Beginning our Lenten Journey of Learning

Dear Wintergarden Faith Community-

Friends, its has been a wild few years. As we have continued to do the next right thing as we have walked through COVID and Hurricane Ian. We have also seen so much turmoil in our country. It’s been a divisive, ugly, confusing, hurtful, and weird time. Families have separated over disagreements about faith and politics…the two forbidden topics at the Thanksgiving Dinner table…Lifelong friendships have broken over the past few years because we thought we knew one another, but then couldn’t talk freely anymore. Pastors across denominational and non-denominational churches have aligned themselves with political parties and become more concerned about Christian Nationalism than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And pastors have been retiring and leaving ministry at great rates because of conflict on how to handle all these difficult things. Faithful Christians have left their churches because they are too liberal or too conservative and are left hungering for a deeper spiritual connection, but not sure if that can come through a church anymore. People are less trusting of institutions and leaving the known for the unknown. And for most, the table of fellowship and communion has gotten smaller, with more questions about scripture and faith, and people are deconstructing the faith they grew up with and attempting to form an understanding that is new to them. And some folks are saying, “it’s about time we started having these conversations!” Through it all, people are still trying to put one foot in front of the other, make it financially, lean into a deeper understanding of “why” all of that is happening, and relearning who they are and who God is in their life…and even wondering if there is space for God in any of the craziness. 

It’s also been an incredibly difficult time to be a pastor. There have been many times that the sermon I have written didn’t feel like the best one to preach on that Sunday because of what would happen over the week or weekend. In addition, there have been many weeks in these years that I have not even had time to write a sermon until Saturday night or Sunday morning because of the amount of hardship I have heard over the week. It has almost been debilitating. The pain, hurt, distrust, confusion, hatred, judgment, sickness, diagnosis, destruction, lies, conspiracy theories…all of it…has made it difficult to sit in the Word, prepare sermons, and then preach them…without the fear of ticking someone off for something that I have said and wondering if they will talk to me again or come back to church. Sundays have been the most exhausting day to be a pastor because of how difficult it has been to preach through such a turbulent time. It’s exhausting. 

I’m grateful for the faith I have and the love God has given me over these years. You know, other than my belief that God is love and my understanding of Scripture, there have been many books that have gotten me through and helped keep my head in the game. One of those books was “The Space Between Us” by Sarah Bauer Anderson. And the other book has been “A Bigger Table” by John Pavlovitz. There are many other books as well, but these two were life-giving. After reading “The Space Between Us”, a group of us joined together in a book study during Lent and enjoyed a conversation with the author as well. The conversations were rich and life-giving through the whole time and full of love and grace. We also did a study to gain a deeper understanding of the racial conflict happening in our country and explored so many nuances and learnings through these conversations. In both studies, the conversations that were real, authentic, messy, and life-giving. And we were all open to learning and accepting that we didn’t have all the answers and that it was okay to question and wonder. We all learned so much and grew as God’s people through the experiences together.

Now, it feels like the time is right to explore what a bigger table could really look like. Especially for a faith community that seems pretty inclusive already. This book gave me hope for what a faith community could truly look like. For me, being a part of a community that is grounded in love has always been essential. A faith community who loves God, loves neighbor, and loves themselves. A faith community that is willing to engage in hard conversations; willing to learn, unlearn, and relearn together; hopes for the world to be a better place and a willingness to do something about it; and lives out their faith the best way they can each and every day, admitting we don’t always do it right and get things wrong. My hope is that if we approach every person, situation, and topic with love, then a bigger table is truly possible. And in doing so, everyone is loved, welcomed, accepted, and affirmed for who they are. 

This Lenten Journey is one of learning, unlearning, and relearning. It is one where you are all being invited to explore long held beliefs, convictions, and understandings and to open ourselves up to see what God is calling you to work on and through. It’s a journey where no one has all the answers and everyone is asked to wonder and be curious and ask questions. It’s a journey that involves acknowledging that there are times when we are right and wrong, confused and doubting, hopeful and discouraged. But through it all, recognizing that when we look around at one another, we see one another as Christ sees us. That we recognize that people whom God loves are missing from the table and more people need to be included. John shares these words in “A Bigger Table”: Can the table really be expanded so that everyone has a place? What is the way forward, given the unprecedented divisiveness we’re experiencing? How do we transform this nearly paralyzing sense of sadness into something worth pursuing?

