First United Methodist Church

September 2023 Financial Update

Watch today’s update to hear a financial update from Pastor David!

Devotion: The Rings of a Tree

This has been one of those weeks when I could point to God’s fingerprints every hour, all throughout it. When I am open to listening and slow myself down long enough, I am constantly amazed by how God shows up and what I learn in the process. Since this time last week, I have flown to Tennessee where I watched my middle sister become a mommy for the first time and overcome every new parent obstacle with such grace. After coming home last Thursday, I reunited with my big kids and husband, who I missed terribly and then I had the chance to be back in worship with all of you. And then, on Sunday evening, I had the rare opportunity to sit at the feet of some amazing theologians who were here in Orlando at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church for THeoEd, where 6 presenters gave the talk of their lives for 20 minutes about the Christian faith and life.

As I continue to reflect on what I learned, the notes I took and what was stirred up for me, I wish to offer this from my time there learning from author and pastor, Brian McLaren. He started and ended his talk in the same way…”Include…Expand….Include…Expand”.

Brian McLaren shared how he had grown up Fundamentalist and how it wasn’t until he was in High School that he began to develop a Framework around how he understood faith and how it is lived out. My ears perked up because all throughout this sermon series on James, we have been talking about how faith is lived out in our head, heart and hands. Last week, you will recall that we prayed, sang and learned about Wisdom and Godly wisdom that is possessed, not just professed. And so as McLaren shared his story, I heard Wisdom whisper again.

What is Godly wisdom around including and expanding? What do we, as followers of Jesus include in our lives and expand upon? In order to do more expanding and more including, I would argue that some parts of our thought process must be revamped. Like spring cleaning, before I put anything new into closets, I have to take the old items that no longer fit, are no longer comfortable or have been stained and destroyed out and donate them. In much the same way, every year, wisdom whispers to us that which should be revamped or gotten rid of.

McLaren gives us this framework to measure how we are moving along on this journey of faith.

He says it is like the truck of a tree that starts with one ring, and then expands and includes the first ring but grows another ring outward and so on and so forth. There are four stages to this framework which I outlined below:

  1. Inner Ring of Simplicity- value and benefit (us or them, friend or enemy, black or white)
  2. Next Ring of Complexity- there is some validity to each approach, and these are different ways of approaching the world make us more flexible and curious. But the problem is that if you ask a lot of questions, your friends will say…why don’t you just shut up and stop asking so many questions and doubts
  3. Next Ring of Perplexity- critical thinking and relativism, feels like the floor is falling out from under you because you are questioning everything, and it is also referred to as the dark night of the soul.
  4. Last Ring Harmony- when I am able to look inside myself and accept all that I see as legitimate parts of myself, and this ring gives you permission that you can be right where you are now

As you read through the order of this framework, where would you find your faith at this current moment? Where would you say that the majority of the people of our church are located? And where would you like to be?

I loved that he used the image of the tree, because just like wisdom, it takes time to develop and grow. Trees also have deep roots and I hope we are developing followers of Jesus with deep roots whose tree stump is sturdy and serves as a safe place for the world to sit and contemplate.

This framework also helped me process why I struggle with the ways that some people talk about the Bible, faith, Christianity and social ethics. It could be that they are in a completely different ring than I find myself in and that’s okay. As long as I am finding a way to include and expand, not to cut off, cut down or avoid.

I pray that the words of Brian McLaren and my meditations from this week will challenge and encourage you as you look for which ring you may be living in during this season and how you might, with God’s help, grow towards including and expanding more.

Inua Mentors & Their Servant Leadership

Lauren Berlin, our US Program Director for Inua Partners in Hope, recently traveled to Naivasha, Kenya, where she was able to visit the Inua youth and attend their graduation. Check out the article below to hear more about the impact of her trip.

“Have you ever had a mentor? Someone who has invested in your life and for whom you are grateful? I was reminded of how important that type of relationship is as I spent time in Naivasha, Kenya with Inua Partners in Hope. If you are not familiar with Inua, it is a transformational ministry that works with orphans and vulnerable youth (17-23 years old) in Naivasha. Each two-year cycle, about 160-200 youth go through a 2-year training program that provides life skills training, social services, business training, and hands-on vocational training, among other areas of focus. FUMCWP has been in partnership ministry with Inua for over a decade, and this September was the graduation of the Cycle-5 youth. My mom and I flew over to attend the graduation specifically, and during the two-week period what continued to strike me was the involvement of the mentors. These women had such love and care for the youth, and the youth were incredibly grateful for their involvement in their lives.

