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Today I Saw God

How are You Called to Serve?

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When I was growing up, the calendar in our kitchen was always full of Mom's notes about her volunteer activities. She was active in the PTA for a while as well as multiple nonprofits and regional committees related to causes she was passionate about. My dad's way of supporting her passion usually involved helping to set up or put away chairs at an event or making endless pots of his signature chili beans and cornbread for potlucks and fundraising events. Given their examples of service, it's no surprise that I have held the same value as a high priority in my life.

That said, serving on Floris UMC's Church Council as lay leader was not on my mind at all before I was invited to consider it. I was familiar with what would be required; I had served in other laity leadership roles in my previous Methodist church. What I realized when I was asked to pray about serving is that I was holding a certain idea of the lay leader role based only on those prior experiences. Lay leaders I'd known in past churches were often long-time members, frequently retired folks, who demonstrated consistent discipleship and who sometimes filled in for the pastor when he or she was on vacation. I'm thinking of two of these people right now as I type this. They were and still are people I greatly admire because of their example.

The same examples that make me smile now felt like intimidating, self-imposed pressure in that initial conversation about serving at Floris UMC. "Who am I, as just an ordinary person in midlife, to say I have a life of faith all figured out?" I remember thinking. That, and the fact that I have a wonderful career that involves a bit of travel and family members that periodically need my help as a caregiver, also felt like good reasons to decline. I was concerned to say yes and then let others down. You may be thinking the same about yourself and your life as you read this.

But something happened when I prayed about this. I remembered that service is not about perfection, and it certainly isn't about knowing all of the answers. My belief about leadership, in particular, is that it takes just as much humility as it does confidence because you are guaranteed not to know everything all the time. I also gave myself a bit more credit for the consistency of my existing faith practice even as I considered how serving in the role could add to my spiritual growth. Finally, I thought about one of the reasons I was so attracted to Floris UMC to begin with: a clear passion for making a difference that you can sense in the people and activities. So, after prayer, a thoughtful conversation with our lead pastor, Rev. Tom Berlin, and our Church Council chairperson, Rick Auman, I said yes. I have loved serving as lay leader for nearly four years now.

It is bittersweet for me to think about my service as lay leader ending this December. It has been a privilege to represent our congregation on Church Council. I know we're encouraged not to be prideful, but do you all realize how extraordinary you are? I've loved seeing people of all ages get commissioned on mission trips, serve as summer camp or Hutchison volunteers, take the next step toward baptism or confirmation or play the all-important role of usher or greeter so our hospitality is on full display for everyone who approaches our campus. I talk about our church and its people all the timejust ask anyone in my circle who doesn't attend here. One of my favorite parts of this role has been seeing people who started as visitors come back and claim Floris UMC as their new church home. When I volunteer at Coffee with the Pastors, I frequently hear new members say it was our warm welcome and our sense of community that played a big role in their decision to join us.

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask you one question: What comes to mind for you when you think about volunteering in a leadership role at church? Does it make you curious? Nervous? Excited? You might still have concerns about it or questions about what type of opportunity would be a good fit for you. I would love to talk with you about that and want to assure you that having a conversation does not mean you're committing yourself to something. Remember what I said about my own journey: it may take time to discern your next step, and we all have different gifts that could be used in ways that we don't even see yet. It starts with listening.

In fact in the end, it was one of my favorite quotes (below) from Marianne Williamson that reminded me that service is about listening to what you believe God is calling you to and then stepping forward in faith, trusting that he will equip you for the journey. If nothing else, I hope you'll take the time to pray about what God is calling you to in this season of your life. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

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Volunteering as a Family

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"How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world." – Anne Frank

Think for a moment about someone you know who is a whiz at math or puzzles. You might also know someone who can whip up a meal from a jar of pickles, Cheez Whiz and some stale potato chips. Then there's that neighbor who can listen to the strange noise your car is making and diagnose the problem within seconds. We all have gifts that God has given us. Some are visible, such as a talent for playing soccer or painting a picture. But some are not as visible, such as showing compassion for others.

