Welcome to Saint Paul’s

In coming to our website, I realize you might have many questions. You might be excited about finding a church to belong to, or you might be a bit fearful from bad church experiences in the past. If you are looking for a church that focuses on creating spiritual fruits, not religious nuts, then you have come to the right place.

I hope the information on this website will help you feel more comfortable with visiting us in person and knowing more about who we are. Feel free to email me if you have any further questions that are not covered here.
 
Our Mission statement at St. Paul’s says a lot about who we are and what we do:

 

As a Christian family of faith,
Saint Paul’s affirms God’s love by
transforming lives,
connecting generations,
impacting our community & world,
and
making disciples for Jesus Christ.

 
Affirming God’s Love by
transforming lives:
Here at St. Paul’s we believe that we are supposed to transform peoples’ lives for the better because of our Christian faith. Whether it is feeding people who are hungry, giving hope to the hopeless, or voice to the voiceless, faith is not just for our own benefit, but is supposed to be for the whole world!
Matthew 25:31-46
 
Affirming God’s love by
connecting generations:
Here at St. Paul’s we believe that connecting generations is a key part of how we affirm God’s love. We believe in ministry that serves the needs of particular age groups but also connects generations together. This can be seen when our Children & Youth make and deliver gifts to our homebound members, and when our younger members are welcomed to be a part of our adult ministries. We believe that it does take a village to raise a child, and that we all benefit when we are all involved in age-related ministries.
Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17
 
Affirming God’s love by
impacting our community & world:
Here at St. Paul’s we believe that our faith needs to have an impact in our community (through local ministries such as Interfaith Emergency Services and Open Arms Village) and our world (through projects such as our Pillowcase Dresses, Prayer Quilts, and Stop Hunger Now).
Matthew 5:13-16
 
Affirming God’s love by
making disciples for Jesus Christ:
Here at St. Paul’s we believe that the core mission of the church to which all our activities point is to make people into disciples (followers) of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 28:18-20
 
St. Paul’s Christian School shares its campus with us and many of the families in our church and school come from the surrounding neighborhood. In this quiet, picturesque corner of Ocala we are kind of like the neighborhood park – you’re likely to see families playing on our playground, couples taking a stroll around the campus, someone sitting for a prayer in our Memorial Garden, or our Scouts having a meeting at the fire pit. This image is really the vision we have for St. Paul’s: a place that offers God’s grace, love and comfort to the people around us.
 
Want to know more?  Come and see what we’re all about!
 
In Christ,
 
Robert

Robert’s Blog

Devote Yourselves to Prayer…

Most of us are taught from an early age to live an unsatisfied life. We are trained to see our current situation as unsatisfactory, that if we can just get through the next challenge, get to the next life milestone, that we will have “made it” and life will be better for us. No sooner have we crossed that milestone, however, than we are off to the races again to get ahead of the next challenge or milestone in life. But what if we were just thankful for what we have now? Could gratitude change our life for the better? You bet! That’s exactly why the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossae, encourages these early Christians with the scripture verse above. The ethic of gratitude focuses our souls on praising God, it drives us away from selfishness and narcissism, and it helps us enjoy this one life we have here on earth!

My first pastoral appointment began in the summer of 2007, just two months after I graduated seminary. I started that first Sunday morning with the knowledge that, after those three years in graduate school as a working student, a whole new education was about to begin. I’ve been blessed to officiate at many weddings and also presided over many funerals and memorial services. Some were for people I barely knew, while others were for people I had grown to deeply respect and admire. And yes, some were for scoundrels. But in all the services I’ve ever done, I can’t remember a single time the family said, “I wish dad had worked harder and bought us a bigger house,” or “I’m so sorry we didn’t have a nicer car.” Instead, when I hear families talk about their loved one, they talk about how their loved one made them feel. They express gratitude for the good memories, the hard times that they went through together, and the love they often felt, even when it was spoken only with a smile. This gratitude is what allows them to heal and travel through the valley of grief; and I am thankful for how these families have, time and time again, inspired me with their expressions of gratitude for their lived one. Gratitude doesn’t just affect the person feeling it; I’ve come to realize, it is infectious in its ability to inspire others, even when it’s done through the tears of mourning.

