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spiritual fitness
Is important

August 4, 2018

Our souls yearn for connection with our creator

God created us to love us. Our Christian education often includes the phrase “we were created to love God, serve God and care for the world.” I think it is mutual. God wants to love us, serve us and care for the world. Frankly, as I read through the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) I see many stories of a parent and his/her children. These ancient stories give witness to the turbulent and conflictive as well as the unconditional love and devotion of the parent-child relationship. I think of my spirit as being quite young. I love watching the smiles take hold on the faces of our elderly when I remind them their bodies may be old and worn by this world’s standards. Yet they are young and vibrant spirits just getting started on the journey of everlasting life. 

Spiritual Fitness matters to the overall well being of the person. We are complex creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139) Get started with some quiet time each day. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably, invite God to join you. (God is already with you, this invitation is really for your mind.) Breathe in - exhale -  inhale - exhale. Repeat. As you are breathing, pay attention to your breath. I often use this litany: Inhale peace, exhale calm. I do this for ten minutes or more. This body-mind-spirit exercise relaxes the muscles and tissues of my body, slows my thinking, and opens my heart. Try it.

If you have questions, or you want to talk about it, text, email or call me.  

Have a grateful day,

Pastor Melinda

On Coaching

January 12, 2018

International coach federation

I have been working diligently to cover all the bases for certification with the International Coach Federation. If you visit their website, they are impressive. They set a very high bar for standards in the business of coaching. If you hire an ICF credential coach, I expect you will reach your desires, your dreams, your goals. My goal is to be a spiritual and missional coach for clergy and laity. I talk about spirit quite a lot. I should. I am a preacher of the Gospel and a student of the scriptures. I have learned for myself through my life experiences and from observing others about the overall well-being of an individual. Well-being, contentment, peace in your heart is connected to your spiritual maturity. You can’t wake up one wintery cold morning and say, “I think I will be spiritually strong today.” Spiritual strength to live mindfully in peace and goodwill requires regular practice. Just like making 50 out of 50 free-throws in basketball. Or getting all the corners lined up as you are sewing a log cabin pattern quilt. “Practice makes perfect,” as my grandmother always said. That’s why I “ripped out” many seams and re-stitched them in pursuit of the blue ribbon at the 4-H fair. What then is quality spirituality? How do we measure it? When do we know we have achieved it? These are good questions to explore with a coach. Let’s talk! Call or email me.

thoughts from
the Church Steps

October 9, 2017

I learned many helpful things in my pastor training.

The most important is the family systems theory.  “The Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit.” (Wiki)  A church is a very complex family system based on the powerful triangle of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christian believe this divine triangle is the most stable and transforming of all relationship. God created us as spiritual, physical and emotional beings. Thus there are many recipes for miracles and disasters when multiple generations, and multiple family units congregate to form the biblical body of Christ for abounding decades. 

OUMC has experienced successful and less compatible combinations of Clergy and laity. During the first twenty years of the life of this church there were 22 pastors. These minimal terms for pastors happened again in the 5th and 6th decades. A total of 63 pastors have served these 16 decades. I have attempted to calculate the total number of members over the years, and guess without confidence the number to be more than 1080. My lack of confidence is because the membership records, while intact and kept safely at the Bank of Oskaloosa, have been subject to several changes in record keeping mandates by the conference since 1857. These records do not include what is known in Methodist-ism as Constitute Roll-ees ( non members who attend) and the baptized which I estimated at 3000 men, women and children. This does not include a small treasure of what is referred to as the Cradle Roll (babies born, baptized or not.)  I have officiated funerals for members whose family proudly produced their Cradle Roll Certificates. 

I love history. I have many antiques and artifacts from centuries past. Early in my life, I daydreamed of living at the time of Laura Ingles Wilder who was born ten years after this church was founded. I often mused that I was born a century too late. Then somewhere in my awareness of soft beds and Twinkie’s, I replaced that fantasy with necessities like cable TV and a cellular phone. (Bag type) YES!!!!! I am that old. Today, I struggle to keep up with social media. I admire our younger members who glide across the Facebook platforms, and tap their smart phones to gain the lasted in news. I am a tiny bit jealous of pastors who have mastered live streaming both audio and video of their worship services, and shake my head in wonderment of the mega Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas which touts an online community of believers who connect each weekend for online worship. 

