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Pastor Jeff Potter

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posted Oct 23, 2013, 3:21 PM by Uumc Topeka   [ updated Jul 21, 2014, 4:51 PM ]

Fourth Vision Meeting: Intentional Faith Development

posted Oct 7, 2013, 5:39 PM by Uumc Topeka

Intentional Faith Development


Oh God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  (Ps 63:1)


Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. (James 4:8a)


On September 14, twelve persons gathered for our fourth Vision Meeting. We broke into two groups of six each for two periods of in-depth sharing and discussion and reconvened for sharing with the larger group.

We were reminded that “growth” and “change” are not the same thing! We can change without growing but we can never grow without changing. When growth occurs, change is part of the dynamic. Sometimes, when we resist change, we are stunting our own growth.

The first part of the meeting was spent reviewing the work that had been accomplished through the previous three meetings. Our focus from the beginning has been on the practices of fruitful congregations. There was general consensus that we had made strides in the areas of Radical Hospitality and Passionate Worship, though we identified some things that could still be put into place.

The remainder of the morning was spent focusing on Intentional Faith Development. 

Intentional Faith Development is the commitment to continually grow (going on to perfection) as a Disciple of Jesus Christ. For this purpose, Christians meet together in “Covenant Discipleship Groups” for support and accountability.  One of the reasons for the early spread of Methodism was the strength of its class meetings and bands.  These were the “Covenant Discipleship Groups” of an earlier era. We examined John Wesley’s “Rules” for the bands and agreed that most would be hard-pressed to adhere to them in our own time and culture. And yet, the importance of meeting regularly, with all members of the group present, with all sharing the deepest respect and care for one another, committed to being able to speak honestly with one another with deep love and concern, in order to further the spiritual growth of all, remains a crucial concern for anyone who longs to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. 

Is our relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit, the most important thing in our lives? If it is we will seek and find others of like heart and mind who will joyfully gather together in covenant discipleship groups so that God might be praised and that we might all grow in grace.   

Those present felt that the many groups we are already involved in (Loving Hands, Sunday School, Mission groups, United Methodist Women, Youth Group and so forth) provide us with many opportunities for fellowship, mission, and ministry, though they do not approach the level of accountability and spiritual growth that covenant discipleship groups do.  We addressed the question as to how we might further implement Covenant Discipleship Groups as a central component of Intentional Faith Development in the life of this church, but there was no real forward movement on this issue.   

We closed with Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.                                              J. Kiefer


Humbled and Inspired

posted Jul 26, 2013, 4:36 PM by Lance Johnson   [ updated Aug 3, 2013, 6:41 PM ]

Humbled and Inspired

Many of you know that I have freshly returned from a week in Jamaica, West Indies. My three sisters and I had been invited to participate in the culminating worship celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Moravian Women’s Fellowship, an organization founded at Bethany in Manchester, Jamaica in 1942 by our grandmother, Mrs. Edith “Eda” Hicks Kneale.

Sis. Eda was born and raised in Jamaica and is buried there. Our family history on the island extends beyond her in both directions however. Our forbears, immigrating from Switzerland, England, and the United States, brought with them a deep commitment to the work of God, made manifest in their work as ministers, educators, and advocates for social and spiritual uplift. Eda’s grandfather funded the purchase of 2000 acres in the mountainous interior to plat and distribute to families newly released from slavery (slavery was outlawed in Jamaica in the 1830s). Her mother was the first principal of Bethlehem Teachers College, founded by the Moravians in 1861. Her father was an Inspector of Schools. She married a pastor and accompanied him from church to church, playing the organ, teaching in the Sunday School, and working on behalf of the women. The motto of the Moravian Women’s Fellowship remains, “With Goodwill Giving Service to the Lord” and their hymn, formulated in the early years, is “Help Somebody Today!”

I have always known bits and pieces of my history, but to have it come as vibrantly alive for me as it did during the recent week in Jamaica was a deeply moving experience. It was not only the past that we were all celebrating – but specifically the past as it nurtures and brings forth the living, breathing present that we were all inhabiting together! The phrases “from generation to generation” and “glory unto glory,” kept sounding in my heart.

O, how glad we were to gather as God’s daughters and sons at the New Beulah Moravian Church in Mandeville, on Sunday, the 14th of July, 2013! What a glorious crowd of strong, faithful, beautiful sisters of every hue, all dressed in white, all Spirit-led and fed! The paneled sides of the church were wide open and the sea of worshippers extended into the outside under tents and within sight of the flat-screen monitors that relayed the service as it unfolded. How we all stood and swayed and sang and rejoiced and responded to the good news of God’s love as the hymns rolled out and the message was preached! “Rejoice! Rise up and Build!”

