited three months to tell you this story.  And now the time has come.

Back in August, I took the girls to the two Disney water parks in Orlando, Florida.  To photograph the memories without jeopardizing my camera phone, I purchased a waterproof, disposable camera, with an attached rubber strap that I could wrap around my wrist.

I can’t remember the last time I took a photograph with an old-fashioned film camera, one that did not have some kind of display screen.  I have grown so accustomed to seeing the photo the instant that I take it that it took me several shots before I stopped looking at the backside of the camera to see how the picture looked.  I used up all twenty-seven exposures, capturing images of the girls and I cruising down the water slides, floating on the lazy river, and rafting along some rapids.  With each click of the camera, I wondered how the pictures would eventually turn out. 

It took me the remainder of our trip to Florida - and even several days after we got back - before I could find a place that would develop the pictures. Having waited that long already, I opted for the express, one-hour service:  there was no way I was going to wait any more days to see those pictures. 

We have steadily removed the need to wait in our culture, haven’t we?  We have proven over and over that we will invent just about anything to reduce how long we have to wait for something to happen.  In so doing, we have also diminished those moments of richness and fullness that only comes with anticipation. 

But I do think there is something different about waiting for camera film to develop.  That experience carries a unique tension between the past and the future, between an event that has already taken place, and a forthcoming reliving of that moment.  Riding on the water slides with the girls had occurred weeks before, yet I was still eager for the Walgreens photo processor to hand me those pictures so I could see those memories in a fresh new way. 

I used to wonder why Advent makes things so complicated.  Why do we have to spend four weeks pretending that Jesus has not yet been born, when we know fully well that he has?  After all, advertisers and retailers would want us to believe that the Christmas season is already here.  So why prepare for something that has already happened?

Maybe Advent is a lot like waiting for pictures to develop.  Of all the seasons in the Christian year, it best captures the dynamic tension between the past and the future, in  way that fills us with hopeful anticipation in the present.  When we journey to Bethlehem, it’s not that we think that Jesus has not been born, and it’s not just that we believe that Jesus will come again.  It is about opening a freshly developed set of photographs, and allowing the past and the future to amaze us again in the present, as if the the arrival of Jesus was happening for the very first time. 

Advent is not a time of pretending that Jesus has never been born; it is a time of preparing for what that birth might mean for us today.  It is not a denial, but a darkroom: a chance to allow the fullness of God’s love to develop in our lives and be revealed in glorious Technicolor.  Over the next four weeks, we will traverse familiar territory, singing our favorite carols, and hearing the stories we have heard countless times over the years.  And along the way, I invite you to ask the question:  What will God’s good news look like to me when Christmas finally comes? 

This year, our Advent series is called “When the Time Comes.”  It will be a sweeping overview through the birth narratives of Jesus through the lenses of all four gospels.  We will learn how each gospel writer photographs a unique angle of the Christmas story, and explore why they chose to include elements that others left out.  By the end, you’ll have a working knowledge of which gospels contain the most familiar parts of the Christmas story.  And, we’ll see how the four gospels all affirm this one central theme, just like the first line in today’s Mid-Week Message:

God had been waiting a long time to tell us this Story.  And that time had finally come. 

When the clerk handed me my photographs, I tore into the envelope like a child ripping open a Christmas gift.  I had not even paid for the pictures yet before I began to relive each ride, each memory, each thrilling occasion for laughter and joy, in a way that made the past alive again. 

That “thrill of hope” can only come from waiting.  So, brothers and sisters, welcome to Advent. 

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

“When the Time Comes”
An Advent Journey through All Four Gospels

December 1, 2013
“Mark: A Christmas Story?”
Mark 1:1-8

December 8, 2013
“Matthew: It’s (Not Such) a Wonderful Life”
Matthew 1:18-25

December 15, 2013
Children’s Christmas Program

December 22, 2013
“Luke: The Original Christmas Musical”
Luke 1:46-55

December 24, 2013
“John:  The Word Made Flesh”
John 1:1-14

Thank you to those of you who have turned in your commitment forms for 2014.  If you have not yet turned it in, they are available at the church office.  Your diligence in turning in your pledge will help the Finance Committee plan for another exciting year ahead.

