Pastor Notes

Things are going to look a bit different on Sunday mornings during Lent. I’d love to tell you why and invite you to be part of it, if you dare. It began for me during a dreary late winter in Kentucky.

I was six months into my seminary experience and all the fun that came with it. After a lifetime of Florida winters, I learned what it was to experience snow and ice and stretches of days without seeing the sun. I had started dating Katie a few months before going to seminary and I missed her like crazy. I was overwhelmed by a graduate school course load. There were many days that I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

Then Lent came, and the seminary chapel drove me deeper into the darkness. They practiced a technology fast during the weeks leading up to Easter. Lights were kept off. They used no amplification, no microphones were connected. Instead of any words or images on the screens, they stayed blank. Instead of being able to run from dreariness I was forced to embrace it. One of the results was that when lights and microphones and images returned it made the brightness and fullness of Easter all the more vivid.

Inspired by this idea, we’re going to try toning down Sunday mornings during Lent. We will still have A/V, but the sounds will lean toward pure, clean tones and the visuals on the screens will be minimalistic. The worship space and altar decor will look a bit sparse. The pastors and those who lead up front will wear clothing that is more muted and neutral. We are intentionally creating a less vibrant space in order to lift up a more vibrant God. Where we might normally depend on some modern innovations to breathe life into our worship gathering, we will rely more on the power of the Holy Spirit and the hearts of the people.

I invite you to join us in this journey. As your closet allows for such options, dress in ways that reflect the quieted personality of this Lent. As you may find the instrumentation a touch lower in volume, let your voice fill the space in ways it might not have before. When you look at the barren backdrop, save for a dark piece of cloth hanging on the wood frame, consider how Jesus declared that quality worship is not dependent on location and instead is a matter of spirit and truth (John 4:19-24). During communion when you are handed a flat piece of unleavened bread, remember the sweetness of the King’s Hawaiian and hold fast to the hope that the bread and the savior will rise again on Easter (I’m super proud of that line)!

As is always the case, I pray God shows us something new during this season. May this Lent be the time that something clicks for us in a way it never had before. I long for us to become one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to this world.

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael

Calling it church “membership” gets tricky. There are many implications, real and perceived, that go along with a categorization like this. We have been taught from other contexts that membership has its benefits and that certain jackets are for members only. So then, what is it to be a member of a church? 

I went to a Christian college affiliated with a particular denomination called The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). There are nearly 30 different “Church of God” branches, hence the (Anderson, Indiana) identification for this one. In any event, this particular sect does not practice formal membership. They believe that any who have found salvation in Jesus Christ are part of God’s Church, and to have a designation of “member” for a local church doesn’t make a lot of sense.  

Words truly shape how we view things. The Church of God wants to make sure no one confuses being committed and connected to the ministry of a local church with a person’s place in God’s eternal kingdom. I really appreciate that. Pastors frequently hear something to this effect, “I don’t have to be part of a church to be a Christian.” There’s truth to this. But a lot also rides on a person’s understanding of what it is to be Christian. That’s where Pastors’ Chat can be helpful.  

We offer these gatherings once per quarter to meet with people who have interest in becoming members at Harvest. We get to know each other and then the pastors share a bit about what it means to take membership vows in the context of The United Methodist Church. The pitch starts by stating, “Here’s why you should not become a member…” You don’t need to be a member of this church to be part of the vast majority of our worship, discipleship, and outreach ministries. You also don’t need to be a member to receive care from the church when you need it. Membership does not have its benefits, it has sacrifices. You’ll be taking vows in front of God and the world that you believe so deeply in the work that God does through the church that you’ll give of your time, money, and heart to be part of this ministry.  

It’s kind of like getting married. Why would you do it if you don’t have to? In fact, don’t do it unless you know in your bones and your soul that you’ve got to. But if you’ve been touched by this sense that God is calling you to something more, to be a committed partner in this relationship because it makes a difference in your life and in this world, then come on down the aisle! Like Beyoncé implored once, “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it…”  

Look for the Pastors’ Chat advertisement in the e-mail newsletter for details and to RSVP. I’ll see you there!  

Pastor Michael



I googled “definition of a Christian.” The first hit came from a dictionary. “Adjective: of, relating to, or professing Christianity and its teachings.” I was looking for a Christian, the noun, not a descriptor. Here we go; “noun: a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.”

 Interesting start. Continuing down the search results I found:

 “Paul’s definition of a Christian is…the true covenant people of God.”

 “Someone who believes Jesus is the Christ or Messiah.”

 “The word ‘Christian’ occurs only three times in the Bible…and in each instance it is synonymous with the word ‘disciple.’”

