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Sermon: Vulnerability

 
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

My Feast colleague, Leanne Pearce Reed writes: Our discipleship must be vulnerable. So, as Dorothy Soelle puts it, “You can put your neurotic need for security behind. You do not need to defend your life like a lunatic.” We must be willing to be touched—touched by text, touched by a power from on high, most of all, touched by another who is flesh and bone as we are. There is no safety or security in this. There is only perhaps that peace found on the other side of fear.

A link to the live stream of our 10:00a service can be found by navigating to our Youtube feed, or by clicking here. The link will be labeled as 'Westminster Presbyterian Live Stream', and will become available approximately 5 minutes before the service begins. Instructions on how to subscribe to the channel are found here.

Personnel’s Response to Chandler’s Retirement

 
Monday, April 16, 2018

When Rev. Chandler Stokes announced his retirement from congregational ministry, his letter was accompanied with a letter from Steve Baron, our elder for personnel, offering his best wishes and the next steps for us as a church family in this new season of growth. For a PDF version of the letter, click here.

April 10, 2018

Dear Friends,

While we are saddened by Chandler’s announcement, I’m confident that each of you will join me in wishing him God’s richest blessings as he transitions into retirement. We’ve truly been blessed to do ministry together in this place and in these times.

As another chapter in Westminster’s rich history draws to a close, we look ahead with hope and anticipation to the season God will call us to next. It will also be a time for remembering and celebrating Chandler’s 10 years of ministry as our senior pastor and head of staff, as well as his 35-year career as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. 

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order outlines the procedures for pastoral changes in our denomination’s congregations. In the weeks leading up to and following Chandler’s departure, the Personnel Committee, the Session, and the Presbytery of Lake Michigan will work through many of these steps. The congregational Nominating Committee will identify members for a Pastoral Nominating Committee, or PNC. The PNC’s responsibility will be to find the person God is calling to join us as our next senior pastor and head of staff. 

As you can imagine, it is difficult to predict a timetable for any search. Past experience has shown that we can expect approximately 18- 24 months. You can be confident the PNC will invite your input and provide regular updates. We ask for your patience and prayers.

Westminster’s interim periods have historically been fruitful times for us as a church family. We should look at this time of transition as an opportunity for reflection, examination, and challenge for individual and corporate growth. It is a Holy time to receive the gifts of the Spirit. It’s also important to remember we will continue to be fed and cared for by our very strong and loving staff—and certainly by each other. Please pray for our staff, your elected leadership, and the congregation. 

As members or friends of Westminster, many of us may be asking, “What can I do during this transition?” Chandler has often shared his hope that Westminster may thrive and continue to be the face of God in and beyond our community. To that end, the best answer to our question is this: continue supporting the work of this church, attend worship, maintain financial support, stay involved, hold each other in the Light, and trust in God to lead us forward.

God bless you and God bless Chandler.

Together we serve,

Stephen W. Baron
Elder for Personnel

Rev. Chandler Stokes’ Retirement

  Chandler Stokes News Updates
Monday, April 16, 2018


Rev. Chandler Stokes has announced his retirement from congregational ministry. Below is his letter to the congregation in mid-April sharing about his decision and next steps into retirement. For a PDF version of the letter, click here. Chandler's letter was also accompanied by a letter from Steve Baron, our elder for personnel,offering his best wishes and the next steps for us as a church family in this new season of growth.

Dear beloved members and friends of Westminster Presbyterian Church,

This letter will come as a surprise to most of you. After much discernment in prayer together with my family and longtime friends in ministry, I’m writing to announce my retirement. My last Sunday with you will be June 24, 2018. 

I am deeply content with my time as your senior pastor. You are such a healthy church. When I tell people about you, I say, “They simply don’t know how to turn a molehill into a mountain.” You constantly look toward the future. You truly care about the world beyond the church. You show up. I cherish worship with you, surrounded by your singing. And I’ve personally experienced the grace and compassion you offer when, with great kindness, you saw me through the loss of my parents. 

Although many of you have been through changes in pastoral leadership before, some of you have not. I remind you that the church is its people and not its pastors. There is no rogues’ gallery of former pastors on the walls of Westminster. This is a congregation who understands that pastors serve with their particular gifts, and then they move on. Jack Stewart, Bill Evertsberg, Riley Jensen—our most recent senior pastors—were great leaders of the church. They all moved on and Westminster has thrived. It will happen again. 

