Jenny is Back from Maternity Leave

Thank you so much to everyone who made it possible for me to step away for a time as we brought Baby Sam into the world. As I’m sure you can imagine, navigating all of this in the midst of a pandemic has certainly been strange, but we have felt so loved and cared for. We can’t wait for you to meet him! We are all doing well! Sam is looking great, Cooper LOVES his little brother, and Jordan and I are so grateful to have been entrusted with these two little boys.

Click here to listen to a “welcome back” message from Jenny

In-Person Worship

Did you see the news?! Church Street is opening back up for in-person worship! Glory be and hallelujah. There will be services beginning March 14 at 8:30 and 11:00. Online worship will still be available on YouTube, as well. Sunday school and NightLife are not far behind! The official dates are to be determined – but we are looking forward to being together after Easter!  Stay tuned for more info!

Lent Study

During Lent this year, we will do a study during NightLife called “Seven Words: Listening to Christ from the Cross.” We will take a look at the final statements Jesus made at the end of his life. This study offers a hopeful and reflective look at the cross during Lent, and we are so looking forward to working through it together.  We are looking at participating in Lent through three categories: giving something up, taking something on, and being mission minded.  Join us at 5:00 on Sundays to learn more about the work of Christ on the Cross.

Ash Wednesday

February 17 is Ash Wednesday! Church Street is offering several opportunities to receive ashes as well as an online service of repentance at 6:00 on YouTube. To receive ashes, there is a drive thru option – just head to the Welcome Center at one of the times below and a pastor will impose ashes when you roll down your window.  You can receive ashes during three different windows of time:

7:00-9:00 AM
12:00-2:00 PM
6:00-8:00 PM

Youth Website Update

We’re excited to share that we have a fresh page dedicated to Youth Ministry on the Church Street website. Our old website (churchstreetyouth.com) will still be up, but our info and blog posts will be shared on this new page. Click below to check it out!

Youth Page

Senior Info

Graduating Seniors, it is so hard to believe you are in the home stretch of your high school careers. Be on the lookout for information later this month about college scholarships & Senior Sunday!

Dates:

February 7 – No NightLife

February 14 – Regular NightLife, Lent Series Introduction

February 17 – Ash Wednesday

February 21 – Regular NightLife, Lent Session 1

February 28 – Regular NightLife, Lent Session 2

NightLife Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86994229398

Confirmation Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85193587558

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and marked the beginning of the season of Lent. But what is Lent? And why do we honor this season?

Lent is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. It is a season of repentance and reflection, of turning toward the Cross and fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Each year during NightLife, we discuss 3 specific ways we can participate in Lent.

1. Giving something up: fasting from something that is a regular part of our life in hopes of reminding ourselves daily of our need to repent and rely on Christ
2. Taking something on: adding something to our daily lives that will deepen our relationship with Jesus through spiritual growth
3. Being mission minded: being focused on seeing our everyday world as a mission field in need of Christ’s love and grace AND challenging ourselves to serve our community with intention

So, how do we choose what to do during this season if we want to participate?  There is no magic formula to choose the “right” thing.  But here are some questions to ask to help us discern what God might be calling us to during Lent.

  • What is distracting me from my relationship with Jesus?
  • Where might I need to grow spiritually?
  • What have I neglected in my life that needs attention?
  • Where do I see need a in my community?
  • How can I invest deeply in my faith?
  • What is a daily practice that would influence my relationship with God?
  • How can I become more aware of the Holy Spirit each day?

Most importantly, let’s pray about what God might be challenging us to do during this season.  And then ask ourselves why?

If I feel lead to give up sweets, why?

If I feel lead to take up a new quiet time practice, why?

If I feel lead to give financial support to a ministry or cause, why?

The answers may seem obvious, but it’s important to pray about the answers, all the same.  Often times in my own life, God has used seemingly simple things to challenge and grow me the most.