How the mentors work:

At the beginning of the program, each new cycle of youth within their zones selects a person who will serve as a mentor. One non-negotiable is that the mentor is someone who lives within the neighborhoods (zones usually comprise two neighborhoods). The reason why this is so important is that the Inua staff can only be present in the neighborhoods for a limited amount of time. They multiply their efforts by having someone serve the youth who lives near them. These mentors attend three months of Life Skills training in the first year of the program, which happens daily. For the remainder of the first year, they continue to meet weekly with the youth, and then in the 2nd year of the program, they meet bi-weekly with the youth. In addition to the weekly/bi-weekly meetings, they also check in on the youth and report back to the staff if anyone has any additional needs. For many of the Inua youth, these mentors are the responsible adults in their lives who show them love and care.

During my time in Naivasha, I wanted to visit and spend time in each neighborhood. In each group, the youth would share how Inua has helped them and how their lives have been empowered and filled with hope. The mentor, who provided guidance and demonstrated God’s love, was the first person the youth would express gratitude towards. We encountered many youths from previous cycles, and when I inquired about their experience with Inua, they would also mention their mentor first.

After spending time with each group, some of them wanted to show us their new businesses or take us to visit them at their workplaces. That afternoon, we went in and out of their businesses with Mentor Margaret and the other Kenyan staff. Mentor Margaret was clearly proud during each visit. On another day, I asked if we could drive through two neighborhoods that I hadn’t been to yet. Florence called Mentor Nancy and told her that they were taking me around her area. Mentor Nancy immediately joined us and pointed out various places where current and former Inua youth were located. When I was involved in youth ministry, I did contact work, but this level of involvement and genuine care left me in awe.

The mentors exemplify Servant Leadership. They engage in relational ministry with young Kenyans, cultivating an encouraging and loving atmosphere to support their success. These mentors are highly involved because they recognize that these once vulnerable youth are now contributing members of society, benefiting the community as a whole. Their relationships with the Inua youth extend beyond the training program, as they continue to be present in their neighborhoods, checking in on them, celebrating their achievements, showing a random American around, and spreading the gospel through their actions. These mentors reminded me of the powerful role mentors can play. It made me appreciate the mentors I have had in my own life and the importance of checking in on the girls I have mentored in the past.

I am always reminded, no matter where I travel, that even though we may live differently in terms of aesthetics, language, and air conditioning, we are all human beings. We are created in God’s image and called to love our neighbors. During this trip, I quickly realized that one simple way I could show love was by appreciating and encouraging the Mentors, who are often unsung heroes. My time in Kenya was filled with countless beautiful stories of transformational leadership and how the organization Inua is making a positive impact in a city 8,000 miles away. I am excited to share more of these stories.”

With much love and joy,
  Lauren Berlin
  US Program Director, Inua Partners in Hope

View the photo gallery below to see more photos from Lauren’s trip! 

Devotion: Naming What Is

Do you ever have one of those weeks when your heart breaks over and over again? Over the last 7 days this has happened more than once for me. I have found myself in situations where I sit in the holy discontent of the world and say, “this is just not right!”

Last Thursday, another staff member and I toured the Orlando Rescue Mission, which has been serving homeless and vulnerable families since 1948. I started to cry when I learned that once a month, the children who have had birthdays that month get a group birthday party and get to share a cake that has their name on it and for maybe the first time in their lives, they see their name on the top of a cake. Then I went to Warren Willis Camp over the weekend and remembered with joy how many youth find their faith story here. And while it didn’t break my heart in the same way, my heart ached for the youth that have not yet experienced the power and presence of Jesus in their own lives and are left trying to piece together an empty and unfulfilling identity that the world tells them they are. And then I finished my week sitting on the Board of Directors meeting at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home and listening to stories of abandoned, trafficked and abused children and how the Home has transformed their lives and given them a new family.

All of this to say, it has been a heavy week. Maybe you can relate.

