This Sunday, singer/songwriter Elizabeth Wills and Open Mic Stories!

“On your feet now – applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter… enter with the password, ‘Thank you!’… and make yourselves at home.” — Ps 100 (The Message)

“Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” — Rumi

Everyone has a story to tell of a moment or place or person that mediated the presence of wonder and grace.

This Sunday, November 24, at eleven:eleven, singer/songwriter Elizabeth Wills will join us for our first-ever, Open Mic StoryArc Sunday!

Four storytellers will share brief, moving and humorous tales of international wonder, family moments of redemption, and grace-filled encounters with strangers. It will be a morning to remember.

And music with Elizabeth Wills! I hope you can join us.

In the meantime, here’s a brief story.

Some years ago I made a solo cycling trip around Ireland — 30 days in August and September, following a route from the International Airport in Dublin, south through the Wicklow Mountains, west along the “wild Atlantic way” and then north from the Dingle Penninsula through Galway and Sligo, as far north as one can go in the Republic to a tiny village called Glen Columcille (in Donegal county).

On the 10th day, around 6:30 am, I left the hostel in Sligo dressed in cycling rain gear, and my bike panniers were loaded on the front and back of the bike.

Most of the days on this trip were wet and cold. On this particular day, the rain came hard and steady, with a nice headwind that kept my pace to almost a crawl! I was soaked head to toe before I’d left the edge of town, and I had at least 8 hours of riding before I would reach Glen Columcille (with a couple of stops along the way, including a long-anticipated visit to the grave of the Nobel Prize poet, WB Yeats).

It was a wet Sunday morning and no one was on the road. Then, about an hour into the trip, two of my front wheel spokes snapped, causing the tire to warp and wobble, the inner metal rim rubbing insistently against the brake pads. I’d hoped to at least reach the next village and wait out the rain, but now with the bike dragging almost to a stop, I had to get off and walk it.

I hobbled along another rain-soaked mile when I saw a tiny gas station — a small house trailer with a single gas pump covered by a canopy. The place was closed, but I made for the canopy, turned the bike upside down, and huddled up against the pump as close as I could to get out of the rain.

I imagined how foolish I must look. Second guessing the whole trip at this point, I was glad that at least there was no one there to see me.

Across the road, I could just make out an old stone church which looked empty and abandoned in the heavy rain. I hadn’t seen but one car since starting out. I was alone to enjoy my misery.

That’s when I heard someone holler at me from the mobile home. A young guy in a poncho looked out the door and shouted, “You waiting for a boat?”

I smiled and waved. “Just waiting for the rain to let up.”

“Your bicycle sick?” he shouted.

“Sorry? What?” I asked back.

“What’s wrong with the bike?” he clarified.

“Broken spokes! You know anything about bikes?”

“Not the slightest!”

This was followed by an awkward silence. While the rain continued, he stood there staring, I suppose at a loss for how to help — or maybe just curious.

He finally broke the silence and asked, “How about a spot of tea?”

“That would be wonderful!” I shouted back. “I’m getting pretty cold and haven’t eaten since starting out early this morning!”

He didn’t say anything, but disappeared back into the mobile home and closed the door.

After no sign of him for 15 minutes, I figured that was that. And then he appeared at the door with a couple of sandwiches, a thermos of tea, and a large umbrella. He came out and handed me the tray and umbrella, ran back inside, and came back out with two folding chairs. We sat down, propped the umbrella over our heads and ate the ham and cheese sandwiches. Something so simple never tasted so good!

“I’d invite you inside,” he said, “But I’ve a couple of mutts that would surely tear into you looking as belted as you do!” And then he laughed some more.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Then the rain let up a little, and he found a few tools I was able to use to true the rest of the spokes enough to compensate for the broken ones.

He asked me where I was headed, and I told him I’d hoped to stop by Yeats’ grave on the way up to Glen Columcille but would have to forego that since I didn’t know where it was and needed to make up for lost time.

“Well,” he said, “that’s understandable. But if you have just 5 minutes, his grave is right there.” And he pointed to the old stone church across the road.

It was Drumcliff Church!

“They’ll hold Mass in a couple of hours,” he added, “but it’s empty now. Bet you can find it before they arrive!”

I laughed and thanked him for his generosity and conversation, got on my bike, and stepped up to the pedal when he began reciting a Yeats poem — clearly appropriate to the circumstance:

“Come away, o human child,

From the water and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand…

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand…”

Thanksgiving and connection, awe and surprise, the comfort and generosity of strangers — it often comes in very human, ordinary ways, and often in the least expected places. And when it does, it can impart a sense of magic and wonder, a deep comfort completely undeserved.

We get to do that for one another — in our neighborhoods, at a church mission, while shopping, on the job, or “on the other side of the pond.” We get to bring laughter to the moment, as we enter the place with the password “Thank You.

I hope you can join us Sunday for more stories!


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

And A Special Note:

You no doubt received an email from the church announcing the appointment of Rev. Lance Marshall as Co-Pastor with Senior Pastor, Dr. Tim Bruster. Bishop Mike Lowry will make that appointment official this Sunday in the main Sanctuary, at both the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m services. You will want to read and hear more about this important step for our church here . . .

First Church Celebrates a New Appointment

First United Methodist Church celebrates the beginning of a new chapter with the appointment of Rev. Lance Marshall as Co-Pastor as part of a long-range succession plan. This plan was developed by Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster, Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Rev. Louis Carr, and the First Church Staff Parish Relations Committee led by Allison Alvarado.

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