Pastor’s Message – January 14, 2020

It’s a Wonderful Beginning
Every Christmas Eve, I enjoy watching the last hour of the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. With commercials on network television, the movie lasts close to three hours, but it is in the last hour that the angel, Clarence, appears to George Bailey and walks him through a life where he was never born. As a result, George “wakes up” to what a wonderful life he has. Indeed, the movie has a wonderful ending that is usually enough for me on Christmas Eve.
However, this most recent holiday was different. While cooking dinner and winding down after a beautiful and full service, I turned on the television as It’s a Wonderful Life began. I had been watching the ending for so long that I’d forgotten the beginning. Two angels, Senior Angel and Joseph Angel, appearing to the viewer as stars in the night sky, discuss George’s case. Soon the whimsical and childlike angel, Clarence, joins them and receives his instructions that a man on earth named George Bailey needs his help. Clarence asks, “Is he sick?” Senior Angel replies, “No, worse. He’s discouraged.”
Senior Angel reminds us of something important: sometimes discouragement is one of the worst ailments we experience, worse than physical pain. The good news, friends, is that we are all capable of giving to each other the opposite of discouragement: encouragement. The Lord trusts us to give courage to each other—and to ask for it when we are down. George Bailey’s epiphany of how wonderful his life was began when people prayed for him and when he cried out himself. Let us be quick to recognize discouragement in ourselves and each other, and let us be even quicker to offer the word, ear, or shoulder needed to build each other up.
What a wonderful beginning to 2020 this will be, and what a wonderful life we will share, as we share courage with each other!
 all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Pastor’s Message – January 7, 2020

Fresh Mercies Every Morning
The great hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” includes in the chorus a powerful reminder of God’s sustenance: Morning by morning, new mercies I see. When I hear or sing these words, I remember a trip I made to a village in France during seminary. There was a local baker in town, and every morning people would travel there for fresh bread. While the bread was edible beyond one day, it was better when new each morning.
Last week, the local bakery from which we buy bread for Holy Communion was closed for a holiday break, so I offered to pick up a couple of loaves elsewhere. I bought the loaves on Friday, and how delicious they smelled. However, when I arrived on Sunday morning, those loaves were hard as rocks! We made do for the early worship service, but as soon as it was over I ran to Wal-Mart in search of fresh bread and new mercies. (And I even saw some of you there who were skipping church! Haha.)
The Bread of Life, whose sacrifice we remember and participate in at the Lord’s Table, never grows stale. He desires to feed us each and every day. Have you asked for new, fresh mercies each day? Now’s a good time to start. Let us declare how great his faithfulness is by testifying to a God whose hand has provided all we have ever needed—and all that we need for today.
                                                                                                    all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian
Lectionary Texts for Sunday, January 12, 2020 (Baptism of the Lord)
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Last Friday, The United Methodist Church was in the news because of a proposal that recommends splitting the denomination. Please know that no changes have taken place in our Church’s structure. Only the General Conference of the UMC can vote on such matters, and that conference will convene in May of this year. This proposal is one of many petitions that the General Conference will consider. I will share more information with you in educational sessions and conversations closer to the time of General Conference. I will also post on the church’s Facebook page a couple of articles that will go into more detail. If you wish to make an appointment to visit with me one-on-one about this matter, know that I am available. ~ Pastor Darian

Pastor’s Message – December 17, 2019

Visions & Re-Visions
 Years ago at an art festival in southern Louisiana, I came upon a unique advent wreath. Made not from greenery but from clay, the “wreath” was a large, circular plate with four small, raised circles to cup the candles. Around the candles the potter had written in cursive four names: Messiah. Lord. Christ. Jesus. It was perfect! I had to have it.
Unfortunately, when I later tried to place candles in the indentions, none of them would stay upright. I measured the spaces, bought candles of various diameters, trying to find a set that would fit. Frustrated, I eventually resorted to using tea lights. Though the wreath didn’t look the way I’d originally envisioned it with three tall purple and one pink candles, I’ve come to love the revised version. After all, light is still light no matter the candle’s size.
This is our last newsletter of 2019, which has me thinking a lot about a new year, not only because of the Advent season but also as January 2020 nears. One year ago, what did you envision for yourself in 2019? Did you have goals as specific as three purple and one pink candle? Most likely, we’ve all had to revise and improvise our goals and plans at some point. The end results looking differently than what we expected does not make them any less beautiful.
The seasons of Advent and Christmas remind us of a great yet simple responsibility as followers of the Christ child: we are called to shine the light. Like the Advent wreath, sometimes we have to experiment with different ways to shine that light, but the heat and power of the flame does not belong to us. The holy Light does not adjust to our liking. Instead, we must make adjustments in our lives as the Light transforms us. Yes, we set goals and visions for ourselves as well as our church, but we must remain open to how the Spirit tweaks those plans for His glory.
I look forward to the visions and re-visions that God has in store for us in the new year. Know how grateful I am for each of you. It is an honor to serve as you pastor.
                                                                                                    all good things to each of you,
Pastor (Dr.) Darian