This November, I hope you’ll devote yourself to meditate on gratitude as we go from Sunday to Sunday. All Saints Sunday challenges us to be thankful for the Christians who have gone before us; the following Sunday will encourage us to be thankful for those who serve through our military and the service of our United Methodist Men of the year. On November 17th we are thankful for each other and for the work God is doing in our midst as we pledge another year of mission together. On November 24th, we express our gratitude for God’s love by loving those in our community who are less fortunate when we take our worship outside to bring in a harvest for Interfaith Emergency Services’ Food Pantry.

This month will be chock-full of gratitude, and my prayer is that it is infectious to everyone we meet!       

Gratefully Yours,

Robert

 



October 2019

October is the only month of the year that all the “big four” North American Sports Leagues schedule games. In October, the NBA begins basketball, the NHL is about one month into hockey, and both the National Football League and Major League Baseball are in full swing. In fact, there have been 19 days in which all four leagues have played games on the same day – something sports writers have called a “sports equinox.” It’s also interesting to note that the Canadian Football League and Major League Soccer are also playing games during this month, both approaching the ends of their respective regular seasons.
A lot of churches experience the same thing during this month too! It’s Charge Conference season, the Budget for the new year is getting planned out and many churches are doing some sort of Stewardship activity. Also, planning for fall festivals, pumpkin patches, Church School Open Houses and Trunk-or-Treats are going full-bore. Behind the scenes, the worship folks are already finalizing Advent and Christmas.
As we begin this latter-year lively-ness here at St. Paul’s, we begin this month with World Communion Sunday on October 6th, where we celebrate the worldwide church and our fundamental celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If you’ve got some sort of “traditional dress” that marks your heritage or nationality, you’re invited to wear it as we celebrate! October 7th marks our Charge Conference, connecting with other churches in our Mission Field as well as the larger United Methodist Church, certifying connectional items such as new candidates for ordained ministry, pastoral salary, and new officers for the coming year. We’ll be holding ours with the other churches of Mission Field Peter at Nueva Vida Central UMC at 7pm.  All members of St. Paul’s are welcome to come!
October also marks our annual “Trunk or Treat” for our community on October 27th here on the church grounds.  If you’re decorating a trunk for the event, please see the Trunk-or-Treat article for more detailed instructions! Last year we had over 500 people from our community come and get to know our church family!
Just at the beginning of November there is All Saints Sunday, this year on November 3rd during our morning worship. This solemn remembrance is a powerful way to remember our loved ones and friends who have gone to their eternal home during the past year. I hope you’ll choose to come and be a part of this important month in the life of St. Paul’s!
With the Peace of Christ,
Robert



Turning the page …

If you’re like me, then these calendar shifts in the year make you evaluate your life. While not as intensive as Lenten commitments, the summer is usually a time when I tend to think about these things, following my birthday in July and the new school year in August. I begin asking myself questions like: How am I doing in practicing my Christian faith? Are there any books I want to read? How am I doing emotionally? Are there relationships I need to repair, renew, or begin? Are there certain habits I want to recommit myself to, or certain things I’ve begun doing that I need to eliminate from my life? This summer I began to look for new resources to help me in preaching from the lectionary (which is a new thing for me). With a set series of readings each week, the lectionary gives you a “menu” of scripture each week to read and reflect upon, not just for a sermon but for anyone looking to develop or strengthen a regular scripture reading habit. In searching for resources, I’ve found some great material for devotions and reading based on the lectionary that I wanted to pass on to you if you are searching for a good habit to start in this new school year. If you have a smart phone, then podcasts can be a great way for you to listen to the Bible or to reflections based upon the week’s lectionary readings. One of my new favorites is “This Week’s Lectionary with the CEB,” which is a reading of the week’s Scriptures, plain and simple. Another is “Lectionary Lab Live,” which is technically meant for preachers but is really useful for anyone looking for fun and light-hearted Bible inspiration during the week. I also bought a new Bible this summer, a “CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible” to help me use this ancient Bible Reading practice more effectively in my life. Lectio Divina is a great way to systematically read and reflect on the Bible, and this edition is set up in sections to read prayerfully and actively. While I know I won’t always preach from the lectionary, I’ve found it has enriched my spiritual life greatly; and I hope these resources will help you in your walk with Christ as well! I’m here to help, and please let me know if there are resources that have helped you along the way!   

