An open letter to all people of Winchester First UMC/First Fire,
In just a few days – Sunday, October 29th at 6:00pm – we will come together to vote on what our future is going to be. The decision we have to make is a big one and should not be taken lightly.
Before I say more, let me make this clear: I am now talking as a member of Winchester First United Methodist Church/First Fire, I am not speaking in any official leadership capacity. I do not speak for other leaders, staff, or First Fire as a whole. I just speak for me and I speak of the ways my heart has been stirred this month.
A few days ago I was speaking with a long time member of Winfumc. They were telling me the history of the church – starting in the 1960’s up until now. He spoke of many things – from embracing integration earlier than other churches in town, to the Place – where the fellowship hall was turned into a youth outreach that attracted hundreds of youth – and then Wesley Woods. All things of these were done for the sake of community because that is where God was calling the church to be. But what jumped out to me was the next phrase. It was a simple statement: “And we started Little Learners.”
Little Learners was my first exposure to church and Jesus. I am not for sure how my Mom found out about Little Learners, but it was there in our church building on South Main Street that seeds of the love of Jesus were planted in my heart that would one day take root and grow.
Let me say it this way:
I realized in that moment if some people had not had this idea to reach out into the community with an idea like Little Learners, I might not be writing this today. A few years after the Little Learners experience, I said yes to Jesus and then said yes to His call on my life to serve Him in full-time ministry. I am writing now after spending 20 plus years in ministry. And it all started with seeds planted in me through Little Learners. Little Learners was an idea of the people of Winchester First UMC. It was a ministry that was embraced and implemented. And for that I am grateful. My family is grateful. And I am one among many whose faith story starts with Little Learners.
And now we stand at a crossroads with another ministry of Winchester First that has had a deep impact on my life, the life of my family and many others in this community – First Fire. First Fire was started as a safe space where people that were unchurched or had been burned by the church could hear about Jesus and say yes to Him. Over the first ten years, many people’s lives have been changed because First Fire has existed. I am deeply grateful for the investment of Winchester First UMC – of time, energy and resources. I am deeply grateful.
Yet, now that First Fire is 10 years old, we are now looking at one basic question: What do the next 10 years look like?
This Sunday we come to vote. We come to vote for 2 very basic options.
Option A continues us down the path to be together, yet practice some separation. Separate budgets, separate bank accounts and each site having a more localized leadership team. It allows us to remain a family that shares holidays together and Wednesday night meals and study. It allows us to share mission together. It allows us to continue to minister as a whole in this community with both a traditional service and a contemporary one at another site. These distinct offerings have allowed us to minister to more people over the past 10 years.
Option B has no upsides in my opinion. It brings about an end to the connection that has allowed life to be shared across both sites. It brings an end to a familial connection that we have shared. It puts the children, youth, and ministry to adults at risk due to a lack of funding. It changes our standing in this community. We become another church that could not get along and move forward together. We become one of those stories of the other churches in the community that sound like this, “so and so church used to be a part of this and that church and then they went there separate ways…”
That is not the heritage that I choose.
I hope that you will join me in a better way forward. A way forward that is united in our desire to be Jesus in a real to all that are in this community. I want us to live out our vision of being an unrelenting advocate for Jesus in this community to both the churched and unchurched. Let us choose together help others that are lost and wandering about – like I once was – to find God, community, and mission.
Please understand this, we are not immune from roots of bitterness and division that arise in times like this. There will be lines of thought and those that adhere with great passion to ideas that drive wedges between the multi-sites. We have to guard our hearts and the shared vision/mission of Winchester First/First Fire with reckless abandon. Division not only comes from outside but also from within. In this critical time, do not choose fear or worry. Do not chase ideas that do not align themselves with God’s heart and His will to seek and save the broken, lost and wandering. Divisive ideas – ideas not born in God’s heart – are floating about and they want to devour us. Please do not give in.
Remember what Hebrews 12:14,15 says:
Make every effort to live at peace with people and be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
and what Paul says in the closing moment of 1 Corinthians:
Be on your guard;
Stand firm in the faith;
Do everything in love
(1 Corinthians 16:13,14)
This is our call.
My life has been changed because Winchester First chose life and chose to do ministry for the sake of those outside the walls of the church. Because the church chose that, I am here. Let us choose the thing that will allow more and more people to come to know Jesus and be in a relationship with Him. Let us plant seeds through a renewed and stronger partnership that will help others find God, find community and find mission.
Strength and courage,
PS: If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at email@example.com or text/call at 859.771.6816.