I always wondered if I would know when to retire from congregational ministry. I know of preachers who died in the pulpit. That’s not me. Though quite recovered from my stroke in 2016, my brush with mortality inspired me to reflect on my next chapter of life. I’m curious and confident about a new pace and a new life. Karen and I plan to stay here in Grand Rapids near the kids, and I plan to do more singing and playing. I also look forward to continuing my work with CREDO, mentoring early- and mid-career pastors in intensives around the country. 

I have loved serving as your senior pastor. I am deeply grateful for what you’ve invited me to be a part of here for ten years. Although I didn’t expect to feel such clarity at this point in my life, I feel a sense of closure and completeness about my ministry. I am, as ever, excited about Westminster’s future and feel clearly that it’s a good time, the right time, to invite new leadership to head this amazing team.

With special gratitude to the members of the Pastoral Nominating Committee who invited me to Westminster and to all of you for affirming my call to the most rewarding season of my 35 years in ordained ministry: Thank you.

And now, as the earliest of letters in the Church always concluded, I say, Grace and peace,

Rev. Chandler Stokes, Senior Pastor and Head of Staff

Sermon: Fashioned in the Clay

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, April 15, 2018

And Paul doesn’t stop with this one weird metaphor. He continues, …that you may … comprehend . . . what is the breadth and length and height and depth…” the depth of what, exactly? These are building dimensions: “breadth, length, height, depth.” They are the dimensions of Christ’s living Body, the Church. Again, we have the rock building-like dimensions of something very organic, yet this time it’s a “people” reality. And Paul continues in this vein throughout. If he had done it once or twice, maybe it was just bad poetry, but he persists in making this point.


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Sermon: The Great Storm is Over

 
Tuesday, April 3, 2018

While we were talking about the fate of Judas this year, a colleague at the Moveable Feast said, “If Judas isn’t saved, then I’m not saved.” I have taken that word to heart, and I am grateful for the tradition that proclaims that Judas too, like Peter, like all the other disciples who denied, disowned or betrayed Jesus, are redeemed in God’s love. Join us Sunday.

A link to the live stream of our 10:00a service can be found by navigating to our Youtube feed, or by clicking here. The link will be labeled as 'Westminster Presbyterian Live Stream', and will become available approximately 5 minutes before the service begins. Instructions on how to subscribe to the channel are found here.

Sermon: How Good is God?

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, April 1, 2018

The question about the resurrection is not “So what do you think happened? So much as is another question… maybe the real question is not “What happened, but “How good is God? If God is good enough to make the heavens and the earth, to give us all the fruits of the Creation…, if God can breathe into us the breath of life, and has the time to count all the hairs on our head, if God can intricately form our amazing youthful and amazingly aging bodies; push the blood through our veins… how good is God?”


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Sermon: Paul’s Shipwreck

Westminster Youth

Sermon    
Sunday, March 25, 2018

“Paul’s Shipwreck,” a new musical for young people, will be presented by the Carol Choir (grades 3-5) and the Chapel Singers (grades 6-8) in both services this Sunday, March 25. The two choirs will also sing a Palm Sunday anthem, complete with Jesus riding in on a donkey!


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Sermon: It’s About Love

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, March 18, 2018

Our text this week is John’s version of Jesus in Gethsemane. It’s as if John were reading Mark’s Gospel, where it says, “They went to a place called Gethsemane; … And he said to [his disciples], “I am deeply grieved…” …he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. John read Mark’s story and said, “Why would Jesus waver? He knew what was coming.” And so, as John told this story, Jesus did not waver. When he told it, it came out this way, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Last month I was in Gethsemane. It is where it has always been, at the foot of the hill that ascends to the Temple Mount. There is a rock on the floor. They say that that is where he broke down and wept, where he prayed not to have to die. Gethsemane is a real place. It’s at the foot of every mountain we know we must climb. Sometimes we waver and must pray and pray before we take the next step. Sometimes we simply know and go.

Sermon: It’s About Grace

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, March 11, 2018

My colleague Leanne Pearce Reed wrote: In the “dread-inducing age” our fear is heightened because there are those who profit from our fear. There are those who have a stake in keeping us afraid. Media outlets know that frightening headlines and scary stories sell, and so “if it bleeds, it leads.” Marketers tap into our fears so they can sell us a product to calm that fear, and so gun and ammunition sales spike after each mass shooting… Gary Wills sees the gun…as our Moloch. He notes that few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch in which living children were consumed in the offering fires. He wrote: “The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from out protected private killing machines… The gun is not a mere tool… it is an object of reverence. Adoration of Moloch permeates the country…” So, Sunday, maybe we can find a kind of courage and trust to live differently in this dread-inducing age.


