First United Methodist Church

Red Wing, Minnesota

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Still Neighbors After All These Fears

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on November 11, 2016 at 12:15 AM


As I write this, it is Election Day Eve. We don’t know yet who wins the Elections, or who loses. We are still frustrated, accusatory and combative. I confess I have followed this Election Year to a point where it has become a form of obsession. This year, people have either defiantly put up yard signs to show their colors, or avoided it, fearing what others might think or do. I have a friend, a psychotherapist who remarked the other day on the number of people reported nationally to be struggling with anxiety and depression related to, or intensified by, this extended and intense campaigning. He counsels persons who are really struggling for personal well-being in this chronic climate of political antagonism and see-sawing competitive edges among the candidates and the polls. It has been a hard, hard passage for many of us.


The thing I keep trying to remember: we are still neighbors after all these fears.


On the days after the Election, assuming the sky doesn’t fall, or zombies take over, or Blitzkreig storm-troopers march in, or Armageddon erupt, or the Eschaton arrive, we will all still be raking the last of the leaves. We will be baking cookies, cleaning out the gutters, checking off the list of things to do, sipping coffee, making meals, selling snow-shovels, and caring for our families and our friends. We will still be making plans for Thanksgiving. Things won’t be as good as we wish, nor as bad as we fear--same as ever.


We will still be neighbors, if we act that way.

We will still contribute to the food shelf because families need those “bags of life”. We will still tutor kids, and give blood at the Red Cross, and support the United Way, and attend a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple—or none of the above. We will still pick up trash, and open doors for one another. Life will go on. This is a welcome idea and an invitation, this thought that there will be other, ordinary days that follow Election Day.


The founder of the Methodist denominations, Reverend John Wesley, gave counsel on voting to some of his followers in England back in the late 1700s. His advice was sane, peaceable and neighborly. It bears repeating for the day of an Election, but more importantly, for the days that follow: “Vote…for the person (you) judge most worthy….Speak no evil of the person you vote against, and take care that your spirits are not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”


If we agree with Reinhold Niebuhr that, “Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems”, then the urgency of winning elections diminishes, and the absolutist claims of our political parties are placed in reasonable perspective. What finally matters is our shared effort, our arc and approximation of public governance that we intend to benefit all citizens, now and for the future.


In the meantime, we are still neighbors.



--Reverend Clay Oglesbee is the Lead Pastor of the First United Methodist Church, Red Wing, Minnesota. He can be contacted at




Holsteins on a Hillside

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on October 20, 2016 at 9:40 PM

Driving near Miesville this morning, as this golden October continues, you could see seven or eight black and white Holstein cows draped down a green hillside.  They were in all standing broadside to the roadway, all about equally spaced, and all in a straight line down the hill.  

What would lead cows to organize that way?  is there a boss cow?  Or was this plan made by a committee of cows?  Sometimes the world just shows up odd.  We look.  We chuckle about it or puzzle over it.  What a gift it is that we so often don't know what's going on!

Whatever the plan, it's good to know that "every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:1). 

Fr. Richard Rohr on the Feast of St. Francis

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on October 4, 2016 at 11:55 AM


Enoughness and Contentment  (Fr. Richard Rohr--Blog)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

(Feast of St. Francis of Assisi)


We live in a society that places great importance upon external signs of success. We have to assure ourselves and others that we are valuable and important—because we inherently doubt that we are! Thus we are often preoccupied with “one-upping” others. I am afraid that most lose inside of such a “winner-takes-all” society. We have great difficulty finding our inherent value with such a world view. Few have deep conviction about their own soul or the Indwelling Holy Spirit.


People living under capitalism find it almost unnatural to know their own center. Dignity must always be “acquired” and earned. We live in an affluent society that’s always expecting more, wanting more, and believes it even deserves more. But the more we own, ironically enough, the less we enjoy. This is the paradox of materialism. The more we project our soul’s longing onto things, the more things disappoint us. Happiness is an inside job. When we expect to find happiness outside of ourselves, we are always disappointed. We then seek a “higher” or more stimulating experience and the spiral of addiction and consumption continues.


Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate today, experienced radical participation in God’s very life. Such practical knowing of his value and identity allowed Francis to let go of status, privilege, and wealth. Francis knew he was part of God’s plan, connected to creation and other beings, inherently in communion and in love. Francis taught his followers to own nothing so they would not be owned by their possessions.


If you don’t live from within your own center of connection and communion, you’ll go spinning around things. The true goal of all religion is to lead you back to the place where everything is one, to the experience of radical unity with all of humanity, and hence to the experience of unity with God.


When you live in pure consciousness, letting the naked being of all reality touch your own naked being, you experience foundational participation. Out of that plentitude—a sense of satisfaction and inner enoughness, a worldview of abundance—you find it much easier to live simply. You realize you don’t “need” as much. You’ve found your satisfaction at an inner place, at a deeper level inside you. You’re able to draw from this abundance and share it freely with others. And you stop trying to decide who is worthy of it, because you now know that you are not “worthy” either. It is one hundred percent pure gift!