Psalm 51 is a beautiful psalm that is especially relevant during Lent.  Verses 10-12 say:

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

This is our hope for the season of Lent – that by giving up or taking on or focusing on serving others, God might create clean and pure hearts within us all.  That His Spirit might renew us and that we might become more aware of His presence. That we might draw near to Jesus and become more like Him each day.

Confirmation Class

During this time of the COVID pandemic and in-person classes being suspended, Church Street’s Confirmation class has continued without any interruption. This year’s class of fifteen 6th and 7th graders began last September and will continue through April 2021. They meet every Sunday at 11 am via Zoom. The parents join the students on screen the first Sundays in the month.

The class is taught by Rev. Rick Isbell with on-screen help from Russell & Melanie McNutt and Jeri Strong. Behind the scenes Jenny Cross’ support has been tremendous in setting up electronic student folders, and Paula Buckner’s filing system of past Confirmation materials has been invaluable in helping us continue to get important Confirmation materials to students.

We have been delighted for our clergy staff to join the class periodically along with Confirmation mentors. In addition to weekly class sessions, class members have also been collecting food items for BOH Food Co-op as well as money to contribute to Heifer Project International.

In spite of all the challenges and hurdles of doing class via Zoom, the students have been great in their attendance and participation. We’ve even had some class members to join us while traveling in the car on trips (there are some advantages to Zoom!). What the future holds, we don’t know; but the Confirmation class will keep zooming along.

We’ve made it to the weekend! Way to go, friends! I knew you could do it.  Time always feels warped in the midst of transitions – flying by or dragging on or somehow both? But either way, it is Friday. And Fridays are good.

We’ve spent the week looking at different ways to adjust to the start of the new year.  We’ve consider taking things one step at a time, being still, quieting our souls, and making room for grief.  (If you missed any of those posts, click here to access the rest of the blog).

Today, we focus on one final mindset: seek joy.

If you’re like me, it’s far too easy to get stuck in the weeds these days.  And if I’m not careful, I forget to look around and celebrate the good things that are all around.  I want to be clear, seeking joy is not turning a blind eye to pain or ignoring the hard things in our lives and world.  That is why yesterday’s post was all about making room for grief!  No – seeking joy is about opening our eyes to the grace that sustains and delights in the midst of our ordinary lives.

Today’s resource is a simple practice, one we’ve talked about before.  I call it gratitude journaling, but you could call it something else: thankful list, joy sightings, you get the idea.  The concept is simple.  Challenge yourself to document the things that bring you joy each day.  Here are some different ways you can practice this:

  • take a photo everyday of something joyful
  • write down three things each night that you are thankful for
  • share around the dinner table your favorite parts of the day
  • start each morning by saying a “thank you” prayer for things that bring your joy

This is not an exhaustive list, it is merely a starting place.  This practice can be tweaked to fit your life in a multitude of ways.  Make it your own.  Whenever I am consistently practicing this, I am always surprised by the way my mind is transformed.  I start to see joy popping up all around, even in the most unexpected of places.

There is joy to be found, I believe that with my whole heart.  And honestly, I think seeking joy while we’re walking through darkness is one of the ways that we become more Jesus.

Our scripture today comes from Romans 15:13:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

These are some of Paul’s closing words to the Roman church.  For the past 14+ chapters of this letter, he has been diligently teaching about the truth of the Gospel to a body that is viciously divided.  The Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians simply cannot get on the same page, and the division is wearing them down.  Paul painstakingly reminds them that, at the end of the day, it’s all about Jesus and allowing Him to change our hearts, rather than being chained to rules and regulation.

And what does he say as he approaches his “In conclusion…” paragraph?  “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace.”  Oh, let it be so.

Let’s seek joy.  This simple act might just change everything.

Grace and peace,

Jenny

P.S. Need one more tangible way to seek joy these days? Join us for the YOUTH KICK-OFF on Zoom on Sunday night at 6:00.  Use this link to sign on with us: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83344427793

For most of the past few months, I have been mostly ok.  Doesn’t that seem strange?  The world has felt like it was crumbling most days, and I have been ok.  That’s not to say I haven’t felt sad from time to time or had my heartbroken by the news. Or that everyday feels like a joyful adventure.  I’ve found myself feeling square in the middle most of the time.  If you asked me “How are you?” I would probably respond, “I’ve been better, I’ve been worse.” The middle. No man’s land.