Pastor’s Message – December 10, 2019

And Now The Angels Sing
(a longer version of this reflection is at www.darianduckworth.com/musings)
This upcoming Sunday, December 15, at 11AM is our church’s annual Christmas concert. One of my favorite pieces that we’re working on is an arrangement of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Have you ever noticed how central angels are to the beloved carol? In this holy season, angels’ voices are in a celestial spotlight that grows dim the rest of the year.
Angels are not dainty figurines. They are powerful, celestial beings. They are not decorations but created for decking out evil forces. When they show up in droves in a midnight field of Bethlehem, the initial reaction was not to rejoice but to run! One of the many miracles of Christ’s coming is that the most powerful creatures pause to sing. The terrifying stomp of warrior feet become a heavenly dance among the stars. The presence of God Almighty elicits these mighty beings to worship and serve around his holy throne—even when that throne becomes a manger.
At this Sunday’s concert, we will have an opportunity to “send back the song which now the angels sing” by giving not only to our regular, weekly offering, but also to a special offering for the Sally Kate Winters Home. As the choir sings “Away In a Manger” towards the end of the concert, you may bring your donations forward and leave in baskets on the altar, as is our practice on Communion Sundays.
I look forward to joining the angels’ song with you this Sunday. Remember that we will not have early worship so that we might join in ONE song as ONE church worshiping ONE Lord.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian
Lectionary Texts for December 15, 2019
Isaiah 35:1-10
Luke 1:47-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Pastor’s Message – December 3, 2019

Giving Thanks for Hubert
In the movie, Remember the Titans, Coach Boone said something about his linebacker, Gerry Bertier, after he got hurt in a car wreck and could not play for the team anymore.
“You cannot replace a Gerry Bertier”
Well, we at First UMC cannot replace a Hubert Caston as he prepares for retirement. Since 2012, he has served faithfully on the church staff in the role of building superintendent, and he has been a church member for far longer. He has gone about his duties with a great attitude. He has believed he could fix most anything— and he could! How often have we heard him say, “Don’t pay someone to do that. I can do it myself.”
It is time for Hubert to sit back and relax (if he can) and let the church serve him as he has served the church. If you would like to make a donation toward a love offering of thanks for him, please get your check to Julie and note that it is for Hubert.
Just know, Mr. Hubert, when we can’t find something or when we don’t know exactly how something works, we will be calling with questions. We love you and support you, and we also look forward to continuing to serve alongside you here at First UMC.
We are currently looking for our next Building Superintendent.  The Building Superintendent is an important link between the Trustees, church staff, and the custodian.  The Building Superintendent is responsible for the physical plant, operation and maintenance of all church facilities including all buildings, grounds, and Bryan Youth Center. If you are interested or know someone that might be, please contact Chris Jester at 662.295.2943.
Rev. Dr. Darian Duckworth                                                                 Mr. Freddie Brister
Pastor                                                                                                       Chair, Board of Trustees
Lectionary Texts for Sunday, December 8, 2019
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Pastor’s Message – November 25, 2019

Worship Series for Advent: Wearing Our Christmas Best
One of my favorite television shows is The Office, which follows the daily happenings, and many non-happenings, of a fictional paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Though the series officially ended in 2013, its memorable characters live on in reruns, and the actors continue to make us laugh in other roles. I especially enjoy following the work of Mindy Kaling, who not only starred in The Office but also wrote many of the episodes. She’s written a couple of funny memoirs as well as continuing to act and write a well-received film. One of my favorite places to see Kaling’s work is on Twitter because she has the ability to elicit laughs with very few words. Last year on Thanksgiving Day, she tweeted:
Everybody pick out their outfit to wear to the dining room?
I laughed out loud because it was so true. So often we spend Thanksgiving Day in one building with friends and family, and we only move room to room. Yet we still want to wear our best, right? Even if we don’t really “go” anywhere, we want to dress nicely given the specialness of the day.
Next Sunday we will enter the specialness of the Advent season, a season of preparing ourselves for the Christ child’s coming. As we get ready for a holiday by wearing our best, God calls us to wear our best characteristics as his children: to cloak ourselves in humility, to clothe ourselves in righteousness, to dress in love. Advent is a season where we can fine tune our spiritual wardrobe in worship together, and I look forward to this series with
you!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              all good things,
Pastor Darian
Lectionary Texts for Sunday, December 1, 2019
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Pastor’s Message – November 19, 2019

