I fulfilled a long-deferred desire to make a pastoral visit to our congregations in the Keys on March 2-3, 2009. The District Superintendent, the Rev. Debbie McLeod, and her husband Thom escorted my spouse Melba and me on a whirlwind tour. This is one of the "drop in visits," or pastoral contacts, I make in order to be closer to particular parts of our conference.
The Florida Keys are part of a fascinating archipelago south of the rich agricultural lands of Homestead, Florida. I knew it was a long way from Miami all the way to Key West, the sourthernmost island, but I have a much better appreciation for the distance after traveling it. Of course, much of the journey is beautiful with vistas of vast expanses of teal green water.
One of the ironies about our churches in the Keys is that, while they appear to be the most isolated of all our churches, they are among the most historic of the United Methodist churches in Florida. This is most evident in Key West, where I had the pleasure of seeing the historic and beautiful sanctuaries of both Newman Memorial and Key West United Methodist Churches. The churches here are probably more similiar to churches in the North West District than to any other part of our state in the sense of possessing a rich history and sense of tradition.
What is gratifying is to see the significant ministries being done by all of our churches in the Keys. Burton Memorial in Tavernier operates a major food pantry and is doing creative outreach, such as Pastor Kerry Foote's "tabernacle service," which moves around and is held in different businesses in the area. Pastor Barbara Ammann showed us the impressive artistic work of the members of Matecumbe UMC--its hand-crafted stained glass windows and insets for the stones of its prayer labyrinth, and its beautiful columbarium ajacent to the Hurricane Memorial. Pastor Greer Jensen showed us the lovely new outdoor worship space of the Big Pine UMC where Easter services will be held for the community. Pastor Peggy Benson described the disciple-making ministries of Community UMC in Marathon as we toured its rennovated facilities (following flooding in the hurricanes of 2004). In Key West, it was a joy to meet with the lay leaders of Newman Memorial UMC as they discussed their outreach to their community ,and with Pastor Ruben Velasco, who is bring creative leadership to the Key West UMC, which is a major presence in the Key West community. It was also rewarding to see the new facilities of the Wesley House ministries in Key West and the Keys, a ministry of the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries which serves children and families.
I think it is a privilege for clergy to serve these congregations and to live in this special area. Not everyone would be able to deal with the sense of being some distance from the continental mainland. Those who like a sense of distance and who enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of this place thrive here.
It is only natural for the United Methodist people to wonder if the rest of us remember them. Of course, we do. They are carrying on the ministry of Jesus where they are, and we are grateful for their mission in the Keys. Let us pray for the pastors and members of these congregations as they make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.