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Sermon: And Then, There’s Weakness

Rev. Jen Porter

Sermon    
Sunday, March 4, 2018

As the mission and vision team listened to the congregation, one of the things that emerged was a sense of our faith urging us not to be comfortable, but to also take risks. Voices spoke to an openness to do so at this time in the life of our congregation. What might we step into which isn't necessarily known? Part of the potential cost of doing so is the potential for shame, rejection, failure or pain. This week, we open ourselves to the cross as it speaks into our lives.


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Sermon: It’s About Trust

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, February 25, 2018

This week’s text surely helps us see more clearly the lives of the faithful. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” And Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. It seems he kept to Jesus’s path, as this text outlines. It is a word that calls for deep trust.

Sermon: Humility

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, February 18, 2018

This morning at dawn I saw the last finger-nail of the waning moon. Immediately, I was transported back to a time about 12 years ago, when I was visiting my mother on her 90th birthday. My mission in going to see her that weekend was to be who I was at 50, not who I was at 5 or 15--to give her that self and not juvenile one. You know how it is: when we go home we fall back into the roles we had growing up, and we abandon any growth we may have made in the interim. I found that role of my childhood and adolescence deeply fearful and confining, but that one weekend, at the age of 50, I finally found a deeper keel, a way to be who I had become in relation to my family—and not simply who I had always been. On my trip to Israel I learned this insight about humility from the Jewish tradition of Mussar: No more than my space, no less than my place.


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Sermon: Life out of Death

 
Monday, February 12, 2018

We can become so trapped in the habits of our hearts. I was once told that people will gladly repeat the past again and again, even if it is the most miserable past, even agony, rather than step into a new future. And they repeat the past, because they know it. They are comfortable with it. It’s the only thing they have known. And the future… the future is unknown and frightening because they have never seen before…, even if that future holds out the promise of something beautiful and wonderful. Freedom, the potential freedom that the future offers is often terrifying.

Sermon: Changed

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon    
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Last Tuesday, I was in Caesarea-Philippi in Israel at a waterfall that currently bears the name Banias Falls. It is near the spot where Jesus asked the question of the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Our guide, Uri, said, “If any steps could be kissed on our pilgrimage, here is where they would be. Anyone who walked through here would have come here to these falls. If someone were walking through this area, they would have come here. It’s the most beautiful spot along this stretch of the river. It really makes sense that Jesus, if he were in this area at all, would have come here, and maybe have gone swimming like I did when I came here when I lived near here." I admit, I felt a twinge of the sacred and thought: "As real as the place where Jesus walked is this question, asked to each of us: Who do you say that I am?" This is our question about our real lives.


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Chandler’s Holy Land Travelogue: Final Day

  News Updates Chandler Stokes
Monday, February 5, 2018

I began thinking that this trip would be simply about our witness: Jews, Christians, and Muslims traveling together in peace. It was that. It will continue to be that, but traveling together is an opportunity truly to deepen relationships. So, it is really a whole lot more. In the short run, it seems to be about relationships. Maybe in the long run too.

Thanks be to God.

When we visited the site of the Dome of the Rock, our companion, Imam Sahibzada, was as animated and ebullient as ever. His joy throughout this journey was greater than anyone’s, it seems. And there was just a moment when he asked Rabbi Ellen to take his photograph in front of the Dome. She did it gladly. Their mutual smiles were genuine, heartfelt, and full of gratitude in the giving and receiving. It was just a moment among many, but emblematic of our journey. 

The site of the Dome of the Rock is greatly contested among some: some Muslims claim that the Jewish Temple never stood there, and some Jews in Jerusalem have made sure that as many Jews as possible can live as close to the Temple Mount as possible, challenging the Muslim claim and putting facts on the ground to contradict it. Even how one names the place is a source of tension. And yet, among us, a devout Muslim and a devout Jew, supported one another in their pilgrimage. Our religious convictions were not a source of conflict, but a source of mutual support. 

Thanks be to God.

A day or two later, Bob, my Lutheran colleague, and I were sitting at a rooftop restaurant for lunch—nothing fancy; it just happened to be in the Old City of Jerusalem with a great view of the city. We were slack-jawed at the view and at the truth that he and I… were in Jerusalem. We were reflecting on the significant moments of the trip. It was a long list; we didn’t finish, but one thing was clear. It was this. We had gone to worship at a Lutheran Church in the Old City that morning. The lectionary gospel text was the story of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum. And that particular story had been the center point of our time in Capernaum just a few days before. So, when the preacher, a wonderfully gifted woman from the States, read the text, we laughed at the synchronicity of the reading with our experience. The one clear thing: we will never hear the text quite the same way again; we will share this deep connection to it and to one another, and we will never be strangers to one another again. 

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Chandler Stokes
 

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