Rev. Manuel P. Cruz, Jr. – Senior Pastor
Easter Message from Pastor Manny
Journeying with Pastor Manny
Our Lenten journey is a great time to contemplate deeply into many possibilities of thinking and living differently for the sake of human flourishing and the Earth’s common good. However, as saints and mystics remind us, transformative ways of knowing and living entail constant self-emptying. While our past continues to influence our present becoming in various ways, we can always choose to empty a space in our hearts where hope-filled future penetrates and grace-laden present recreates our way of thinking, living, and relating. Encumbered with adorned and cluttered selves, we empty our hearts by releasing humbly our self-centeredness to our Parent-Lover-Friend.
We strive to, as Henri JM Nouwen suggests, “step over” or leave behind relentlessly our hurts, fears, guilt, anger, pride, prejudices, envy, greed, arrogance, addiction, and other egocentric ways as a daily and persistent spiritual discipline of surrendering ourselves to God. This leads us to a re-centering of our hearts to God. The empty space we make in our hearts becomes a new home where the Spirit could dwell in the newness of life that Christ recreates in, with and through us. In self-emptying, our abandonment of old selves turns into our embrace of new selves in Christ.
As Jesus reveals in his kenotic (self-emptying) life, we find our life by losing it; our resurrection comes in our death. Is there any other way that God’s gift of life to all be repaired, healed, recreated, consecrated, and celebrated than to join in the daily dance of death and resurrection? When we dare to empty ourselves like the example of Jesus, there is a breaking in of life-giving newness in our way of knowing, seeing, and relating on Earth or in what Pope Francis calls our “common home.” In this way, our communities, the world, and our planet become a place of generous love, mercy, justice, hope and peace.
JOURNEYING WITH PASTOR MANNY
As we begin our journey through Lent, I am inviting you to contemplate with me on the spiritual discipline of repentance. Biblically understood as a change of heart and mind towards God, the concept of repentance reveals different layers of meaning. First of all, repentance is to recognize that we are all beloved children of God. It is to reaffirm that the true personhood of all human beings can be defined only in terms of being God’s beloved. As Jesus understood most intimately his relationship with God, so we need to be deeply aware that God loves us just as we are. Our constant acceptance of God’s love leads us then to a humble recognition that we have all sinned against each other no matter how we have been trying to live peacefully with humankind and non-human creations. In the intricate web of human relationship where we are all part of the complex interlocking of good and evil, repentance calls us to a continual humble recognition of our complicity in the suffering of humanity and our planet. God’s forgiveness is the third layer of repentance that we commonly claim in the process of repentance. It is a full recognition that we have received total forgiveness from all our transgressions by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. By receiving God’s forgiveness, we are fully restored to our true personhood. In effect, we let our hearts be creatively transformed as we begin to right our wrongs and will the well-being of others. Restitution in whatever forms is a necessary component of genuine repentance. But a flourishing repentant life requires more than a changed heart and restorative act. It compels us to persistently seek a new liberating vision of humanity and our relationship with the whole of God’s creation. This new vision prompts us to live out progressively the alternative models of Jesus in our way of thinking, living, relating, and dwelling. True repentance is our constant surrender to be affected humbly and empathetically by the lives of others so that all may live justly, peacefully, meaningfully, and creatively in a world of colorful difference and multiplicity.
As we journey through Lent, I would like to ask you to pray with me, “Loving, forgiving, and recreating God, sustain us as we let ourselves “die a little” every day. Help us to be affected by the travails and sufferings of our neighbors and the whole earth as you lead us to the cross of Jesus. Enlarge our hearts for an inclusively shared celebration and joyful experience of Christ’s resurrection by being a blessing to all of your creation. Amen.”
JOURNEYING WITH PASTOR MANNY
Our faith journey is a continuing process of becoming in Jesus Christ. We become who and what we are as Christians because of the never ending recreating work of God with us as we dwell and relate lovingly with the whole of life. The God whom we are in-relationship-with is a God of newness and creativeness. God’s presence always involves God’s inspiring and transforming work of prodding us to make recreating and life-giving changes in every area of our life.