 An old folk hymn pleads, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.” Does that strike a chord with you? It does for me. I’m always wanting this “being Christian” to be something real, in my heart and beyond.

 To hear Jesus’ call to “follow me” and to actually follow him, that’s what I believe is at the foundation of being a Christian. There are plenty of stumbles and scrapes along the way when we follow, but there’s no better path to be on.  

 May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael

Are you in town on December 24? If so, I look forward to seeing you at one of Harvest’s Christmas Eve worship gatherings! Here a few thoughts and tips:

  • Know which style of service you’re coming to. 3p is going to be kid-friendly from top to bottom. 5p and 7p will feature Christmas music with a modern flavor. 9p will be the most traditional in music and feel. All services will celebrate communion and close with a congregational lighting of candles while singing Silent Night. 
  • Be mindful of some differences in the parking lot. Harvest volunteers will be serving as parking directors throughout the night. Please follow where they guide you. Traffic patterns may also be different than you’re used to when you exit the campus. Between the darkness and increased number of people, especially small children, use extra caution when driving in the lot.  
  • The worship space will open approximately one half-hour before the service begins. The earlier you arrive, the better your chance to sit in a spot that you most desire. We expect there will be seats available at all services for everyone who comes. However, be forewarned that 5p is usually Harvest’s most attended service.  
  • Your kindness to a guest could make all the difference. There will be many people coming to Christmas Eve worship who rarely, if ever, are part of church life. Saying, “Hi!” with a smile, offering to help someone who has that deer in the headlights look, scooting over a few seats to make room for family looking to sit together in a row; these acts of kindness can radically form someone’s view of the church. 
  • Just breathe. Sometimes the day leading up to Christmas Eve worship is anything but peaceful. There is last minute work to be done and things don’t seem to want to go according to any plan. When you arrive for the service, just breathe. Remember that it was also chaotic that night in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But the arrival of the Prince of Peace changes things. Give yourself permission to be present, in body, mind, and spirit. Allow the sights and sounds to create a pathway for Christ to be born anew in you. 

May the Lord bless and keep, 

Pastor Michael  


Our non-churched family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are more open to invitation during this season than any other time of the year. I think this openness is born out of people’s pain and general sense that something is missing. Instead of erasing the hurt many people feel, the light of Advent magnifies it. Those who have grown accustomed to darkness get a taste of brightness, and they can no longer pretend that everything is okay in their life as it is.

If we believe that Harvest can offer the power of Jesus Christ for those who are hurting and empty, but fail to share it with them, we become complicit in their pain. Instead, let’s not miss an opportunity to share good news of great joy with the people of our community. Whether it is Harvest’s Sunday morning worship, a service opportunity like the Falkner Farm party, a special gathering like Wednesday’s Hope and Healing service, or Christmas Eve, you can change someone’s life with a smile and an extended hand of invitation.

I am thankful that God offers us the greatest gift imaginable: life full (John 10:10) and life eternal (John 3:16). It is a humbling honor that we get the chance to share this Christmas gift with the world.

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael


Harvest is honored to commit, for the seventh year, the Christmas Eve offering to meaningful causes that significantly impact persons in our community.

Habitat for Humanity Interfaith Build

Habitat works to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Ten Founding Faith Communities will be working together with a family to build them a new single-family affordable home in Manatee County. Your offerings will make this build possible, and you will have the opportunity to work as part of the construction team.

Bayshore Outreach

Last year’s Christmas Eve offerings helped support recovery ministry, purchase a mobile brick pizza oven which is being used to feed and build relationships with neighbors, and to meet needs of Lee Middle School students. This year your offerings will be used to address the food desert in the Bayshore area and continue to meet needs of students. All of this money will be used to address missional needs in the community.

We are thankful, as the people called Harvest, to be used by God in these ways to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors.

How to Give                                                           

You can make a difference by participating in the Christmas Eve offering! Christmas letters containing an offering envelope will be sent to those on our mailing list. Return your offering envelope during a worship service on Christmas Eve (or any time before December 31). You can also click here to give online.

Pastor Katie

Last Sunday in worship, I gave a brief update on the filling out of commitment cards for ministry through Harvest in the coming year. The first words for this update are THANK YOU! Thank you to God who is our provider! Thank you to the people of Harvest who believe in what God is doing there and are willing to give generously of their heart and resources to make God’s dreams for a ministry a reality!

I wanted to include my outline of the commitment card update for you in the Harvest-e this week. You may have been in worship but would like the chance to review what was shared. You may have missed worship and are curious to see what you missed. Whatever the case, I hope you find this message encouraging. The part you play in building the Kingdom of God is significant. When you give of your time, talents, and tithes, you make a difference. The difference we make is multiplied exponentially when we partner with Jesus and when we partner with his church. It is an honor to join you in both.  

