Gift Given, Gift Received, Gift Given

The Christmas message spoke of the gift we have been given through the birth of a Savior. I ask you, have you received and opened our gift? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior and are you living a life reflective of his life? Has the church accepted the teachings and revelations of Jesus Christ and allowed it to lead its work of ministry?

The New Year lectionary scriptures speak of the gifts that were brought to the Christ child. I ask you what gifts do we bring the Christ child? What will you prepare and offer the Christ Child from the way you live your life this year? What will the church offer as a gift of service unto the Christ child? Will the gifts we bring be our best and pleasing unto Christ?

In 2011 let us hear from heaven: Gift Given—Gift Received—Gift Given!

As the New Year blossoms may the journey of your life be fragrant with new opportunities, your days be bright with new hopes and your heart be happy full of joy! May you know the miracle of God’s love, the power of God’s presence and peace, and the hope of God’s promises and may the joy of the Lord be your strength throughout the New Year.

May 2018 be the best year of your life!!!

A Special Note: To Stuart – Mt. Vernon United Methodist Women, THANK YOU SO MUCH for the love and wishes extended to me through the gift given to me at Christmas. It is simply wonderful and meaningful to feel appreciated.


Loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength,

pastor latonya


Come, Advent Spirit, Come!


‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ 45 Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’

Matthew 25:44-45

This scripture was part of the lectionary gospel scripture November 26th the Sunday before Advent. How fitting it is to hear these words as an end to our Christian year for it reminds me of what really matters throughout my Christian journey. It is also fitting to hear these words as an entrance into the Advent season for it was Christ who brought us our 2nd greatest commandment… to love one another. In receiving the gift of Christ we also receive this commandment of Christ and the two are not exclusive to one another.

I was so thankful to attend a workshop on poverty a few weeks ago. It helped me wade through some of my misconceptions, and privileges that hinder me from reaching out to those impoverished and less fortunate. Please take a moment and read Janna Nelson’s report (page 5) on this workshop for there are some good questions that I invite us to take some time and answer. If you feel that God is calling you to help us be more intentional about this work please have a conversation with me…the sooner the better!

Finally as we enter into this Advent season I would like to share with you series of sermons preached during the Iowa UMC Clergy Women’s Convocation held November 12-14. The four sermons that I refer to are: The Annunciation: Celebrating our Call, Mary & Elizabeth Pregnant Together, The Magnificat, and No Room at the Inn. I will not use these sermons in their entirety but rather share quotes and their message of inspiration to me during advent and I pray they bless you as well. I also want to invite you to attend the Adult Sunday School class at 9:00 am Sunday mornings as they spend time with Joseph presented by Adam Hamilton. I don’t know about you but all this sounds exciting! Come, Advent Spirit, Come!

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Pastor latonya


2017 State of the Church Address

    Stuart-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church

Well we did it? One year down and only 49 to go! (Smile). It has been my joy, and pleasure being your pastor. This first year I have really just been getting my footing. Getting in the swing of things, and becoming more informed on how things are at Stuart-Mt. Vernon. IT is often said that the first year of an appointment is the honeymoon period. Well the honeymoon is over and now life begins. I must state that I have thoroughly enjoyed the way in which God has been leading us. Through some foundational review of who we are as United Methodist to the call of becoming more like Jesus Christ as his disciple, unto our current time of walking with Moses for a while to see what God may be speaking to us in new or different ways though Moses’ life. I have found it all a breath of fresh air, and look forward to what’s coming next.

The work ahead of us as a church is seeking God for what God has called us to do as this body of Christ, there are 2 questions before us. How do we, the members and friends of Stuart– Mt. Vernon, live out making disciples for the transformation of the world? How do we, live being a loving community strengthening ourselves and extending beyond our four walls meeting the needs of others. I pray you will pray with me as we seek God for the answers to these questions. While we seek these answers, I have come to understand that environment and attitude makes a difference. I invite you to join me in making an environment, and an attitude of JOY! I like to call it having “Jesus Joy”

Lets BE HAPPY and celebrate where God has brought us from. Let’s be happy about the members and friends we gather with. And let us say & do things to make one another happy.

Let’s BE EXCITED about what God is doing in the life of the church right now. Let’s get together, and have fun. Do God’s work on loving, and helping others.

Let’s BE GITTY about what god is preparing to do, a the way in which God is going to open windows, doors, hearts, and minds. Do mighty great things that we will have the blessed opportunity to testify about.

Until these things come to reality, let us be in an attitude of Joy, thankfulness, expectation, and FAITH! Praising God continually for the great things God has done. If we don’t have “Jesus Joy” who who will? Amen & Amen!!

Loving God Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength

Pastor LaTonya


Food for Thought

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Leadership Institute at the Church of the Resurrection in Leewood KS. Sept. 27th-29th and then a Discipleship Pathway seminar on Sept. 30th. Here are just a few thoughts that I have captured my attention:

¨ Food for thought: The preaching moment is one of the most important & valuable times that I have to relay God’s love & purpose for us. How well do I relay that message while striving to change lives, strengthen the church and transform the world?