Gateway to Silence:

Live simply so that others may simply live.



The Puzzle Pieces and the Picture

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on September 29, 2016 at 5:20 PM

Last Wednesday night, Pastor Pam Armstrong helped the youth of our church to consider how they imagine God.  Is God a huge white-haired and bearded grandfather in the clouds, a jolly  and generous Santa Claus, a wise Morgan Freeman type, a white-vested female rock singer, or a lightning-zapping Wrath up on high?  These and lots of other images are stored up in our minds.  

Personally, I've inerradicably confused God with the severe yet benign, unfinished portrait of George Washington which used to hang in my father's small town newspaper office in Center, Colorado.  

How we imagine God makes a difference in how we approach God with the truth and real needs of our lives, or even whether we come to God for guidance and care at all.  If the God we believe in is not one we can trust to understand or care for us, then we withhold parts of our lives from serious examination and change. We hide from God, as Adam and Eve first did.  One author, Ann Ulanov says, "We keep our pictures of god secret from each other and often even from ourselves.  For what would others think if we talked of God as a stalking an alien, a foreigner whose breath is upon our face...Or like a large lap into which crawl, a breast upon which we lean?  Or a God warrior calling us out to fight?  Or God as Jesus sitting in the back pew of your church?"  When we conceptualize God too concretely or too  narrowly, we run into spiritual issues.  

The point of Pastor Pam's teaching was to show the youth that everyone sees and imagines some part of God's identity, but no one has the whole picture. Each of us has a puzzle piece, and only when we sort out the pieces and place them together can we get from the confusing mix of puzzle pieces to a (more) complete picture.  The incarnation of God in Jesus is a partial check on many of our most distorted images, for in him we see God, humanly expressed and embodied, "full fo grace and truth" (John 1:14)--God with us.  --Pastor Clay

Reminder: Come on August 28 for Town Hall

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on August 26, 2016 at 1:45 AM

Friends at the First UMC in Red Wing,

Pastor Pam Armstrong and I, and the Executive Committee, just want to remind you that an informal gathering of members and friends of our church will be offered on Sunday, August 28 after 9:30 worship.  We wish you would join us for conversation.  

The town hall is not a Biblical expression, but it has been defined in America and Canada as "an informal public meeting, function, or event derived from the traditional town meetings of New England. Typically open to everybody in and held at the local...building, attendees generally present ideas, voice their opinions, ask questions of the (leaders).... Attendees rarely vote on an issue or propose an alternative to a situation....


So, please come to celebrate our summer's ministries together, to consider proposals from the Executive Committee for changes in our governance and other aspects of the way we are organized,to see our Vision and Plannin Grid (based on your membership promises), to get a head's up on what will be happening in the church this fall--and later in the year, and to make any suggestions you wish.  We anticipate formal voting on some parts of the Executive Committee plans later this fall.

You will also be given opportunity to purchase a key study book to be used by the entire church, We Make the Road by Walking, to sign up for a small group study on this book,and to sign up for consideration on the nominations process for terms of ministry to begin in 2017.

We are excited to see you in worship on Sunday, beginning at 9:30, and then please join us for refreshments and conversation in the upper fellowship hall.  

Blessings today!

Pastor Clay Oglesbee

Pastor Pam Armstrong


Heading West out of Red Wing

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on August 18, 2016 at 1:30 AM

Driving from First Church in Red Wing last night around sunset---  As I turned west, headed for Miesville, there were heavy dark clouds on the horizon, but a  golden sunsetwas also pouring in through  blue sky and huge, bubbling clouds to the north and east of me.  It was so beautiful and so contradictory.

To the west, it looked like the Rocky Mountain Range had suddenly dropped onto Faribault and Kenyon and rooted  themeslves there.  The clouds were so low, dark and "mountainous" that it truly seemed to be a new geological discovery.  Who knew there were mountains in these parts of Minnesota?

To the east, it looked like Titian's painting of Mary's Assumption--golden, climbing, cumulous clouds--and the ascent of cherubs and the Virgin Mother would have fit the evening's masterpiece of light and cloud.   

So that's an ordinary Tuesday night, the usual stuff,  coming home from a church meeting...It is also miraculous, magnificent, gorgeous, and magical, Do we notice how God's creativity and grace blend the same mysterious, plain old ordinariness with extraordinary beauty and mercy?

Every day, every hour, every moment, beauty and love surround and lift us higher on the ascent.

Happy soul in a Red Wing garden

Posted by Clay Oglesbee on August 16, 2016 at 9:30 AM

Visiting with church friends the other night, and this cheerful soul awaited us in their garden.  Wish we were all so hospitable,  joyous and content!