December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas! Coming Home

All my children will be home for Christmas. I've stocked the fridge and baked dozens of cookies. The gifts are patiently waiting under the tree. We're prepared as much as we can be. I'm very excited and very grateful.

As a college kid or young married, I was the one going home. Now, I'm the mother and grandmother waiting for my kids to come home. But home is incomplete without the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst.

Whether you are going home or waiting for someone to come home, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. May the mystery and wonder of the Christ child be born in you again today.



Grace,
Kathy

December 19, 2012

What Do We Tell the Children about Death?

Need help to talk to kids about grief, death, and dying? Here is a link to a 30-minute radio broadcast with Joseph Primo, who is the Associate Executive Director of Good Grief, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey and serves on the board of The National Alliance for Grieving Children..

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/notforprofitexchange/2012/12/18/not-for-profit-exchange

Quotes from the broadcast:

“We need to honor the feelings of every child even if they are uncomfortable for an adult to hear. After a death or tragedy, children are trying to make sense of the world in their own way. That is something we can facilitate, but it is not something we can force or mandate on a child, teenager, or adult. It is part of our unique grief process.”

“We need to make a paradigm shift from grief is messy . . . to grief is good and it serves a purpose for children . . . their reactions are leading them towards healing.”

“We can take a break from the media. We don’t have to consume all the news . . . taking care of ourselves is not disrespectful."

Not an easy time for anyone.


Grace, Kathy

December 17, 2012

Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma


Today, an unspeakable tragedy took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Fox News reports that 26 people are dead; 20 of the victims are elementary age children. It's horrifying, mind-boggling and surreal—an unspeakable evil and every parent’s nightmare.

Pray for the families of the victims and the entire community of Newtown during this confusing and desperate time. Around the dinner table tonight, there will be many conversations about why tragedies like this happen... and questions from kids about whether or not they're safe, especially at school.

As one mother on the scene put it, "I'm in a state of shock. I don’t know how I'm going to handle having [my daughter] know... about the whole situation."

Trauma is best understood as any event that shatters our sense of safety. Immediately, one can become hyper vigilant—overly sensitive and set on emotional alert. Fear rules, especially in kids. The pictures online screamed of the horror. In these moments, children need adults who are attuned to their emotions and tender to their needs.

Six "T's" for Helping Kids through Trauma

Togetherness. This is a night where your kids need to have you close. They need to know they're safe. Pull in together as a family. Pray together. Be together. The antidote to trauma is safe, loving relationships. Coddle your children a little bit more. Stay in close proximity to them, particularly if they’re anxious or afraid.

Touch and Tenderness. Touch is an expression of affection that reinforces proximity and closeness. It produces a calming affect. Fear makes our minds race and wander, but tender touch dispels it. Hold a hand. Stroke your children's hair. Let them sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around them. Kiss them. Be present emotionally. If they’re acting out a little bit with anger, rebellion or defiance, it very well could be a fear response. Be sensitive to their behavior.

Talk. The questions will come: "Will a shooter come to my school?" "Why did he hurt those kids?" Be present, sensitive, and don’t offer pat answers. Engage them in age-appropriate discussion. Contrary to what many of us believe, talk doesn't perpetuate anxiety—it helps to reduce it. Avoid graphic details, but don’t skirt around the issue. Become a safe place for them to bring their questions.

Truth. Fears of the unknown can paralyze us. Anchor their hearts in truths like, "Not everyone in the world is bad. You're safe now. God loves us and is close to us." Remember, our kids absorb us. Your mood, thoughts, and actions directly influence theirs. These truths flow through you–Mom and/or Dad. Share the promises of God's Word with your kids. Pray for, and with, them.

Triggers. Someone screaming. A door slamming. A siren. What children experience or see on the news can deeply affect them. Don't let your kids get overdosed with the news stories and all the gory details. This can lead to nightmares, excessive bouts of crying, deepening fear, and not wanting to attend school. Be attuned to your children. Don’t react to their emotions, respond lovingly.

Time. Don't rush or ignore this process. Over the next several days, we will all be flooded with information about the shooting. Keep your life as normal as possible. Sameness and routine reinforce the message of safety for your kids. Your family stability over time will help dispel their fears.