  • Some figures to celebrate: 51 households filled out a card who had not filled one out last year! 30 households identified that their giving this year represented a new step in faith, moving down the road to Tithersville. Praise God for each of you! The commitment of your resources, skills, prayers, and love for the work of God through this church are changing the world.
  • The basics of where we are overall this year compared to last:
    • Number of commitments: 2018 – 220 / 2017 – 241
      • Still have quite a few Harvest households that typically turn in a card that haven’t yet. Not super unusual, but if you’ve been waiting until the last minute…it’s the last minute! We have a reminder letter going out this week, just in case you intended to but it just got away from you.
    • Dollar amount of commitments: 2018 $1,119,688 / 2017 $1,121,529 (-$1,841)
      • Virtually the same as last year! With a bunch more cards we expect yet to come in.
    • We set a 10% increase goal for 2018 for dollars committed, which would be an increase of somewhere around $112,000. We’ll keep you posted on how we end up. We’re excited for two things to happen: to invest more money into the ministries of the church like community engagement, missions, discipleship, children and youth. And we’re also looking forward to start paying on the principle of our debt again. We expect to start this in early 2018.
    • Once again, thank you for your faithfulness. God has blessed us and there is no greater joy I know of than turning that around and being a blessing to our community, nation, and world. We believe what happens through this church is just that, and it couldn’t happen without God and the surrender of our lives. Praise God.

Pastor Michael

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. - Isaiah 9:6-7

Advent is a time of both/and.  I feel the darkness of the world and the light of the Gospel. We see the materialism of the season and the simplicity of a child born in a stable to peasant parents.  Both joy and exhaustion are ever present.  But ultimately, Advent is the season in which God declares you my people are both broken and redeemed.

It’s into this both/and reality that Jesus steps.  Jesus is right here with us in the midst of all the chaos, the joy, the sorrow, the celebration—offering us peace.  Jesus’s proffered peace doesn’t make the chaos disappear any more than it makes the joy disappear.  But the peace changes us; allows us to see through the storm to the safe harbor of God’s shore.

But this peace that Jesus offers is not just for our sake.  It’s meant to be shared with the world.  If all we do with the peace of Jesus is make ourselves feel better, we’ve missed the hope and joy and love of Jesus.  During the season of Advent, we talk about preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ child.  And it is in preparing our hearts that we begin to experience God’s redemption.  But God’s redemption comes in the way we interact with God’s world – by sharing the story of the Gospel, the peace and hope and love and joy of Jesus.  What if the promise of Advent is both the work of preparing ourselves, and the work of preparing the world? What if we look for ways to offer peace to our neighbors?  What if we look for ways to offer peace to strangers?  What if we extend peace to our enemies?  Perhaps it starts with small acts like offering “peace be with you” as greetings to store clerks or to the neighbors we see as we take our trash cans to the curb.  Maybe you begin to pray for peace for the drivers you pass on the roads, the people who crowd the hallways in the mall, the neighbor whose Christmas lights drive you crazy.  And then as you pray for these people – stranger and neighbor alike – perhaps you find ways to extend peace in tangible ways.  Through cookies brought to neighbors’ doors, through purchasing fewer presents so there is extra to give to the mission of God’s church, through picking up the phone to seek reconciliation in a broken relationship.  Jesus offers us his peace; and we are called to offer it to the world that the world might be made ready for the Christ child.  May peace begin with us.

Gracious God, transform my heart that I might experience your peace, and in so doing help me to share that peace with neighbor and stranger alike.  Make me more like you this Advent season. Amen.

Pastor Jennifer

Church Conference just happened on Tuesday night, November 14! Among the business on the agenda was a place for a report from the pastors of the church. We know that many of you were not be able to attend the meeting, but thought you would be interested to read these words about the identity of Harvest, from the perspective of your clergy. It is always a helpful exercise for the church to reflect on who she is and whose she is.

2017 Report from the pastors to the Church Conference
We are proud to be the pastors of a church that holds as its foundational scripture Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into God’s harvest.” The people of this church are the laborers that God is calling, and we respond by being about the work of reaping God’s harvest, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This is a church that is committed to sowing seeds of faith, growing together in Christ. We’re so glad that Harvest prioritizes sowing seeds of faith in young and elder, insider and marginalized, rich and poor, and all shades in between. The vision of this community of faith is to be diverse. It is called by Christ to offer hope by graciously welcoming people, intentionally growing disciples, and generously serving others around the globe.