Change should not scare or upset us. On the contrary, it should excite and inspire us. Change inspires us when we deeply realize that it is not about resistance, abandonment, and giving up at all. Change is about re-imagination, enhancement, recreation, and re-engendering. When we constantly make transforming change, we affirm God’s continual recreating work in all of God’s creation for its full flourishing as we faithfully appropriate the Gospel in our constantly changing times. Transforming change brings out the fullness of God’s redeeming love and grace in us and our communities of faith if we intentionally engage with all its possibilities. Are we worried or excited for the life-giving changes that God can do in different areas of our life this year? What areas of our personal life need recreating change? What changes do we want to happen in our church towards it revitalization? Are we ready to commit our gifts, time, energy, resources, and everything to make an “extraordinary” transforming change in our church and community?
JOURNEYING WITH PASTOR MANNY
CUMC continues to shine in the light of Jesus. Bright spots abound as the town’s tower of light gives gospel light to the whole community. As our church faces new challenges to grow more fruitfully, we celebrate joyfully and seek faithfully the following markers of a vital congregation in our annual conference: 1)worship attendance, 2)professions of faith, 3)disciples in small groups, 4)disciples engaged in justice and mercy, and 5)disciples generosity.
In the past two years, our worship ministry continues to attract new worshipers in the community. We have some new individuals and young families regularly attending our Sunday worship service. These brothers and sisters give new spiritual energies in our church as our children’s ministry grows steadily and our discipleship ministry is re-challenged. Last year, we received a young family into church membership. This year, we received two new members of our congregation. We anticipate more reception into membership ceremonies in the near future. Those who have been received as new full members of our local church have been consistently growing in their faith and discipleship life. Some of them are now actively involved in different ministries of our local church.
Our small group ministry is consistently growing. We have prayer group, men’s fellowship, women’s circle, and Friday BS group that meet regularly for a variety of life nourishment and spiritual services. Late last year, we formed and held small group meetings on our 5-week campaign event of “A Future with Hope” project. A dance small group was introduced at the beginning of this fall season. Recently, we have started organizing a small group ministry called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) for young mothers in our church and the community. Small groups bring vibrant spirits and inspiration in our local church. We will continue to develop our existing small groups and create new creative ones in the coming year/s.
Mission-Outreach is one of the strongest ministries of our faith community. We are a mission-oriented local church that participates in different hands-on mission programs in and outside our community. We regularly collect and provide non-perishable foodstuff to the Casano Center’s food pantry that helps feed the hungry and homeless in Roselle Park. Our church also faithfully continues our outreach ministry for Bridges Lunches. On our mission days, adults, youth, and children come together to church to prepare hundreds of brown bags for the said food ministry. Every year, we send youth representaives to COP (Christian Outreach Project) in our annual conference. Moreover, we prepare and give away Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, annually. With an increase of our mission giving from “A Future with Hope” mission fund campaign, we are able to do more mission projects to serve our community. We have recently organized and introduced a creative ministry for young mother in partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) to reach out and witness to mothers in our community. Yearning to reach out for more people in need, we are envisioning to widen our participation in hands-on mission both in our community and conference.
In terms of our mission giving, we can say that it has improved fairly as a whole in the past two years. Our mission offering has increased due to our successful “A Future with Hope” campaign late last year. With regard to our connectional obligations, our current church income has been affected unfavorably when our former local church renter moved out last March. In spite of this challenging situation, we have set a goal of 5% yearly increase of our apportionment in the next four years or so. Our hopes are high that we will exceed our connectional giving goal more abundantly as we persistently find new ways to sustain, strengthen, and grow our stewardship ministry.
As pastor of both CUMC and RUMC, I have faithfully ministered the best I can to my two church families in spite of some limitations of a two-point charge appointment. I have faithfully and boldly preached the Word covering a variety of relevant and contextual sermon topics for our everyday faith journey. I have administered the sacraments as creatively and powerfully as I can to bring you God’s revelation in fresh ways. I have compassionately provided pastoral ministry to the brokenhearted, the sick, the dying, and the bereaved. I have thoughtfully shared with you spiritual, pastoral, and administrative insights in many of our activities together like Bible studies, prayer meetings, council, board committee, and other group meetings. I have considerately consulted with you for collective resolve both simple and complex administrative and church-life issues. We have caringly reached out together the poor and needy. We have worked considerately and committedly as a Spirit-led team to carry out our mission “to make disciples of Jesus.” Most importantly, we have journeyed together to deepen our relationship with God, with one another, and with all of life.