But last night, I had to go to Church Street to do some brief preparation for our online Kick-Off Sunday night.  (P.S. Do you have it on your calendar?! See you on Zoom at 6:00!) I walked into our worship room and it hit.  The last time I was in that room on a Wednesday night was in March. MARCH. And we still have a long road to walk before we can safely join back together.  I was so surprised by the ache that I felt.  Because in the grand scheme of all that is happening in our lives and the world, walking into an empty room isn’t such a big deal.  But it was the step that woke me up a little bit inside. That reminded me that there is more going on under the surface of my soul than I realized.

So, what is our theme for today? Make room for grief.

What are the things that feel heavy in your heart?  Name them. No matter how big or small.

Are you sad about a virus that continues to spread, even though you’ve had to give up so much to it already?  Are you aching about the racial injustice we are seeing nationwide? Are you fearful about being back in school?  Are you disappointed because you are learning at home? Have you lost a loved one and not been able to honor their life the way you’d like? Has it been far too long since you’ve seen friends or family who live out of town?  Have things that bring you joy (graduations, performances, recitals, sporting events, family traditions, etc.) been put on hold? Does your faith feel like it’s slipping through the cracks without the rhythms of worship and youth group to keep you going? Are you frightened by violence and anger? Are you sad, but you aren’t even sure why?

Name it.  And hand it to our friend, Jesus.

In the Old Testament, there is a book called Lamentations.  And you probably guessed this by its title, but it is a book of lament, of sorrow, of heartbreak.  The author is writing it retroactively – so he is reflecting on what has already happened.  And he writes a series of poems telling the horrendous story of Israel’s fall to the Babylonians and the exile that followed. The entire book is one of pain, except for three short verses, found in the middle of the third chapter.  You’ve probably heard them before.  Lamentations 3:22-24 reads:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

These are the only words of hope in the whole book.  But the truth there is enough, even when we’re walking in darkness. This passage has inspired one of the most beloved hymns of all time, and it is our resource for today.  Great is Thy Faithfulness is a powerful song that praises God for His provision in the midst of our weakness and our grief.  One of my favorite lines says, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”  That single line has been a stone of remembrance to me during the past few months.  When things feel hard and heavy, I’ve thought, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” and it has helped to carry me through.

Below, I’ve included one of my favorite recordings of this hymn.  It is sung by singer/songwriter Sandra McCracken who also wrote one of our youth group favorites, In Feast or Fallow.  Her take on this well-known hymn is simple and beautiful, and accompanied me on my drive home last night, reminding me that our Hope is in Jesus.  Yes and amen.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Wherever you are on the spectrum of joy and sorrow, I hope you’ll make room for your grief.  Let’s name the hard things and then turn them over to the One who can carry it all.  If you ever need to talk, just say the word. I’m all ears.

Grace and peace,

Jenny

Happy Wednesday! You’re halfway through the week – way to go!

Most of us are operating with a low-grade sense of anxiety always lurking in the background. Even if things are going great for you, they are different. And adjusting often causes us some stress. If things aren’t going great for you, this is even more true. Today, we are talking about what if might look like if we operated differently.

What would happen if we decided to quiet our souls?

I had a conversation with Pastor Jan recently asking her about ways to use our breath to calm our souls. She reminded me of a favorite verse of hers from Psalm 131: 2 – but I have stilled and quieted my soul. We are going to turn it into a simple prayer:

Lord, still and quiet my soul.

Our resource today is a type of prayer called breath prayers. It is a way for us to use something that we do all day, everyday to draw us back to God. Here are some simple ways for us to practice breath prayers in our lives.

  • breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose – naturally and unforced
  • visualize a place or image that makes you feel at peace while focusing on your breath – you could even put that image as the background of your device for school or phone
  • breathe in peace, breathe out anxiety; breathe in grace, breathe out forgiveness; breathe in love, breathe out fear
  • if you find yourself stressed by the news and state of our world, imagine your breath as a fog – as you pray for a specific place or situation, imagine sending your breath to that place and covering it

Reflecting on breath is one of my favorite ways to remember God’s presence. In Genesis, scripture says that God’s Spirit hovered over creation. The Hebrew word used for “Spirit” is the same word that means “breath.” God spoke and things came to be. It was the power of the Spirit, His breath, that put the world into motion and sustains life today.

This means our breath is a reminder for us that the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, and that we are never alone.

We can use breath prayers to start or end our day, as we’re walking through the hallways, when we are feeling stressed, or when we sit down to read our Bibles and pray. They are simple yet powerful, and we can carry them with us wherever we go.

Grace and peace,
Jenny

It’s Tuesday – in my opinion, the most challenging day of the week.  There is nothing wrong with Tuesdays at all.  But they often leave me feeling overwhelmed.  It’s still early in the week, so the weekend feels far away.  And to-do lists often seem impossibly long.  But rather than allowing the stress of a Tuesday to win out, I’m learning – slowly, but surely – of the power of silence and stillness.

So, today we reflect on ways to just be still.

I have two resources to share with you today, instead of one.  Both are apps.

The first is called the Centering Prayer app.  I use this every day as part of my quiet time routine, but it can also be used as a stand alone practice or visited more than once a day.  The thing I have really loved about this app is that is provides customizable structure and makes space for silence and stillness.  When you open the app, you can adjust it to your needs by choosing prayers, scriptures, sounds, and the length of your stillness (anywhere from 1-99 minutes!).  It is based on the teachings of Thomas Keating and has been SUCH a gift to me.

Centering Prayer app

The second is called the Pause app.  Jordan uses this app to provide him with a way to pray and reset – especially if anxiety is trying to take hold.  This app was developed by author John Eldredge and his team as a way to cultivate a culture of stillness in their lives and in their workplace.  This is another customizable option, but is very straightforward.  It offers simple statement prayers, quiet pauses, and beautiful images to help calm our weary spirits.

Pause app

It is easy to jump back onto the hamster wheel as school ramps us – regardless of the way you and your family are learning this year.  The hope we have in Christ reminds us that we don’t walk through challenges alone.  Stillness reminds us of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and provides a space to lay our fears and our worries at the feet of Jesus.

As you might know, Moses is one of my favorite people in the Bible.  His story is so remarkable, and he, in so many ways, was so ordinary.  He was flawed and made mistakes, but his faith was big (at least most of the time).  And God used him in mighty ways.

After the first Passover, Moses leads the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.  All seems to be going well until they get to the Red Sea.  The Israelites start to fear and complain as Pharaoh and his army approach – they even wish they had stayed slaves and never left Egypt.  But Moses says in Exodus 14:14 –

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

That is a beautiful reminder to me in this season of life.  God is for us.  He will fight on our behalf.  He only asks us to be still.

Whether you use these apps in the morning or at night, while you brush your teeth or walk down the halls, there is an opportunity for us to weave stillness into the fabric of our everyday lives.  And I hope it is a gift to you the way it has been for me.

Grace and peace,

Jenny

We’ve discussed that this quarantine is a BRILLIANT time to start or reset a quiet time practice. While we don’t have our normal daily routines, we do have some extra time on our hands, and this would be a great way to utilize the gift of time. Marcy and I have compiled some of our favorite resources in this post!

When looking at a quiet time routine, these are some basic tools that you can mix and match to build something that fits you well. (This is not an exclusive list, but a good starting place.)

  • prayer
  • silence/meditation
  • scripture reading
  • journaling
  • devotion/book reading
  • worship songs
  • reflection/gratitude

When starting a quiet time routine, choose 2-3 of these and give them a try.  If you don’t know what to pray, choose a Psalm.  And if you don’t know what scripture to read, start with a Gospel and read through it a chapter or so at a time.

