7 Highlights of 2013

Lots of things have happened in 2013.  I feel very lucky to have experienced so many wonderful things.  Here are seven highlights of 2013.

1.  Chaplain of the Upstate NY Synod’s Candidacy Committee

November of 2012 I was invited to join the Upstate NY Synod’s candidacy committee.  It was a great honor for me to be a part of this group that met and talked with individuals who were interested in pursuing seminary education.  My first few meetings were long, hard but rewarding.  We were not only evaluating candidates as they went through the process but we were getting to know them as people, we were creating relationships with them and that was special.

This year I was asked if I had interest in serving as the chaplain of the committee.  I thought long and hard about this because I enjoyed being a part of the committee.  But in the end, I know that I have a pastoral heart, I love creating meaningful worship experiences for people and I felt that I could serve well in this position.  So in December I attended my first candidacy retreat as chaplain and I know I made the right decision.

2.  Started a Plant- Based Diet

I have struggled with my weight for most of my life.  There have been times when I have been conscious about what I am eating and I have made an effort to get intentional exercise.  However, I have never gotten to the point where I have been at an ideal weight.

In March of 2013 I decided to get some blood work done and I went to my doctor to get the results.  I heard nothing but bad news.  Not only was I much heavier than I should be but my insides were suffering.  My doctor told me that she was not sure she could continue to be my doctor unless I did something about this.  I was devastated.

I thought and prayed about what I could do, and I knew that I needed outside, professional help.  I remember a friend on Facebook who was a trainer and someone who could be compassionate but also kick my butt when needed.  So I reached out to her and she welcomed me with open arms.  There was one catch — I needed to drastically change my relationship with food and I needed to start a plant-based diet.  I was not sure if I could handle that change, but I knew I was running out of options so I agreed.

What has transpired has been amazing.  I am feeling better, I have lost weight and within the first 90 days my blood work changed drastically.  I am so thankful for this change and I am learning more about what it means to be on a plant-based diet and everyday I take steps to eating cleaner and getting healthier.

3.  Attended the Festival of Homiletics

Thinking about my continuing education for 2013 I knew that I wanted to do something life changing.  I asked for inspiration and ideas about continuing education from friends and colleagues.  The one event that was recommended to me over and over again was the Festival of Homiletics.  So I signed up.

During my time there I was inspired, captivated and it totally changed the way I view preaching.  I feel I have become a better preacher because of my time there and I am thankful for the opportunity to go.

4.  Went on My First Mission Trip

During my time as youth director in various churches I never took my youth on a week long mission trip.  So in 2013 along side my youth director and some faithful

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As much as I love sleep, I find it hard to do.

My little girl sleeping so soundly.

When I finally lay down to go to sleep, I start to feel guilty.  I say to myself “it’s only 10:30 pm I could get a good hour’s worth of work done.” Or I want to stay up and play a few more rounds of Plants vs Zombies 2.  But I know the best thing for me to do is to settle my brain enough to fall peacefully asleep.

On the other end I know that if I wake up early enough I can complete my ideal morning routine which includes

1/2 hour Bible Reading/Journal

1/2 hour Social media purge (including catching up on the news)

1 hour Workout

45 min Help getting the kids ready for the day

But life rarely works out the way we want it too right?

I do know that sleep is important and I do know that it is best if I go to bed early enough that I can wake up feeling refreshed and that I give myself time to do the things I want/need to do in the morning.

Bible Story

Matthew 8: 23 – 27 (NRSV)

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ 26And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’

Jesus was in a boat with his disciples.  Jesus fell asleep and a storm comes over  them.  The disciples are freaking out but Jesus stays asleep.  They woke him up and wondered why he was not afraid.  Jesus calms the storm and calms them.

I love this story because so many times, when the seas get rough in my life I go to Jesus with the same question.  I want Jesus to help me to reassure me that things are going to be okay.  So many times he does!! Other times I feel like I am left alone.  But even though I feel like I am left alone I know that Jesus will never leave my side.

When I realize this I know that I have experienced a God-Moment.  A moment in time when I feel God’s loving arms wrapped around me.


Sleeping on the shores of Camp Calumet.

This week I would like to invite you to think about your sleep.  Take a photo of your bedtime rituals, your kids’ bedtime rituals, things you do before you go to sleep, how you like to sleep, where you sleep or even what you are doing instead of sleeping ……. anything related to resting your wary mind and body.  Also notice the things that are sleeping around you, your pets, animals in the world, people on park benches, or even a tree the looks like it’s sleeping.

Share a link of your picture in the comments below, on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #GM52

Announcing My New Call

I am excited to announce that I have accepted a new call to Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA. Below is the letter I sent to the people of St. Mark’s. I am thankful for everyone’s support during this time of transition. Many thanks to Pastor Keith Anderson for help with the letter.

January 22, 2014

Dear Friends of St. Mark’s,

It is with both joy and sadness that I write to you. The joy I greet you with is the news that I have accepted a new call to serve as pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA.

The sadness is that in order to pursue this new call I will resign as your pastor. My last Sunday will be March 2nd.

I want to let you know that this has been a difficult decision to make. You are wonderful people. My family has come to know and love both the community of Baldwinsville as well as the community of St. Mark’s. Together, over the course of the last six years, St. Mark’s has accomplished quite a bit. We’ve watched our youth program blossom and grow by creating opportunities for our youth to be engaged with ministries beyond the walls of our church, we have seen growth in our community dinners and expanded that ministry by delivering to homebound people, we celebrated our 60th anniversary, we have done necessary improvements and upgrades to our church building, we have created a memorial garden, we have grown to recognize the God-Moments in our life and we have walked together with God through all the seasons of life, celebrating birthdays, burials, marriages, anniversaries and baptisms.