History, if we pay attention to it, informs us the the tensions and the complexities of humans in community. This is another Christian dictum. Christians are christian within community known as the body of Christ. This past summer our Vacation Bible School curriculum emphasized our wonderful complexity. (Psalm 139:14)

These tensions and complexities create struggles. (I love to think that God loves us through our struggles, with rolling eyes and a shaking head.) Our church today struggles differently from any other time in our history. We struggle for relevance in our local society and culture. “Jesus is just alright with me” is an oldie but goodie. Jesus is alright with most people, yet pews are more empty than full on Sunday mornings. We struggle to create a relevant worship experience.  There is always judgement on the sermons and the music. I described our worship as blended. This means our music is selected from hymnals and song books spanning the last five centuries. Fortunately these past several months, a young piano scholar from China, studying at KU has been performing for our Sunday worship. I love listening to Shui Guan play. The ears of my heart opens to the music she plays in profound and emotional ways. (I love you Shui!)  Our faith community including the younger families find relevance in this music. This puts us into a tight nitch for attracting modern Christian worshipers who prefer the contemporary Christian music.

Sermons are the proclamation of the Gospel. God still speaks to the people through the priests, pastors, oracles and liturgists who bring scripture to life in word and prayer during worship. Advertisers know about fickle the American consumer. I don’t think the church knows how to be in the 21st century. A smart many once said, “Study what’s going on around you, make a plan and stick to it. Eventually it will all work out.” OUMC began as a missional church. “Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. 

The Church exists by mission. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.” (Emil Brunner)

I cast visions for OUMC to be an authentic real missional church where people are loved for who they are, honored for what the believe, and covered with buckets and buckets of grace when disagreements arise. Jesus is the core value: believe in Jesus, confess wrongdoing, receive grace and forgiveness, love others as yourself, love God, serve the world (Oskaloosa.) Recently, a person told me, “If Jesus were walking the streets of Oskaloosa, he’d be preaching on the courthouse lawn, every one would be listening and wanting a miracle. Like: reconciliation with family members, safety from domestic abuse, acceptance for the immigrant worker, food for the hungry and healing for the sick and addicted and financial relief for the poor. The modern day tax collector would be a gay couple and Jesus would call them down out of the tree and say: “I’m going to your house for dinner Zacchaeus, let’s go.” 

We are wonderfully complex; difficult to understand. Many things have happened these past 160 years.  Leaders with mental illness, conflicts in politics, doctrine, theology, and reality have been the basis of some dividing complexities. I believe it is true, perception is reality. It takes a lot of work to see things from someone else perspective. St Francis of Assisi gave us a road map in “Make me an Instrument of your Peace. May I seek to understand rather than be understood” and the rest of his prayer. 

 I can’t imagine how Tom Sims (pastor 1999-2001) felt when he was accused of calling the Bible, “crazy ramblings of fungus infested madmen.” I spoke with him and he denies ever saying that, buthe was accused of saying something similar. It is believed by many to be the beginning of the last church split which occurred in 2002. A group of people left and formed a new church in Oskaloosa known today as Evangelical Free Living Water Church. This is where the family systems training I had became very important.

 When people you have worshiped with for decades or a few months of Sunday’s decide to leave, it hurts. It is like saying; “I don’t love the things you love anymore. You don’t matter to me any longer.” While everyone may have eaten a fellowship dinner together last week, now it means nothing. “I wasn’t telling the truth when I prayed ‘The Lord’s Prayer ‘with you.” The hurt and betrayal cuts to the core of the Jesus follower. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When family divorces its like saying, “I never loved you! I lied.” The faith community known as the Oskaloosa United Methodist Church suffered a big loss in 2002. I suspect there was not good supportive resources to help the congregation come into a process for healing.  I, Melinda Harwood, entered the scene on the heals of the previous pastor’s acute illness. Rev. Sharon Chappel Brown (2002-2005) had a stroke and was afflicted with loss of mobility and speech. This catalyst pushed the faith family to deal with more fractures and greater grieving. 

I know from my experience as a Hospice Chaplain and a Grief Share Counselor that grief has a way of changing everything. Grief changes us. The death of a loved one, the unexpected termination of a job, an illness which renders us unable to function as we normally did, changes us. When we lose someone or something important to us, we grieve. It is necessary to do the work of grieving: “accept the loss, turn to God, express the emotions and create a new identity.” (Grief Share) The hardest work I have ever done as a pastor is lead this congregation through the life altering work of grieving. We called it the decade of discord after we finished the town hall meetings formatted for speaking and listening.  We did not want the division to define us. We searched and arrived at a new normal. The pain of loss is still with us and we can carry it with love and compassion. A famous Irish headstone reminds us; Death leaves a heartache no one an heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

OUMC is the mother ship. The church has a history of breakouts and splits over a wide range of issues. In the beginning it was conflict over slavery. (1854-57) This part of Kansas was called bleeding Kansas for accurate reasons. Bushwrackers, Border ruffians, and anti-abolishionists roamed the the Kansas-Missouri border killing men and torturing women who worked for the causes of freeing southern slaves. 