One might wonder, “How can Harvest live out such a bold mission and vision?” We do this by centering our lives in Christ, being transformed into people with the following core values:

  • Embracing a pioneer spirit (we are courageous, committed, innovative, intentional, willing to risk)
  • Living authentically (we are transparent, filled with integrity, willing to be vulnerable, seeking to know and be known)
  • Sharing genuine community (where everyone matters, we are inviting and welcoming to all, loving, experiencing life together, partnering in ministry, operate in decision-making by consensus)
  • Walking a Disciple’s Path (we have a passion to grow disciples, transforming and transformative, offering multiple paths to discipleship, a lifetime of learning, doing it all with a balance of grace and accountability)
  • Finally, we have a servant’s heart (in that we strive to be humble, compassionate, outward focused, mission-oriented, serving locally and globally)

This is the “where” and “how” we see God at work in and through our church. Together, we will continue to identify our challenges and look to make the most of the opportunities God is giving us.

Respectfully submitted,

Rev. Michael C. Pestel            Rev. Katie Pestel         Rev. Jennifer Potter Buff

Birth, death and the life that is lived in between–all life involves some sort of suffering. In the middle of loss, we gain an unwanted companion, grief. In the month of November, we will take a meaningful look at grief in our preaching series, Good Grief: Life, Loss, and Hope.

On November 5, All Saints Sunday, we remember those whom we have said “good-bye” to over the past year; the saints of our lives. Those we have loved and lost. We will mark this milestone with a sacred ritual involving remembering and candle lighting. In this moment we say, “I remember you and your life made a difference in this world.” Reverend Rick Howell, Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Services of the Gulf Coast, will be preaching. In addition, a special offering will be collected to be contributed to Samaritan as they do important work, providing much needed counseling services to our community.

Good Grief will continue on November 12 & 19. We’ll be using clips from Disney Pixar films to help illustrate and teach us something about grief, our unwanted companion, at different life stages as well as how to be a friend to someone experiencing grief.

For those of you who want to get your hands on some additional resources, here you go:

The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief by Jan Richardson
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Interesting to note that both books were birthed out of the journey through the sudden and unexpected loss of a spouse.  

Join us in worship in November. We’re looking forward to journeying this path together.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep - Romans 12:15

Pastor Katie

Have you ever wondered why you are invited to “click here to continue reading” after the first few sentences of our Pastor Notes? Well, there are a few good reasons you might be interested to read about:

  • Long articles at the beginning of a newsletter may dissuade people from looking through the whole newsletter. As attention spans continue to shrink, we work to find ways to keep readers engaged.
  • Clicking on the link brings readers to our main website. This is helpful for familiarizing people with one of our primary hubs of information. It also increases our overall number of website hits and views, which helps Harvest’s visibility on search engines.
  • We like to analyze every bit of data we can so we can see what is connecting and what might be missing the mark. Using a link allows us to see how many people are engaging particular items. We send the e-mail newsletter to about 1,200 addresses every week. Around 500 recipients, or 40%, open the newsletter weekly. Over the past few months, somewhere between 50 to 80 people read the Pastor Notes. That equates to about 5% of our total addresses and 13% of those who open the newsletter.

Since you are reading these very words, I want to say “Thank You!” for being interested enough to click and read more!

It was beautifully meaningful to pray over each of our Learning to Use My Bible students and their families this past Sunday. We’re grateful that these parents and guardians have allowed the church to partner with them in raising their children in the faith. We also turned the page on the sermon series, Turning the Gem. I hope you have felt reinvigorated in your desire to have the Bible play an instrumental role in deepening your faith and understanding of God.

Moving into an area of annual fall focus, we will take the next two weeks to talk about the significance of the number 10 in the scriptures. You should receive a letter later this week with an invitation to consider a commitment of generosity to the church for 2018. It will be a celebration on October 29 as we have the opportunity to bring our commitment cards to worship and pray God’s blessing on what is to come!

Please remember to get your information to the church office if you have lost a loved one over the previous year and would like to have that person included in our All Saint’s Day remembrance on November 5. There will be a time of reading names of Harvest members who have died, as well as a chance for all people to light a candle in honor of someone’s memory.

See you on Sunday (if not sooner),

Pastor Michael

While there are always many details to attend to in the work of the church, leaders at Harvest are mindful that our work is always of a spiritual nature first. The ministry of our church will fruitful to the degree by which our hearts are becoming one with Christ, each other, and the world.

One of the ways our ministry teams deepen their spiritual connection is by opening monthly team meetings with a time of devotion and reflection. We are four months into an exploration of servant leadership characteristics. This month takes a look at the use of persuasion in the life of a leader. It occurred to me that you might be interested in taking a peek at the sort of discussions we are having, so I’ve included this month’s devotion for you. Feel free to use it for your own reflection, or if you are in a small group or team of some sort where you think it might be useful.