I guessed there were some 1000 folk in attendance, praising God and dedicating themselves anew to the work – the joyous, hard and holy work of service unto God from which a bold and bright future will assuredly, continuously emerge. Among the celebrants were relatives of ours, including a cousin relocated to Jamaica with her husband via Ireland and Canada. They are expecting their first child in August. This little one will usher in the seventh generation of our family on Jamaican soil. Blessed and blessing.

Let us be good torch-bearers – mindful of what we have received and what we pass on. By the Grace and to the Glory of God.  


Pastor January, July 20, 2013

Help Somebody Today

Song of the Moravian Women’s Fellowship


Help somebody today,

Somebody along life’s way

Let sorrow be ended,

The friendless befriended

O, help somebody today.

Look all around us, find someone in need,

Help somebody today

Though it be little, a neighbourly deed

Help somebody today.

Many are waiting a kind loving word,

Help somebody today

Thou hast a message, O let it be heard

Help somebody today.

Many have burdens too heavy to bear,

Help somebody today.

Grief is the portion of some everywhere

Help somebody today.

Some are discouraged and weary in heart,

Help somebody today

Someone the journey to heaven should start

Help somebody today.

Why Are You Coming to Church?

posted Apr 22, 2013, 2:40 PM by Uumc Topeka

There are lots of reasons why people come to church and engage in church activities.

Family.  For those who have been coming to church for years, a sense of family is often the main reason why they keep coming. They have grown up with other church members, they have weathered tough times together, they have celebrated weddings, anniversaries, births, and helped each other through times of dying, death, and grief.  Human relationships provide us with a very strong glue. For newcomers to feel welcome in a church that sees itself primarily as a “family,” however, is often problematic. They don’t have the history that everyone else does. They don’t know the stories. They aren’t privy to the quirks, the secrets, the sacred cows, the difficult personalities, or the internal problems that others have learned how to avoid and work around, or perhaps, no longer even see.

Mission.  As our churches have dwindled in membership and monies over the past several years we are asking ourselves how we can reverse that trend. Some say that it is mission that will guide the turn-around. People want to be involved in helping others and contributing to worthwhile causes. So making mission a central part of the work the church is engaged in can be very attractive to long-time church members as well as the outlying community.

Fellowship.  Fellowship is a wonderful way of inviting others to play together. Fellowship can grow through mission projects. It can also be nurtured through community barbeques, street parties, movie nights, bowling, and so forth. All of these are pleasant ways of strengthening already existing relationships as well as inviting and attracting others.  

Using our Gifts. People feel validated when their gifts make a contribution to the greater whole – especially when they are thanked and appreciated for it! So coming to church because we are able to sing in the choir, help with the accounting, lead a youth group, organize a landscaping project or any number of other activities that invites us to use our interests and gifts is also something that may keep us coming back.

But where is God?  The one thing that church can offer that no other group can, is God.

If we are not coming to church PRIMARILY to worship God, to deepen our spiritual relationship with the Holy Trinity, to discern and explore and act on God’s will for our individual and collective lives, to offer Jesus Christ to others, we are missing the mark as a church. The sense of family, fellowship, mission, using our gifts, and anything else that we engage in as a church needs to grow out of the centrality that God has in our lives. 

“Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength….”

Why are you coming to church?

Vision Meeting 3

posted Apr 22, 2013, 11:31 AM by Uumc Topeka

Our Vision Meetings welcome everyone to meet for an extended period of time to talk in-depth about issues affecting our church.

Our first meeting looked at the 6 areas of fruit-bearing congregations: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, Extravagant Generosity, and Excellent Leadership.

Our second meeting focused on Passionate Worship.

Our third meeting looked at Radical Hospitality - especially how we extend that hospitality to one another in an effort to build a healthy community of disciples of Jesus Christ  Jesus said “Love one another as I have loved you … by this, they will know you are my disciples.”


The heart of our work centered on responding to two related questions.


What makes you feel welcomed, respected, appreciated, and valued?

Recognition, acknowledgement, knowing and using people’s names

Praise, being complimented and thanked

Kindness from others

Time with someone (presence)

Interest (warm chatter)


Being asked to participate or lead (being trusted to have responsibility)

Being able to decline when asked and feel like that will be respected

Having respect for age, physical, background, and other differences

Open, honest, kind communication

Trusting that if someone has a problem with me they will come to me and not someone

    else (talking with me, not about me)

Ideas are welcomed and included

Ideas are readily shared and listened to in an atmosphere of cordiality and patience

Being able to ask for and expect forgiveness (when we inevitably mess up, forget, 


Just being there (the ministry of presence)


What makes you feel disrespected, excluded, and rejected? 

