by Nancy Graham Ogne on May 25th, 2016

Last week, 12 women from the Hope family met for an evening of color and light at Painting with a Twist in Winter Park.

Our own Sarah Allen, a professional artist, led our class -- teaching a roomful of novices how to engage a blank canvas without fear. Several people who've seen images like this one note that while we painted the same object with the same instruction & same color palette, each of our "Dawn of a New Day" paintings was distinctive.

For me, this became a lovely metaphor for following Jesus Christ. Each Christ-follower looks to the same model -- our leader, Jesus -- who shows us how to engage the world with grace ... colored by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And while an observer should quickly recognize the pattern we're following, God uses our individual personalities, gifts and weaknesses to shape these efforts into a unique offering for the world. 

Thanks be to the creative God, who allows us to bring our own flair to his good and beautiful purpose! 

by Nancy Graham Ogne on May 3rd, 2016

Each week before worship the team who arrives early to set up the space (chairs, banners, sound system, welcome & communion tables, hospitality, etc.) circles up to pray.

Typically we pray for God's Spirit to move in the lives of all who enter .... for God to draw people all over Lake Nona to himself -- leading them to grow in our church or in any of the other fine faith communities here .... for all who attend or serve during the week at Lake Nona Middle School .... for God's faithful presence amid chaotic circumstances.

This past Sunday, Charlene -- one of our faithful set-up team members -- quietly stepped from the circle to snap this picture. I love what it accurately communicates about this particular faith community. Hope Pres seems like a snapshot of the world: diverse in age, ethnicity, and faith heritage.  My favorite part of this photo is the hands. Look closely. Absorb what this communicates about following Jesus. Here. Now. In years ahead.

Look, friends. Believe. Live into it.

by Nancy Graham Ogne on April 14th, 2016

In support of our denomination's 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement, for the last two years I've helped interview candidates for 1001 apprenticeships. These experiences occur in different contexts across the country and include summer-long, nine month or one year formats. They're designed to help new leaders explore fresh expressions of the Church alongside a cohort of fellow adventurers, mentors and coaches. 

I feel so enriched by this experience: hearing the faith journey and dreams of Spirit-nudged entrepreneurs. These leaders are a microcosm of our changing world: diverse in ethnicity, denominational heritage, gender, age, you name it ... But consistently, they are women and men who love Jesus and want to follow him faithfully as they love and welcome others.

New worshiping communities ... without walls ... serving the least, the last and the lost ... building bridges of peace among people of different faiths or no faith ... leaving the familiar to meet people where they are.

Friends, God is doing a New Thing, and he's raising up men and women to give it skin. It makes my heart beat faster ... and it gives me hope for the church and the world. Thanks be to God.

by Nancy Graham Ogne on April 7th, 2016

Throughout April, we're hosting a Haiku Charity Contest -- tapping into this simple structure of language to express the delight, challenge, humor and call of creation care and faith.

Originated in Japan, haiku poetry features three short lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables. Here are two examples:

Only seventeen
syllables form the canvas
A paintbrush of words

Whose idea was this?
Can you really share your heart
in three little lines?

Through the end of the month, submit haikus at church with themes of Earth Care, Earth Beauty, Earth Stewardship (hey, it's Earth Day/Month!)  or Life at Hope Presbyterian (hey, it's us!). We'll have a category for children elementary school age or younger, and we'll award selections from The Amazing Treasure Chest of Mostly Useful Prizes to category winners. The overall winner may designate $30 to the approved charity of choice (we have a fluid list of more than 200 approved charities and we're open to new ones). So ...

Click off your remote
Mull ideas and grab paper
Show us what you've got

Tap your creative juices. Express yourself. Let's #DoGoodHaveFun!

by Nancy Graham Ogne on March 24th, 2016

This will likely be our last shared sunrise service under the arms of the giant oak in St. Cloud. The congregation of St. Cloud Pres has received an offer on the property and, if the way be clear, will sell it in the next few months.

We've met the community under this oak each Easter morning since 2011 -- even before Hope officially launched public worship.  Rev. Steve Graves, then the pastor at SCPC, invited me to preach as a way of introducing our soon-coming congregation to the Narcoossee Corridor. It's been a lovely partnership.

