November 6, 2013

Dear Centenary Friends,

Louis Armstrong was a gravelly-voiced genius who had a profound impact on American music in the 20th century.  He was an “at risk” kid.  Howard Hanger says that Armstrong could well be the “At-Risk-Kid-Of-All-Time” poster child.  Raised in abject poverty in one of the roughest sections of New Orleans, he daily witnessed drug deals, prostitution and violence.  Born out of wedlock, his father left the family when Armstrong was an infant, so his mother became a prostitute to support the family.

The red light district of New Orleans was a gathering place for musicians, so Armstrong listened to them as his mother turned tricks.  As one would expect, he got into trouble and was sent to “The Home for Colored Waifs”, a reform school just outside of New Orleans.

A Russian-Jewish family, the Karnofskys, took him in, gave him odd jobs and loaned him money to buy his first trumpet.  For the rest of his life Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David to honor this family who blessed him with kindness and generosity. 

The fascinating thing is that Louis Armstrong had every reason to sing the blues…. But he didn’t.  He sang and played love songs, torch songs, toe-tapping-fanny-wiggling songs. 

35 years ago, stereo technology evolved to the point of providing us with cassette decks.  I saved my money and finally bought the best I could afford.  The VERY FIRST cassette I played on that stereo was by Louis Armstrong.  I can still hear Louis crooning:

“I see trees of green… red roses too…

I see them bloom for me and you…

And I think to myself… What a wonderful world!”

Let me get this straight – Mom’s a hooker, no money, little to eat, sent to reform school, cops chased him, no respect, no social standing and he still writes and sings, “What a Wonderful World” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Hello Dolly”?  Does that make sense to you?

My guess is that the Karnofskys gave Satchmo his chance. 

I may not be able to write, sing, or play like Louis Armstrong, but I sure can be a Karnofsky for someone, or several someones and that is good enough for me.


Church Work Day – Saturday, November 9, 8 a.m. until 1 pm….  Bagels and coffee for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch will be served.  Come give us a hand for various tasks around the church.


This Sunday (November 10) is All Saints Sunday at Centenary.  We will be calling names… like Charlie, and Mike, and Greg, and Martha, and Hamp… lots of names will be called from the congregation.  We will be remembering those who have gone before and from whom we have received wisdom gifts.  You will hear Satchmo’s version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”… and we will have a connection with Indian Springs.  Water has been flowing from the well at Indian Springs State Park for hundreds – maybe thousands – of years.  We are going to be using some water from that ancient well Sunday.  My sermon for Sunday is titled “Other Voices, Other Rooms”.  Hope you will be with us in worship this Sunday.

Manna and Mercy,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love yourself.  Serve.

November 12,2013

Dear Centenary family,

Amazing and spirit-driven.  Those are two of the words I would use to describe last Wednesday evening.  We gathered for fellowship supper and to talk about the transition house.  Did you know that for the past 5 years Centenary has run a transitional housing program?  Dozens of men have moved through the program to gain stability, a roof over their head, and a sustaining job.  The house we used backed up to our church property and when Mercer’s new construction started, it was razed.  So, the question was “Will we continue this program or not?”  The resounding answer across the congregation has been:  “We must figure out a way to continue.  God is calling us.”  So, to that end and on behalf of Centenary, Peggy Schaller Elliott and a transitional house team from Centenary have been working for almost a year on plans and options.  Last Wednesday they presented the plans. 

They requested that the Trustees of Centenary be empowered by the church to purchase a home on Hazel Street (about 2 blocks from the church) for the purpose of transitional housing.   $142,000 of $150,000 needed has been raised to purchase the house.  The rest of the funds will come from our Christmas offering for Centenary Community Ministries, or from individuals interested in making this happen. 

The vote to move ahead and give the Trustees permission to make the purchase passed unanimously. 

But here is the most powerful statement:  The room was crowded.  People from all parts of the Centenary community were present.  To quote the Book of Acts:  We “were of one mind…”.  It was a great evening.

We hope to have the new transitional house up and functioning by late winter or early spring.  Further information will be forthcoming.  And if you have questions now, you may contact Stacey Harwell at  or Rogers Willoughby at   

Thanks be to God!


The devastation from the typhoon in the Philippines is horrific.  If you want to give to help alleviate suffering in the Philippines, make your check out to Centenary Church and mark it clearly for “Philippines”.  100% of the money you give for this purpose will go to the disaster through UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).


Thank you to those who were able to help on our Centenary Work Day last Saturday.  It was a great crowd and lots of work got done.  Muchas gracias. 