Not taking ideas seriously

Showing up late to meetings

Having actions or thoughts misinterpreted


People making assumptions about you without checking it out

Not being informed of something you should know about (being purposefully kept

   “out of the loop”)

Time and schedules getting in the way of relationships

When someone threatens to leave the church if things don‘t go their way

Telling people what to do (instead of asking)

Shutting people down, ignoring people, avoiding people

Hearing “we never did it that way before”                         

Broken confidences

Talking about people behind their back

Anonymous complaints


When someone asks you do to something and then they do it anyway


We also looked at strategies we could engage in to nurture the kind of culture we want to experience and share with others at University.


DECISION:  We decided that our next Vision Meeting will be a planning meeting: We will identify what changes and new ideas we have implemented that have come out of the vision and other meetings, take stock of where we are, identify further actions and make plans to implement them.


We hope to see you there!


posted Mar 25, 2013, 8:58 PM by Uumc Topeka


As I write this, we are at the beginning of Holy Week.  As I look forward to the events of the upcoming week, I find myself still experiencing  the power of Palm/Passion Service on Sunday morning and the previous evening’s celebration of Dick Driver’s life and home-going. Both services, though very different from each other, were deeply moving, filled with awesome music and life-giving words, beauty and pathos, compassion, sorrow, trust, hope, and joy.  The Holy Spirit guided both services and was a palpable presence. How grateful I am for each person who participated in the shaping of these services, who, together, created a holy space in which all those who came would find blessing. I am always moved by how the unexpected and the familiar work together to move us closer to God. The Bible tells us that God is changeless, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But it also tells us that God says, “See, I am about to do a new thing!”  I know that people who came to Dick’s memorial service were comforted and inspired to hear “I Come to the Garden Alone,” and “Amazing Grace,” even as they delighted in the fact that in celebration of his birthday, purple, orange, and white balloons adorned the sanctuary.  On Palm/Passion Sunday, we began with the traditional joyous procession of palms, but the service also included the more unusual extinguishing of the lights, and the shrouding of the cross in billows of white fabric. At the end of the service, in the dim light and with the music of lament still reverberating in our hearts, we left the sanctuary in silence.

As we move now through the wonder of the Easter Season let us keep in our hearts these two ways in which God continually blesses us: through that which is familiar, trustworthy, tried and true…  and through that which is unique, surprising,  utterly astonishing in its freshness and newness. That which has never been experienced before.  That which might even at first upset and disturb us as it presents us with the unexpected, the reversal of everything we think we know.  Welcome to the Resurrection.

Rejoice! Are you coming to the party?

posted Mar 14, 2013, 12:35 PM by Uumc Topeka

The Rev. January Kiefer  SUBMITTED

The Rev. January Kiefer

The season of Lent is a time of reflection, repentance and reconciliation.

Many of us think of it as a somber — even a sorrowful — time. But the fourth Sunday in Lent, Lataere Sunday, takes its name from the Latin for “rejoice,” and like the third Sunday of Advent, turns to themes of joy and celebration. The scriptural readings for this day* include Luke 15:11-32, the parable commonly known as The Prodigal Son. “Prodigal” means reckless, extravagant, lavish, even foolish expenditure.

“There were two brothers ...” Jesus begins this story by talking about the younger of two sons who asks his father for his inheritance, receives it and then, going to “a far country,” squanders everything in “riotous living.” At last, destitute, disgraced and starving, he “comes to himself” and decides to return to his father. His plan is not to ask for reconciliation, which he believes he does not deserve, but to beg for simple survival as a hired hand in his father’s household. His father however, who is surely the real “prodigal” in this story, sees his son coming while he is still a long way off, and, filled with compassion, runs to embrace him, kiss him and call for a robe, ring and sandals to be brought for him — all signs of forgiveness and restoration. The father then orders a celebration to be held, because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; was lost and is found.”

Many of us Christians stop here in our meditation on this story. We are grateful to see ourselves in the younger son, the one who, no matter how stupid, bullheaded and self-destructive, is welcomed back by the extravagant love of God.

But there were two brothers.

The eldest brother, a hard-working man who has been at home all along, hears about the celebration and is incensed. Filled with resentment, he refuses to come to the party. His father comes out to plead with him but is met with a volley of complaints.

“I’ve been working like a slave for you,” this son says, but what have you ever done for me?

The father is mystified. “All that I have is yours,” he says, “but we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Jesus ends his story there. It is a story that fills us with questions. Did either of the brothers really recognize that their father’s love was available to each of them all along? And what about us? How far away are we from our reconciliation to God — from our ability to receive and respond fully and freely to God’s love? How far away are we from reconciliation to one another — from our ability to recognize and celebrate our kinship with one another? Have we gone to “a far country,” or are we standing stubbornly just outside the door, filled with self-righteous rage and unyielding hearts, refusing to cross the threshold because ...? Ah, that the extravagant, foolish, lavish, reckless, prodigal love of God might flow from our own hearts. Ah, that we might realize that God throws a party for all of us every day! When are we going to come to the party?