I truly believe that God has gifted some with a heart for volunteering. There are some people who live to help others, whether it's packing lunches for the homeless, mowing a neighbor's lawn or just listening when someone is having a bad day.

Sometimes the volunteering we do is "formal" or organized. This might include joining others in your city to clean up the local river or helping at a 5K race on a Saturday morning. But other times volunteering isn't "formal," although it certainly takes place! When a family watches another family's house while they're on vacation, that is volunteering. When someone helps a stranger change a flat tire, that's giving of yourself as well.

When we volunteer as families we not only make the community a better place, but we give our children the wonderful feeling of making a difference. When families work together and they see mom, dad or other adults helping others, they learn that this is normal and natural. When we make service work a normal part of our lives, we don't simply teach our children strong core values, we also demonstrate these values in action.

If we want our children to have good table manners, we model those manners when we eat together. If we want our children to be great readers, we read to them, take them to the library and make books a priority. If we want our children to give back to others, we need to teach them how, both with "formal" volunteering and "informal" volunteering.

I think some feel that there must be tangible proof for our actions to be considered "real volunteering." And while picking up litter off the side of the road is a wonderful thing, we must also work at volunteering in ways that stretch us as children of God. It's easy to help with the same volunteering projects over and over, but giving of yourself outside your comfort zone can be a wonderful thing too.

My daughter is now a senior in college and will be graduating this year. When she was younger she would be "volun-told" to help teach Sunday School, work with younger Girl Scouts, or, as a home-schooler, help younger children with their schoolwork. Over the years she has developed a passion for children and will be graduating with her teaching degree in a few months. She often tells me that her passion for children came from all those "forced volunteering jobs" I made her do. I'm pretty sure she would have rather been playing with her friends or watching TV, but volunteering outside her comfort zone opened up her eyes and heart to her career pathone that might not have been formed otherwise.

As a family, try to volunteer together at least once a month, but also stretch yourselves in new ways. One month you could help others learn a new skill. The next month you could collect items to be donated to an organization. Another month you could donate your labor at a park or school. Whatever you choose to do, just do something. And do it together.

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The Joys of Volunteering

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Ever since I was little I have enjoyed volunteering. When I was younger I loved helping my mother, an elementary school teacher, design and put up her classroom bulletin boards. When I got a little older I loved to organize just about anything in the housespools of thread, spices in the cupboard and shirts in a closet. I know, I was a weird kid.

As I hit my teen years and was able to drive I found myself joining clubs that emphasized volunteering. Any task that had to do with creating, organizing or teaching had my name written all over it. I taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, and outside the church I helped with neighborhood cleanup days, offered free tutoring and wrote for the school newspaper.

As an adult I found myself on the board of several different types of organizationsmy neighborhood Homeowners' Association; Pet Pals of Texas, which helps low-income seniors keep their pets; and Girl Scouts of the USA (where I wore many hats).

Sometimes I meet other people who love to volunteer and it almost seems like there's a "genetic marker" that causes us to be this way. Others I meet look at me like I have two heads when I mention volunteering. I mean, why in the world would anyone do work, for someone else, and not get paid for it? What was I thinking?

But as almost anyone who volunteers knows, the rewards from volunteering aren't monetary. We get them through the smiles on children's faces. We find them when seniors, their voices laced with gratitude, thank you for giving them free pet food so that their pets can eat for another month without the seniors having to give up a meal. We get them when we see a Special Olympics athlete cross the finish line, raising their hands triumphantly.

When I started working at Floris UMC I was introduced to a plethora of volunteering opportunities. While my schedule doesn't allow me to do everything, I have found ways to give of my time and talents. One of my favorite volunteer opportunities has been the Chocolate Festival. Within one month of my move to Northern Virginia I found myself at the festival, meeting people, helping and finding my way. Within weeks I had helped with a GRACE Ministries event and a Student Ministries event at Floris UMC and even joined a public library board.