Rev. Jeff Light (retired Oskaloosa Presbyterian pastor) preached at the OUMC 150th celebration and reminded everyone that a Presbyterian pastor was invited to preach at the Little White Methodist Episcopal Church in 1867 and a couple of weeks later started a new church in Oskaloosa. There might have been some friction in the beginning, we don’t know. We do know the Presbyterian and Methodist churches shared resources to host many years of community Vacation Bible School, youth and teen activities.  

Another split occurredover a new organ (1887) when David Newhouse strongly opposed the use of the “new fangled contraption” for singing. 

People leaving and starting new churches has not been the only challenge. One time, the grasshoppers literally ate the people out of house and home, the pastor said: “If it hadn’t been for the $100 sent from back east, I would have had to give up and leave.” This congregation has met the ridicule of anti-Christian community leaders. (a period of time in the 1970-1980’s when local politics rallied against the church) it might be an explanation for why Mission-insite continues to label our community with low religiosity tones. 

Our heritage is faithfulness to God. We continue to pray for God to bring us into what God is blessing for our faith community. We are intentional about this prayer. We spend time discerning what God is calling us to do. This discerning continues to direct our mission of reaching new people and caring for others as we grow our relationship with God. We try to make every event an outreach opportunity.

We are active volunteers with the local school district and the nearby nursing homes.  We participate in the community’s events: Old Settler’s Reunion, health fairs, craft shows, etc. We are a resource for families in need. Each year we present new Bibles to children at the early reader and teen stage as well as provide Bibles to any adult. We provide care for the dying by supporting our local Hospice and we are willing supporters for a Free Heath Clinic, Harvesters Food distribution and we stock a panty at our church. We have small groups who will help with heavy lifting and moving and transportation. God keeps us pretty busy. We have been called “the church that does everything.”

John Wesley, our Methodist founder, set an example of thinking outside of the box when we do ministry. We must constantly re-invent ourselves as followers of Christ in a new world. Our church has stood the test of challenges, relationships, politics, weather, famine, we have always depended on God for the answers and solutions.

We have our share of squabbles and disagreements. We forgive, and keep going. We are a community of believers who love Jesus and work to do the things Jesus did. 

We have a long history of paying 100% of Mission Shares and all the Asking to our conference. We participate in district and conference activities in several areas. We have several past and present district and conference leaders. We celebrate this year because God created us in God’s image, and God celebrates all of creation all of the time.

These are the themes emerging as we recently discussed our mission and our 160th celebration:

++to show our community the relevance of our church now and in the future

++our church has been an institution from the beginning days of Oskaloosa and people like to celebrate institutions—we want everyone to come and celebrate with us

++the church is the heartbeat of our town; God’s steadfast love is even greater

++close relationship with God and each other, celebrating what we have here together

++ we are proud of the long life of our church through many trials and miracles

++ we want people who live here to know the love of Jesus through us

happy new year!

December 29, 2016


many people claim 2016 was a bad year.

I disagree! This was the 159th year of ministry for the faith community known as The Oskaloosa United Methodist Church. We gathered to worship, we served in our community, we witnessed to friends, family and strangers about the love, peace and hope which is ours in Christ Jesus. We celebrated 7 professions of faith. It was the first year in a dozen that we did not lose a member to death. We prayed for so many people in joy of thanksgiving and in need of intercession.

And we gave! We gave our wages and earnings to fund the many ministries which comprise our mission. Thank you for giving.

My church community funded the preservation of the Oskie UMC, which houses and offers hospitality to hundreds of local and area residents in several big events and uncountable small ones. Our vitality depends on our continued commitment to love others and to serve God as Jesus commanded.

God created the cycle of the seasons and we remind ourselves each new year to reflect on the past, and plan for the future. You are invited to use this list to jumpstart your planning for 2017.

