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Fresh Start in 2021

One of the wonderful things about each new year is that it brings with it a sense of a new beginning, 365 new days of promise and possibility. Some use this time to bring freshness to their lives. You may decide to declutter the junk drawer, attic, or garage. It may also mean removing many of the sugars, fats, and carbohydrates from our diets. As a United Methodist church member, parting with some things for a season, may help declutter your spiritual life. Doing so helps make room for a new movement of the Holy Spirit in the months to come. What might you set aside in the next year?

John Wesley instructed his pastors to "Never trifle away time". Instead, they were to be engaged in the practice of ministry or the development of their spiritual lives. While we may not want to get rid of all timewasters since we do need times of rest, there are diversions we could remove and replace with something more beneficial. Consider finding ways to free up time to make regular calls to old friends and church members you no longer see, to join a class or small group at your church, or when possible, volunteer at a local food bank or other mission.

If you have been a Christian for some time, you probably know the Bible fairly well. There are verses you know by heart, and stories that are awfully familiar. Reading from a different version of the Bible can help bring new life to those passages. A translator's decision to use one word over another may give you some new insight you hadn't thought of before. If you regularly read from a modern version like the Common English Bible, consider a more traditional translation like the New Revised Standard Version. If you gravitate toward the more traditional, try something more modern. Search the web for Bible reading sites and apps (there are many free ones) where you can access a new version of Scripture.

Devotionals are helpful aids to lead us in Scripture reading and prayer every day, but we can become stuck in a rut with them as well. If you have been using the same book or website for more than a year, you may benefit from trying something different this year. A new devotional resource, like an unfamiliar Bible translation, can bring new life to your time with God. There are many devotional helps available online and in physical and digital books. The Upper Room from Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, is a very good source. Try something new.

Many readers have favorite authors. We like the way they turn a phrase, develop a story, or how they put into words what we have thought or felt for some time. Growth, though, often comes from thinking about things from more than one perspective. Reading a variety of authors can challenge us to do just that.
When looking for a book to read for spiritual enrichment (Cokesbury and Abingdon Press are good places to start), consider something new to you, which actually may be something quite old. You might want to read from a theologian whose work you have heard is vital but have never read, a person on the best-seller list whose views you think may be different from yours, or a recommendation from your pastor.

Give yourself permission to take a break from that class or group you have been attending solely out of habit. It's OK. Try a new class. Join a group that discusses things that interest you. Be careful with this one though. Connections to other people of faith are vital, so don't pull away from all groups. If you take a break from one group, make sure you find other Christians with whom you can share and from whom you can learn.

Although we do not like to admit it, there are seasons when many of us fall into patterns of negativity. Discouraged by the news, the theology of others, policies of our denomination, and practices of our congregation can become sources of stress and fodder for complaining. Removing negativity from our lives and choosing instead to find things to celebrate can lift your spirits and renew your passion for that which matters most. Find where you see the love of Jesus in the world and celebrate it.

Many of us are not attending in-person worship at the start of the year, but when we do, our pastors often know where each member of their congregation sits each Sunday. Choosing to worship from a new seat for a season will give you a new perspective—literally. As an added bonus, when you are worshiping in person, changing your seat may also change who is near you, the usher with whom you interact, the members of the choir or praise team you can see, and more. All of this can help you stay more focused on the worship service as you see things a little differently.

Some of us do things in the church that bring us no joy. We're not really sure how we ever got the job. We don't really want it. Yet, we are fairly sure that if we don't do it, it won't get done. Those types of obligations often lead to church burnout. After the New Year is underway, schedule a conversation with your pastor. Ask how you can step away from that obligation and into a new way of using your gifts to serve your church or community. That will be a blessing both to you and your congregation.

The New Year can be one of new experiences in your church and spiritual life. Make room in days ahead for the Holy Spirit to do a new work in you. Then see what happens.