While I am blessed to be a part of the faith journey in the lives of this church, I also carry the burden of the hurt I hear and the brokenness I see. This is part of my call. And as I was processing this with my Spiritual Director on Monday morning, she helped change my perspective and shone light in a place I hadn’t seen before. It could be, that the things that break our heart about the injustices of the world, the things that keep us up at night, the lumps in our throats, are actually Holy Spirit moments that are spurring us into action. Maybe the things that feel burdensome are actually gifts in disguise that help us figure out what we were uniquely made to transform or make whole.

It could be, that the Scripture from James 2 that we studied on Sunday is really about holy discontent.

The Message version of James 2:14 says,

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?”

I read that in light of the week I have just had, as an validation to sit in the sadness of the brokenness, but not an excuse to wallow. I read this modern version of the text to say, whatever it is that breaks your heart, God is giving you a task to fix, or an injustice to make right, or a brokenness to heal.And so I invite you to consider your own holy discontent and how your own heart breaks. Maybe the Holy Spirit is whispering to you about the gifts you have to help address that particular issue. It could be that God made you for such a time as this.

I close with Richard Rohr’s words from his devotion in Center for Action and Contemplation that says this:

Religion is no longer a spectator sport, an observing of some distant, far-off truth, but it’s an observing of what is true in me, and what is true in me is true of the cosmos. It’s all one reality. Frankly this makes the job of evangelization—if we want to use that Christian word—much easier because we’re not bringing in an extraneous message. We’re simply naming what is.”

And so church, let’s name what is; the hurt, the sin, the brokenness and put our broke hearts into action together.

A Season of Service

Thank you for joining this Serve Season. We hope you will consider stretching outside your comfort zone this fall. Talk to our ministry leaders about trying something new! For each opportunity below, please reach out to or 407-644-2906 x269 to connect to a ministry leader to learn more and sign up.

Jobs Partnership (JP)

Serve with Our Childcare Team

Join one of our childcare staff to care for 5 children ages 4-10 years old, while their parents attend the Jobs Partnership Class. Dinner is provided.

When: Thursday evenings from 5:45-9pm through Thursday, November 9
Reeves Center, TCA Preschool Classroom 5
Requirements: Current FUMCWP background check and 1 hour Child Youth Protection Training for adults. Children & youth 15 and younger are invited to serve with a parent present. 

Family Promise of Greater Orlando

Provide a hot dinner for 12-14 people or welcome families as an evening or overnight host. All ages invited to serve.

Day Center Opportunity

When: October 8-15
Where: Family Promise Day Center and Offices at 1000 Clay Street, Winter Park
Requirements: Current FUMCWP background check and online training through Family Promise of Greater Orlando.

FUMCWP Host Week

When: November 12-19
Where: FUMCWP Matthias Family Life Center 3rd Floor Spaces
Requirements: Current FUMCWP background check and online training through Family Promise of Greater Orlando.

Killarney Elementary School

Killarney Campus Beautification & Gardening Day

When: Saturday, November 4, 9am-2pm
Where: Killarney Elementary School Grounds, 2401 Wellington Blvd, Winter Park
Requirements: Current OCPS Background Check and willingness to dig in the dirt; all ages invited to serve.

Killarney Family Math Night

Serve pizza and lemonade and assist in facilitating math games for students.

When: November 29, 4:30-7:30pm
Where: Killarney Elementary School Cafeteria, 2401 Wellington Blvd, Winter Park
Requirements: Current OCPS Background Check for adults; youth 16 and older invited to serve with a supervising adult.

Killarney Mentoring

Mentor a 2nd or 3rd grader for 30 minutes each week during the school year.

When: Tuesdays or Thursdays; Times vary during school hours
Where: Killarney Elementary School Front Office, 2401 Wellington Blvd, Winter Park
Requirements: Current OCPS Background Check and 1.5 hour mentor training at FUMCWP; All adults invited to serve.

Benevolence Program

Give here or donate a $25 gas card to support our church’s benevolence program. Please select the ‘Community Benevolence’ fund. 

This program offers an invitation to connect with our congregation, short term financial support and connection to community resources to individuals who contact our church for assistance. Contributions during Serve Season will be used for gas cards and public transportation tickets.