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael

Harvest Group Devotion // October 2017

Servant Leader Characteristic: We continue our dialogue through Robert Greenleaf’s ten characteristics of servant leadership, focusing this month on PERSUASION.

Description: Another characteristic of servant leaders is reliance on persuasion, rather than on one’s positional authority, in making decisions within an organization. The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant leadership. The servant leader is effective at building consensus within groups. This emphasis on persuasion over coercion finds its roots in the beliefs of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)—the denominational body to which Robert Greenleaf belonged.

Scripture: Acts 18:4 “Every Sabbath, Paul reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

Contrast: The description earlier mentioned reliance on positional authority as a contrast to persuasion. Another way mentioned is the use of coercion. Coercion can happen through a surprisingly wide array of methods: physical and verbal intimidation; threat of severing a relationship; promise of retribution if other does not conform; and in the church, use of Jesus/faith as a weapon.

Image/Symbol: To imagine a person in a posture of persuasion might include open hands and a relaxed smile. A google search of images related to persuasion reveals numerous renderings of puzzle pieces fitting together.

Questions for dialogue and discovery:

  • Did any part of the devotion speak to you in a particular way? Did any phrase or image pop out to you? Did a different scripture or image come to your mind?
  • To hold firm in one’s stance and resist the influence of others is often elevated as a virtue in our culture. There is inherent value and flaw in this. The value is in that I have conviction about my views, the flaw is that it assumes my views are complete and perfect as they are. How might we have an appropriate tension between our work of persuading others as well as being persuaded BY others?
  • Building consensus is a goal of persuasion. Harvest has articulated a commitment to the use of consensus in its decision-making process. How have you experienced the relationship between consensus and persuasion at Harvest? How have you experienced the relationship between consensus and coercion at Harvest? What do you think might help the process of developing consensus at Harvest?
  • How might practicing persuasion improve our ministry team? Our church? Our family? Our community?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your commitment to invitation rather than force when it comes to your desire to be in relationship with us. You persuade us with your love, Lord. You continue to open our eyes to new realities, our hearts to new feelings, our hands to new opportunities. As we work for the sake of building your kingdom, Lord may we follow your example of initiating change by convincing others through love and truth. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.



“Thoughts and prayers.” The more the phrase is used, some people are asking questions like: “What does that even mean?” or “What good is that?” These are worthwhile questions to ask because—hold on to your seatbelts—sometimes we just say things. Sometimes we don’t think about, or follow through with, what we are committing to.

I believe there is immense value to keeping someone in my thoughts. I orient myself toward another person, mindful of their state, caring about what they are dealing with. It is even more powerful to both think about people and consciously intercede to God on their behalf.

“For the families grieving the loss of their loved ones connected to the shooting in Las Vegas, Lord grant them your comfort where there seems to be none.”

“Lord God, for those who are still without water, food, and electricity in Puerto Rico, make a way for them to have what they need to survive.” 

God has a way of making huggers out of those who pray for the comfort of others. God seems to turn those who pray for basic human needs to be accessible into donors of money, food, and time for those who are suffering. Thoughts and prayers can change things, if we really are thinking and praying. We are changed as well. We go from simply being people who can contribute to those less fortunate, we start to identify with them. We feel their pain and share in their hope.

My sense is that many of us are feeling a general anxiety that is not primarily based in the pain of our individual lives, but rather in the fear and hurt we are witnessing in the world around us on a near constant basis. Last night on television, I heard someone describe recent events by saying, “It’s like someone has opened a window to hell.” Walter Bruegemann has written a prayer for a time such as this, I’d like to share it with you:

Summertime…when the living is easy.

You give us summer and winter,

            cold and heat,

            seedtime and harvest,

but summer is special—

            grills and patios and pools

                        and baseball.

We take our ease,

            even amid terrorism.

            The threat is mostly remote,

                        and the war in Iraq (or Afghanistan or Sudan or…)

            scarcely calls us in our privilege to attention.

And then, right in the middle of our easy living,

            the bombs burst on the street corner,

                        on the bus,

                        on the train.

            the smoke, the fire, the shrieking,

            the dash of emergency vehicles,

all brought very near, all brought right up

            against our easy summer living.

We experience a sinking sense

            that the world is not safe,

            that our life is not free of threat,

            and we wonder where and when next

                        will come assault on our well-arranged lives.

We turn to you, partly out of need,

            partly out of habit, partly out of trust.

We know you to be Creator, who maintains order,

            Redeemer, who loves us more than we love ourselves.

But we are so self-sufficient,

            we do not easily turn from our ways to yours.