The St. Cloud congregation calls it "The Tree of Life." And, like life, it's stood sentinel over many changes in the wider community -- and even among those who've gathered beneath its leafy branches to celebrate the Lord's resurrection. The road has expanded; shopping plazas and gas stations have popped up near its closest intersection. Pastors and other leaders have come and gone; so have congregation members. And still it raises its arms to God.

On Sunday 3/27, we'll meet there again. Worship begins at 6:30 am, when the skies are still dark. And as light breaks through the limbs of The Tree of Life, we will celebrate the One who conquers death ... who speaks life and possibility into the land of despair and finality. What a Savior! Thanks be to God!

by Nancy Graham Ogne on March 18th, 2016

This week we've experimented with prayers at the Twilight Hour -- Vespers (Latin for "evening") -- and I've tried intentionally to watch for the changing light. To the point of setting an alarm that sings a welcoming chorus so I won't skate right past the coming of night.

Reflecting on blessings (or blessing unfinished business with a promise to return) and offering these reflections in gratitude to God has been quieting ... hope-inducing. I've especially embraced the idea of a ritual to mark the shift from workday to evening. This week, I've lighted a candle to symbolize that. The aesthetic draw to a dancing light and the incense of its aroma seems to help me make an internal transition.

St. John of the Cross said, "In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human success, but rather on how much we have loved." How well have I loved this day?

I close each twilight experiment with a quote from Psalm 34.1-2, 5a: "I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD ... We look to you ... and so we shine."  Lord, I look to you. Shine through me; shine through us.

by Nancy Graham Ogne on March 10th, 2016

I snapped this photo three years ago, sitting at a breakfast booth in downtown Atlanta on the morning of our niece's wedding.

This image flashes across layers of my mind, with close-up color and distant monochrome ... the hard-to-read immediate and an easier-to-decipher distance.

Hidden at left, across the empty street, are two emblems of my alma mater, Georgia State University. Three degrees ago, my days at Georgia State are a blur of busy-ness -- carrying 15 hours of classes while at the same time (by the end) working up to 60 hours a week at multiple jobs. And remaining very active in my little home church. And maintaining friendships. And dating a bit. 

I carried a lot of great experience from GSU, which was then exclusively a commuter university. Studying journalism in downtown Atlanta, students shadowed journalists with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and covered Atlanta police beats, sports teams and courts. In that pre-internet era, though, college friendships were often transient: I'd laugh and ponder all quarter with an intelligent, hilarious, thoughtful classmate then never see him or her again. It can be like that at a commuter college, when students may require a shift to night classes or an indefinite break from school to work -- and you each live one hour away, in opposite directions, from campus. Oh, well. Keep working.

As a result of that crazy busy schedule and the ebb-and-flow of commuter college life, I lost touch with most of my college buddies.

Then ... last week ... an email appeared in my inbox. The sender: the first friend I made in my first college class -- and one of my three most treasured college buds. This friend's name is Lowell Alexander and our 18-year-old selves learned very quickly that we had a boatload of mutual friends and a shared faith in Jesus Christ. We took several core classes together -- some by accident and most by design ... English, Algebra (two different classes, as I recall), Music Appreciation. Probably more.

But I was a journalism major and Lowell a music major -- and a very gifted songwriter and piano player. Our paths forked. We kept in touch for a little while, but he married and moved to Nashville as a staff writer for Sony, Warner and then EMI and I pursued the journalism/ministry paths. Yet I've never forgotten this humble and hilarious friend.

Six weeks ago, one of our mutual friends died suddenly from a short and fierce cancer battle. As he perused the condolence page, he spotted my name and contact info and he reached out. On Monday, we spent an hour on the phone, catching up. He is still the same kind man I remember -- gifted musician and happy husband, dad, son and brother.

We hope to connect next year when his family ventures to Orlando. What's fascinating: Though we hadn't spoken in about 30 years, we both hold specific, vivid memories of the other -- and we both recall the other as a great encourager in life and faith.

I've been buoyed in the days since by friendship reclaimed. And I'm reminded that, despite the monochrome veil of memory, many colorful people have graced our lives ... and we are richer, deeper, more colorful because of it.

by Nancy Graham Ogne on March 3rd, 2016

[Jesus] also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." ~ Mark 4.26-29 (emphasis mine)

In a thoughtful exercise of lectio divina (sacred reading) Sunday morning, a small group listened for God's word to us from this text. I was struck by the phrase, "he does not know how." Someone, presumably a farmer, scatters seed .... Nights and days pass .... The earth spins on its axis ... The man sleeps and rises .... Life continues as normal .... Presumably no one on earth knows better than this someone what's required for this seed in this piece of ground in this season. Likely no one cares more about its success.