As a closing note, let me thank and commend the Lay Leadership and all members of my two church families for your unreserved love and dedicated service in pursuing our Vital Congregation goals despite the many challenges and difficulties our church is facing for a time such as this. Let God be glorified!
(This article is Rev. Manuel P. Cruz, Jr.’s Pastor’s Report at the recently concluded Joint Church Conference on November 22, 2014)
Journeying With Pastor Manny
A Blessing for Your Work
Last Sunday after our worship service, I received some good responses on my sermon, “Work. Grace, and Abundant Life.” It is reassuring to know how the subject of “work” and its relationship to God’s grace and God’s purpose of abundant life to all has made deep connections to our hearts as we all continue to work with the Spirit in the flourishing of our lives, our local church, and our community. Every work that you have been doing in our church is a blessing. Big or small, paid or unpaid, noticed or unnoticed, difficult or simple, your works of piety and mercy blur our dualistic way of seeing. No works in Spirit are greater or lesser than others. They are all extensions of daily, ordinary, and non-heroic life-giving works of our Lord Jesus in the Gospels. They are all important as every labor of love that you do in our church and community contributes to the prospering of abundant life to all. All your works in faith, past and present are a whole blessing. All the works of your heart in our church bring healing, joy, inspiration, promises, challenges, and love to one another. As we get back to all our regular ministries in the church, I would like to bless you with a poem from John O’ Donohue in his book, Anam Cara.
May God bless all the works of grace, faith, and love that we will be continually doing together for the sacred blossoming of our church, community, and the world.
A BlessingMay the light of your soul guide you May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart. May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul. May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work. May your work never weary you. May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration, and excitement. May you be present in what you do. May you never become lost in the bland absences. May the day never burden. May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises. May evening find you gracious and fulfilled. May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected. May your soul calm, console and renew you. by John O’Donohue
Journeying with Pastor Manny
DISCERNING THE SPIRIT
As we journey together through the season after Pentecost, I invite you to join me in asking: How do we discern the Spirit? Throughout our faith tradition, the significance of the third person of the Trinity has been confined to either abstraction or inspiration as compared to the spectacular emphasis given to the Father and the Son. Besides the centrality of the Spirit and its gifts in Pentecostalism, it is only in recent times that the Holy Spirit is given importance and explored in constructive biblical and theological discourses. How do we discern the Spirit? Let me propose some theological imaginings:
First, the Spirit creatively acts in, with, for, and over us. We cannot box or restrain the Spirit. Like the wind that blows anywhere it wishes, the Spirit breathes new life, energizes new visions, and unleashes new power. The Paraclete (comforter) brings fresh perspectives in our way of being, doing, dwelling, and relating as individuals, church, and community.
Second, the Spirit is at the center of any prophetic endeavor. Biblical prophecy is a divine call to spiritual, moral, social, economic, and political transformations within persons and communities. Our prophetic responsibility as a church is to freely let the Spirit inspire and challenge us to engage in growing and deepening work of justice, peace, kindness, mercy, and love in the world and beyond. When we break open ourselves to the Spirit’s prophetic power, there is a life-giving change of fearful atmosphere of indifference, hostility, and violence into a joyful celebration of inclusivity, hospitality, and shalom.
