From the moment Rev. Carol Roberts first walked through our heavy and ornate wooden First Church doors, she says she was completely overwhelmed at the size of . . . everything. “This is a big place,” she smiles, “and I have not served a church or been a part of a church this size before.”
And, she adds that it wasn’t just the square footage that gave her pause, but the scope of all the different ministries and people and things that go on here at FUMCFW. “So that was an eye-opener and quite a learning curve!” she says, laughing.
Even though Carol was just with us for a very short time — just shy of eight months — hers was a ministry of impact and complete devotion. And, even though she says it’s hard to say which was her favorite of her activities (she loved them all!), Carol says that working at the First Street Methodist Mission was a special experience for her: “I really enjoyed working with not only the people who serve at the Mission,” she says, “but also our neighbors. I think it’s a really important outreach.”
Although Carol has been involved with food pantries and outreach activities with other groups, she says that the weekly kind of engagement at the Mission allowed her to get to know our neighbors we serve there, and to remember that while they are people who come to the Mission from different kinds of circumstances, they’re all children of God, just like anyone else. “I saw the light of Christ in them,” she adds, “and I pray they saw the light of Christ in me. We’ve all got a lot to learn about each other, and one of the main things to learn is never to make assumptions about one another, either way.”
In addition to her work with the Mission, Carol also took part in the weekly DiscipleChurch breakfast and worship service on Sunday mornings. Remarking on the uniqueness of this service and worship opportunity, Carol describes it as “a bridge between Methodists.”
Another thing Carol found both interesting and enjoyable during her time with us is the variety and types of worship experiences we offer. “I liked being in worship, and when I’ve been assigned, I’ve been a part of leading worship too,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed all the different kinds of worship that we have — all the choices that are offered here.”
She laughs, remembering the Sundays when she didn’t have an assigned role in the Sanctuary services, “I kind of worship hopped! The services are all so different, and they speak in different ways,” she explains. “And, the neat thing here, too, is that there are some folks who go to multiple services each week, or they go to one service on one Sunday and to another service on another Sunday. There are just so many different ways these different worship opportunities to speak to people, and I’ve really enjoyed watching that and how it allows all kinds of people to meet one another as they cross paths in different ways.”
Carol says she thinks that the fluidity of this variety of worship experiences make for an interesting blend of voices. “It’s First United Methodist Church, but in some respects, it is a related collection of smaller congregations with smaller individual voices — with fluidity between them.
Because Carol’s background is in skills education — and teaching has always been one of her favorite things — she has always been involved in some sort of education. Here at First Church, she put her love for teaching to work facilitating a divorce recovery class and a six-week prayer class during Lent.
“This is a busy place,” Carol reflects. “I would have to say one of my favorite things during my time here was getting to know the different kinds of people who are here, people from all walks of life. One of the things I’ve really appreciated is the welcome for so many different kinds of people and conversations. We’ve had a difficult time right now in the church, yet there is a conversation here. “It’s not easy,” she continues, “and some people like to have these conversations, and some people don’t. But the opportunity is here to do that, and I greatly appreciated it.”
Carol says that teaching the prayer class and leading the prayer chapel service during Lent was one of the most fun things she did during her all-too-short First Church tenure. “In my own faith journey, I’ve used different kinds of prayer practices and methods, and I’ve taught some of that in the past as well,” she elaborates. “I believe that prayer is a conversation with God that envelops all of your life. This opportunity was a good way for me to revisit that idea and share some of the different kinds of prayer methods I know and have used personally.” She smiles. “Sometimes you assume that everybody knows about something like prayer, and then when you open it up and have conversation and share experiences, it’s really fun to watch people embrace a new idea or thought.”
Carol also created prayer cards for each of the different practices she taught during her Lenten prayer class and in the Outdoor Retreats, where she says that she took her teaching of prayer practices camping with the Outdoor Ministry on both the Brownwood State Park and Caddo State Park camping trips. “At Lake Brownwood, we did kind of a nature prayer walk individually, then we shared that as part of our worship time, each taking time to answer the question, ‘What did you see that reminded you of God in this setting of creation?’”
Aligning her prayer class teachings with our Healthy Plate Discipleship, Carol set up the prayer practice descriptions as “recipe cards.” “I like a recipe card format because it just makes it easy to keep with you and refer to them to remind yourself and remember the different ways to have these ongoing conversations with God,” she explains. “They are small enough that you can tuck them in your Bible or your purse or wallet or laptop case — whatever — and keep them top of mind.
Referring back to the Nature Walk Prayer she contributed to the Outdoor Ministry, Carol explains that this idea takes just simply walking and exploring in nature one step further: “We walk, and we look around, and we notice beautiful things — flowers and birds and trees,” she elaborates, “Noticing it is the first part of it, and then we take it one step further into reflecting more deeply on the miracle of God’s creation and expressing our gratitude for all the beauty that surrounds us in nature. That’s what makes it into a spiritual thing.”
Likening this technique to what we naturally do with children, Carol says that for adults to just go out and be intentional about noticing things like leaves, caterpillars, birds, etc., is something of a novel experience. “When we don’t have a child with us to show these things to, we just don’t normally do it for ourselves,” she adds. “Creating that intentionality to it is huge for most people.”
Carol says that this facet of prayer resonates so deeply with her that she is currently using a book called How to Think Like a Five-Year-Old as her own devotional reading. “I’ve been really thinking a lot lately about creativity — and God’s gift of creativity to us,” she says. “We get so busy. I’ve really been trying to work on paying attention to the wonder of what’s around me.”
As Carol prepares to pack up and move on to her new dual appointment to Central United Methodist Church of Brownwood and Lake Brownwood United Methodist Church in Brownwood, Texas that begins July 1, she carries with her some great memories and experiences, along with a double-armload of First Church love, appreciation, and best wishes. She says that she is looking forward to applying her FUMCFW experiences to this next appointment even as she continues to expand her own knowledge and growth.
“I try to be a lifelong learner,” Carol reflects “And I think there are lots of lessons we learn from the people we meet everywhere we go, from all different walks of life. I think I take with me from here a deeper sense of trying to listen to folks. I’ve been trying for a number of years to listen more deeply and to not make assumptions. To listen and to walk with people. I think I take that most from this experience because it’s been a difficult time of diverse people trying to work through some tough issues. How do we have Holy conversations and turn our words and our respect for each other into sacred and Holy moments?”
In addition to her FUMCFW experiences that allowed her to work on these qualities closest to her heart, Carol says that even in doing things she’s done before — and a few things she hasn’t, like facilitating a Divorce Recovery group — there is always more to learn in every situation, location, and appointment. “As a United Methodist pastor, and even before being a pastor, I’ve moved in my adult life numerous times. You always take bits and pieces of the experiences that you have and what you learn from the people you meet,” she says. “I really cherish those things and always ask myself, ‘what did I learn from that?’”
Above all experiences and memories Carol takes with her from FUMCFW, she says that the one thing that is really going to stay with her is how well she was welcomed, how she was given so many different kinds of opportunities, and how interesting it was to get to more than just one thing. Being at First Church during such a tumultuous time, Carol adds, has also been an interesting and inspiring experience.
“I especially like what Dr. Bruster says about how, even with the turmoil going on around us, we can still be what Christ calls us to be, in ministry right here, right now,” she says. “Even though we don’t always agree, that should always be our goal.” Carol pauses for a moment, thoughtful. “I thank God for this church,” she says. “I thank God for these people and I’m so grateful for all the ways we can be in ministry here together.”