Texas has been struggling with a crisis as a result of record cold and winter storms. No power and no water has caused untold pain, suffering and death. I have been intrigued – and deeply saddened – by what I have seen. Not the human toll, which breaks my heart. But how so many people have focused on the politics of what’s happening far more than the humanitarian crisis. They squabble about whose fault it is. Misrepresent facts as part of a massive blame game. Take pot shots at each other. And offer unending commentary about winners and losers. What does it say about people when they are more concerned with preserving power, blaming others and making political hay than what they can do to care for people in crisis? But even more importantly, what does how I respond when I see suffering say about me as a follower of Jesus Christ?
The past ten days where I live have included an ice storm, a couple of gray and cold days, a snowstorm, temperatures below zero, a day of respite, another snowstorm bringing the total to 20 inches on the ground, and now two cold and sunny days. The next ten days will see a warm up, rain, sun and who knows what else. It’s all a powerful reminder that life is change. This is true when life is at its best and you wish things would stay just the way they are. It’s also true when life is so painful you feel like you’re going to be stuck in suffering forever. But there is one constant in the midst of all the change – Jesus. He has come to you and is with you regardless of what’s going on in your life. And he invites you to walk with him as he walks with you.
Is your goal just to survive or do you want to thrive? You would think the answer would be obvious – you want to thrive! Too often, however, you find yourself just trying to survive because life is hard, painful and far too often unjust. But there is Good News in your worst moments – Jesus always shows up to shower you with megadoses of love. This love doesn’t simply dull your pain – it miraculously changes your perspective, unleashes new possibilities and offers real hope. And when you have these things, you will discover that you are actually thriving and not just surviving.
By Rev. Nathaniel Thomas Grady, Sr.
Pastor Emeritus, Faith United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas
As we pause to review black history, let us remember the contribution that the Black church has made and is still making in our society. The Black church has always been the underpinning of our community. Out of our historical struggle for freedom and equality emerged Bishop James Varick, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bishop Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Bishop William H. Miles, founder of the Cristian Methodist Episcopal Church. These three men of faith are part of our Pan Methodist heritage.
The story of my spiritual journey began when my mother Allene Carter Johnson Grady took her twins, Nat and Judy, to the Lord’s House at an early age. I recall the Sunday school song “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I grew up in public housing in South Jamaica Queens, New York. My mother was a nurse and my father was a shipping clerk at a large baking company.
I experienced the effects of racism and segregation when my mother gave our grandmother’s address so her children could attend “better” schools in a predominately white district. Redlining was a reality of life in the 1940s. I lived in two different worlds: living and going to church in my black community and getting my formal education in a white environment. Beyond my own personal experiences, my awareness of the vulnerabilities of being a black man was intensified by the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till in Mississippi. I attended my first civil rights rally in Harlem to commemorate his death.
In my community, I was known as the “boy preacher.” I received my license to preach at the age of 16 and was the youngest person admitted to the New York Conference of the AME Zion church. I was ordained a deacon at age 19. I was shaped and nurtured in African Methodism.
My first pastoral appointment was in Louisville, Kentucky in 1957. I remember vividly there was only one restaurant where I could eat. How strange it seemed to me, having just come from New York City. The people that I served at Walter‘s Memorial AME Zion Church were kind and supportive of a young rookie pastor.
After serving in Kentucky, I returned to New York and continued to serve in the AME Zion Church. In 1967 Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke, a major architect of the Church Union and the abolishment of the Central Jurisdiction in 1968, invited me to join The New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.
I was appointed as pastor to the Church of Our Saviour in Yonkers, New York, a multi-racial congregation. It was there that I cultivated and expanded my commitment to issues that affected the lives and livelihoods of persons in our community. At the church, we established a Head Start Program and a Day Care Center that employed 23 full-time staff members who nurtured more than 100 children annually for 25 years.