Some of my fondness memories of my time at St. Mark’s will be the Tuesday morning Bible Studies, the many, many fellowship events, and working with the incredible staff and volunteers of the church.

I have been very fortunate to have an amazing first call experience at St. Mark’s and I am truly humbled to be your pastor.

Katie, Logan, Addyson and I have been discerning and praying about our next step in our journey and we feel God is calling us in this direction. However, we are filled with profound gratitude for you and what God has done in our midst. We could not have asked for a better church family and we are deeply grateful for how you have embraced each of us. You have shown us the love of God in many ways through your kindness, compassion, and understanding.

I am excited about St. Mark’s future and saddened that I must now watch it from afar. Please know this: St. Mark’s is a special congregation with many gifts and much potential. My prayer and hope is that you continue to do the amazing ministry that God has entrusted into your care, and that you keep dreaming and visioning for the future and secure yourself for the next 60 years of ministry.

Over the next two months, in addition to my regular pastoral duties, I’ll be working with St. Mark’s leadership and the Upstate NY Synod Office to help in this time of transition. David Roppel, Dean of our conference is scheduled to meet with our Church Council on February 27th , to help begin the process of calling a new pastor. Finally, thank you for the opportunity to have served as your pastor. I will always cherish you, St. Mark’s, and our time in ministry together.

Livin’ on Grace,

Pastor Joseph McGarry


Many people begin their day by reading the news.  It could be a physical paper, or they may turn to their iPhones, iPads, Kindles, Android devices or computers.  But once someone wakes up in the morning, they grab a cup of coffee, a healthy breakfast and read about what is going on in the world.

Other people may get up and go for a run, lift weights at the gym or maybe they check out Facebook and see what is going on in their friends lives.

Whatever your daily routine is, chances are you stick with it every day.

What are some of the other daily activities that you participate in?

This may be a good week for you to evaluate your daily routines.

Instead of stopping by Starbucks everyday, you could make your coffee at home and then donate the money you stave to Lutheran World Relief.  Or if you are not exercising everyday maybe this is the week that you start?

I like to wake each day and focus on one area that I can excel or accomplish. Sometimes it is a personal goal and I start working on a goal that I want to accomplish, other times it is to spend more time with my wife or kids. Sometimes, it’s just stay quiet all day.

Some days I try and think of focus words to direct my day.  Some of these words are:

Pray, Sing, Be Silly, Listen, Love

Bible Story

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is a traveling rock star.  He is baptised by John and then he goes into the wilderness for fourty days.  Then he travels from town to town and people are flocking to see him.  He is casting out deamons and healing leapers.  One stop he makes is to see Simon’s mother-in-law.

Mark 1: 29-39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

I believe from reading this passage that Jesus would commonly wake up in the morning and pray.  How else can you explain where he got the energy for all of the teaching preaching and healing that he was doing?


Photo credit: Roger Price (Creative Commons)

This week think about what you do everyday.  Take a picture of something that you do everyday.  Or think about something you would like to add into your daily routine and take a picture of that to remind yourself to do it!!  Take a picture of a loving face that you see everyday, or a billboard that inspires you, or a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Once you take the picture share it!!!!

Share a link of your picture in the comments below, on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #GM52


This 9 year old says to me seriously, “Watch my class try to line up when recess is over.”  She looks out the window at them.
She says in an educated tone to me, “You know, ducks can walk in a line but my class can’t.”  I said, “Where did you hear this comparison?” She said, “I saw ducks crossing the road in a straight line and I just thought My class can’t do that. Also, ducks brains are tiny.”

– Mindy

To read more of Mindy’s stories click here.


I am not sure which is harder — beginnings or endings.

 And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. ~ Meister Eckhart

As we begin a new year, we may be starting on new journey’s — it may be a personal transformation, it may be a professional transition or there may be a commitment in our life that we want to make a priority in 2014. Beginnings or changes can be hard.  I know the one thing that makes it hard for me  is fear.

Every year to help with that I think of three words that lead me and guide me to accomplish my goals.  But the fear still seems to creep in.

However, focusing on what you want to do for the year, and with the love and support of family, friends, and God – anything is possible.  We need to remember that when we begin something, it may not always turn out the way we want.  Even if we mess up, we can always start again, right where we are.  That’s grace.

And where we are right now will not be where we will end up.

Bible Story

In Genesis we read “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”

That’s how God started.  When there was complete and utter darkness, when the world was a formless void God created light.

God did not end with the light.  God created the world and all that is in it.  God created you and me!!

Everything that exists has a beginning story. . . including you.  What is your story?

We were born, throughout our life we have many beginnings — school, work, relationships, experiences  and faith.

Faith has a starting point as well — where does your story begin?


This week think about beginnings, think about a project you want to accomplish this week or this year and take a picture of it.  If you want to lose weight this year, take a picture of a scale, if you want to go paperless take a picture of the piles of paper you want to get rid of, if you need to do a bunch of laundry this week, take a picture of the pile of clothes.

Whatever beginning you are ready to embark upon, share it.

Share a link of your picture in the comments below, on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #GM52