Welcome, Shuler Sitsch!
We are excited to welcome a Summer Student Pastor at MDUMC from May 21 through August 9! Take a minute to get to know Shuler, and read about what he's working on this summer!
Throughout the summer, Shuler will share about his experience and his work at MDUMC - we hope you'll join us here and follow along with Shuler's ministry!
Make plans to join us Sunday, August 13 in Friendship Court for fellowship and light refreshments as we thank Shuler for spending his summer with us!
Privileged | August 9, 2017
The day that I have been dreading since May arrived today. Even throughout my first two weeks at Memorial Drive, I was hesitant and reluctant to finally arrive at August 9th, 2017. It has sat in the back of my mind now for weeks, but today was the day that it finally arrived. Today is my last day in the office at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church. As I went back online and started to recap some of my earlier blogs, I realized just how much time has flown by. It feels like just yesterday that I attended Annual Conference. It feels like we just got back from Work Camp in Brady, Texas. It feels like I just finished up preaching my sermon on peace in classic worship. At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m a firm believer of the theory that time moves a whole lot faster when you’re having fun.
In my final blog, I wanted to just take an opportunity to thank everyone at Memorial Drive. My experiences with both the congregation and the staff at Memorial Drive have been nothing short of incredible. There has not been a single moment during my time here where I haven’t felt loved, supported, encouraged, and affirmed. As a student, I often hear horror stories about how students started counting down the days of the internships immediately upon arriving. I’ve heard stories of congregations creating distance between themselves and their pastoral interns. I am extremely thankful that when my friends ask me about my summer at Memorial Drive, I get the privilege of telling them about you all.
I get the privilege of telling them about how dedicated Memorial Drive’s children and youth departments are to shaping and molding young disciples of Jesus Christ. I get the privilege of telling them about how I felt my call consistently being reaffirmed when I spoke to various Sunday School classes. I get the privilege of telling them about all the lunches and coffees I had with people who told me their life stories and informed me of their passions. I get the privilege of telling them that I served on a pastoral staff that perfectly embodies what it means to have a ministry of service to others. I get the privilege of telling them about all the different departments at Memorial Drive and how I’ve seen people in each department utilizing their spiritual gifts daily. I get the privilege of telling them about how involved the laity is at Memorial Drive in developing a church that continues to participate in the disciple-making process. I get the privilege of telling them about all the powerful musical moments that I experienced in both the classic and contemporary worship services.
I could go on and on about how fortunate I am to have been at Memorial Drive for this summer. In my first blog post, I talked about how I was looking forward to experiencing the extraordinary and the mundane during the summer. When I reflect on my experiences at Memorial Drive, I can hardly remember anything feeling mundane. Instead, my reflections show me just how much this community reflects an extraordinary representation of God’s love for us.
So, Memorial Drive United Methodist Church: Thank you for the best summer of my life. I will hold you dearly in my heart as I continue in my vocation in ministry.
A 'Good Pastor' | July 31, 2017
It’s a question that I’ve been debating since I began to answer my life’s vocation towards ministry. It’s a question that I’ve struggled with in my last two years at Duke Divinity School. It’s a question that I wondered all throughout my last field education placement and throughout my placement at Memorial Drive. What is the most important thing that a pastor can do in order to be seen as a “good pastor” by their congregation?
I’ve surveyed many, many people about what makes a good pastor. Some people have told me a good pastor is someone who is gifted in preaching. Some people have told me that a good pastor is someone who is constantly available. Some people have told me that a good pastor is someone that is a gifted teacher. Some people have told me that a good pastor is someone that will sit and just listen to a member when they’re wrestling with issues within their own lives. I’ve asked this question to many people and received a multitude of different answers. I’ve found myself frustrated by my inability to figure out the secret formula of how to be a “good pastor.”
While I’m not quite sure that I’ll answer be able to fully answer this question, there has been one word over the last couple of weeks that has stuck out to me when I think about being a “good pastor.” It’s a word that I’ve heard many times in conversations throughout the last couple of weeks. It’s a word that I’ve stumbled upon in my recent readings. When I think about being a “good pastor,” I’ve begun to associate it with the word “relational.”
Over the last week, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching two Sunday School classes and Stephen Ministries. When I asked the leaders what I should talk about in these sessions, they all told me that they wanted to hear about my life story. They wanted to hear about my faith journey. They wanted to know why a kid from Chapin, South Carolina was standing in front of them as the Summer Pastoral Intern at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church. As I shared my story with these three classes, I was asked many different questions. I was asked about my future, my fiancé, my upbringing, and even my political alignment.