And so amid our trust in you

            comes our fated self-confidence,

            our urge to manage,

            our wish for self-sufficiency.

So we, unsettled in deep ways,

            want to believe more than we do.

            But even now we believe enough to know that your

            good way does not depend on our trust.

            So be our God—yet again—

                        this time, and

            we will be honest in our double-mindedness

                        as we turn to you in our fear. Amen.

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael


“We live in the tension of loving scripture and loving people,” said Bishop Ken Carter, at a regional gathering held in Tampa, FL on September 24, 2017. On a possible split of the denomination he said, “The world does not need another model of division.”

Not many issues or Biblical interpretations make it outside of the gray except for one: “Love God, love others.” Jesus is fairly clear on that one. What we are left to struggle with is the following, “What is love?” That’s where scripture comes in and how true the Bishop’s words are: “We live in the tension of loving scripture and loving people.” I wonder what would happen if the time we spent reading and interpreting scripture led us to a deeper love of ourselves, each other, and God.

I am challenged almost daily by Fr. Richard Rohr in my time of morning scripture and devotional reading. On September 21, the International Day of Peace (established by the United Nations in 1981) or “Peace Day,” Fr. Rohr challenged me once again with these words:

Most of our conflicts arise from a very fragile sense of the self. When we’re full of fear, the enemy is everywhere. We endlessly look for the problem outside of ourselves so we can expel or exterminate it. If a prophetic peacemaker attempts to take our chosen object of hatred away from us, we turn our hatred on them. Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others were persecuted or killed because they challenged the myth of scapegoating. If we don’t own our own evil, we will always project it elsewhere and attack it there.

So…what I say about others could be me projecting the things I hate about myself onto others in an effort to get rid of it. That’s deep! My prayer for you and me is that we would spend more and more time with Jesus every day. Reader beware: Spending more time with Jesus will challenge and root out our own evil; however, it could stop us from projecting it elsewhere and attacking someone else. If we are not challenged by our time with Jesus, if we are not driven to a deeper love of God, self, and empathy for others, then perhaps it is time to change up our routine and use a different resource, hear a different point of view, turn the gem. May God bless us and keep us as we turn the gem together.

If you would like to join me in reading Fr. Rohr’s devotions to be challenged and transformed daily, you can sign up for daily email devotions here:

The commandment we have from him [Jesus] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. - 1 John 4:21

If that doesn’t challenge me, cause me to take a breath and pray before speaking, I’m not sure what will. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

God loves you, and me, and all who God has created,

Pastor Katie


One of my favorite books of the Bible is Judges…don’t judge me. Have you read it? Have you allowed it to read you? It’s fascinating, heart-wrenching, life and death stuff. It’s heroic literature, filled to the brim with entertaining heroes. Our heroes are quirky, brave, sometimes humorous, both female and male (spoiler alert: God uses both women and men to save the people of Israel). Our heroes find themselves in a period of Israel’s history that is chaotic - the people are trying to settle in a new land surrounded by various different tribal people. They do have one stable thing, their mission from God. Their mission is to worship God and be a blessing to others.

The book of Judges is one of those books that you have to read as a whole to really get to the point.

It’s a repeated cycle:

  • The people forget their mission, doing what was evil
  • The result: political consequences of oppression and violence
  • The people cry out
  • God is incredibly patient, shows kindness and gives them a deliverer (a judge)

The people live in peace, but when the judge dies they relapse and behave WORSE than their ancestors. The cycle continues and it is violent, stomach churning violent.

The situation never actually gets permanently better for the people of Israel. The characters become more and more destructive, their success diminishes, the violence gets worse. The book ends with this verse:
In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

Read the whole book, turn the gem, here’s what we get:

Judges is a book about a people who have lost their way and details the devastating consequences that befall them. It reminds us that violence in all forms never ends well.    

Israel has lost its way AND the violence doesn’t actually solve anything…

…and maybe that’s exactly what the God who is called the Prince of Peace in the New Testament wants us to walk away with, a disgust for violence in all its forms, a new resolve to be makers of peace, and a renewed sense of mission – to worship God and be a blessing to others.

May God bless us and keep us until we gather together again,

Pastor Katie

Relief. That’s the overwhelming response people are sharing when I come into contact with them over the past few days. Collectively, we resonate with Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells when he said Monday, “We dodged a bullet.” A natural companion to the relief being experienced is a newfound sense of gratitude. Not even the inconveniences that Irma brought can take away the “Thank you, God!” that so many people are feeling.

Coming so close to catastrophe can create a deeper awareness within us of the suffering of others. Knowing that it could have been us ought to create a bond with those who did feel the brunt of the hurricane’s strength. God stirs a special empathy and compassion in us in precisely these kinds of moments.