As you ponder your gift lists this year, consider giving a gift that will make a real difference.  Use this year’s Alternative Christmas Gift Guide to give someone a gift that supports the Heifer Project, Church World Service, Stan Sitzmann’s Needy Children Project, or Methodist missionaries Larry and Jane Kies.  Guides are available at the church, and order forms can be given to a Missions Committee member in the narthex on Sunday mornings.

Sign up sheets are now available in the narthex for you to sign up for a slot to ring bells for the Salvation Army.  Ringing starts this Friday and continues through the four Saturdays in Advent.  Slots are available from 10am to 2pm, at Hy-Vee, Fareway, and K-mart.  For more information, contact Mary Jo Carnine at 225-6301. 

To subscribe to the Mid-Week Message via email, send a message to mdevega@sp-umc.org.  
Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/cherokeespumc

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Reviews are In!

November 19, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The reviews are in!  Over sixty individuals completed our six-week journey called A Disciple’s Path, and I wanted to share with you comments from some of the participants:

The weekly topics made me think deeper about how those aspects of the Methodist principles relate to my daily life.

It made me think about my faith and beliefs in ways I never had.  I understand how important it is to have God in my life. 

It made me think about some things I had not before.  I enjoyed reading the Bible verses and how they related to the lessons.  Revisiting the history of the Methodist church was beneficial.

I enjoyed the group I was in.  It made me reevaluate my Christian faith and how to convey it to others. 

This class reaffirmed some things that were helpful to reaffirm, and it added a context to my faith journey that I didn’t earlier feel. 

Disciple’s Path made me more comfortable in my journey through life. 

Each week I learned something.  The small group discussions help as you find that others do not “have all the answers.”  You are not intimidated.  I feel it has advanced me on “the path.” 

Disciple’s Path took me through parts of the Bible that I might not have tackled.  It made me think about my own faith, and it made me evaluate my spiritual gifts to consider what else I could do for the church. 

I really got to know everyone in our group.  We were able to open up to each other… great group!  This was a wonderful class.  I enjoyed it so much. 

It was big just getting me to be involved in a study!  It helped me to realize that whatever stage I’m in in my “walk” is okay and I am encouraged to keep moving forward. 

What a great response!  And as moved as I am by these testimonies, I am equally grateful for the wonderful work by our facilitators, without whom we could not have all of these classes every week.  Thank you to Linda Burkhart, Dave and Linda Appleby, Missy Jenness, Laura Benson, Jenny Burroughs, Sheree and Louis Hasumann, Meribeth Adams, Connie Hankens, and Bruce Dagel.  They did a wonderful job creating a warm, nurturing environment for people to explore their spiritual journeys with each other. 

For all of us, these last six weeks have been a time of learning about our Wesleyan heritage and learning practical ways to strengthen our commitment to Jesus Christ and the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  That series concluded last Sunday with our Commitment Sunday celebration, in which you brought forward your commitment forms.  Each one of us plays an integral part of claiming the bright future God has for us in 2014 and beyond, and your estimates of giving will help us plan ahead.  If you haven’t turned in your commitment form, please do so as soon as you can.  You can mail them directly to the office.

And join us this Sunday as we observe the final Sunday of the church’s liturgical year.   It is Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate the one who has come already to rule and reign over all creation, and look forward to the future advent of that same Christ who will make all things new. 

As we wind down another wonderful year of ministry together, I look forward to a great future with you, as we journey along the disciple’s path together.