*The prescribed readings for the fourth Sunday in Lent, from the Revised Common Lectionary, used in many Protestant churches: Joshua 5:9-2; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; and Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

Our Lenten Journey Continues

posted Mar 10, 2013, 6:52 PM by Uumc Topeka   [ updated Mar 10, 2013, 7:16 PM ]

Since the first Sunday in Advent we have been in the Gospel of Luke. Luke has provided us with our Lenten focus as well. We have, among other things, been noting that which is particular about this Gospel so that we can be blessed and guided by it.

It is only in Luke for instance that Jesus is described as praying on the Mount of Olives in such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground.” It is also only in Luke that we are told that the Lord Jesus “turned and looked at Peter” after Peter had denied him three times. As we continue our Lenten journey we will discover that one of the most profound things that is unique to the Gospel of Luke is the “word of forgiveness” that Jesus offers as he is crucified.

Some Protestant churches use the Lenten Season of Good Friday during Holy Week to focus on what are called Jesus’ “seven last words,” the things he said from the cross. Three of these “words” appear exclusively in Luke. It is in the Gospel-telling as we have it from Luke that Jesus forgives his tormentors and killers, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing;” assures the repentant thief that, “today you will be with me in Paradise;” and cries out just before death, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

I so love the story of my Savior. But I also love that it is told with different nuances and emphases in each of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John experienced and expressed the love of Jesus in their own unique ways. What are the ways in which you experience and express t he light and love of Jesus that are particular to you? That also is part of the Lenten journey.

Pastor January


Fasting and Feasting

posted Jan 25, 2013, 12:17 PM by Uumc Topeka

Fasting and Feasting

Saying No and Saying Yes


Lent is a period of forty days that begins on Ash Wednesday, (Feb. 13) and ends on Holy Saturday (March 30), the day before we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (The Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the forty days.)

 Many devoted Christians through the ages have entered into the Season of Lent as a time of spiritual repentance, reflection and renewal as we move towards the Great Celebration of the Feast of Easter. Persons called to join the Body of Christ have used this time of preparation for their Baptism on Easter Sunday. Whether you are coming as a devoted Christian, or seeking Baptism, or are seeking to join the church as a new or recommitted member, this can be a wonderful time of prayer, purification and preparation for all.

 Lent is traditionally the season in which many Christians choose to FAST. Though fasting refers specifically to going without food in some way, any kind of abstinence can be a powerful form of purification and preparation when done mindfully. Jesus and his disciples fasted. John Wesley fasted every Wednesday and Friday as a young man, and as he aged, every Friday (not just during Lent, but all year long!)

 When we abstain from something prayerfully we create a space, an opening for the Lord to visit more deeply and powerfully with us. We can abstain from anything: food, sex, electronic communication, artificial light… We can also abstain from those things that fill us with harmful energy - like gossip, cursing, complaining, or any number of other things.

 Ask the Lord to direct your thoughts in this Lenten season. What does Spirit want you to say “no” to? What does Spirit want you to say “yes” to?

May we all use the days ahead to prepare to receive the New Life that is offered to all of us in the Gift of the Resurrected Christ.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1-4 NRSV)

 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. O taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:1, 8a NRSV)

 Pastor January

Journey and Pilgrimage

posted Dec 22, 2012, 5:49 PM by Uumc Topeka

Dear Ones,

Here we stand, at the threshold of a new year in all our lives.  A path lies before us. We are being asked to journey along it together; to get to know each other better, to deepen our affection for and our trust in one another; to nurture one another, to mourn and to celebrate together, but mostly to share in the awesome encounter of the Holy Spirit  and the worship of God though our Lord, Jesus Christ . 

Our focus for this month is on journey and pilgrimage. We entered into the Gospel of Luke in Advent and it will guide us on to Pentecost.  Our January Art & Spirit will give us the opportunity to walk the labyrinth, among other things.   Walking the labyrinth is an ancient spiritual practice. There is a significant difference between labyrinths  and mazes. Mazes are full of blind alleys and dead-ends.  But when one walks the labyrinth – no matter how many times we loop back and circle around – there is only one path – and it always leads us “home.” What a wonderful metaphor that is for the spiritual journey. Though we may sometimes feel like we are lost or simply “going in circles”, when we live as faithful disciples, earnestly following the Way of Jesus,  we become conscious that He walks with us “all along the pilgrim journey,” and that every step is accompanied by God and leads us on to God’s great and gracious Glory. Walk good!

Pastor January Kiefer

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