** Action item: Take a week just for planning sermons for the year to better accomplish this preaching goal.

¨ Food for thought: Am I (is the church) friendly or hospitable? Hospitable being beyond friendly, making connection, helping someone to feel wanted and fused over.

** Action item: Be prompt in my pastoral follow-up immediately after worship & create an atmosphere & leadership of hospitality and develop a team of hospitality.

¨ Food for thought: How would I rate the church on its Ambience, Service/ Hospitality, & Quality?

** Action item: Begin having conversations about how welcoming & sacred is our church building.

¨ Food for thought: Suggested focus for kids midweek is food-fun-friends-faith

** Action item: Intentional faith development

¨ Food for thought: where does God want us to be in the future?

** Action item: Leaders evaluate the life cycle of the church

¨ Food for thought: In order to know where you’ve got to go you need to know where you’ve been and where you are. Then evaluate how you are helping people grow in their relationship with God & one another.

** Action Item: Start the conversation.

I am so thankful to the church for the opportunity to attend these educational events. Please, if you have thoughts or comments on any of the above will you let me know.  I invite you to pray for the church as we discern the ways God is leading us and pray for me as your Pastor that I may used as by God as a leader that this church needs.


Loving God Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength

Pastor LaTonya


Get Ready! Get Ready! Get Ready!


As I am getting back into the routine of things both at home and at church there before me lies great excitement for what’s to come. In preparation and planning and looking ahead at the calendar I am already tired for the busyness of it all. But it’s going to be a good busyness and I can hear my grandmother say, “Idle hands are the devils workshop.” So let’s get busy and more importantly let’s get excited!

Here are a few things I would like to share with you.

  • The Committee on Lay Leadership (formally nominations) will soon be meeting giving considerations to the 2018 leadership & committees. I am asking the church for 2 things: 1) Please pray for us that we may have the spirit of discernment, “Not our will, oh Lord, but let your will be done.” 2) Pray for your individual ministry. (Ministry is simply being involved in the things of God for the work of God’s kingdom.) Pray asking, “What is God calling me to do for the next year?” We can’t wait for that shout of “YES! I’LL DO IT” when we come asking you to serve in a particular way.


  • Table Talk with Pastor LaTonya will begin September 20, 2017. Growing up some of the best conversations I had or overheard were at the kitchen table. Join me as we talk about this world, life and God Stuff while being led by scripture. I absolutely love God talk. If you think I’m excited in worship just wait till you come to Table Talk!


  • The Finance committee would like to encourage the spirit of generosity. The bible has lots to say about generosity and giving so during worship will include a brief meditation during the tithes and offerings. We encourage you to ask yourself, “What have I heard that I have not heard before? What is reinforced for me? What ways am I challenged to do something different or to stretch more?”


loving God heart, mind, soul, and strength

pastor latonya


Pastors Pen


As our new Bishop Laurie Haller gave her first Address to our 2017 Annual Conference she laid before us a question, “Have you fruit? Then make a difference!” She also presented a newly crafted mission and vision statement for the Iowa Annual Conference. I am reminded that a mission statement is a statement of intended purpose while a vision statement speaks to how to carry out the mission. Our mission and vision as a conference is as follows:

Mission: To inspire, equip and connect communities of faith to cultivate world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ.

Vision: God’s hope for the world made real through faithful leaders, fruitful communities and fire-filled people. (Tag line: Hope Made Real!)

That said, this same question and work is before us. Stuart—Mt. Vernon, “Have you fruit? Then make a difference!” How shall we make a difference? First by understanding our purpose and second by working to live out our purpose for the glory of God.

I encourage you to think/meditate on and pray about this question and what is it that God is calling us to. Talk about it with others and with me.

As I sit writing this, I am aware that we have some members who are moving on to new things in their lives. Larry & Betty Frazee and Karen Schwartzkopf will soon be leaving our congregation and community. I have heard it said that there is going to be a hole in the church. But I declare that while we will miss their presence among us we pray God blessing upon them and just as God is with them, God is with us. We celebrate their time and gifts that have been shared with us and thank God now for who God will raise up to meet the needs in this church and community for we are all in this together!

This is an exciting and faith-filled time for us. A new season if you will full of changes and stability…God doing a new thing and still being a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever more.

Loving God heart, mind, soul, and strength,

Pastor LaTonya


For the Love of God and Country

The Rev. Bill Cotton, who I admire and am greatly enriched by, weekly writes a memo for preachers. I would like to share one written for a first Sunday of July focusing on Independence Day.

Excursus: “For the Love of God and Country”

Once upon a time the Pilgrims came to America, settled and declare that God is at the very center of our lives. The Pilgrims were a bit oppressive and to guard against their insistence upon their version of God being the only expression, our founders put a bit of wiggle room into the Constitution. Freedom from religious expression was also a right. Still most Christians andJews took the position that God indeed was at the center.