But many things lie beyond the someone's capacity. The man can only do his part. Meanwhile, in the hidden places, God is doing the work this someone cannot. This is where life occurs!

This exercise + Sunday's lovely contemplative Taize worship (with wonderful guest musicians) underscore the theme of our 2-week MidMorning Prayer experiment.
  • Plant ... and trust God (text)
  • Listen ... don't be busy (Taize)
  • Pause from work ... and invite God (MidMorning Prayer).
In short, I can easily grow distracted and restless ... working, relying primarily on action ... erroneously imagining responsibility for what is God's in the first and final place. MidMorning Prayer is, at a certain level, a call to humility -- to recognize that like the 'someone,' I do what I'm called to do and can ... and that God brings life. First to the seed and also to me. Trust God.

"Let your loveliness shine on us, and bless the work we do, bless the work of our hands.”
                                                                                                   ~ Psalm 90.17, Benedictine prayer book

by Nancy Graham Ogne on February 24th, 2016

A vintage globe that prominently features the Soviet Union ... an award-winning book I now own on Kindle ... These are a couple items you'll find on the table this Sunday 2/28 at Hope's first, ever-so-small Free to a Good Home Sale.

So, you're thinking, "How does Nancy not know that 'Free' and 'Sale' don't belong in the same sentence?" 

Here's the key: Everything you'll find on the table is free .... Take it; it's yours .... Really .... Take everything on the table if you want .... No obligation.  And, if you'd like, you may make a gift to the church's Hope Scholars fund in the basket on the table. The fund underwrites modest, equal-value college scholarships for in-house applicants and one senior at Orlando's  at-risk Oak Ridge High School. Since we launched Hope Scholars in 2012, we've given 16 college scholarships totaling, $10,480.

Participants may bring items for the Free to a Good Home Sale any Sunday til Easter, 3/27. If you contribute pieces, please take or arrange to share your unclaimed items with a charity thrift store. See Marcy, Tammy, Suzanne or me if you have questions.

So: You can take items without giving any money at all; you can make a donation without claiming any items from the pile (though surely every home needs a globe featuring the USSR!); or you can do both -- give an old globe (or book or bracelet) a new home and make a donation. No one will follow you out the door or whine that you took things and didn't make a donation. It's free. That's how grace works!

by Nancy Graham Ogne on February 18th, 2016

I've never considered myself a morning person. And though I long-ago considered myself a night person, the first two weeks of Hope's experiment with Praying the Hours are the two forms that most challenge me: Week 1 of The Night Watch/Vigils and Week 2 of The Awakening Hour/Dawn.

For six nights I rose at 1 am -- during the midnight to dawn window of The Night Watch -- to present myself before God and, in some mystical way, bodily pray solidarity with those who face real or metaphorical darkness. At least once I fended off deep resistance when the 'Dawn Chorus' alarm quietly sounded at 1 am -- shuffling into the next room so as not to disturb Paul. At the start of each Vigil I lit a candle and, illuminated only by its flickering light, I read a Psalm text and entered a brief liturgy, closing with prayer. Often I wordlessly held the names and faces of those I knew to be suffering: a friend who sat through the night by his mother's hospice bed; another friend awaiting surgery; nameless others enduring violence and war. Somehow my wakefulness became a prayer .... and I felt drawn nearer to The One Who Keeps Watch Always.

In this second week of rising to welcome the day, I've actually risen before the alarm -- cradling a mug of hot tea as I face the eastern sky. "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you ..." (Psalm 143.8). I've slowly moved away from structure and quietly embraced the fresh canvas of God's new day -- listening to a quiet chorus of birds from North, South, East and West of me. On Wednesday, I opened the scriptures just after sunrise to my bookmark in Romans. Here is what I read (in The Message version): "But make sure that you don't get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!" (Romans 13.11-12, my italics). This text fell in the midst of my New Testament reading -- and I couldn't help but smile. Welcome, God! Join me in the journey of this day.

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