However, in all of these different settings, I noticed one reoccurring element. I noticed when I shared my story to others and became more vulnerable, people in the room began to feel more comfortable with me. After I finished teaching, people came up to me and told me how my story was related to their story. Some told me about a specific moment in their life where they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Some asked me if they could talk to me sometime soon over a cup of coffee. Some asked more questions about my love story with Sara. Some asked me if I could pray for them.
There were many ways in which people responded, but they were all interesting. In each instance where I received a response, I felt a connection being established. I felt that my story had given me the opportunity to be more relational with the people in the room. Through this experience, I’ve realized the importance of being a relational pastor. I’ve realized the importance of how important it is to sit down with others and learn more about them.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to answer the question of what makes a pastor a “good pastor.” But, this past week did open my eyes up to how building relationships and having a specific degree of vulnerability can allow others to open up and become more comfortable with their pastors.
Pastor Iron Intern | July 17, 2017
I remember when I first sat down with Pastor Michael to discuss what my duties would be for the summer. We talked about how I would be going to visit hospitals. We talked about how I would be leading bible studies. We talked about how I would be attending and engaging in different types of staff meetings. Michael also mentioned to me that I would have two opportunities to preach at both the classic worship service and at the Journey. I remember feeling my eyes light up at the thought of being able to put my preaching skills to the test, in front of a live audience and not just a recorder in a classroom. I had all this excitement built up about preaching when Michael brought up another duty that immediately brought me down. It’s the one thing that many seminarians dread about internships. We hear horror stories about this one thing. We hear about how much time it takes out of your days when it arrives. We hear about…Vacation Bible School.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I heard I would be helping out with Vacation Bible School, I was not extremely enthused. I wasn’t opposed to helping out and being heavily involved in Vacation Bible School, but it wasn’t on my list of top priorities this summer. I remember wondering how this experience could possibly better train me to be a future pastor. I initially felt that being heavily involved in Vacation Bible School would take me away from doing tasks that would better prepare me for my ministry.
However, all of that has since changed. On Sunday morning, I was the preacher at the Journey. On Sunday night, I became Iron Intern. I have now served as Iron Intern for the last 24 hours, a distant relative to the superhero Iron Man from the Iron Islands. I’ve been on stage twice now with my friends Commander Cool, Neon Man, and the light-hearted villain known as Dr. Goombay. We’ve performed the songs “Everlasting God” and “Leap of Faith” in front of over 600 dancing children. We’ve taught them “The Pledge,” which is a cheer where we affirm the values of love, courage, wisdom, hope, and power. We’ve invited the children to be part of “God’s Heroes.” We’ve done all of that in the span of 24 hours and we get the privilege of doing this for the next four days.
This experience has taught me that ministry doesn’t just happen behind a pulpit. Ministry doesn’t just happen when visiting with those who are sick. Ministry doesn’t just happen at a Wednesday Bible Study. Ministry happens when putting on a costume and getting kids excited to learn more about God. Ministry happens when we teach kids songs that teach them about a God who is the defender of the weak and a God that comforts those in need. Ministry happens when the laity and staff volunteer to help lead classes of students, no matter how comfortable they feel with the subject matter. I am so incredibly fortunate to have been called to a vocation that allows me to minister in such a variety of ways.
Holy Communion & A Dance Party | June 26, 2017
Last week, Michael asked me if I would help him serve communion at the middle school workcamp. I immediately agreed. High school workcamp was something that I really enjoyed visiting a couple of weeks ago, so I was excited to attend middle school workcamp. We arrived at the church around 9:00 that night while the students were still in a session in Wesley Hall. While they were in their session, Michael and I brought out the elements and placed them on an altar in Friendship Court. We talked about what my role would be for that night and how everything would happen.
After the session with the kids concluded in Wesley Hall, they began to file in and sit in their small groups for communion. On the floor of Wesley Hall, the youth staff had gone around and placed candles on the floor. The students circled up around these candles and then we began discussing communion. Michael gave a great explanation of communion and described the significance of Christ telling His disciples about the nature of the bread and the wine. He talked about how the table was open for all, regardless of if the students were members of the church or if it was their first time ever participating in the Lord’s Supper. I was given the chance to talk to the students about how it is important to ask for forgiveness before proceeding in communion, describing how we can be asking for forgiveness for the ways that we’ve treated others and the ways that we have turned away from promoting the teachings of Christ.
