Pastor’s Message – November 30, 2021

A Note of Deep Gratitude

Dearly Beloved Friends,

I love how a large portion of the New Testament contains letters from pastor to congregation. Every week, this space in the newsletter feels like an “epistle” from my heart to yours, too (although I am no Peter, Paul, or John!). It may not always take the form of a letter, but I do see it as such.

This week is more specifically a personal “thank-you note.” On November 21, you presented me with the most thoughtful of gifts in honor of my doctorate. The framed certificate with its perfect words, the Ben Rosenkrans’ pen & ink of our beautiful church, and the bottomless well of cards are treasures around which I am still smiling. I am so grateful for the United Methodist Women and all of you in the congregation who coordinated and contributed to this outpouring of generosity.

Thank you for loving and supporting me throughout the completion of the doctorate and for honoring that accomplishment in our time of worship together. The Doctor of Ministry degree that I received is one intended to strengthen and build up the church, not only the intellect of one individual. My prayer throughout every assignment, transcript, and research was that the findings would be for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the good of his Church. I hope that the fruit it bears will bless you as much as you have blessed me in the process.

Know how thankful I am for each of you, and what an honor it is to serve as your pastor. As we move into this new year on the Church calendar, I look forward to the new thing God will do among us as we grow and learn together.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – November 16, 2021

What is Bringing Us Joy in November

Once a month, I enjoy sharing with you about my latest favorites in music, movies, TV shows, books, and podcasts. One of my favorite questions to ask friends when we get together is, “What is bringing you joy lately?” I love hearing the variety of answers to this question! My hope is that in sharing what brought me joy will help you to reflect on what brought you joy.

Faith of My Father by Steffany Gretzinger (music): Worship songs of the 80s and 90s were very formative to my spiritual growth, as they were for worship leader and recording artist Steffany Gretzinger. On her newest album, she has recorded some of these familiar, powerful songs at the church she grew up in and where her parents served faithfully for years. She lost her father last year, and she wrote that sitting on the floor, around the altar, of the church he served brought much healing in the midst of her grief. We practiced yoga to this album last week, and I hope you find it as peaceful as we did.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (book): How do you write a sequel to a beloved book, with all the expectations and pressures? For Elizabeth Strout, who waited 10 years to write the sequel to her novel, Olive Kitteridge, the passage of time aged her characters and story like fine wine. I would even say I liked this sequel better than the first novel! Olive is such a memorable person, and the people we meet and re-meet in each chapter are snapshots of a town where we want to spend a little more time ourselves.

Wind River (movie): This was a very difficult movie to watch, and I want to acknowledge up front that it contains severe violence and mature subject matter. It is not for everyone. I recently re-watched it and remembered that it was not a movie I wanted to see but one I needed to see. It is about the murder investigation of a young woman on a Native American reservation, and though the story is fictional, the reality of crimes against women on reservations is very real and under-reported. Films that educate us can be such an eye-opening gift, and Wind River does so with a balance of truth-telling and beauty.

all good things to each of you,
Dr Darian

Pastor’s Message – November 9, 2021

                                                                                                                             Leaning Toward the (Christmas) Light

Even though we are still a few weeks away from Thanksgiving Day, we wanted to go ahead and share some important information about the Advent and Christmas seasons. I love to plan & prepare in advance, but I’ve also learned with time to hold those plans loosely. Holding plans loosely is necessary because we know circumstances can change, as the pandemic has reminded us over than past year. More importantly, it’s important in the life of the church to hold plans loosely so that we will remain open to how the Holy Spirit leads.

As we move through these last weeks of Ordinary Time, do know that the church’s covid task force continues to be in touch as needed, and we will continue to monitor the covid cases in our community as Christmas nears.

Please mark your calendars with these worship services and times:

Sunday, November 28 (First Sunday of Advent)
ONE service at 11AM
Hanging of the Greens
Sunday, December 5
March of the Angels at the 11AM service
Friday, December 24 (Christmas Eve)
Services at 3PM and 5PM (The 5PM service will be live-streamed.)
We encourage those who feel more at-risk to attend the 3PM service, where there will likely be more room to spread out.
Sunday, December 26 (First Sunday of Christmas)
ONE service at 11AM
Sunday, January 2 (Second Sunday of Christmas)
ONE service at 11AM

I look forward to leaning towards Christ’s eternal light with you!

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – November 2, 2021

Confronting Fear with C.S. Lewis

My parents recently shared with me what theologian C.S. Lewis wrote in the midst of fear around the atomic bomb in 1948. I was struck by how we could replace the word, “bomb,” with pretty much anything that evokes fear in our lives. Lewis had witnessed followers of Jesus become paralyzed with fear and cease from doing the good that Jesus called us to do.