Third, the Spirit reveals itself in mystery, multiplicity, and paradox. Sometimes, the Spirit hovers over us with gentleness to persuade us to empty ourselves so that others may be full. At other times, we feel its atomic bomb-like power in movements of emancipation resisting the unsustainable consumer-centered global system to save the planet Earth. In the dance and play of life, the Spirit performs freely and creatively as a woman, man, child, bird, tree, ocean, microbe, and anything in between we can imagine. In the never-ending rivalry between theological fundamentalism and liberalism, I dare to imagine the ever courageous, mysterious, and multi-dimensional work of the Spirit that brings healing to individuals in super-natural ways and at the same time, it replaces God’s attribute of all-controlling omnipotence with God’s character of vulnerability and weakness in favor of those who are hungry and suffering, those who have no faces and voices, those who are excluded because of their sexuality, age, and physical abilities, and all those who have denied their dignity and right to live their full humanity.
A LENTEN JOURNEY WITH PASTOR MANNY
Dear church family,
I am sending you all my greeting of grace and peace.
During this holy time of the year, I am inviting you to contemplate with me about repentance. Biblically understood as a change of heart and mind towards God, the concept of repentance reveals different layers of meaning. First of all, repentance is to recognize that we are all beloved children of God. As Jesus understood most intimately his relationship with God the father, so we need to be deeply aware that God loves us just as we are. Our acceptance of God’s love leads us then to a humble recognition that we have all sinned against each other, no matter how we try to live peacefully with humankind. In the intricate web of human relationships where we are all part of the complex dynamics of good and evil, repentance calls us to a continual humble recognition of our complicity in the suffering of humanity and our planet. God’s forgiveness is the third layer of repentance that we commonly claim in the process of repentance. It is a full recognition that we receive forgiveness from all our transgressions by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. To be aware of our being forgiven by God then motivates us to an inner transformation of ourselves. We begin and continue to right the wrongs that we have done in life by the renewal of our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. But a flourishing repentant life requires more than a changed heart. It compels us to have a new vision of humanity and relationships with the whole of God’s creation. True repentance is our constant surrender to be affected by the lives of others so that all may live meaningfully and creatively in the love of God.
As we journey through Lent, I would like to ask you to pray with me, “Loving, forgiving, and recreating God, sustain us as we let ourselves “die a little” every day. Help us to be affected by the travails and sufferings of our neighbors and the whole earth as you lead us to the cross of Jesus, and prepare us to a shared celebration and experience of Christ’s resurrection. Amen.”
Journeying with Pastor Manny
As we begin the year 2014 in the life of our faith community with continuing shared vision and promising new ministry projects, I invite you to share with one another our thoughts and answers on the following Gospel Questions of our time from A Future with Hope Strategic Ministry Plan of our Annual Conference:
1. What is a disciple? Why do we make disciples? How does discipleship differ from membership? What does it mean to make a disciple? Is making disciples enough or are we seeking maturity from our disciples? What do mature disciples do? How do we mature disciples?
2. Why does the local church congregation exist? What is the purpose and role of a congregation? What does it mean to be the body of Christ today? What is a vital congregation and what are the signs and measures of vitality within your congregation?
3. What is a spiritual leader and how is a secular leader the same and different? How will we call, equip, send, and support spiritual leaders?
4. What does it mean to transform the world? What in the world needs to be changed and why? Why do we want to transform the world? How will we change lives and the community?
5. Why are we challenged to connect with young adults and the non and nominally religious? What can we learn from this new culture called mosaics? Who is the mosaic generation and what do they value? How do we relate and connect with young people and why isn’t the message connecting as it once did?
6. How would you describe the people that worship with you? How would you describe the people in your community? Is there a difference? How do/will you bridge differences? What new things do you need to learn? How will you connect with the people in your community?
7. So that… Why be engaged by the vision, mission, objectives and strategies outlined in this plan? What difference will it make and how will we be different? What are the ministries you do so that you make disciples, grow the vitality of your congregation, grow spiritual leaders, become more like the people in your community, and become younger and more diverse?
These are crucial questions that we need to engage with as we seek together new spiritual inspirations and experiences in both our personal and communal journeys. The Spirit penetrates, works through, and transforms multiple dimensions of our life, relationships and community not only through persistent inward spirituality but also through our faithful participation in church and community life. As always, finding life’s meaning in God is possible in silence and noise, in the holy and the mundane, in good times and bad times, in light and darkness, in joy and sorrow, and any situations of life.