Michael led the students through the Great Thanksgiving and the Lord’s Prayer. We then distributed the elements throughout the room. I watched as the youth staff went around amongst the candlelight and distributed communion to the students. It was one of the most intimate communion settings I’ve ever been a part of. I watched as students took the bread and the juice. I watched as they prayed before and after they received the elements. When every student had received communion, Michael offered us a benediction and we closed the communion service. But, the night wasn’t over just yet.
Students dispersed from Friendship Court all throughout the church and we began to clean the altar. As I was cleaning, I heard music coming from Wesley Hall. I looked over and saw flashing lights of all different neon colors coming from the room. I walked in and realized that the summer staff and youth staff were setting up for a dance party. A dance party directly after communion. This may seem odd. It may seem uncomfortable for some. But, this combination is something the church needs more of.
Holy Communion is a sacrament that should be taken very seriously, but it is also something that should inspire us as Christians to celebrate. All too often, we look at communion with only the lens of Good Friday…without looking at it through the lens of Easter Sunday. As I was thinking about this, I stumbled upon a quote by Bishop Luis Zarama. He says, “I look at the procession coming to receive the Eucharist and sometimes it looks like a funeral…Where is our joy? Jesus comes to us to make us a part of him. Do we welcome him? Do we celebrate him and that beautiful encounter with the one who is love?”
I’m not saying that we should have dance parties after communion each week. But, my experience on Tuesday at middle school workcamp reminded me of the gloriousness of Christ Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday for the forgiveness of our sins. Whether you take communion this Sunday or you don’t take it for weeks, I invite you to look at it through this type of lens.
Affirmed | June 20, 2017
Edgy. That’s the word I would use to describe how I felt when I woke up at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning. The day that I had been waiting for all week long had finally arrived. Sunday was the day that I would preach to the largest group of people that I ever had before. It was also the first time that I would have to preach the same sermon multiple times. I had preached multiple times before Sunday, but there were so many new things going on for this service. I had a mixture of feelings about the services. I awoke with excitement, but also with a great deal of nerves. I awoke with confidence, but also with much uncertainty. I awoke with knowing that the Holy Spirit would be present in the worship space, but I also fretted over how my message would be received by a congregation who had never heard me preach before.
When I arrived at the church that morning, many of our staff and other members of the congregation asked me how I was feeling. I told everyone that since I was preaching a message on peace, I was trying to take the points of my sermon to heart that morning. When I took my seat behind the pulpit for the 8:15 service, my palms started sweating. My heart started racing. My hands started shaking. During the hymn of inspiration, I took a minute and prayed for the power to yield to the Holy Spirit. The hymn concluded and I walked up into the pulpit. It was finally time.
The next three hours went by in a blur. When I reflect back on my time in the pulpit and in leading the worship service, there are many things I don’t remember. I watched the service later that evening and was blown away by some of the things I had seemingly forgotten about. I didn’t remember stuttering through saying “our Summer Smoothie sermon series.” I didn’t remember almost tripping out of the pulpit after I read the New Testament Readings at 8:30. I didn’t remember losing my place while reading the text from Romans. But, there is one thing that I remember vividly. There is one thing that I will always remember from Sunday, June 18th, 2017.
I will always remember the feeling of affirmation that I received after talking to members of the congregation after the service. As I stood at the doorway to the sanctuary and tried to remember anything that I had spoken about in the pulpit, I was greeted with hugs and handshakes from almost everyone that walked through the door. In the past, I’ve struggled with accepting praise and congratulation after preaching. I whole-heartedly believe that when we step into the pulpit as pastors, we should be yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit can speak through us. I try to look at it through that lens to temper my potential ego with the power of God to work through me.
But on Sunday morning, I looked at hugs, handshakes, and congratulations in a new way. I looked at this support as a reflection of the congregation at Memorial Drive. This church is unique in its ability to make a fresh, poor, and inexperienced seminary student feel welcomed and loved. I’ve been at Memorial Drive now for a month and I have never once felt ignored, unaccepted, or out of place. I was on edge for how preaching this Sunday would be, but I look back on that feeling now and laugh. Sunday was one of the most affirming days I’ve had so far in my ministry and that is solely because of the people that make up this worship community.
Memorial Drive community, thank you for being who you are. It’s through the welcoming and affirming nature of this church that Memorial Drive can continue to make disciples of Christ Jesus for the transformation of the world.