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

As part of our renovation in the kitchen and fellowship hall, we will be upgrading our electrical service to the campus.  Starting Tuesday morning, Mid-American Energy will shut off the power to the whole campus, and work will be completed by the end of the business day Wednesday.  As such, the offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday, but Andrea and I will still be able to receive and respond to email remotely.  Because we anticipate the work will be completed by Wednesday afternoon, we are not cancelling Wednesday night youth groups or music practices.  Should that change, we will make an announcement via email, Facebook, and KCHE radio.  


Once again, we are taking the lead in ringing bells for the Salvation Army this year.  Consider signing up for at least an hour on Black Friday, November 29, or every Saturday until Christmas.  We would especially encourage you to sign up for November 29 or 30, as those will be heavy shopping days.  Sign-up sheets are in the narthex, or you can call the church office.  For more information, contact Mary Jo Carnine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Spirit of Bayanihan

November 12, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Thank you to the many who have asked about my family members in the Philippines, and I am grateful to report that they are doing fine.  I have a cousin on my father’s side who lives with his wife and son in Cavite City, about twenty miles outside Manila.  Except for a few fallen branches, they had virtually no damage from the storm, and their city is resuming life as usual.

My mother’s family is mostly in Calapan City, in the northern part of the island of Mindoro known as Oriental Mindoro.  It is about three hours south of Manila, and much closer to the track of Typhoon Yolanda (which is what Filipinos have been calling Typhoon Haiyan).  I have a number of aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family there, and news from them was less forthcoming over the weekend.  I have since heard that they did not have nearly the strong winds, storm surges, and sheer devastation that those on the eastern seaboard did.  While they were out of power for a good part of the weekend, they have since had electricity restored.  And except for a road that has been destroyed from a landslide in northern Mindoro, life for the people there is slowly returning to normal as well.

There was a time not too long ago that such a horrible natural disaster, and the plight of its victims, would have been unfathomable.  Sadly, the last few decades have given us quite a frame of reference, with one-word labels now etched into our collective memory:  Katrina.  Haiti.  Tsunami.  Joplin.  There are more examples, of course, both regionally and internationally, and the sum effect of such devastation is a temptation of numbed helplessness.    When we see the images of Filipinos combing through debris to find loved ones, and a city of 200,000 people turned to rubbish, we add them to our ever-expanding file of misfortunes for humanity.  We feel like we have seen this before, and we believe that we will see it again.

But at every turn, we have also seen another reality.  It is a sense of courage and camaraderie in the face of calamity, which pulls people together from across the divides to help others in need. 

In Filipino culture, there is a concept called bayanihan (“by-uh-NEE-hun”), which means “community spirit.”  It is literally translated as “being part of a bayan, or “community.”  It originated in the now obsolete practice of gathering people together to relocate a person’s home in the village.  Using crosswise and lengthwise bamboo poles, neighbors would carry the house on their shoulders from one place in the village to another, often with a festive and spirited mood, ending with a party thrown by the homeowner in gratitude for their community’s assistance.  Today, bayanihan is a common feature of Filipino life, encouraging people toward acts of leadership, initiative, volunteerism, and compassion for the sake of others.

I am certain that bayanihan will prevail throughout the Filipino people throughout the long, arduous process of recovery and rebuilding.  But if there is anything that Katrina, Haiti, the tsunami, Joplin, and now Yolanda have taught us, it is that we are all in bayanihan together.  Barriers of nationality, geography, economy, and culture fade to the fringes when we see fellow human beings, members of our global bayan, in need. 

There are many relief organizations already responding, and I am grateful to hear early reports from our own United Methodist Committee on Relief.  UMCOR has been quick to arrive on the scene and coordinate their response with local and national relief organizations.  It has authorized $97,000 of immediate aid to the Philippines, in the form of food, water, and water purification tablets that will help thousands of people in upcoming days.  If you would like to make a contribution, you can do so through their website (www.umcor.org) or through the church.  Make your check payable to St. Paul’s and designate it for “Typhoon Relief.”  One hundred percent of your contribution will go to support those who have been affected.  For more information on the United Methodist Church’s response to the typhoon, click the link below.  [1]

Thank you again for the prayers and concern for members of my family.  I am grateful to report that they are okay.  Now together, let us be the church, in bayanihan with the world.