ADVENT GREETING FROM PASTOR MANNY
My dear church family:
I am sending you my warm greetings in this Advent and Christmas season!
As the trees become barren and the atmosphere turns bleak, we discover new joy in our waiting together for the coming of our Emmanuel. This is the paradox of Advent. The biblical messages of suffering, end times, judgment, and repentance that we read throughout the Advent season bring our hearts and minds to a sacred place of joyful anticipation in the fulfillment of God’s promise of new life in our Redeemer Jesus. Our compassionate contemplation of human suffering and misery around us becomes a thin place of our new encounter with God so that we are able to love more compassionately and give more generously. In Advent, our joyful waiting is transformed into joyful sharing; our joyful sharing flourishes into joyful loving! As Henri Nouwen meditates, “We are joyful already because we know that the Lord will come. Our expectation leads to joy and our joy to a desire to give to others. Real joy always wants to share. It belongs to the nature of joy to communicate itself to others and to invite others to take part of the gifts we received.”
Advent reminds us that our waiting together in the coming of the Christ is not only a new spiritual experience of the tenderness of God’s love in the promised Child that will be born. It is also a political experience to change our hearts toward living a more Christ-like life where love and justice embrace each other, resulting in a shared peace and abundance with all of God’s children and the whole earth.
My prayer is that our hope, peace, joy, and love flourish as we wait together, share together, serve together, and love together during Advent season and in the daily coming of God who dwells in us.
Abundant life to all,
 Michael Ford, ed., Eternal Seasons: A liturgical Journey with Henri J. M. Nouwen, (Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books, 2004), 34.
JOURNEYING WITH PASTOR MANNY
We are delighted to present to you our local church’s new Vision and Mission Statements:
The Mission of Community United Methodist Church is to be a witness of Jesus Christ for the common good of all peoples by providing Hope and Love to everyone.
Community United Methodist Church is a place where everyone is welcome to come together to experience and share God’s presence in accepting, caring, nurturing, witnessing, and serving one another and the entire community.
Our Vision and Mission Statements proclaim who and what we are as a church. They summarize our shared calling as doers and bringers of Christ’s redeeming and transforming love to our community and the world. The two-fold affirmation emphasizes that we exist as an inclusive community of faith committed to engage in the flourishing of human life as God intends it to be. As followers of Jesus, we translate our collective faith in our daily experience of God’s presence among ourselves and with other people as we intentionally accept, care, witness, nurture, and serve each other and the whole creation.
But how do we boost our desire and move ourselves to faithfully realize our collective vision and mission as a church? Remembering the acronym of our local church, CUMC, can be a simple and interesting way to let our Vision/Mission increasingly come to life. Let us find new meanings in C-U-M-C as follows:
By the life-giving power of the Spirit, we Create and recreate together an inspired faith community that makes every effort to have a robust appetite for God and our church. Our passionate involvement in worship, prayer, studies, missions, evangelism, fellowship, an support ministries creates a spiritual energy among us to put our Mission and Vision into growing practice.
In the life of discipleship, we learn basically by Unlearning constantly all our perspectives, understanding, and ways of thinking that are not life-giving anymore. We acknowledge that we all have blind spots, biases, pride, and prejudices that hinder our potential to grow more in love, faith, grace, mercy, peace, and hope. This discipline of unlearning provides us room for self-introspection that opens up new spaces for learning from God and one another.
As forgiven and beloved children of God, we Mend our wounds and broken hearts by being constantly mindful of mutual forgiveness, humility, and acceptance of who and what we are as a family of God. When we practice shared mending, we do not only break the recurring cycle of lethargy, disappointments, frustrations, and failures in our church life, but we also receive divine healing and renew our spirits.
As brothers and sisters in Jesus, we Cultivate a habit of making our relationships with one another closer as we grow together in faith. We find life’s meaning in sharing, learning, caring, and serving one another in countless enriching ways by freely opening our hearts to the many great possibilities of spiritual friendship with one another.
CUMC: Create, Unlearn, Mend, Cultivate. Think of our church acronym—and let its meaning stick—as we make our Mission and Vision happen!