St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Clairemont

Glass, stained in various shades of smoky watercolor blue -- indigo, teal, cornflower -- covers nearly all of the church's side and back walls. Here and there, slashes of red and orange catch the light, like fish darting amid a stand of waving, undersea kelp. The ghostly outline of St. Mark can be detected above the entrance, but depiction does not seem to be the point here -- it's mood that matters, a mellow, almost muted feeling. "This is a special day for us as a congregation," said Pastor Martha Wingfield. "It's when we celebrate United Methodist Women Sunday." She called the 2007 UMW officers for St. Mark's into the Sanctuary and introduced them. "Longtime church member and annual conference UMW president" Debbie Haustedt read the UMW mission statement, saying that it "shall be a community for women whose purpose is to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ." Then the new officers pledged to "be a creative, supportive fellowship," to "renewed discipleship... through the global ministries of the church," to use their gifts, and to avail themselves of training. Wingfield then prayed over them: "Gracious and loving them always to remember that You are there...and that they only need to stop a moment and wait for You to renew their strength."

A sizable handbell choir -- their instruments ranging from tiny to large enough to be played by mallet -- performed the Introit. Then, while two servers lit the 12 candles on the altar, the choir, its tone high and gossamer, led the opening hymn: "We are called to act with justice/ We are called to love tenderly...hatred and blindness will be no more..."

During the call to worship, Wingfield began, "We are ordinary people," and the congregation responded, "Called by God to do wonderful and extraordinary things." When the children were called forward before they left for Sunday school, a woman explained to them that "in the Bible, it tells us that Jesus said it is our responsibility to help other people. United Methodist Women does just that. Do you remember the tree in the narthex at Christmastime? The one we put the socks on? The United Methodist Women knew it was going to be cold and that the homeless people would need socks.... They send money to different parts of the world.... They make quilts for people who are sick.... They see a need and they do something about it, just like Jesus asked us to do."

More handbells, a reading from Psalms, and another hymn for the call to prayer. Wingfield prayed, "Gracious and loving God...make us mindful that everything we have is a gift.... Challenge us to reconsider our priorities...always placing You and our faith at the center of our lives. Help us to become more focused on loving and caring for our families and our neighbors.... Fill us with the compassion of your son Jesus.... May we see Christ in the faces of strangers. Give us hearts that yield to the circumstances of those in need...that it all may be a symbol of our love for You."

Acknowledgment of failures in this regard entered into the prayer of confession: "O God, we confess that we have been busy, busy, busy at worship, and we love studying about You.... We just want to do what's right.... We confess that we bicker and fight among ourselves when we could be doing more to help the world. Today, we give ourselves to You one more time.... We ask forgiveness and ask that You guide us to make this world beautiful for all your beloved children." Then Wingfield said to the congregation, "In the name of Christ, you are forgiven." And the congregation answered, "In the name of Christ, you are forgiven. Amen."

Service came to the fore again in the hymn "Jesu, Jesu": Jesu, Jesu/ Fill us with your love/ Show us how to serve/ The neighbors we have from You.... Neighbors are rich and poor/ Neighbors are black and white/ Neighbors are near and far away...

Debbie Haustedt preached the sermon, which outlined the founding of the United Methodist Women in 1869: "Fifty-one years before women had the right to vote, these determined women, without clout, without political representation, without financial means of their own, agreed to the sacrificial discipline of wearing last year's fashions instead of new garments, and they pledged to set aside, every week, two cents and a prayer.... United Methodist Women is now a worldwide movement, one of the largest women's organizations in the world."

"Societal barriers are commonplace," she noted, but "you are God's...and you can know God and experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ...and living as a whole person only makes you want it more for others. That is why we work to eliminate sex trafficking and all forms of child labor."

What happens when we die?

"We join in wholeness in the life of God," said Wingfield.

St. Mark's United Methodist Church

3502 Clairemont Drive, Clairemont

Denomination: United Methodist

Founded locally: 1954

Senior pastor: Reverend Martha Wingfield

Congregation size: about 500

Staff size: 3 (full time)

Sunday school enrollment: about 50 (including junior high)

Annual budget: n/a

Weekly giving: n/a

Singles program: no

Dress: casual to dressy, sweatshirts to pants suits

Diversity: mostly Caucasian

Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m.

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes


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