Grace, Peace, and “Mabuhay!” (which means “Good Life to You”),


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

[1]  http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Resources/News-Stories/2013/November/1110umcormobilizesdisasterresponseinphilippines

Join us this Sunday for our annual Commitment Sunday celebration, as we give thanks to God for the bright future ahead of us in 2014, and claim that future with our commitments of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Please bring your completed Commitment Forms to worship that morning.  

To subscribe to this message via weekly email, please send a message to mdevega@sp-umc.org.  
Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/cherokeespumc

Monday, November 4, 2013

God's Love in Action, 2013

November 5, 2013

Dear St. Paul's Family,

For those unable to attend the Charge Conference on October 20, below is my latest Pastor's Report, celebrating another great year of ministry at St. Paul's.  I offer this to you, in gratitude for the opportunity to serve with you as we put God's love into action.  

Pastor’s Report
St. Paul’s UMC Charge Conference
October 20, 2013
The Rev. Magrey R. deVega

“The best of all is, God is with us.”

These very last words uttered by John Wesley serve as an appropriate backdrop for another great year of ministry and witness by the people of St. Paul’s.  As in years past, I’ll use the mission statement of the church adopted in 2008 as a framework for celebrating all of the ways that God has been with us. 

WORSHIPWe worship with joy, because Christ is among us and deserves our praise.
     St. Paul’s continues to offer dynamic worship services that honor God.  Worship involvement continues to be strong, with lay people faithfully serving as liturgists, children’s sermon providers, tech support, and hospitality.  Our bell choir and chancel choir have been terrific and amazing, under the tremendous leadership of director Joe Vannatta.  Christmas Eve and Easter morning drew the largest worship attendances in recent memory. 
     We have experienced several sermon series throughout the year, the highlight of which was an extensive eight-week exploration of the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul.  Others included “The Boy Who Would Be King,” “Tending the Soul,” “All Things New,” and “Close Encounters:  When Jesus Meets You Where You Are.”

DISCIPLESHIP: We grow in our faith, practicing every day what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
     This fall we launched our most concerted effort in my six years here to guide people into a deeper commitment to Christ and to the church.  We are going through the Disciple’s Path curriculum published by the United Methodist Church, which is an in-depth exploration of our vows to support the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  We have over seventy youth and adults attending five small groups over a six-week period, and the response so far has been very positive.  We trust that the result of these efforts will be even greater faithfulness and fruitfulness from the people of St. Paul’s.
     We also give thanks for the wonderful Sunday school teachers who continue to provide such nurturing, capable guidance for our children’s ministry.  For the youth, we launched two brand-new Wednesday night mid-week Bible studies for 5th – 8th graders, thanks to Nicci Lundquist and Diane Rochleau.  Those groups, along with Craig and Monica Schmidt’s Teen Time study for senior highers, have resulted in over forty active youth in our program every Wednesday, with numbers rising every week.  The youth also went on a Ski Trip in February and did a service project at the Midwest Christian Children’s Home last December.