Abraham Lincoln caught up in a war bent on destroying the union–turning us into a bunch of independent states– gave great emphasis to the idea of Country. So gradually God and Country moved to the center. There would grow an uneasy tension as Christians and Jews tried to straddle the idea. Of the two at the center which is first?

By the time of the First World War flags began to be seen in sanctuaries. The great and terrible wars had taken the lives of so many, that it seemed only right that reverence should include their sacrifice. The flag became a test for patriotism and gradually flag and cross vied for the center. It was an uneasy truce–where does one put the flag–near the cross, in the narthex. (Have you had those conversations and confrontations?).

In the 1930s, as Hitler came to power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would begin to speak of God being edged out of the world- replaced at the center by National Pride. Following 9/11 one large church in Fort Worth, Texas began the worship service with a presenting of the colors and thesinging of “God Bless America” before the Call to Worship. This was discontinued when members protested, but it makes the point.

I cannot attend a sports event where the national anthem is played without tearing up. .After all I was once a soldier and I love my country. However, I know that it is possible to love my country too much.

I really do not like Puritan expressions of the faith, but I also know that the Church is the only institution remaining to remind us that without a vital radical faith in God, nothing else matters. So be gentle with each other on this 4th of July, but if you are planning to “Sing My Country

‘Tis of Thee”, conclude the service with Luther’s “ A Mighty Fortress is our God” –especially verse 4.

Happy 4th of July. Be Blessed!

Loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength,

Pastor LaTonya


Love God


We have just finished our post resurrection sermon series, “Living a Life in His Name,” that was birth out of the book of John stating Jesus’ post resurrection presence and teaching was told so “that believing, you will have life in his name (John 20:31 common translation).” From this series I discovered:

¨ The joy of understanding the word of God.

¨ That Jesus is the way only to God for He is the way, the truth, the life.

¨ If God is in Jesus and Jesus is in us then I have all I need within me to live this life.

¨ All I need to do if I love Jesus is to follow his commandments.

My most beloved commandment is to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. My love for God helps me to forsake self, put off what I think I need and desire. For example, there are many things I choose to do with my money but I have come to understand that if I love Jesus I will follow the command to give 10% (my tithes) of my money to support the church building (where saints of God come together to worship, grow as disciples and fellowship) and financial offerings to support the ministries (helping people in need in our community and around the world). I give because I want to give and because God has given so much to me. I worship God first with my money and trust God to make room for everything else. Even though this sermon series has ended, living a life in his name continues as I become a better disciple of Jesus. As a result of these sermons I am encouraged to live better. I hope these sermons have helped and encourage someone else.

Loving God, heart, mind, soul, and strength,

Pastor LaTonya


What are our Core Values?


I have been asked to serve on a district operational team implementing a new conference initiative that is purposed to move the conference forward through spiritual leadership. At our last meeting we were presented with these questions for the district.

Why do we exits?

Where are we now…really?

Where is God leading us?

How will we get there?

These questions ultimately lead to the question of, “What are the core values of the Southwest District? What is too important to compromise?

¨ The answers we came up with were,

¨ That people are coming to know Jesus

¨ That people are growing in relationship with Jesus

¨ That people are in relationship with one another

¨ The connectionism of the church.


Stuart-Mt. Vernon UMC, I ask you the same questions. Pray, meditate, and discuss with others what you think are our core values. What is it that we will not compromise for the sake of the kingdom and glory of God. Write, email me your responses and look for a post on facebook to also offer your responses.


Loving God, heart, mind, soul, and strength,

Pastor LaTonya


Do You Believe?


Throughout Lent we have been reviewing our baptism vows as a way of looking at our created purpose.

March 1: Ash Wednesday: Remember, You Are Dust

Epiphany!…Dust & Ashes are purposeful and needed and so are we. What is our created purposefulness? We seek discovery of our purposefulness through God’s mercy and guidance for this season of intensive formation and re-formation called lent.

March 5: Lent 1: Renounce

We walk the way of temptation with Jesus and learn from him what it means to continue to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

March 12: Lent 2: Accept

Through powerful image of new birth and the biblical story of the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus shows Nicodemus and us what it takes for us to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

March 19: Lent 3: Confess

In an encounter with a woman at a well in Samaria, Jesus confesses he is the Messiah, and she not only embraces this, but leads others to make the same confession.

March 26: Lent 4: Nurture

The response of the crowds to Jesus’ healing of a man born blind says much about how our congregation can actively “nurture one another in the Christian faith and life, and include these persons now before you in your care,” or fail to do so.

April 2: Lent 5: Believe!

The faith we confess, and the faith that transforms us, is more than intellectual assent to a theological construct. May we join in on Martha’s confession, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into this world,” and live it!

As we make our way to Easter Sunday the questions that remains is “Do you believe? If your living is fruit of your belief, is your fruit, fruit of the spirit, fruit of discipleship, fruit of grace working in your life? Just what fruit are you producing?”

Happy Easter!

Loving God, heart, mind, soul, and strength,

Pastor LaTonya