Message from Pastor Philip

This year was important for the United Methodist Church - - we had both a long-awaited general conference and subsequently our own annual conference here in the Desert Southwest Conference.

For those who dont speak Methodist fluently - - general conference is the event that brings together Methodist leaders from all over the world and happens every four years; this general conference is the only place and time that the rules of the church can be changed, updated or deleted. General conference was scheduled for 2020 but thanks to COVID, that 2020 conference was finally held in 2024.

Since then, about 25% of the UMC left— to either join the new Global Methodist Church or become community churches. Some of you come from areas that experienced what we call disaffiliation - - churches leaving take one of these two paths. This didnt happen suddenly. Depending on who you talk with— the United Methodist Church has been internally fighting for 20 to 50 years over a range of topics.

Within those decades of arguing amongst ourselves - - the number of people in our pews were decreasing. Our membership was declining. We had families and individuals - - for a variety of reasons - - becoming disconnected from communities of faith. It is too simplistic to say that it is all about one or two reasons.

Ponder this - - If you and your family walked into a restaurant and all you saw were the wait staff and employees fighting and arguing—would you stay and order dinner? I doubt it.

We didnt do any favors for ourselves over the last decades, regardless of what side of what issue you were on. Instead, we just discouraged people from either continuing their walk or finding their walk with Christ because of the very public squabbles.

We mourn the loss of our friends and neighbors who left our communities of faith. In the years we were at First Gilbert, I had friends on all sides of all issues leave. Ive heard similar stories here at Desert Chapel.

Look at Pauls letters to the churches he shepherded. Paul never expected his new congregations to think alike or agree on everything. When they got too far out of the lines by quarreling -- he chastised them to get back in the lines -- those lines were defined by the teachings of Christ: Love thy neighbor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor, Heal the sick.

Recognize and understand Gods grace and forgiveness, and that eternal life is through Christ. It is in our DNA as Christians to be rooted in our differences but United under Christ.

When did Christians decide that we were all meant to agree on everything?

This is my fifth year attending the annual conference, but my first as clergy and my first representing you as your pastor. It was a different experience that the previous four. I felt like we as a denomination - - as a community of Christians - - were emerging from a long exile.

St. Francis de sales is credited with the phrase bloom where you are planted. We need to grow where were planted in the current time. We need to plant roots and prosper and move forward in the world that we live in now, not the world that we want to live in or the world of the past.

Over the last year, the unofficial mantra of the Desert Chapel Leadership Board has been moving forward.

Moving forward. We respect the past. We remember our history. We honor the founders of this church who saw a vision for Christian worship in the desert almost 75 years ago, and we express our gratitude to past leaders and laity of the church.

Were different as a local church and clearly we are different as a denomination. Moving forward with hope. That phrase has been deeply personal to me over this last year with you. I have felt HOPE in every conversation, meeting, event, worship service, and Saturday mission. We have come out of the long dark of the pandemic. We are a bit smaller, and changed, but we are here. We have a vibrant ministry and congregation here in Apache Junction. I felt that since the day I started here one year ago.

And now after this year -- after all the conferences this year - I feel like the United Methodist Church has finally caught up with us here at Desert Chapel! We have the promise of a new and brighter tomorrow -- moving beyond and past the arguing, the fighting, the disagreeing and the disaffiliation. Moving forward.

I have imagined Jesus standing on the sidelines of this scene thats been played out over these decades of internal fighting. I imagine that Christ has been standing there -- with his arms folded - quiet but looking -- and saying Are Yall Done yet? We have work to do.

The news tells us we will have 25,000 new homes built in Apache Junction over the next 5 years and that will bring in between 50,000 and 100,000+ new people.

Many of these people will be the dones and the nones. People who got fed up with church and quit, or people who never had a church and faith community. Our mental health professionals tell us these people are disconnected, empty, and searching for connection.

We have an opportunity here at Desert Chapel to connect with these incoming people; to show them the love of Christ and the power of prayer. We are a welcoming and a praying congregation that is mission-focused.

Maybe what we need in the present is actually a return to a very old way. Perhaps we need to return to our Chris- tian
- - our roots that go all the way back to the apostle

Paul—- and have congregations full of all kinds of people - people standing next to us who we may not agree with on politics or social principals. We can respect each other and be bound together in a singular calling to do justice, love, mercy, and walk humbly with Christ.

It is time we rise from exile - as a local church, as a Denomination, and experience our own Easter Morning. Our own resurrection of spirit and direction and intentionality - so that we can spread the joy of the true and real Easter morning to those who have not experienced it.

Isaiah 43:18-21 NIV - "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.