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

UMCOR is the organization through which the church works to support disaster relief and recovery throughout the world. Give here to support disaster relief and recovery work throughout the United States including current relief for those impacted by Hurricane Idalia and recover for those impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Refugee Ministry

We are forming a small team to partner with Summit Church and their Refugee Ministry. This ministry welcomes refugees relocating to Central Florida through the US Department of State. If you want to learn more, please email or call 407-644-2906 x269.

Devotion: God in the Storm

If you are reading this today, count yourself lucky. It means you have power to turn on your computer and a WiFi connection to read this email. I don’t know what the aftermath of this Hurricane Idalia will be and whose homes and churches will be damaged and whose homes and churches will be spared. I don’t know if we will lose power, or have school canceled for another day or if most of the damage will be north of us. I have been a Floridian all my life and I have lived through many hurricanes, but one thing I always look forward to during Hurricane season is the calm right after the storm. There is something so visceral about the stillness that follows. Maybe it is because my soul desperately needs the pause and the moment to take a deep breathe. Or maybe because it is a moment of humility because no matter how strong, educated, healthy, on my game or “successful” I feel that I am, these storms remind me that life is fragile, and that nature is a powerful force that does what it wills. Ultimately, these kinds of storms remind me, that I am NOT in control.

On Monday, I went to Sam’s Club for gas and a few items we were running low on and almost 2 hours later, I finally left because of the chaos, the crowds, the mild panic (of others, not me) and it got me thinking about how others face these storms. Is there a sense that if I buy enough snacks, water bottles, batteries, and adult beverages; that I can face anything and can control my outcome? I would hope not, but I find myself sometimes slipping into the lies the world tells us when we face the unknown. The power of God, the presence of the Spirit and the calm after the storm always bring me back to this amazing story from 1 Kings 19 where the Prophet Elijah is running for his life and God tells him to wait and listen for the Lord will pass by. Read it with me please:

“And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

 (I Kings 19:9b-13)

Now while I hope that we will not experience a literal great wind, earthquake and fire, I do know that we will experience these metaphorical storms in our own lives if we haven’t already. There will be seasons when the problems just keep coming, when there feels like no break in sight and where it seems like we could be destroyed at any moment. I think it is worth noting that while in this story from 1 Kings the Lord wasn’t in those particular examples, the Lord is with us in the spiritual and emotional storms of our lives. But like the end of the hurricane, when there is the calm that follows the storm, I invite you to look for God in that moment.

While the wind is whipping around you, give God thanks that you have a faith that grounds you to the firm foundation and while you may be tossed, you will not break. When the earth is shaking beneath you and everything that was once ordered is now in disorder, give God thanks that you have a chance to test your limits in the chaos and that you have been given the wisdom to see things from a new perspective. And when there is great fire, know that the strongest medals on earth are only shaped, changed and refined in the flames and so we too can see how God shows up to transform, challenge and leave us looking more like Jesus after we have walked through a tumultuous time. But today I want to rest in the truth that God is there in the sheer silence; in the calm after the storm.

What is God saying to you in the silence? Are you listening closely enough, and are you open to the voice that is most quiet? Because, the voices that are easiest to hear are often those voices to whom I should listen to least. And the listening I need to hear most is often the hardest to hear, because it is quiet, and like God to the Prophet Elijah, it speaks only in the stillness after the whirlwind has passed.

Whether you have just walked through a fire, an earthquake, a whirlwind, or another Florida hurricane; are you listening to the stillness, are you tuned into the quiet, are you sitting in the calm ready to hear the voice of God?

Stay safe and keep listening.

If our campuses are back open again on Thursday, I invite you to join me on the Winter Park campus, in the parlor anytime between 11am and 1pm. Bring your own lunch or snack and join with me and others for conversation around any of the latest devotionals.

Hurricane Idalia

Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Idalia. During this time, you can help too! Please continue to pray for those affected and consider contributing by creating a UMCOR Cleaning Kit or by giving to their disaster fund.  

UMCOR Cleaning Kits

Help those affected by floods, hurricanes and tornadoes to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up. Click the link below to receive step-by-step instructions on how to assemble cleaning kits.

Please bring your Cleaning Kits to the church by Thursday, Sept. 7. You can drop them off in the front office Sept, 5-7 9am-4pm or in the red bin in the courtyard.