Joe Iovino, 
United Methodist Communications
Cornerstone Family Ministries
 Wonder Walk
Cornerstone Family Ministries (CFM) would like to say Happy New Year and Thank You to all United Methodist Churches who supported our students and families through donations during the holiday season. As you may already be aware, our ministry’s mission is to make a lasting and positive impact in the lives of disadvantaged children and their families in our community by nurturing young bodies, developing young minds, and fostering hope through Christ one child at a time. It is only with the support of donors like the United Methodist Churches in the Gulf Coast District that we are able to make this positive impact.

Here at Cornerstone, we are preparing for our 41st Annual Wonder Walk/Run. Now considered, “Wonder Walk Season”, this year we have adjusted our event to accommodate the CDC’s COVID-19 Social Distancing recommendations. So we will host our walk virtually for all participants on Saturday, March 6, 2021 at 9 AM. Teams are encouraged to be creative and find a peaceful place to go for a walk and pray for our families, students, teachers, and nation. This event will also include a virtual presentation and silent auction and so we welcome any in-kind donations or gift baskets valued at $75 or more to include in our virtual silent auction. Please reference the save the date flyer for more information about each event and register online beginning January 15, 2021 at www.cornerstonefamilyministries.org.

Now more than ever before we need you support, and we invite everyone to participate at the level they choose. Our goal is to raise $141,000 to provide crucial scholarships for each and every child that attends our Rosa Valdez Early Learning Center, since each child currently is on at least a partial scholarship.

In addition, the Gulf Central District Superintendent, Dr. Candace Lewis, has challenged every church in the district to have a virtual Wonder Walk team, to help raise donations for Cornerstone We ask that you invite church members to join your team in walking and/or giving/recruiting donations.

If your church is interested in participating as a team and would like to schedule a training for your congregation or unit please feel free to contact Jeanette Hordge-Smith at jhordgesmith@cornerstonefm.org or call 813-253-3853 ext. 301. We are also exited to announce that the Conn Memorial Foundation will again match up to $10,000 this year for all NEW sponsors, teams, and individual walkers!

Waymaker on the AT

From late February, 2021 through July (or perhaps August), a local volunteer for Family Promise of Hillsborough County will be attempting to complete a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail (the AT). The volunteer, whose trail name is Waymaker, will start his adventure from Springer Mountain in Georgia, the AT’s southern terminus. From there, it is only a meandering 2193 mountainous miles north through the Eastern United States, ending only when the thru hiker reaches Mount Katahdin in Maine. Along the way, Waymaker will hike in 14 states, ascending and descending hundreds of mountains. Each night Waymaker and his companion will camp in a tent or one of the hundreds of lean-to type open faced shelters along the trail.

Waymaker and his friend will carry everything they will need on their backs—tents, sleeping gear, clothing, food, water, and essential hiking equipment. The estimated time it will take to complete their hike is between five or six months, depending on the weather, their pace and fatigue, logistical issues, and other factors.

Waymaker’s trail name was a consensus proscribed and approved by his family and friends after several other less appropriate names were tried out. Waymaker is a reference to Isaiah 43:19:

See, I am doing a new thing!
  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

Waymaker has been one of the early supporters of Family Promise of Hillsborough County. The mission of the Family Promise organization is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based effort. Family Promise provides shelter, meals, and support services to their guests, and provide a safe and comfortable environment for both parents and children until the parents can find employment and affordable housing.

Waymaker urges everyone to consider pledging money-per-mile for every mile he completes on the AT. Pledges will be tracked by another local Family Promise volunteer, Chris McCallister, and progress will be published regularly to everyone who signs up with a pledge. A standard penny-per-mile pledge would mean a total donation of $21.93 if the trek is completed in full. Waymaker’s progress will be tracked on his blog,
You can email your pledge to Chris at chrismccallister@verizon.net.  One hundred percent of all the funds raised will be given directly to Family Promise of Hillsborough County for their fine program.

Please prayerfully consider this request and contact Chris with your pledge. Happy trails and blessings from Waymaker.