With the Peace of Christ,

Robert  



New Beginnings

August promises to be a wonderful month in the life of St. Paul’s, full of new beginnings and new life! On August 11th we’ll start the new school year by collecting supplies for Tools for Teaching, Blessing Backpacks and School Bags for all students and school staff. Tools for Teaching is in great need this year and we hope you’ll help this great organization that stocks school supplies for teachers and students.

In August we’ll confirm the remainder of our confirmands from Confirmation Camp and celebrate with them after church. Colin Elfring was confirmed on July 28th, and on August 18th we’ll confirm Celina Stafford, Layla Watson, and Dylan Watson. All four of our Confirmands participated in Confirmation Camp from July 21-24 with Zion United Methodist Church. There were a total of six youth participating, and each was given a confirmation sponsor from their local church to be their adult faith partner during this process and beyond.

The week following Confirmation Sunday, on August 25, we will baptize one of our children, Charlie Didia, as he has made the decision to accept Jesus Christ at a very young age and we are excited for what God has ahead of him in his life. Charlie’s parents are Amanda and Jon Didia, and Charlie is a graduate of our Christian School!

With all these new things starting, it’s easy to get excited about our ministry here at St. Paul’s. As the new school year begins, this is a time when many people decide to begin coming to church more regularly, so you may see some new faces among us! Whether they are returning friends, or completely new faces, this is a great time to welcome them and “love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” echoing Jesus’s command in Matthew 22:39.

Let’s be on the lookout for those who need a new friend or a warm smile as they come into our doors for what may be the first time. It can be intimidating to enter a new church, especially one where you are sure to be noticed, so let’s make it easy on them when they realize they’ve met a whole bunch of new friends!

With the Peace of Christ,

Robert

 



Happy Easter

Happy Easter! Easter Sunday was an amazing celebration and I was blessed to be able to share it with all of you during worship. Thanks to everyone who made Holy Week and Easter so great! From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, the Sunrise service, Breakfast, Easter Egg Hunt and the 10:30 service, I am blessed to be here among you!

Pentecost Sunday is June 9th, so we have the whole month of May to celebrate the resurrection as well as the end of school, the beginning of summer, and the return of our YMCA Summer camp on the grounds of St. Paul’s. We’re glad to have them back for another summer starting May 28th!

May will be a big month on another front, and I want to make sure everyone is in church on May 12th for a special Sunday. During worship I’ll be speaking about our Ministry to Children & Youth, specifically letting you know how the updated Florida Conference Children & Youth Protection Policy will affect St. Paul’s. This year, churches across Florida will be implementing the same updated Protection Policy in order to better protect and minister with their Children, Youth, and families. While some of the specifics will be a part of Children & Youth volunteer training, all of us in worship will learn the basics of the new policy so we can be prepared to create the best environment possible here at St. Paul’s. After all, it takes the whole church family to make sure our Children and Youth are growing their faith in a safe environment!

As summer begins, we will have many special opportunities, from overnight summer camp at Warren Willis, Confirmation Sundays and Day Camp, Annual Conference and more! I look forward to being with you through all of it as we affirm God’s love here at St. Paul’s UMC!

The Lord is Risen Indeed!

Robert

 



Lent: Tell the Story

Each Sunday in Lent, we’ve been examining a particular Disciple’s story in order to better see how we can be more faithful disciples. Each of “The Twelve,” as they’re sometimes called, weren’t superheroes but rather normal people like you and me. Their stories, while located in a certain time period, are still human stories. Like human beings around the world and across time, the original twelve disciples had many of the same issues that we have. Some of them may have come from broken families, and most would have experienced the loss of a parent by the time Jesus called them, among many other events and personal challenges in those turbulent 1st Century time. Even Jesus, with his God-in-man status, was not immune to the ebbs and flows of family fortune. Joseph, Jesus’s earthly “father,” is never mentioned after the birth story, leading many Bible scholars to conclude that he had passed away by the time Jesus began his ministry. Even Jesus would have felt the pangs of grief as he watched Joseph’s passing. All of them had stories, and God loved them. So, what’s your story?

The interaction we’ve been doing during worship this Lent is supposed to help you tell your faith story to others. What brought you to Jesus? What brought you to St. Paul’s? What Disciple do you personally identify with? Is there something in their story that connects with yours? Telling our story is vitally important in forming a healthy church, and joining together to hear how God has worked in someone else’s life is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person. This is essentially what happened in the early Methodist movement, and why it grew with such speed across England in the 18th Century. Fellow disciples, banding together in groups of 6-12 people to pray with each other, share each others’ stories, listen, and together answer the question, “How is it with your soul?”

