July 17, 2014

Help Give the World Clean Water

Does your youth group, church, or Sunday School class need a worthy fund raiser? Check out http://humankindwater.org/.

Help end poverty and disease by helping to provide access to clean water--something that no one can do without.

My friend, Lucy, heard the founder T.J. Foltz speak at her church last night, so this is legitimate.

Find ways you can help.

Grace, Kathy

July 16, 2014

What Is the Spirit of Your Church?

Recently, my spouse and I have been visiting different churches. They've all been United Methodist, so they all have similar liturgy and we sing out of the same hymnal (actually the words are all on a screen as well). The people are friendly and welcoming; the music is good and at a couple of churches, great. But some seem to be filled with God's spirit and others seem lacking.

I realize that God is everywhere, even if we can't feel him. So I'm not actually sure what we are feeling. Perhaps it's the spirituality of the people there or perhaps it is the Spirit of God calling to us.

I'm not super spiritual, so the whole thing has been rather surprising. But it does remind me that all churches can reflect the presence of God. And I'm not talking about friendliness or a sense of warmth. It's much deeper.

We once had a church which always felt to me as though there was discord brewing. It was unsettling to attend, so I went as little as possible. But it was on the charge, I was the pastor's wife, so I did have to go occasionally. But even feeling a sense of darkness in that church is better than feeling nothing, which describes how both my spouse and I felt after visiting a couple of churches lately, which brings me to the question: Does God Spirit reside in your church? Can people, members and visitors, feel the sacredness of the worship service. Is there a "right spirit"? Or is there a spirit of discontent? A spirit of evil? A spirit of discord? To find out, you might ask your visitors for first impressions.

Again, this doesn't have anything to do with how friendly people are or how good the sermon and music are. But can people easily and freely spiritually connect with God at your church?

This is what people are looking for. A place where they can serve and experience the presence of the living Christ. Is doesn't matter how many programs you have, because if your church doesn't make room for God, it will be empty soon anyway.

Grace, Kathy

July 9, 2014

How Much Does It Matter That We Are United Methodists?

A couple of Sundays ago, we visited a Presbyterian church. We went to hear our friend, the pastor, preach, and he was quite good by the way. While we did feel the holiness of the sanctuary and the presence of God, it was disconcertingly different. Not just because the pastor quoted John Calvin rather than John Wesley, but because it was a different flavor of Christianity. Not bad, just different.

So what does make United Methodist churches different? It's easy to say our liturgy and the hymns, but even some of those were similar. Presbyterians also sing Charles Wesley hymns. So the difference is deeper.

The core of our Wesleyan faith holds together personal holiness and social holiness. In worship, the sermon is important, but so are the sacraments, so is the fellowship time. We tend to emphasize the experience of worship. It does help if the sermon is good, but we also want to feel God with us. This is not to say that other Christians aren't the same, but as Methodists, we still reflect our revivalist roots. Then we expect to apply our faith to our daily living. And this means acts of charity and mercy. For many, it also means social justice-- for example, working on corrupt social systems, feeding and educating those in need.

As Methodists we are connected to churches around the world in mission and ministry. Our church never stands alone as a single witness, although our local witness is necessary and important. But we act in concert and in one accord through our gifts, service, time, and witness. Just as much as we strive to let God connect with us through grace, we strive to connect in significant ways with each other in small groups. Small groups, after all, were perfected by Methodists early in our history and were mandated by John Wesley.

We carry with us the assurance that all are chosen by God and than nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Yes, our Methodist theology matters. It doesn't make us better than all the rest, but it can position us to transform the world.

Grace, Kathy

June 27, 2014

Help for Finding Our Way Forward

In a recent article from the Confessing Movement’s e-newsletter, Riley Case continues the conversation as we United Methodists try to find the way forward. In the article he notes the just released book, Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church, edited by Reuben Job and Neil Alexander. Dr. Case says that “our doctrines are being challenged; our covenants are being violated; and our unity is being shattered.” This sounds ominous and a bit scary. But this is not the first time. Our denomination has split and reunified numerous times. 

Are we a church divided, as the article states? Yes, and we have always been. Perhaps we should, instead, count it as one of our strengths. The UMC has always been multi-vocal on any host of social issues. Race is one but also Prohibition, pacifism, women’s rights, and abortion to name a few. We live under a big tent that can accommodate many views. 

In my office I have a helpful “map” of the history of Methodism. The chart was compiled in 1900 by Rev. V. P. George, D.D. and is aptly titled, “George’s Chart of Ecumenical Methodism from 1739 to 1900.”  The top of this “panorama” reads, “’Methodism is one all the world over.’ (Wesley).” Except when it’s not.

This fascinating document lists 34 separate Methodist churches and their total membership as parts of the Methodist family. Some will be familiar, for example, the United Brethren Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, Wesleyan Methodist Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church South. However also listed are the Evangelist Missionary Church, Primitive Methodists, French Wesleyan Methodists, and the Wesleyan Reform Union Church. Obviously we Methodists have organized, split, divided, and then reunified many times. So yes, contrary to what the article says, there has been talk about separation before, many times. In fact, it seems that reorganization is one of the things our church does best, so it’s nothing to fear. But it is also not a reason to boast.

Grace, Kathy

June 25, 2014

Looking for Opportunities to Find and Share Grace

Where I work, we have a wonderful library with many very old books and other publications from early in our denomination's history. Yesterday, a group of us went to explore and take a peak at what all there is. We saw Bibles, commentaries, Bible dictionaries, concordances, and more from the 16th through 19th centuries. Some were still covered in the original vellum. Others were falling apart.

That was interesting enough, but even more so was how the different people noticed different things. One of us noted the detailed engravings, one pointed out the quality of the rag paper, a couple could actually read the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew text, another observed the overall design of the pages. And we all remarked on the quality and the ability of these books to stand the test of time.

The point is that it took all of us to really "see." Taking into account our different perspectives made the experience richer, more meaningful. And just because the colors on the page called out to me didn't take away from those who noticed the words on the page first. In fact, we probably could have used even more expertise in order to fill out the experience even more.

In the church, each person's viewpoint offers a different perspective. And it takes all to get a full picture, but we must remember that even a full picture is not necessarily a complete picture. Only God can offer that.

As we reflect on our UM Annual Conferences, there were many issues, some of which may seem intractable. But as complete a picture as we might think we have, none of us have the total picture. And who is looking also says a lot about what they see. I'm always going to notice the color; just like someone else will always notice the page layout.

Regarding the issues concerning homosexuality, those who think "split" will predict it. Those who want unity, will find ways to achieve it. None of us has the complete picture about homosexuality or anything else. What's why we all need to go to God together in prayer. Perhaps, like good Wesleyans, we should be looking for more opportunities to find and share grace.