Do you have an idea of need in your community that the church can meet?
Have I thought this past year about calling for a coaching session more often?
What would ministry opportunities look like if I encouraged my community to raise their individual contributions by $20 per month?
How has God been calling me to pray, serve, attend, witness, give?
When have I been a blessing to someone else?
What do I believe about money, and how well is it currently serving me?
Am I trusting God with my finances and my giving?
What is God already doing that I can join in?
Am I praying for God to bring me into what God is blessing for me and for my church family?

We can help others reclaim their faith in God and strengthen their resilience and courage to live the life God intends for all of us. Take a moment to discern what you can do in 2017 to to make a difference.

Grateful for you!

Pastor Melinda

a case for grace

September 2, 2016

It has been a while since I've blogged, though I assure you

I have been thinking about it. Maybe too much.

 I have been trying to figure out how to follow the rules. There are rules about how to write and what to say so that Google will like you. Your title should be a certain number of characters, and you should end the first paragraph with a keyword. Images should have alt tags (whatever those are) and the readability index should be a certain number. Bloggers want to work within the Google algorithm, which is basically an automatic grading system like high school.

I have been trying to work within the internet guidelines for my church’s web and Facebook presence. Did you know 40% of younger church attenders choose a church based on its presence on the internet and through a cool mobile device app? I have been thinking about how to inform young people about our faith community. I want to mentor them about our church and a relationship with Jesus. I want to emphasize the importance of the fellowship and connection, and dare I say, networking which happens within the community of believers? 

Did you know, that 60% of “good jobs” (I do not know what constitutes a good job.) are obtained through knowing someone or knowing someone who knows someone who knows about the job? Or that getting a job as a personal referral means you will be paid 20% more?

Church is relevant in many ways, not just in job hunting. Church is relevant to the individual soul. I need church for my soul. Spiritual guidance, companionship, and nurturing can happen within the structure of “church” especially when we have difficult trails to navigate.

I don’t know about you, speaking for myself, I have had a rough summer. I’d be interested to know your list.

My list: Getting ready for our daughter’s wedding at our farm. Health questions and medical appointments. Changes in relationships, lots of other changes, too. My parents declining wellness. My own aging process. Getting ready for a wedding at my house, Oh! I said that already. 

This summer my journal is curling from emotions and adjustments and the workload of a long project list woven into these events.

The amazing thing has been grace. Amazing grace. I have been able to move through this summer with peace in my heart. (Well, except for this past Monday, I had a meltdown, and I’m blaming hormones for that one. Sorry Mark!)

I highly recommend stepping into a study of grace, the beautiful grace of God. I also recommend spiritual practices:

Prayer, mindful presence, and constant expressions of gratitude.

I have been grateful for “Prayer and Yoga” meditation, good friends, solid family ties.

Because I recommend stepping into a study of grace, I'm putting action into the recommendation. I'm reading Lee Strobel's book, "A Case for Grace" and encourage you to do the same and reach out to discuss it with me. Even though google won't be impressed with this blog, I know God's grace keeps pace with everything we face. Let's dig deeper into the gift together.

In Christ,

Pastor Melinda

Got Talent?

July 16, 2016

If you can't excel with talent, triumph with effort

-Dave Weinbaum

(I copied this idea from my coach. She writs great daily inspiration and I want to give her credit. Thanks Biz at!)

If you ask me, I have limited talents. 

I love writing, but I am not an amazing writer.

I love reading, and I can read fast, I just don't retain everything I read (That is why I always focus on ONE idea from the books and articles I read, and I take notes and use sticky tabs so I can re-read the notes and remember.)

I love music- I don’t play instruments or sing on key. (Except I can play the top part of 'Heart and Soul’ on the piano and 'Boil Down Them Cabbages' on the fiddle and ‘Charge’ on the trombone)

You know what is important in my "don'ts" ... I don't quit trying.

Just because I am not good at something, like painting, I love to paint; walls, cabinets, fences…(If I want it to look good, I hire someone to do it with or for me,) still I haven’t quit painting. And neither should you!

I don't think so. And neither should you!

The effort will help us succeed!

This is why the apostle Paul wrote “pray without ceasing” and "desire God always” to remind us to keep at it. John Wesley our Methodist founder taught the means of grace for living a Christ filled life. We are to make efforts to  pray, give, witness our faith to others, go to church and faith community activities, and serve. 

This is a busy summer, a lot is scheduled and will come to pass by September 22 when fall begins. Where will your efforts find you in 12 weeks?

(I hope to play several songs on the fiddle, and maybe a debut performance for Christmas!)

May you triumph with effort in Jesus' name!

Pastor Melinda