This Lent, as we listen to the stories of these men who lived with Jesus long ago, let’s ask ourselves, “Is it my story too?”

Repent and believe,

Robert

 



Moving Into Lent

Moving into Lent

 

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love.” —Jesus in John 15:9

The Bible is full of characters, and the four gospels are riddled with the characters of Jesus, John the Baptizer, King Herod, Anna, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, Joseph, and many others. It’s because of these characters, and their interaction with God and each other, that we see the profound and eternal truth of God’s message through Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), in his celebrated treatise called Spiritual Exercises, expounded on a technique of reading the Bible he learned while he was recovering from battle injuries in 1521. Essentially, the technique was to put yourself in the Bible passage you were reading, imagining yourself a character in the story. As he read the Bible this way, he began to see the transforming reality of the Bible in a way that transformed him personally from a life of dueling, vanity, and ambition to a life of Christian service.

We aren’t spectators to the stories of the Bible. Instead, we are meant to relate our own lives to them. The Bible isn’t supposed to be used as a piece of furniture, but rather as a mirror to see our true selves—warts and all—more clearly. It’s in this way we should come to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

This Lent we will be putting ourselves in the story of Jesus through the disciples. Each week we’ll look at a mirror through the story of one disciple and ask ourselves how we can become a more faithful disciple of Christ. In this season of recovery and uncertainty from the high drama of General Conference, let us center ourselves on the main thing in our faith—Jesus the Christ.

 

The peace of Christ be with you,

Robert

 



A Fresh Start

As we begin this new calendar year, we have a lot to celebrate! Josh & Karly have a new arrival named Eden Claire, Christmas Eve services have come and gone, we’ve hopefully reconnected with friends, family, and God over the holidays, and now we await 2019 with yet another sense of expectation. It’s kind of like Advent all over again, come to think of it! Years ago, someone gave me this little recipe and I give it to you for a little New Year inspiration:   Recipe for a Happy New Year (Anonymous) Take twelve fine, full-grown months; see that these are thoroughly free from old memories of bitterness, rancor and hate, cleanse them completely from every clinging spite; pick off all specks of pettiness and littleness; in short, see that these months are freed from all the past—have them as fresh and clean as when they first came from the great storehouse of Time. Cut these months into thirty or thirty-one equal parts. Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time (so many persons spoil the entire lot this way) but prepare one day at a time. Into each day put equal parts of faith, patience, courage, work (some people omit this ingredient and so spoil the flavor of the rest), hope, fidelity, liberality, kindness, rest (leaving this out is like leaving the oil out of the salad dressing— don’t do it), prayer, meditation, and one well-selected resolution. Put in about one teaspoonful of good spirits, a dash of fun, a pinch of folly, a sprinkling of play, and a heaping cupful of good humor. May God bless you in 2019! ~Robert  



The Way Forward

The Future of the United Methodist Church— A Way Forward!  

(Published in the Epistle December 2018 edition)
 