Three Years and 136 Pages Later
(a longer version of this reflection is on my website, www.darianduckworth.com/musings)
Two months after moving to West Point, I began the Doctor of Ministry program at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology with a desire to study hospice care. With God’s help and your support, I was able to develop, run, and analyze a research project.  On November 7, I had the privilege of carrying three years of work, compiled into 136 pages, into a conference room in Atlanta for the oral defense.
It was not an easy walk into the room, not because I was nervous, but because I’d had the “brilliant” idea to wear two-inch high heels. In my defense, no pun intended, I thought the heels were one-inch when I bought them! Thankfully we sat down for the majority of the time together. Truth be told, I did feel two inches higher when our time together ended in approval, and not because of the shoes.
As we wrapped up, one committee member had asked me, “What have you learned about yourself?”
I responded, “I am more in love with the church.”
Receiving a degree does not necessarily or solely move us up a hierarchy. It can also move us into a deeper understanding of where we presently are. Everything I’ve studied and experienced has caused me to love God’s Church, and especially this congregation, more. The tools of academia have tuned my heart to sing God’s praise in the community of faith I’m leading right here and right now.
Though the degree I’ve obtained may say “Doctor of Ministry,” I prefer to identify as a Doctor of the heart—which is the church. And for as long as you and the Lord see fit, First UMC of West Point is the heart to which this doctor wants to tend. Know how grateful I am for you!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          all good things to each of you,
Pastor (Dr.) Darian

Pastor’s Message – November 12, 2019

Reaching the Mountain
Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
~ Isaiah 65:18
Over the past month in worship, we have planned to climb the mountain of the Lord together. Truth be told, there are actually two mountains we have reached. One is the mountain of the Lord, which we will talk more about in worship on Sunday as we study Isaiah 65. The other is the year 2020 here at First United Methodist Church of West Point. Now is the time for you to become an active part of what God is doing on his holy mountain. As we ready ourselves for Commitment Sunday, November 17, over the next few days, would you do the following with me?
1. Prayerfully read over our 2020 budgets that are included in this newsletter.
2. Ask the Lord what He desires for you to commit financially, and fill out the commitment card you will receive in the mail this week.
3. Bring your completed card to worship on Sunday, and place it on the altar as we sing our hymn of invitation. Kneel and pray while you’re there. If you have children in your family, perhaps let them carry the card!
Remember that you can change your pledged amount at any time. All we’re asking right now is that you make a commitment and thus become an active part of God’s plan for our mountain climb together. If you won’t be here on Sunday, you can bring your card by the church office at any time.
I am so excited for what is in store on the Lord’s mountain. Let’s climb!
all good things to each of you,
Pastor (Dr.) Darian

Stewardship Message – November 5, 2019

                                                  Tis the Season of Harvest and Beyond!
             Now that the air is becoming “crispy” and cooler, all nature prepares and engages in the change of the seasons!  The colorful tress, plants bearing fruits and seeds, migrating birds and butterflies, busy animals getting ready for winter, “slanting sunlight”, brilliant blue skies (and even the cooler rains) are just a few of the signs and glories of autumn.
We 2-legged natural creatures also exhibit fall changes in our activities at school, work, church, and home.  The harvest season is definitely a “busy people season” even if one is not a farmer!  We “take stock” of our year.  We plan and make decisions. We vote and pay some taxes.  We share and celebrate traditions.  We pray prayers of thanksgiving, hope and peace for the future.
As United Methodists, we honor and remember our saints of passed  family and friends. We make pledges to support and continue (or begin) our Christian efforts in this life to provide caring and love in so many ways.
And last, but not least, the FUMC choirs begin learning and practicing Christmas music in early fall!  Have any of you heard us humming or singing to ourselves songs of Advent?  Are there any of you out there who would like to share your gift of voice with your church family to praise Jesus and the Holy Spirit during this season of harvest and upcoming Advent?  We are blessed with a talented, kind and encouraging director who appreciates all of our “joyful voices and noises.”  Believe me…this is a stewardship with many (intangible and blessed) benefits, for every season!  Tis a wonderful season to prepare and share because you care.Your friend and (noisy) choir member,
Mary Carr Ecklund

P.S. This is an invitation to sing with us if only for this wonderful season!

Stewardship Message – October 29, 2019

Preparing to Climb

Eighteen years ago, a group of young teenage boys and a handful of adults decided they wanted to climb a mountain.  They’d never climbed a 2+ miles high mountain before. In fact, they’d never seen the mountain they had decided to climb, but it was an outdoor challenge that each one of them were compelled to accomplish.  In a brief article it is impossible to fully articulate all the good that happened because of their decision.

Preparation began over a year in advance.  Trip planning to and from New Mexico had to be done.  Money had to be saved.  Doctor visits for physicals had to be completed.  Maps and trails had to be studied and a route plan had to be decided.  Hikes through the wilderness had to be practiced each month to get the team physically and mentally prepared.  To be honest much of the preparation took sacrifice, and each person in the group had to do many things he didn’t really want to do to prepare for the climb.

But what started as individual sacrifice ended with team accomplishment.  The people on that climb, to this very day, carry with them a sense of gratitude and wisdom for what we accomplished as a team, through planning and preparing for the climb.  Going through the entire process together made all the difference.

I was reminded of this group this past Sunday when Pastor Darian focused on our stewardship campaign theme of “planning to climb together.”  What are we preparing for anyway?

What mountain are we planning to climb?  I think the mountain top is eternal life with our Father, don’t you?

How do we prepare?  I think Jesus showed us how.  We believe in him, and we serve others as he served us.  In church we like to call that stewardship.  We take what God has given us and we share it with others.  And as a church, when we do it together, it makes all the difference.

Prepare to climb?  Absolutely!