I often hear well-founded lament on the world’s current condition, and sometimes that voice is my own. We absolutely need to lament the effect of sin and brokenness in our world, but we also must not build our homes on the sandy shore of fear. Lewis’ words resound over 70 years later with a call to action of how to combat those fears.

The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.*

It’s no surprise that C.S. Lewis was well-familiar with St. Paul’s words to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). If we truly wish to have the mind of Christ, we can begin with asking him to cast fear and that fear would have no control over us.

What do you fear today? Might I encourage you to confront that fear by engaging in a “sensible and human thing?” In his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus has given us victory and hope that nothing in this world can take away from us. Let us be a people of confidence in who he is!

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

*From Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays by C.S. Lewis

Pastor’s Message – October 27, 2021

Learning to Worship on Sundays Again

In his book, Calling and Character, William H. Willimon writes the following:

“Sunday is the key that explains to the world and to the church why we are the church. In our Sunday worship Christians serve the world by showing the world that God has not left us alone and that we have good work to do. Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are created for no better purpose than to praise God and to enjoy God forever. ”

We need Sundays. We need to worship. And in worshipping on Sundays, we encounter our deep need for God and for one another.

For those of us who work on Sundays or are physically unable to come to the building, thanks be to God for technology and resources that can connect us when life and circumstances keep us from being physically present in worship. For those who are able, though, it’s time to learn to worship on Sundays again. Notice that I don’t say, “come to church.” Instead, the invitation is to come and worship. To set aside the time. To prioritize Jesus. To make the journey. To encounter him face to face. To come together.

We must prioritize worshipping regularly together again, remembering the sabbath together and keeping it holy. We’ve heard so much about togetherness over the past year, that “we’re all in this together.” For us, beloved brothers and sisters of the faith, it’s time for us to be together in Him regularly, consistently, and reverently.

In a world of increasing conveniences, God calls us to do what may feel inconvenient.

Even though the past year and a half may have changed the way we approach Sundays, I encourage you to return to the seventh day of creation, to the day of resurrection. To sing his praises. To receive his body and blood. To gather around the one true, loving God. To learn to worship on Sundays again.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – October 19, 2021

What Is Bringing Us Joy in October

Once a month, I enjoy sharing with you about my latest favorites in music, movies, TV shows, books, and podcasts. One of my favorite questions to ask friends when we get together is, “What is bringing you joy lately?” I love hearing the variety of answers to this question! My hope is that in sharing what brought me joy will help you to reflect on what brought you joy.

The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values To Root Us in the Way of Jesus by Rich Villodas (book): Villodas is the lead pastor of a multi-racial church in Queens, NY where more than 70 countries are represented in their membership and I have long admired his pastoral writing. This is his first book, and it is a timely read for churches to recenter and root ourselves in values that matter. Even though he writes from the context of the church he serves, these values are applicable to congregations of all sizes and locations. It would be a wonderful book for a small group to study as well.

Call The Midwife: Season 10 (TV Show): It is rare for a television show not only to air for ten seasons but to get better and better with time. Call the Midwife’s latest season is currently airing on PBS on Sunday evenings, and I love it as much as I did years ago. Set in the Poplar neighborhood of London, it tells the story of midwives based in Nonnatus House. Some of the midwives are nuns, and some are not, but they all work together to make their community better. Like Rich Villodas’ book, the show is very rooted in a time and location, and I love visiting it every week.

Worship Forever by Michael W Smith (Music): When Michael W Smith recorded his first live worship album in early 2001, little he know that the album would release on a day we all remember. The album, Worship, released on September 11, 2001, and in the midst of tragedy and chaos called the church to worship. For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Smith gathered friends and a symphony orchestra to record the same songs in the same order from the original album. It is amazing, and I hope you will check it out.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – October 5, 2021

Exciting Times, Upcoming Opportunities at First UMC

Over the past few months, it has been a delight to see some activities picking back up at the church. This newsletter is a little fuller each week with upcoming opportunities to serve and celebrate God’s goodness in our lives. This week I wanted to highlight a few of those opportunities and encourage you to give and to participate as God leads you.

Playground Project: Thank you to everyone who filled an envelope from the “wall of money.” The last day to give with the envelopes will be Oct. 15, so choose your favorite number before then.

Dream Center Outreach: Your generosity for this important new ministry in our community has been amazing. Don’t forget that we’re asking youth and children to donate pillows for the completed beds. Check out the youth and children’s portions of the newsletter for more information. We will share with you soon the grand total raised for the Dream Center. This upcoming Saturday, Oct. 9, keep our volunteers in prayer as they build beds.

New Young Adult Sunday School Class: We had our first organizational meeting this past Sunday and invite anyone who’s interested in this new class to attend in the weeks ahead. We will be setting up a group text on Group Me to keep in touch and send out sample devotionals. We hope to see you in the fellowship hall at 10AM on Sundays.