You may or may not have heard, but the United Methodist Church has been dealing with some controversies lately. As with all controversial issues, we can be overcome with the shock of the topic and lose our sense of perspective. My job, as your pastor, is to provide information, resources, and a healthy outlook on the place we find ourselves as United Methodists. The coming months will be crucial to the future of our denomination, and I encourage you to read the resources in this article so you have first-hand knowledge when the inevitable rumor mill begins its work in the near future. General Conference meets every four years and is the highest legislative body in the United Methodist Church (UMC). It is only at General Conference that our book of church structure and law, the Book of Discipline, can be revised. The UMC gives full voting rights to international delegates; so this is a worldwide gathering, connecting cultures and Annual Conferences from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. At every General Conference since 1972, our denomination has debated, voted and re-voted over our position on human sexuality. In 2016, a resolution was passed so that this topic would not grind General Conference to a halt, and a “Commission on a Way Forward” was formed. Their work was to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. This Commission, made up of United Methodist Laity and Clergy, has been working since 2016 to prepare for a special called General Conference to decide on the future of the UMC in light of our impasse on human sexuality. This General Conference will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from February 23-26, 2019. While there are many options being considered from other groups within the denomination, the Commission has come up with three possible plans for the UMC going forward: The One Church Plan: The One Church Plan provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context without disbanding the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church. In the One Church Plan, no annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions around human sexuality. If approved, changes to the UMC would be phased in after the 2020 General Conference. The Connectional Church Plan: The Connectional Conference Plan, while requiring an almost complete change of our denominational structure, reflects a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services. Under this plan, the UMC is built around three connectional conferences based on theology including perspectives on LGBTQ ministry. Due to the complex nature of this plan, changes will be phased in over the next couple of General Conferences. The Traditionalist Plan: The request for a “Traditionalist” Plan was made to the Commission late in their process. As presented to the Commission, the Traditionalist Plan steps up accountability to the current Book of Discipline language. This Plan requires every Annual Conference to certify that they will uphold, enforce, and maintain the Discipline’s standards on LGBTQ marriage and ordination. Annual conferences that did not certify would be encouraged to form an “autonomous, affiliated” denomination that would work together with the UMC but no longer be a part of it. As of 2021, annual conferences that did not certify could no longer use the United Methodist name and logo, and they could no longer receive any funds from The United Methodist Church. I encourage you to be in prayer for the delegates and the sensitive, complex matters they will legislate during General Conference. Either way they vote, these issues will affect real people in our churches across the world, and in the pews next to you at St. Paul’s. Our Bishop, Rev. Ken Carter, has encouraged all people in Florida to pray, in the morning or the afternoon, from 2:23-2:26, symbolizing the dates of General Conference. I hope you’ll join me in this prayer vigil over the coming months. In addition to prayer, I encourage you to read, watch, and listen to primary-source material on this upcoming General Conference and the Commission on a Way Forward’s work. Each of these plans have their supporters and detractors, and it is important that everyone reads the Way Forward report on the three plans before forming opinions. Our Florida Conference website (www.flumc.org) has an in-depth section devoted to Way Forward resources at www.flumc.org/wayforward. On this site you can read the Commission’s entire report, watch “listening sessions” with Bishop Carter around the conference, read about the history of the UMC and human sexuality, and keep up to date with future developments. In closing, let me assure you that the church of Jesus Christ has weathered these storms before, and will weather them again. On Sunday, March 3, you will come back to worship. The good news is; you will notice that we will still be worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ and ministry will continue here, regardless of how our General Conference votes. In the middle of our culture full of polarization, war, and anxiety, it is important that the church be a place of unity, peace, and assurance that God is bigger than the issues we think divide us. My hope is that this article provides understanding and clarity during this confusing time. I am here if anyone would like to discuss these issues further, and as always, I am honored to serve as your pastor during these important times for our UMC and our witness as disciples of Christ. ~Robert  


Elements of Advent

Each year, as the calendar rolls toward December, we reach the beginning of the Christian Year as the season of Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas. During Advent, we prepare for and anticipate the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for and need of forgiveness, salvation, and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble manger in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming. Advent contains a lot of symbolic elements as we point to the coming of Christ. As you saw during Hanging of the Greens, everything has a meaning; from the colors of the altar paraments, the symbols used on the Chrismon tree, the Advent Wreath and its five candles. There are also other elements to Advent, and they are more about our own mindset. These elements of readiness, joy, love, and peace, go together with the visual symbols to help us focus on the true meaning of this special season and its powerful, world-changing testimony. As we celebrate Advent at St. Paul’s this year, I invite you to dive in to our opportunities for spiritual growth so you can be ready for the coming of Christ. Our sermon and worship series during this season will be Elements of Advent, and we will study the important symbols of this time of year during worship as well as participate in Advent activities and devotionals from the Elements of Advent devotional, written by Ron Glusenkamp with the music of Peter Mayer. Each day in this booklet explores a different element of Advent which connects us to Christmas and bonds us to Christ. There is a short devotional and activity each day to help you stay on target and should also help you have a little Advent fun! Our worship at the end of Advent will focus on Christmas Eve with a Service of the Nativity at 5:30 pm. This worship experience will focus us on each of the elements in the manger scene, reminding us of their meaning to the story of Christ’s birth. Our second Christmas Eve Service will be Carols and Candlelight, a Communion Service in the sanctuary at 8:00 pm full of the carols and scripture of this special time of year. Come and celebrate with us as we welcome the newborn king into our world!