Volunteering is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, try something new, give of myself and have a lot of fun. This year's Chocolate Festival is going to be better than ever! I'll be "working" (aka having fun) at a Chocolate Tasting Table. Have you ever seen chocolate bars with strange ingredients but didn't want to buy a whole bar just to take a taste? Now you'll have the chance to try various types of chocolate, one nibble at a time! And for you really brave folks, we'll also have chocolate-covered ants, crickets and worms for you to try! Yes, worms! Now, doesn't that sound fun?

It's not too late for you to volunteer at one of our upcoming events here at Floris UMC. GRACE Ministries needs volunteers the first weekend of every month, and our huge Family Easter Festival is coming up on March 12. If you attend Floris UMC or even just live in the Herndon area, think about giving a few hours to help your church and your community while having some fun. If you don't, find another way to volunteer near you. I guarantee you'll leave with a smile on your face and a very pleasant feeling in your heart.

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Spiritual Fervor

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"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." – Romans 12:11

I am what I like to call a professional volunteer. That's usually what I say when people ask, "So what do you do?" I've been a professional volunteer ever since I joined Floris UMC a little over 12 years ago. On occasion I do a bit of consulting work (very little), and on and off for a few years I received a paycheck for other short-term jobs, but my everyday 'profession' really is being a volunteer (besides the other very important jobs of being a mother and wife). But being a volunteer isn't just what I do. It's what I love to do.

The above scripture is so encouraging to me. It reminds me why I do what I do and how I should feel about the very important job of serving others. At times, that's not so easy. The world refers to me as a "stay-at-home mom" or a "housewife." Well, if you know me, you'd know that I don't really fit those descriptions; I'm never home and I'm not the best at housekeeping!

When I feel down on myself for not having a 'real' job, I reflect on what the Bible says about helping those in need, serving the poor and lifting up our brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that I'm blessed beyond words to be able to stay at home. I really feel that with that blessing comes a responsibility to serve because I'm able. It's a giving back, if you will.

If it weren't for Floris UMC I wouldn't have had the opportunities to serve as I have over the years. Just for grins, the other day I quickly listed all the ways I've served at, or through, my church. In just a couple of minutes I came up with over 25 ministries or special assignments I've worked on over the years. In the early days it was answering phones or serving at Coffee with the Pastors. Then Floris UMC started GRACE Ministries, and that stole my heart. I found that I had a love for the Latino community so that led me to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

As my child grew up, my service work evolved as I grew too, trying new things. I got involved with the preschool, the nursery, Hutchison Elementary School and the youth group. I worked on special committees like the Preschool Board, the Chocolate Festival, the Container Project for Africa, Helping Children Worldwide dinners, Evening in December and a couple capital campaigns. I worked in the nursery for a time, then at the preschool; volunteered for summer camps, retreats and mission trips with the youth; and mentored confirmation students. I stuffed Easter baskets, wrapped Christmas gifts for the needy and fed the homeless. I even sang in the choir.

I list these things, not to boast about my serving at church, but rather, to say that I'm so blessed to be part of an amazing church that would offer me so many opportunities to serve. But these opportunities are not just for me; they are for anyone who wants to get involved. There are long-term projects, short-term projects, one-off projects. You like kids? There's a place for you. You like the elderly? There's a place for you there too. You don't like people so much? There are plenty of administrative things to do. Really, there is something for everyone.

I'm the type of person that gets bored easily so having so many serving opportunities has been a blessing to me. I've learned a ton and met so many wonderful people, some of whom have become my dearest friends. I'm just so darn proud of the church I belong to. It's an amazing place where everyone can find a place to serve.