Many of us want to know how to help. We discern God’s call on each of us to pray, to give, and to serve. Harvest is working hard to create pathways for people to be God’s hands, feet, and heart in the recovery of the storm. We are currently talking to some organizations and groups in need about how we can best help. Keep an eye out tomorrow for communications that will go out to the congregation with ways you can make a difference.

“God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1. A psalm of the Korahites, for those scoring at home. Let us join in the song of generations past, proclaiming that God is the one with us in the thick of our troubles who will make a way forward.

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael 

Dear Harvest Family,

We are praying for everyone who has already and will be affected by Hurricane Irma. We are praying as we prepare for the storm. God give us peace in the middle of this storm and in the waiting.

The safety of people is our top priority. It is very important that you continue to prepare for this storm. It is also very important that you let friends and family know what your plans are, whether you are staying to ride out the storm or leaving town. Connection is one of our greatest strengths. We will aim to stay connected and weather this storm and potential recovery efforts together.

Important information for you to know:

  • We will close the Harvest campus on Friday, September 8 at noon. 
  • At the recommendation of our District Superintendent, Rev. Rini Hernandez, we are canceling worship services on Sunday. 
  • The Harvest campus will remain closed until we notify you via email/social media that we have reopened. 
  • All worship, events, and meetings are canceled/postponed until the campus reopens. 
  • Sprouts Child Development Center will reopen when Manatee County Schools reopen. 
  • The Florida UMC has a relationship with the healthcare provider, Optum. Optum is offering a free emotional support hotline for any persons affected by the hurricanes. The helpline will be staffed with trained licensed mental health professionals and will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for as long as necessary. If you, or someone you know, could benefit from this service, please call 866-342-6892. You can also visit for information and support.

 We will continue to be united in our hearts and efforts for the sake of each other and all those that God loves. Let us press on, trusting God to be our strength and shield.

Grace and peace,

Pastors Michael, Katie & Jennifer and the members of the Harvest staff


My mom gave me my first bible when I was fourteen years old. She was so happy I had gone through confirmation and that I was choosing to go to church on my own. However, I wasn’t choosing to church because of religious curiosity or commitment to Jesus. I was going because I felt I belonged. The people of that small United Methodist church made me feel welcome. And they told me all the while that God welcomed me just the same as they did.

Being part of the church meant reading the bible, I was told. So, I started reading it. I didn’t understand most of what I read, but I believed the people who told me it was important. So, I started going to bible studies at the church. And I started watching a few of those shows on television where someone teaches what the bible means. Every now and then there would be something that clicked, but overall the journey to understanding the bible felt like a slow, arduous campaign.

This is some pitch to read the bible so far, right? For me it was a bit like learning to play guitar. You have no doubt gone through some similar process where you turned a corner. Where something went from foreign to natural, practice to ingrained, from science to art. When this transition began to happen for me with the bible…POW! I have never, before or since, experienced anything like it.

It was as though a black and white silent movie started transforming. The stories of the bible started coming alive. It became even more than ultra high definition with surround sound, it became immersive. It was, and is, as though I began to find myself inside the grand narrative of the scriptures. The greatest story ever told was no longer history, but something that is still being written, and I get to belong in it! You belong in it too! Let’s open up our bibles together and enter in to more than we could have imagined.

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael   


Everybody plays a part in the Kingdom of God! No matter the role, God is using us to lead others into new life in Christ. As we give thanks for all the people God has used to make a difference in our lives, we consider the job God wants us in so that we can make a difference.

We invited everyone in the congregation to fill out a brief skills inventory in order to help you find a place to serve at Harvest. If you missed completing that form, you can get one this Sunday at Hospitality Hub 1 in the lobby.

Part of the sermon from Sunday keyed in the layout of the temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Old Testament. The central room in the temple, called The Holy of Holies, was where God’s presence resided. It was also off limits to people in general. Priests could interact with the Holy of Holies, but even that was almost always through a veil, or curtain that separated the room. When Jesus died on the cross, the bible tells us that the veil was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). Everybody is invited to meet God up close and personal, without fear of getting caught up in a curtain for feeling like they are sneaking into a space they shouldn’t be. Nobody has to be on the outside, all are welcome in!

Our hearts continue to be with all those who are suffering as the result of flooding, both locally and beyond. Most everybody is aware of the tremendous number of people in Texas who are being displaced. One tangible way that we can help right away is by doing something we did for the people of Louisiana at this same time last year: by assembling flood buckets. You’ll get more info this week in church and through various other channels, but the bottom line is that we want to provide 50 buckets for the cleanup effort that will soon be underway. Everyone is invited to make a special gift toward the $60 cost of supplies for each bucket. Perhaps your household can cover the cost of an entire bucket, or maybe you can join with a few friends to share the expense.