Finding God in a Pile of Used Tires | June 12, 2017
Before I moved to Houston for the summer and started at Memorial Drive, I had been told about work camp. In fact, it was one of the very first things that I learned I would be attending while at Memorial Drive this summer. When people on staff and within the church would ask me if I was attending work camp, their faces would always light up when I said yes. They’d tell me how many years they’d consecutively attended work camp. They’d tell me about how all of their children attended work camp in high school and how they eventually worked on summer staff in college. They’d tell me how excited they were for me that I got to experience just a couple of days at work camp during the summer.
On Monday afternoon, we drove all the way to Brady and arrived at the high school. We were able to sit-in on a couple of small groups. I was blown away by both the leadership of the summer staff students in these discussions, as well as the content that these students were presenting. They discussed the parable of the Good Samaritan and talked about situations in which they see this story play out on a daily basis. I am a seminary student that has two years under my belt and I was taking notes at what some of these students pointed out in this parable. We then were able to participate in the evening worship service. We were led in song together, we heard two testimonies from high school seniors, and were given a needed message from Carrie.
Being there on Monday night was powerful. It’s rare that the Church is able to create spaces in which hundreds of youth feel comfortable opening up, coming together, and worshipping the Lord. But Monday was just the beginning for what would prove to be one of the most powerful experiences of my summer thus far.
We went out on Tuesday and visited the work sites. We assisted in helping build tables at a community center. We visited the Helping Hands center and saw how students were revamping a building they constructed on a previous trip to Brady. We were even added as temporary member of Jim McPhail’s Paint Crew! But I was the most impacted when I visited the tire site.
When we walked up to the tire site, we saw a group of about 20 students moving and lifting old tires out of a lot into a dump. Let’s me paint the picture a little more vividly: it’s about 11:00 in the morning, it’s in the mid-high 80s, and it had rained the night before. These kids are knee deep in a mound of wet, rubber tires and they’re lifting these heavy tires for hours at a time. I even got down in there for about 20 minutes and I was pretty drained from helping for that super short period of time!
But those students didn’t complain. They didn’t look tired. They didn’t look frustrated. They did it all with a smile. They found ways to consistently keep morale high. They didn’t pay attention to the conditions in which they found themselves working. Instead, they worked joyfully to care for both God’s creation and their neighbors in Brady. As I listened to Michael’s sermon on Sunday about joy and partially about how joy is something that is contagious, I couldn’t help but reflect back on my two days in Brady.
I often hear friends, family members, and professors talk about the millennial generation. They say that this generation is lazy. They say this generation is preoccupied with themselves. They say that this generation is unchurched. They even say that this generation could lead to the detriment of the Church itself. I wish I could have invited all of those naysayers to Brady. I find it hard to believe they’d have the same sentiment after seeing their joy for helping others and loving limitlessly.
Holy Conferencing | June 1, 2017
When I got into the car with Michael on Sunday afternoon, I had no idea what to expect at the Texas Annual Conference. I’d heard a couple of my friends at Duke talk about attending their annual conference meetings and there were always mixed reviews. Some found it enjoyable while others saw it as mind-numbing. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it, but the thought of walking into a church with hundreds of ordained clergy was enough to make me a little nervous. Throughout the car ride to the Woodlands, I constantly rehearsed my elevator pitch in my mind. I knew that I’d be meeting many senior pastors, district superintendents, and many other employees that work directly for the Texas Annual Conference. As someone who hopes to be going through the commissioning process in the next year, I couldn’t get my mind off of how important this week would be for my future.
While I initially approached the conference with anxiousness, I’m now writing this post with a joyful heart. The last few days at the Texas Annual Conference made me realize just how special the people within this conference are. Every time that I met a new clergyperson or layperson, I was greeted with a smile and a warm spirit. I never felt that I was being grilled by someone that held a higher position within the conference. I never felt brushed to the side. Instead, I felt valued and welcomed into the conference as a first time attendee.
This was even true for the nights after the business sessions at conference had ended. We were invited out every night for a time of casual fellowship with other clergy. I was able to talk openly to other clergy about their stories. I was able to hear about different types of ministry that are happening throughout the conference. I was asked about myself and I felt heard. These clergypersons didn’t just interact with me like future business associates; they talked to me like we had been friends for years.
I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I also found the business sessions at conference to be fruitful! After being in a classroom throughout the course of the last year and learning about United Methodist polity and procedures, I was finally able to see how it all actually works. At the business sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, both clergy and laity were able to vote on if they deemed specific amendments and resolutions as valid or invalid. Before the vote took place, clergy and laity delegates were both invited to speak in front of the session either in favor or against the proposed legislation. Some speakers said things that I did not agree with. Some speakers said things that frustrated and confused me. However, I believe Bishop Jones put it best when he spoke to the necessity of this “Holy Conferencing.” He told those on the floor that, “we’re going to listen to each other respectfully, even if we disagree with each other.” Holy Conferencing is something that we should always hold in high regard throughout the United Methodist Church. I was glad to see this process in action throughout the business sessions at the conference.