This Lent, I hope you will consider entering into the conversation and joining me in pursuing something worthwhile. It is truly a gift to be able to build a messy and authentic, hopeful spiritual community with each of you. So, I invite you to come alongside me on this journey…one where I hope we grow together and expand God’s table in our little corner of the world. And if you want to schedule a time to sit down and talk, please reach out. I would love to take you out for coffee and just talk about building a bigger table. 

With Christ’s love, 

Pastor Devon

Sunday Sermon Series: A Bigger Table

A Bigger Table Lenten Series is based on John Pavlovitz books and invites readers to envision a church that is big enough for everyone by holding up a mirror to the modern church and speaking clearly on issues at the heart of Christian Community: LGBTQ inclusion, gender equality, racial tensions, global concerns, and theological shifts. 
 February 18, 1st Sunday in Lent          Finding Our Place
February 25, 2nd Sunday in Lent         The Problem with Religion
March 3, 3rd Sunday in Lent                Invitation to the Table
March 10, 4th Sunday in Lent              Real Community
March 17, 5th Sunday in Lent              Beyond Theology
March 24, Palm/Passion Sunday        Standing on the Edge
March 31, Easter Sunday                    Forward without Fear

Wednesday Evening Study
The Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion
Wednesdays at 5:30, bring a dish to share for a light supper

February 14           The Invitation
February 21           History of Sexuality
February 28           Gender Complementarity
March 6                 Old Testament Texts
March 13               New Testament Texts
March 20               The Path Forward
March 27               Wrapping Up and Moving Forward

Adult Sunday School Study
The Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion
Sundays after worship (it will last past Easter Sunday)-
This is just the suggested timeline, but it will probably go slower to work through the material on Sunday morning due to time constraints

February 18           The Invitation
February 25           History of Sexuality
March 3                 Gender Complementarity
March 10               Old Testament Texts
March 17               New Testament Texts
March 24               The Path Forward
April 7                    Wrapping Up and Moving Forward

If you interested in doing this study from home or won’t be able to make Wednesday or Sunday gatherings, please click HERE and Pastor Devon will send you a link to purchase the study from the Reformation Project for a discounted rate. 

Social Media 

A Bigger Table has a great list of reflection questions and even a weekly challenge. Posts will be made daily to our Facebook page and we hope you will consider reflecting on the questions in the chat feature. Make sure to check the church’s Facebook page to dive deeper every day into questions to reflect on ways to expand our tables. Link to Facebook is below!

Dinner (or lunch) for MORE

During Lent, we hope to offer multiple opportunities for our Wintergarden family to gather in one another’s homes to break bread together. Here’s how it will work:

If interested, you would volunteer to host for a specific date and time. Then others will sign up to join you at your home for dinner. When the date arrives, you all dine together at your home and have a wonderful time of fellowship as you eat together. Ultimately, we get to know one another better!

In keeping with our Lenten theme of “A Bigger Table,” if your “table” (in your home) seats six easily, please consider how you might stretch the space and include eight. If your table seats four comfortably, how can you make room for five or six? The actual number isn’t as important as the fact you are expanding your hospitality beyond what might be comfy and easy. Maybe you set up a card table at the end of your regular table; maybe the chairs are pulled together tighter than usual and you squeeze a couple extra people up to the table. How you do it doesn’t matter, but ultimately you make room for MORE people.

It doesn’t have to be fancy; you don’t have to be a gourmet cook or spend a lot on expensive food. The time of fellowship is the priority. If you love to cook and want to do something nice, go for it. But if you want to serve soup and sandwiches or order pizza, that’s okay, too. Potlucks work too!

If interested, please reach out to Colleen and Jane by clicking HERE.

Some dates to put on your calendar:

Ash Wednesday, Wednesday February 14 at 9am in the garden by the fountain

Maundy Thursday, Thursday, March 28. Location and Time TBD.

Good Friday, Friday, March 29. Location and Time TBD. 

Sunrise Service, Sunday, March 31 at 7am in the garden. 

Easter Breakfast, Sunday, March 31 at 9am in the sanctuary.

Relaxed Traditional Easter Service, Sunday, March 31 at 10am in the sanctuary