In everything I've done, and in all the ways I've served, my biggest passion remains with one of my long-standing ministries: the Congregational Care Ministry. This is the silent ministry of the church. The band of angels that serve in this ministry includes some of the most faithful people I've ever met. We have weekly coordinators who send out requests for serving those in our church that are in a crisis. Then there are the meals, transportation and errands volunteers. They make meals for those that are going through really hard times, they drive folks to doctor appointments, they run errands for those that can't get out of the house on their ownand the list goes on.

We do have one problem though. As the church has grown, the needs have grown and the volunteer list hasn't been able to keep up. The folks that are a part of this ministry usually remain for years and are extremely dedicated. That's not a requirement but rather a testimony to the way this ministry touches their lives. If you've served, you know that the blessing isn't always just for the recipient(s) of the service; rather, it's an incredible blessing for the one serving. God works in us as we serve others. This is where I get my "zeal" and "fervor." It's this special blessing that God gives me when I'm serving others that keeps me going.

I'll end with this: "Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions." 1 John 3:18

This is a call to service if you're able. I promise you, it will be a blessing to bless others.

Editor's Note: This Sunday at Floris UMC, you will have the opportunity to get involved in our Care Ministries. To connect to other serving opportunities, contact Tinbite Tamiru.

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eNote from Rev. Tom Berlin February 23, 2012

Dear Floris Family,

I have an unusual request for you this week. Many years ago our older members, who have been so instrumental to Floris UMC's vitality over the years, were very disappointed when the Post Office on McLearen Drive was named Oak Hill rather than Floris. Floris has been the traditional name of this area since 1892. We now have an opportunity to provide our input to the naming the new metro stop in our area. Metro and Fairfax County have launched an online survey to provide input on station names for the new Silver Line, which will extend Metrorail service to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County. The exciting thing is that one of the options for Station 8 is "Floris". Wouldn't it be great if we all took the survey and helped have the name of this community reflected in the station name?

Voting for "Floris" is a great way to honor our long-term members who have seen so much change and graciously welcomed all of us who came to the community and church in recent years. It would be great for them to know that the historical name of their community would be recognized, rather than forgotten, even as Metro comes to our area. Feel free to share this with your friends and neighbors who might help put Floris on the Metro map. Follow local news coverage of this effort or you may go directly to the survey. Be sure to take the survey by March 21. You can read more about the history of the Floris community.

Laptops for Haiti

Floris Haiti Mission volunteers are working with Literacy Volunteers of Fauquier County to collect used laptops for delivery in March. If you have a laptop in good condition with a working battery, please consider donating it to this effort. These laptops are refurbished by volunteers and sent via missionaries to Haitian schools. Your donation will make difference in children's lives in Haiti. For more information, contact Karen Berlin.

Volunteer for Read Across America

On Friday, March 2, Read Across America, in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, will be happening in schools across the country. Each year, Hutchison Elementary invites Floris and community members to bring their favorite children's books to the school to read to the students. Last year, more than 20 Floris members participated and had wonderful experiences sharing in the gift of reading. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Virginia Turner.

Kid Nation Summer Camps

Kid Nation is hosting several camps this summer for children preschool age through 8th grade, including VBS, a service camp and a drama camp that will support Floris' production of "The Music Man" in August. We are expanding the size of our summer camps so there should be plenty of room for you and your friends and neighbors. Registration begins Thursday, March 1 at 9 AM on the Floris website. For more information contact Melissa Ciavarella.

This Week in Worship

Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. Join us as we begin our Lenten Series on the Lord's Prayer, Walk Humbly with God. We will begin with the phrase, Our Father, who art in heaven. Jesus promises his followers that he is the way to a new relationship with God and a new life as well. Scripture: John 14:1-11.

If you didn't get a chance to stop by the Lenten Small Groups Fair on Sunday, contact Cheryl Brock for information about how our small groups will be studying the practice of prayer during the weeks of Lent. You can find out about the books on prayer we will be studying and which groups are welcoming new members.

In Christ,

– Tom

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