Dear friends…

As we begin this new year—indeed, new decade—I find myself compelled to consider what has taken place over the course of the last year. In some ways, this echoes the tradition of our Jewish siblings in the celebration of Rosh Hashanah (usually in the fall).

As I understand it, the celebration of Rosh Hashanah can be understood as the Jewish new year. But its celebration is preceded by a period of self-examination and repentance before Rosh Hashanah begins a ten-day period of awe and then arriving at Yom Kippur, a day of atonement.

In the U.S., our culture places a great deal of emphasis on the New Year celebration. We love to gather with loved ones and our favorite appetizers (or other unhealthy foods). We listen to old and new songs, we enjoy tasty beverages, we watch new faces on classic television shows dropping a lighted ball in New York’s Times Square. Then we manage a few meager hours of sleep before watching parades and football.

We sing about old acquaintances being forgotten, and the goofy glasses worn always take the shape of whatever year is to be celebrated. My overall sense is that we are largely focused on the coming year rather than on that which has passed. Surely there are exceptions to this assessment, but I generally see the New Year celebration in this way.

I wonder, though, if this thoughtful time of self-examination and reflection would be helpful. I wonder how different things would be if we took this time. It is in this spirit that I reflect on the past year here at Pacific Beach United Methodist Church.

In February, our denomination sent representatives to seek ways to find “a way forward” in our ongoing disagreement about human sexuality. For many of us who feel God’s strong call to include all God’s children in the life of the Church, the result was both heartbreaking and hurtful. This denominational decision has impacted our congregation directly as several families have withdrawn as a result.

In June, we very suddenly lost our beloved Office Administrator, Aimee Kay. Aimee’s ability and organization, her compassion and her humor, her institutional knowledge and her near-prescient ability to anticipate the unexpected are dearly missed. In truth, we—and more personally, I—have not fully recovered from her loss.

In July, we began a new style of worship during our 10:30 hour. This has been unexpectedly difficult, with some of our members vocally in favor of this new style, some vocally opposed, and some who struggle with change of any kind. Our Growing in Faith Committee understands that we cannot expect a new thing to happen (i.e. a change in the trends of our Worship attendance) unless we do a new thing.

In September, we said farewell to Dee Baraw, who faithfully lead our youth group for more than fourteen years. Dee’s departure is one that many are still grieving, and we miss her compassion and the ways she has been an inspiration. Our youth programs remain in transition as Erich Schmitt continues to build relationships with our families and our congregation. We are fortunate that his gifts for ministry and his experience with our youth through Cal-Pac camps give him a head-start as he leads us forward.

In November, we held our annual all-Church Conference. As a part of this, we bid farewell to our traditional committee structure and will be lead instead by a combined Church Council. This significant change is attempt to be more flexible and responsive in our decision-making, but also includes the benefit of requiring fewer leaders to fill committee roles.

In December, we found that our church had been a victim of fraud. More detail on this can be found in the Finance section on page 6 of our January newsletter. Something we learned from this experience is that we have capable leaders who found and responded to this very quickly. We continue to take great care to be faithful stewards of the gifts given in support of the ministries of this congregation.

On one hand, I want to make a joke about how all these challenges in 2019 should mean we get some kind of “easy pass” for 2020. This has been a lot for the incredible leaders of this congregation! The truth, however, is that we still have much to do. I believe that we must step into this work, that we must step into these challenges, and we must step forward along the path that God lights before us. We have gifted and motivated leaders who are guiding us forward. I believe that we are capable of growing forward together.

My question for you is this: How will you step into these possibilities?

In faith and in love…

Pastor Bob