Fall Festival: This annual celebration will be on Sunday, October 24. Would you be willing to decorate a trunk and provide candy for our kids? Co-chairs Allison Brister and Abbey Dichiara would appreciate your help in making this event as fun as always! Read more details in the family portion of the newsletter.

And that’s only the beginning. Stay tuned for more opportunities. The Holy Spirit is on the move among us, and even better days are ahead for First UMC. Thanks be to God, and thank you for your faithfulness to his Church!

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – September 28, 2021

Worship in October and November:
Eternity Through the Eyes of Hebrews

During the months of October and November, we are planting our feet firmly in the letter to the Hebrews. Any time we open the Scriptures, the Lord invites us to see the world through his eternal perspective. The beautiful, old chorus, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” reminds us of what happens when we obey this command to look upon Jesus: the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

The Scriptures reveal Jesus to us, and in Jesus we have all the hope we need not only for today but also for eternity. In the midst of present concerns and future fears that can so easily dominate our lives, we need to be more firmly planted in the hope he offers than ever before. The best place to anchor ourselves in that hope is intentional, extended time in the Word of God.

To quote another old hymn, I can’t think of a better letter than Hebrews to offer us “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The anonymous writer keeps our focus on Jesus while also speaking some difficult truths we need to hear. We will not be able to cover the whole letter over the next two months, but we will discuss a large portion of it. I hope you will read and study the whole letter, and I look forward to how the Lord will grow us together in the weeks ahead.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – September 21, 2021

What Is Bringing Us Joy In September

Once a month, I enjoy sharing with you about my latest favorites in music, movies, TV shows, books, and podcasts. One of my favorite questions to ask friends when we get together is, “What is bringing you joy lately?” I love hearing the variety of answers to this question! My hope is that in sharing what brought me joy will help you to reflect on what brought you joy.

Coda (movie): Two out of three recommendations involve singing. Are you surprised? Whether or not you love music as much as I do, Coda is a heartwarming film for many other reasons. The title is not only a musical term but also an acronym for Child of a Deaf Adult. This is a story about a high school student named Ruby who is the hearing child of deaf parents and sister to a deaf brother. We quickly discover, however, that Ruby’s great love is singing—even though no one in her family can hear her. It is a beautiful, coming-of-age story about identity and family and much more. Do know that there is a lot of adult language and situations, so it’s definitely for more mature audiences.

Sing! Global Deluxe Edition by Keith & Kristyn Getty (music): You will hear me reference a lot in the near future an online conference I attended last week that was all about congregational singing and especially singing of hymns. Keith and Kristyn Getty are originally from Ireland and are known as modern hymn writers. They celebrate the old hymns while also writing theologically-rich, new hymns for the church. These are songs not meant to be solos but are for all of us. Singing hymns like those on this album deeply forms our faith.

Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner (book): Winner is now a professor at Duke Divinity School, but this was her first book before she became an academic. She grew up in the Jewish faith and came to the Lord in her 20s. In this lovely little book, she talks about how some of the Jewish practices are now forming her faith as a Christian. The title comes from a coffee house where she would often practice sabbath, and her time there deepened her understanding of sabbath. It is an easy and applicable read for spiritual formation.

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian

Pastor’s Message – September 14, 2021

Eyebrow Therapy

This past Sunday, I shared in the sermon about a former parishioner who taught me about carrying the cross. She was quite a character, and I wrote a blog post in April of 2019 about her, shortly after her death. Here is a modified version of that post. If you’d like to read the whole story, visit my website at www.darianduckworth.com/musings

Out of all the things seminary prepared me to do as a minister, eyebrow painting was not one of them. Yet here I was, removing a lightly tanned stick from a white make-up bag and literally painting eyebrows on one of my church members. After breaking her hip and the slow recovery that followed, Mrs. S. had become bedridden. Of the many everyday tasks she had to give up and grieve was applying her own make-up. When I walked in for our regular visit, the last thing I expected to hear was the command, “Get my make-up bag, and draw me some eyebrows!”

Mrs. S. had a way about her that when she spoke a command, everyone obeyed, whether or not we thought it was a good idea. Me as a makeup artist was definitely not a good idea, but I complied. When I held up a mirror for her to see my meager offering, her smile was worth a thousand thank-you. Then she told me to get the lipstick…

Mrs. S. had experienced a lot of loss in her life. She lost her only son to cancer when he was barely out of college, and the loss of her husband had left her a widow for many years. Putting on her makeup daily was a small task that got her up and out of the house, moving forward in the midst of her sadness. As she grieved that little bit of normalcy, I’m thankful that God entrusted me with the honor of restoring her peace in such a simple routine.

We often don’t know the suffering someone is carrying, or how heavy the cross they bear might be. Yet sometimes we can serve as a balm of Holy Spirit comfort in simply showing up for each other and providing what is needed. How will you serve in the midst of another’s suffering this week?

all good things to each of you,
Dr. Darian