UMCOR Relief Fund

UMCOR is the humanitarian relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church. Please prayerfully consider donating to UMCOR’s U.S. Disaster Response, where 100% of your gift goes directly to disaster relief.

4 Ministries You May Not Know About

Devotion: To Doubt or Not To Doubt

I’ve encountered a popular theological view that suggests that to believe in God, one must trust the Bible completely and not question what it says or what God says. But what if you question God, faith, or even the scriptures? Does the first chapter of James truly instruct us not to doubt? A great article by Pete Enns sheds light on how doubt can play a part in the lives of Jesus’ followers and might provide some helpful perspective:

“I get a lot of great, honest questions from my students on almost a daily basis. Here is one from yesterday:

“How do you read James 1:6-7, particularly as it concerns doubting… it seems as though James is saying that those who doubt God’s power are like waves and whatnot. Is this a specific theology of the time, or is it really saying TO ME that I should never doubt?”

Here is what we read in James 1:6-7: But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Well, that seems clear as crystal: doubt = bad. So I told this student, “Get with the program, pal. You can read the Bible just as well as I can, and you know that any shred of doubt makes God very, very, very angry. I hope you can live with yourself.”

Yes, everyone here thinks I’m hilarious.

I didn’t say that, of course, largely because I wrote this book The Sin of Certaintywhere I argue that doubt is normal, biblical, and spiritually beneficial. So here’s what I actually said.

First, different biblical authors have different perspectives. I don’t think we should read one author as canceling out another (like Job or some Psalms). It’s important, therefore, to try to understand not simply what James is saying but why he is saying it. Which brings us to…

Second, James is speaking in the context of “trials” and the “testing of your faith” (James 1:2-3) in what was thought to be the end of the age. Like other New Testament authors, James likely thought of Jesus’s resurrection as stage 1 of a 2-stage process that would come to completion soon. In that context of “suffering, though the time is near,” a tone of warning and  “pull yourself together, man!” is the expected rhetoric.

That context, however, is not one that I or my student share. We have, rather, more in common in this sense with Old Testament authors for whom no end was in sight, which afforded plenty of opportunities to struggle with their faith (e.g., Lament Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations). So, James is valuable (of course) but not for every context, and so doesn’t simply trump Qoheleth, Job, or a psalmist. Scripture is diverse and multivalent (which loops us back to the first point).

Third, the Greek word there translated as “doubt” does not mean what it has come to mean too often in our western rationalist society, namely intellectual uncertainty: some intellectual struggling/questioning brought on by life experiences, bouts with depression, personal tragedies, etc.

The Greek word is diakrinō and connotes (don’t worry, I looked this up) a “divided loyalty,” which, as we saw in #2, is a particularly pressing concern in James’s context.  James seems to be saying something like, “Stay resolute in this time of great urgency. Believe in God. Do not get carried away by your circumstances.”

My student was asking me whether it was wrong to struggle with faith and have doubts. My answer is no.

That doesn’t mean you celebrate doubt or force it to appear. It just happens, and when it does, there are plenty of biblical moments to identify with.

By Pete Enns: This article was originally published on February 3, 2017.”

I have found it helpful to contemplate on the humility of Jesus. He was known for their patient, gentle, and humble nature rather than strict adherence to religious dogma or perfect knowledge. I am particularly inspired by the soldier who declared, “I believe, help my unbelief,” I aim to make this my continual prayer.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Philip

ASP Mission Trip 2023

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This July, a group from our church went on a mission trip with Appalachia Service Project (ASP). This organization is committed to making homes warmer, safer, and drier for low-income families in Central Appalachia. At the beginning of the week, they worked on installing exterior siding and inside trim, and closed gaps in the floor. The homeowners were a mother and daughter, Brenda and Ruby, who graciously offered our team lunch throughout the trip to strengthen relationships and show their appreciation!

During downtime, our team took an afternoon trip to Blue Hole Falls for a dip in the cold mountain water. By the 5th day, they were able to finish the siding on the house and finish almost all of the rooms they worked on inside!

On the last night, our group attended a picnic where they enjoyed a performance by a bluegrass band. Their final devotion was a lesson about spreading God’s love and serving beyond ASP. It was an impactful week for all. God is GOOD!