The worship at conference was extraordinary. As I looked around during the first worship session on Sunday night, I realized that I was sitting with people that serve churches all throughout the Texas Annual Conference. Some are worshipping in small rural cities, some are worshipping in the Downtown Houston area. Deacons, elders, staff members, laity, and worship leaders all sat in the same congregation together and worshipped God. Although the order of worship may not have been very different from that of a traditional Sunday church service, this worship experience was unique. It was a congregation that had never worshipped together before, but it seemed natural. The Holy Spirit brought us together in that moment from all sorts of different places throughout the conference and molded us into a new community.
As someone who has a vocation in ministry, I feel that my call is something that I must constantly be discerning. Throughout this discerning process, I’ve experienced moments of negation and affirmation. The Texas Annual Conference served as an affirmation for my call to ministry in the United Methodist Church. Through experiences in casual fellowship, sitting in the balcony for the business sessions, and being a member of a unique worship setting, this week served as a spiritual energizer for me to press on in my vocation in ministry.
The Extraordinary and the Mundane | May 24, 2017
Memorial Drive is different from every other church that I’ve ever attended. I grew up in a small church in Ballentine, South Carolina with an average attendance of about 200 people. Last summer, I did an internship at First United Methodist Church in Cherryville, North Carolina. Cherryville is a small town of about 6,000 people in rural North Carolina and the church had an average of about 150 people per week. It’s safe to say that these environments are just a little bit different from my new digs at Memorial Drive in Houston.
In the weeks leading up to my move to Houston, I started to feel equally excited and nervous about moving to Houston and working at Memorial Drive. I was excited to work at a church with such a large staff and with so many resources to minister to its community. I remember looking at the weekly calendar on the Memorial Drive website and having my jaw drop to the floor. I couldn’t believe all of the events that were scheduled for each day of the week! It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
All of that being said, this also intimidated me I started to question if I was qualified enough to work at such a large church. I wondered if my two years of seminary would be enough to put me in a position to succeed at Memorial Drive. I envisioned myself attending meetings and having no idea what was going on. I started to think about how intense it may be to preach in front of such a large congregation. It’s safe to say that for every two things that made me excited about working at Memorial Drive, there was one thing that gave me a little bit of anxiety.
Sara and I attended worship incognito for the first time on Sunday, May 21st. We went to both campuses and were blown away. From the minute we walked through the door, we were greeted with a smile and a welcome from the greeters. We marveled at both worship venues. We were amazed by how the worship space at The Journey had grown since we had seen it in March. The sanctuary’s beauty took our breath away, as did the acoustics within it. In short, our first worship experiences at Memorial Drive were incredible.
We left worship with the impression that this summer would be extremely fast-paced. I envisioned that working at Memorial Drive would mean that I was always hustling around the building, moving from one task on to the next. I was confident that this is how my first week would be…which is why I was a little caught off guard when I heard that I would be attending four meetings in the conference room on my first day here. When we were talking about this in our pastors meeting on Monday morning, John told me that he wanted me to experience both the extraordinary and the mundane of working within a church.
These two words have continued to stick with me throughout my first week at Memorial Drive. As I reflected on the extraordinary and the mundane of life as a future pastor, I stumbled back upon Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples at the end of Matthew. Jesus commissions his disciples to go and make disciples throughout the world and he concludes by saying, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus didn’t tell His disciples that he’d only be in there in the times of the extraordinary. He didn’t tell them that He’d only be present whenever they were engaging in some type of worship or exciting activity. He specifically tells them that He’d be with them “always, to the end of the age.” He indicated to them that He’d be there in both the extraordinary and the mundane.
Throughout my first week at Memorial Drive, I’ve learned that it’s important to look for ways that God is working around me and through me in both the extraordinary and the mundane. I’ve seen God working throughout worship services, but I’ve also seen God working throughout the multiple meetings I attended this week. I’ve seen God working through Wednesday night’s “Celebrate!,” but I’ve also seen God at work when buying lumber from Home Depot and decorative flair from Hobby Lobby. I’ve seen God working in tasks I’ve looked forward to completing at MDUMC and I’ve seen God working in tasks I had no idea I’d be doing before I arrived. I’m looking forward to seeing how the extraordinary and the mundane continue to teach me about life as a future pastor.