Deeply committed to community service, I became the first Protestant member, and eventually chairman, of the Board of Trustees at St. Joseph Medical Center in Yonkers and participated in civil rights activism in support of equitable hiring of firemen, police, and educators. Notable among these activities were efforts to change educational practices. There were no Black administrators and Black history was not included in the curriculum. In support of the Youth Council of the NAACP, we marched, protested, and boycotted until we achieved our goal.
During my 18-year tenure as Police Chaplain, I developed programs for community policing and police ethics. In 1972, I was honored by the House of Representatives of the 92nd Congress for contributions to the community and offered the prayer at the opening session.
How grateful I am for the consciousness evoked by participating in the 1963 March on Washington, 1965 Voters Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, and the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ rally in Memphis.
There is a price you pay when you take on the giants of racism and injustice. As it was with the Apostle Paul, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, my journey has included incarceration. This experience rocked my world but not my soul. The abiding support of The United Methodist Church and the ecumenical community sustained my endurance. I never forgot that Jesus loves me and the promise of Joel 2:25 – “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…”
God provided a pathway for me to become an assistant to the Presiding Bishop of the New York Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. Significant among my responsibilities was facilitating ecumenical and Pan-Methodist initiatives and coordinating an Ex-offender Program that assigned released prisoners and their families to local churches that mentored them.
After serving 10 pastoral appointments for more than 50 years, I retired in 2008 but continued to serve interim appointments until moving to Arkansas in 2012.
Unexpectedly, my pastoral ministry was revived by interim appointments and circuit elder responsibility in the Arkansas Conference Central District. I currently enjoy the honor of serving as Pastor Emeritus of Faith United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Thanks be to God for guiding my feet in peaceful ways and turning my midnights into days.
By Melinda Shunk
Children's Ministry Coordinator
During the last year, we have worked hard to try new things and reach out to families in new and safe ways, during the pandemic.
Thanks to technology, we have some new tools to do just that. I am not talking about a video or social media live. I am not talking about a bag of goodies that appear on a doorstep or gets picked up. Those are all wonderful new approaches, but what I would like to share with you is an online calendar called www.myadvent.net.
I know you hear Advent and you think we have moved past it and are heading into the new season of Lent. Exactly! This is a website that lets anyone create a countdown that is customized to whatever you are preparing to celebrate. So even though its original creation was for Advent and Christmas, I have customized the countdown that allows parents and their children to take a small moment each day to click the numbered door and look behind the Lenten Countdown door to experience just a few minutes of faith formation.
The UMC Lenten Countdown calendar is an easy way for parents along with their children to learn just a “spoonful.” I use the word spoonful to convey the image of spoon-feeding just a little bit of faith formation each day. This is nothing tasking, nor does it give a parent another to-do task, unless they want to make it bigger.
The link created allows the family to access it on their personal electronic device whenever it works for their family. That time could be while sitting in a drive-through waiting for their carry-out dinner. It is really that simple.
The calendar starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. The first four doors explain common Lenten spiritual practices. The second week shares different approaches to prayer. The third week teaches parents and children how important play is when we learn stories from the Bible. In the fourth week, families are given simple opportunities to create together. The fifth week brings light to Jesus’ teaching about how to serve others. The sixth week is a week of listening for God’s love. Holy Week is a combination of all six weeks.
Of course, you can go to the link above and create your very own countdown for Lent/Easter or any other fun event in the life of the church. I could even see this being used during the week of Vacation Bible School as a way for families to review what was learned each day.
You may be thinking, “I’m currently overwhelmed and think this sounds great for another time but yesterday was Ash Wednesday so I don’t have time!” Don’t lament; the Lenten Calendar is here for you to use.
Just copy and paste the link below into any email or text group for your church members. You can also include a quick note that describes its purpose, such as “This is a Lenten Countdown Calendar link for your family. You click on the link and it takes you to numbered doors. Click on the doors in numerical order with your child each day from your device. You will receive a quick and easy faith formation opportunity in less than three minutes.”