We consider it joy to be a blessing out of what God has blessed us with. Reaping and sowing being what it is, we also give thanks for God’s providence that comes to us through the generosity and love of others when we find ourselves in need. In all things may we bring glory to God!

May the Lord bless and keep,

Pastor Michael

Several dozen people took time over the last few Sundays to explore the Harvest Ministry Leadership tables. We’re thankful for those who are currently serving in leadership teams in the church and we’re excited about those ones that God is newly calling. If you are interested in participating in Harvest’s leadership development process, please click here to fill out the enrollment form. Here is a quick reminder; we are asking all current ministry team members at Harvest to enroll as well.

Sign-ups for Fall 2017 Small Groups continues this Sunday. Please be sure to check out the options at the entrance to the East Wing as you enter or exit from worship and find the one that seems like a good fit for you. If you’re not sure, there will be people at the sign-up stations who would be thrilled to help you.

We are now several weeks into the start of the new year of children’s Sunday school. Some remarkable adult and teenage servants have committed 40 weeks of the coming year to pour into the lives of the children of the church. Please join me in thanking God for them and praying for them! If you have elementary aged family members who have not yet experienced Harvest Kids, click here for more details.

We’ll wrap up our Extraordinary: Everyday Leaders message series this Sunday. We will check out the story - and backstory - of the doorkeeper in Psalm 84. May God continue to show us the unexpected ways that we can be used to lead others into the Kingdom.

Pastor Michael

Summer brings travel, sun and fun! In the midst of the summer fun, the Harvest Lay Leadership & Development (LLD) Team has been hard at work living into their role of developing leaders at Harvest. Michael, Jennifer, and I are so thankful to God for their commitment to this meaningful ministry!

What is the Lay Leadership & Development Team?

The LLD team cultivates Christian leaders who are interested in advancing the mission of God’s Kingdom through Harvest, connecting these Christian leaders to ministry teams aligned with their spiritual gifts and passions.

Who can be a leader at Harvest?

This process of developing leaders begins with YOU! Do you have interest in serving on a ministry team beginning in 2018? Do you want to grow your Christian leadership skills? Do you want to lead a new ministry and/or team? Are you a current ministry team member desiring to continue serving in your current role in 2018?

If the answer is “YES!” or even “God might be calling me in this way,” you now have the opportunity to let the LLD team know of your interest by self-selecting into the Leadership Development Program at Harvest.

What are my next steps?

  1. Complete the short form by following this link: org/ministry-teams

We ask you to read a short, meaningful book about Christian leadership by Henri Nouwen called In the Name of Jesus. Books are available to be picked up on Sunday mornings at church.

  1. Attend the “Harvest Leadership 101” course on Sunday, September 17, 12 PM – 2PM. Cost for the course is $15. Lunch will be served. Completion of the course is required to serve on a ministry team in 2018. It will be offered on a regular basis, 2-3x per year.                        


The LLD team members and pastors will be available at the Ministry Teams Open House this Sunday, August 20 in the lobby after worship to answer any questions you have.

Michael, Jennifer, and I are so proud to serve a church with so many leaders committed to their own Christian leadership development. We are so proud to serve a church with a LLD team committed to developing other leaders. Together let’s continue to plant seeds and watch the growth that God is going to do in our church and community as we lead together!

Pastor Katie



For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. - Ephesians 2:10

A Google search for “definition of leadership” takes a half-second to yield 116,000,000 results. Among the myriad of ways to understand what it is to lead is an approach called servant leadership. One of the incredible things about servant leadership is that anyone can be a leader in this way. It is not dependent on charisma, education, skill set, or vision. Regardless of a person’s context, she or he is invited to join Jesus Christ in serving others for the sake of what is good.

Harvest is taking the month of August to help people discover where God may be calling them to serve within the leadership structure of the church. In the lobby on Sundays this month, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the ministry leadership teams at Harvest. You will also be invited to self-select into a leadership development process that allows you and the Lay Leadership and Development team to discern together where God is calling you. If you sense a nudge of the Holy Spirit to explore this, I encourage you to listen and follow.

This Sunday in worship will include a time of prayer for our students, families, and employees about to kick off their school year. Additionally, we will be baptizing two babies at 10:30 a.m.! Remember that Rev. Mark Becker is with us all day as he preaches on Extraordinary: Everyday Leaders in the morning and then joins us for our Finance Town Hall at 2:30 p.m. I look forward to seeing you soon!

Pastor Michael