FELLOWSHIP:  We care for each other as an encouraging, supportive, and growing family.
     We continue to respond to the needs of our own church members and those in our community.  Once again, we participated with Greenwood Funeral Home in offering a Service of Remembrance for those who lost loved ones over the past year.  Next year, we will be hosting the service, and I will also be participating in a similar service with Boothby Funeral Home. 
     The Visitation Team continues to link lay visitors with shut-ins and homebound persons.  They distribute audio recordings of the service and a bulletin to members, and check on them for pastoral and personal concerns.  We are grateful for the wonderful team of visitors who make these connections every week. 
     This has continued to be an important church for providing funeral services and ministry to grieving families.  Since the last Charge Conference, I performed eighteen funerals, many of which were for people who weren’t members of the church.  Our Funeral Luncheon Team continues to provide an amazing level of generous hospitality for families grieving the loss of loved ones.  With great grace and efficiency, they provided wonderful luncheons throughout the year.  Thanks to Phyllis Parrott and Jean Anderson for their coordination.
     Finally, St. Paul’s remains an epicenter of care for people seeking wholeness and health.  We now host four separate Alcoholics Anonymous groups throughout the week, as well as Moms on Meth, Narcotics Anonymous, and a weight loss group.  The church also hosts a monthly gathering of the Foster Care Review Board. 
SERVICEWe share with others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and invite all people to faith in Christ.
     By far, our greatest achievement has been in the areas of witness and service. Last Memorial Day, Cherokee experienced record flooding, devastating about 300 homes in our area.  In the wake of the flood, St. Paul’s played a leading role in coordinating volunteers to help residents recover.  We dispatched about 85 volunteers to give 700 hours of service, garnering an official recognition by the City Hall last August for our efforts.  It was a most extraordinary way for the members of this church to put God’s love into action.
     Though our continuing efforts to recover from the fire precluded our annual Pancake Day race, we were able to host a Pancake Luncheon fundraiser for the Conference-wide Imagine No Malaria initiative.  Last May 28, people from all over the district came to the Cherokee Community Center to enjoy great food and raise money for this worthy cause.  Thanks to many volunteers who set up, cleaned up, flipped pancakes, and even sold handmade scarves (thanks, Mary Jo Carnine), we raised over $2,000 to help the Conference work toward its goals.
     We also enjoyed the privilege of hosting Bishop Julius Trimble that same morning.  It was the first time since Bishop Thomas several decades ago that a Bishop visited St. Paul’s, and we were grateful to hear his words of encouragement to us.  He remained that afternoon to host the District Conference in our sanctuary.
     Once again, we celebrated the achievement of another Third-Mile level of giving through the Conference’s Rainbow Covenant Missions program.  We are on track for another high level of missions giving, and inaugurated several new giving opportunities.  The Alternative Gifts Catalog once again offered a unique way of giving gifts to loved ones.  It included the Heifer Project, the St. Paul’s Missions Committee, Church World Service Blankets, and Cherokee Needy Children.  Once again, St. Paul’s took sole leadership in ringing bells for the Salvation Army, raising over $3,500 to help people in need here in Cherokee.  We also played a critical role in the Iowa Conference’s annual Ingathering, collecting and processing kits from all across Northwest Iowa for distribution around the world. 
     We continued our support for Soles4Souls, collecting hundreds of pairs of shoes that will be sent to needy people around the world.  We participated in Cherokee Hot Dog Days, a town-wide event promoting community spirit and local business.  And our weekly Daybreak radio broadcast continues to run every Sunday morning on KCHE, reaching out to many people unable to come to church.  The fifteen-minute program serves as a wonderful teaching medium and an evangelistic tool for the church.
     Finally, I had the privilege of sharing the St. Paul’s story of vision and vitality with people throughout the United Methodist connection.  I was asked to participate in the Large Church Initiative in Tampa, Florida, last May, which involved pastors and lay leadership from the largest churches in the denomination.  One of my workshops, “Claiming the Vision,” inspired other church leaders with how we received, clarified, and continue to live into our mission and vision adopted back in 2008.  To this day, I am in contact with pastors who wish to learn more about how they can follow a similar process in their churches. 

     It has been quite a blessed year, indeed.  But I am even more eager to see what lies ahead for 2014.  We are clear about our mission and optimistic about our future.  We are gifted with incredibly talented and committed lay leadership.  We are strengthened by your faithfulness, generosity, and commitment.  And, of course, next year, we will have our Kitchen, Fellowship Hall, and Feller Lounge back in operation!  These are great days to be the church, and I look forward to another great year with you!
     John Wesley was right:  “The best of all is, God is with us!”

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey R. deVega

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