There are lots of different resources available to help you with quiet time.  Here are some helpful reminders.

  • Daily resources – devotions or reading plans that are matched with a day of the calendar year (correspond with a specific date)
  • Topical resources – devotions or reading plans that are grouped by themes or ideas (joy, anxiety, forgiveness, grace, etc)
  • Print media – physical resources such as Bibles, books, or journals
  • Digital media – apps, podcasts, records, websites, playlists, audiobooks, etc

Below, you’ll find descriptions and examples for some popular resources that could be helpful for you!

Devotions

Jesus Calling: This devotion by Sarah Young is a daily reading that offers a meditation, scripture reading, and a prayer.  This is a great introductory resource and can provide you with structure and content while you develop a routine that works for you!

The Blue Book: The Blue Book by Jim Branch is a weekly devotional on different topics such as “Fear” “The Dance” “Waiting” and about 49 other topics.  His devotions include an opening and closing prayer, a psalm for the week, a daily passage, and different quotes, poems, and stories from people who have learned about the lord in this certain topic.  Then, there is a song to listen to for the week, prayer, and journaling listed.  I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking to further their intimacy and awareness of the Lord.

Every Moment Holy:  This is a modern liturgy for everyday life. There are blessings and prayers for almost anything you can think of: dating, medical procedures, morning coffee, social media, and feeling awkward in social groups.  This is yet another resource to show God is with you in your everyday life, even in modern context.

The Book of Common Prayer: This is a similar, lofty, perhaps, resource to give liturgy to everyday life.  There is liturgy for the season of Lent, the Daily Office (prayers for different times of ordinary days), and many common places and occasions.  This book is a great day to show that even long ago, feelings and prayers relate to our feelings and prayers today for the Lord.

Apps

YouVersion Bible App: YouVersion is a super common bible app including the whole Bible, a daily verse, and many plans to give you a devotional daily as well as a daily Bible Reading.  This offers tons of topical and daily plans that you can subscribe to.  It also has a feature where you can link up with friends and go through plans together!

Through the Word: Through the word is Ramsey’s favorite online resource to learn about the historical context, themes, and general explanation of books of the bible. There are about six minute segments on passages of the bible, taking you through whole books of the bible.  There are additionally plans on wisdom, leadership, beginning, and other themes of that sort. 

Podcasts

The Bible Recap – A daily podcast that corresponds with a chronicle reading of the Bible on the YouVersion app.  About 6-9 minutes per day that helps you understand the scripture you just read!

The Next Right Thing – A weekly podcast about decision making from a Biblical perspective.  Did you know the average person makes over 35,000 decisions a day?  BONKERS.  This podcast helps us see the small things of life as holy.

BibleProject – A weekly podcast that dives deep into scripture and provides in-depth conversations about the Bible and theology.  There are also videos available at bible project.com

Books

The Liturgy of the Ordinary:  This is a book all about taking regular things like brushing your teeth or eating leftovers and changing your perspective to see them as sacred.  A completely transformative and very practical look at our everyday lives!

The Ministry of Ordinary Places:  This book by Shannon Martin gives an account of everyday finding the Lord in small, ordinary places like cracked gravel or the moon in the morning.  It is transformative in the way that God can lead you in daily life through paying attention.

The Chronicles of Narnia:  An incredible, fantastical book series about the magical land of Narnia.  It’s an extended metaphor/allegory about Jesus’ love for us.  The characters are interesting and the stories are compelling.  And C.S. Lewis is Jenny’s favorite theologian, you’ll see why when you read this series.

Mere Christianity: This C.S. Lewis classic is a compilation of essays that were pulled from his incredible WWII radio broadcasts and turned into one of the world’s most influential books on becoming a Christian.  It is a bit dense and will require you to chew on the text – so it might take you a long time to get through it.  But it is so worth it!