We will be concluding our look at specific types of gifts for the purpose of our Centenary OS 3.0 series with gifts of passage - how our very life experiences can become part of our toolbox of gifts.  Beth Dunwody’s title is Walking With A Limp from Genesis 32:22-32. (The final week will be a celebration of gratitude for all we have learned and the gifts we've been given.)


Future goodbyes….  Centenary’s Staff-Parish Committee met Sunday and learned that Rogers and Helen Willoughby have requested retirement.  They want to return to Birmingham (Helen’s home) so that they can live close to their children and grandchildren as well as other family.  Wow.  It is hard to let them go.  They are family.  They are a part of us.  They are rock solid.  At the same time, we understand their longings and want to be supportive.  The transition is not immediate.  The big day for transition is January 19.  We will have a celebratory worship service honoring the two of them and giving thanks to God.  And even after the transition happens, they will still be around until their house sells and the move to Birmingham occurs.  So… we wanted you to know about this as we walk through these days.  Rogers and Helen…. We love and appreciate you!


Coffee and Conversation -  This Sunday, November 17, 9 a.m. downstairs below the sanctuary.  You are invited. 

Manna and Mercy,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love yourself.  Serve.

November 20, 2013

Dear Centenary family,

Jesus consistently tells us that the poor will have a FAR easier time making it into heaven than the rich.  In story after story and encounter after encounter, Jesus indicates that the last will be first and the first will be last.  Kingdom economics are completely different from society’s values.

BUT… and this is a BIG but… there is one story that gives hope to the generous rich.  The story is Luke 19:1-10.  Click here if you would like to read it:

Jesus always stands with the poor and excluded.  His song is for the down and out.  However, in this story he is singing for the up and in!  In the words of Kayla McClurg:  “Those who have learned the art of making money without sacrificing the art of generosity are valued and rewarded.  In the wide, wide mercy of God, all who turn shall be welcomed home.”

Zacchaeus’ wealth comes from being unscrupulous.  Think of Wall Street dishonesty… Think of the owners of title pawn shops… think of Walmart that does not pay most of its employees enough to live off of (so they put up collection boxes in their store to receive canned foods to be distributed to their employees because of their hunger and need)… think of pay day lenders – all of these individuals and businesses have fed off of people who are suffering and in crisis.  Zacchaeus was a notoriously dishonest tax collector.  He preyed on the poor… and everyone else. 

Given the previous positions Jesus has taken, one would expect him to satirically ridicule Zacchaeus… or at least hold him up as an example of a way to not live life.  Instead, Jesus connects and says “Let’s party at your house.”  At the end of the party, Zacchaeus becomes very generous.  “If I have defrauded someone, I will pay it back 4 times over.” 

So, what about the morning after the party?  Did Zacchaeus return to his collection duties?  And, if he did, was he a changed person?  We don’t know, but here is what I imagine:  In my mind’s eye, I see Zacchaeus’ newfound generosity “rippling across the entire community, maybe bringing about a full internal review of questionable practices, undoubtedly disturbing the expectations of family and cohorts.”  With Jesus, profound change is possible.  We are never the same again when we truly meet the One who knows our name.  Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name and Zacchaeus knew that Jesus knew his name.  How could he not be profoundly changed?

Jesus has his eye on you and me.  Shall we stay at the edge of the crowd, sneaking a peek from a safe distance?  Or shall we let ourselves be claimed by Jesus?  Now, if you are serious about this, be assured that Jesus’ conversation with you will not be just about your heart… it is also about your pocketbook and wallet and business practices and wealth and generosity.  But at least there is hope!  The generous rich have a chance!


This Sunday is Thanksgiving Sunday.  My sermon title is intentionally provocative:  “Disobeying Jesus Can Be a Good Thing, According to Jesus.”  I will be preaching about 10 lepers who were healed.  Read the story by clicking here:  See if you can figure out how I would come up with that title for a sermon out of this scripture.  Then, come to worship Sunday and let’s talk about it. 


Thank you for your generosity to those suffering in the Philippines.  More than $1,100 was received this past Sunday to help provide aid. 


Hard to believe it, but Advent (the 4 Sundays before Christmas Day) is almost here!  In fact, the first Sunday of Advent is December 1.  Don and Debra Williams will be teaching an Advent Study at Centenary titled "A Season for Waiting, Listening, Rejoicing, and Giving".  The study will be offered at 9:30 each Sunday in a classroom below the sanctuary.  So, join us beginning December 1!

Manna and Mercy,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love yourself.  Serve.