The Jesus Storybook Bible:  This is actually a children’s Bible, but is designed to tell the stories of scripture like, well, stories.  It almost reads the way fairy tales do.  It might seem strange to have a kids book on the list, but reading familiar stories in this way will change the way you look at scripture!

Authors to Consider

  • C.S. Lewis
  • Henri Nouwen
  • Frederick Buechner
  • Emily P. Freeman
  • Annie F. Downs
  • A.W. Tozer

Do you have questions or other resources you’d like to add to the list?  Email Jenny at jcross@churchstreetumc.org!

Youth and families,

As you know, Church Street events as well as the activities of many schools and businesses have come to a screeching halt in response to the spread of the coronavirus. There are so many aspects of this that are challenging, and I imagine that you, like I, might be battling with fear, frustration, and fatigue. (I didn’t mean for that alliteration to happen, but sometimes life is just works out that way.)

I want to share with you our preliminary plans and hopes for moving forward. While our opportunities to meet together as a group in the coming days are uncertain, I am hopeful for some creative and unconventional ways for us to participate with one another as the body of Christ. Below are some things you can look forward to from us:

  • Digital NightLife – I am currently researching the best ways for this to happen. We use some software such as Zoom or Google Classroom to create a remote space to be together.  More to come!
  • Regular Blog Posts – We will have more content than usual going out in this space to provide our students & their families with resources during these trying times. And if you are a student who would like to contribute to these posts, please let me know!
  • Resources – I will be working to share links and digital downloads of various resources for our families to use at home. These could include links to videos, song titles, downloadable art prints, prayers, scripture reading, or liturgy. The options are endless!
  • Service Opportunities – I am working to compile a list of local organizations who need specific support during this time.  There will be a variety of options so that you can choose an action that is most fitting for your family.

A note to graduating seniors:

I am so sorry that this has uprooted many of your plans and hopes for the end of your high school career. We don’t know what is coming down the pike, but I do know how valuable our senior traditions are each year.  While I can’t provide you with specific dates or action plans at this time, please know that I am working diligently to ensure you get to experience your rights of passage in some way, shape, or form.  Also, you are so loved.  None of us are going to let this time of your lives pass by without adequate celebration.  Great – now I have tears in my eyes thinking about you.  I am sure no one is shocked.  Suffice to say, I am going to do everything I can to make this special and meaningful for you.

Words for Reflection

As we close, I want to provide you with some Scripture, a quote, and a prayer. If these are at all helpful, please use them. Start a group text with some friends or with your NightLife small group. Talk about them around the dinner table. Use them to do your own quiet time. Take these words to heart and know that you are never alone.

In John chapter 10, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees after performing a miracle. During this talk, He spends time using farming metaphors and shares one of His “I Am” sayings – I am the Good Shepherd. In verse 10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” We have the offering of abundant life in Christ. And while these days might make you feel anxious or upset, my hope is that we cling to the Promise that Jesus is with us. I am working hard to strike a balance between appropriate precautions and unnecessary fear, and trusting in Jesus is making all the difference.

I have shared the following quote in several places over the past few days, but these are words that are giving me such comfort and encouragement.

“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.  I live in the strong and unshakeable kingdom of God.  The kingdom is not in trouble and neither am I.” – James Bryan Smith

Prayer for Uncertainty

Holy God, we believe that You are in our midst even when your hearts are troubled and our minds race with anxious thoughts. Calm our fears and remind us that You are our Refuge and Strength. We ask You to be a source of Light and Peace. Shine in the darkness. Send your Spirit to offer Hope. Teach us how to trust in You.

Amen

Friends, I want to be accessible to you during these hards days. Please let me know if there is anything I can do during this season to provide support to you. And if you have anything you think the group might like to hear about, just let me know!

All my love,

Jenny

On December 1, church members and guests welcomed the Christian new year (Advent) with a potluck dinner, fellowship, a performance of Christmas songs by our youngest choir, and plenty of festive crafts at our annual Advent Craft Festival. Enjoy photos and a video of the event below.

Watch a performance by our youngest choir!