Our children are not immune to the darkness and brokenness of our world. We may think that if we ignore this incident, our kids won’t know about it or feel the impact. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our kids need parents and teachers—those who have influence in their lives—to be emotionally present and invested, especially in moments like these.

Rev. Dr. Mark Crear is founder and president of Mark Crear Ministries. He is a minister, author, Christian counselor/trainer/speaker and Olympian. Mark is Chair of the Black American Association of Christian Counselors and Director of Counseling for The Family Church International. info@markcrear.com.

A Star Still Shines

Periodically, I  purchase a caffeine free diet Coke when I get gasoline. Today when I paid for my drink, the familiar clerk asked, "How are you today?"

"I am doing well.  I don't think anyone can complain after yesterday." I replied.

"Yes, yesterday was such a beautiful day." the clerk answered.

I stopped for a moment, depositing my change, and thought, his perspective is clearly  different from mine. I  expected a comment related to the horrific school shootings, but his perspective was the great sunny day in mid-December with temperatures near 50, which is unusual in Indiana.

Perhaps the shootings were extra close to my heart because my oldest daughter is an elementary school teacher in Colorado. I know how passionate she is about teaching and how dearly she loves her students. I texted her immediately when I heard about the tragedy and she texted back how hard the day was , so far away from the school in Connecticut, but so close in circumstance.

Perspective influences how we respond to such events. I noticed in news clips toward the evening that several churches in the small Connecticut town were having services so that people could come together, to mourn and look to God for compassion, love, and companionship that will be needed in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead. The Fishers United Methodist church was open from 7-9 Friday night with one of the pastors available for discussion and prayer.  

Looking to God, not necessarily for answers to unanswerable questions, but for comfort and strength to work through the shock and horror of events that happen far too often, is the only way to walk through the varied emotions and deep grief present in families who suffer loss.  

Tomorrow will be the third Sunday in Advent -- the image that is with me today is the star over the stable -- we might name our stable, but the bright star that was so clear that night, still beckons all to come, to come to the one is life, and light, and love.

Let everyone pray not only for families touched in any way by the shootings at the school, but for all priests, pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders who will offer care to these individuals.

Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana


December 14, 2012

Christmas Gifts from Your Church?

There is a great article in Ministry Matters about what pastors would like from their churches for Christmas. Actually, that's a good question for spouses too.

Some churches are generous in their thoughtfulness of clergy families. But others, not so much.

In one of our churches the ladies of the church thought they would do something nice for the staff and their families. But they had a large number of staff and this meant a lot of people, so they elected to have a dinner in our honor in the church fellowship hall. Just us and no church members, other than the servers. They took the cheap way out. Not because they could not afford to do something better, but using the basement was just more convenient for them.

Actually, I was doing pretty well with all this, because I had such low expectations, until the wife of our choir director said to me under her breath, "Like this is supposed to be special for us?! This is no different than the Wednesday night church dinners we have to eat every week." And indeed there was the same cook, the same paper on the undecorated tables, the same plastic silverware, and my husband was asked to say the prayer.

I hadn't quite thought of it that way, but she was right. Then I ate the entire meal served with a side dish of anger. The church ladies were well-meaning, except they hadn't gone to the trouble to think or ask what would be nice for us.

But there are happier stories too, like the little church that gave, what seemed like a lot of money, so we could enjoy Christmas. Then there was the generous soul who bought us a color TV, so our little girl could watch Sesame Street in color. Yes, that was the reason.

I know we're not in ministry for the money or for what the church can do for us. I know we are supposed to be above all that, but sometimes it's refreshing to experience a giving and generous church. Too many church people are only too happy to take all they can or stand by while others do the mission and ministry.

Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit. Rich in Spirit. Rich in generosity. I pray that you have a generous church and a generous heart this Christmas.

Kathy

PS. Don't forget to check out that Ministry Matters article!




December 12, 2012

If You Have a Do-Nothing Church, You Can Still Do This

If your church needs to reach out in mission and ministry but you don't know what to do, you can support two of our young missionaries in Tanzania. Both Eric and Liz are recent graduates of Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee and are under 30. This is basically Eric's first church. Here is their December newsletter. If you want to be a part of God in action, here is a golden opportunity.

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF TANZANIA, MAKING DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD, December 2012

FOUNDATIONS...THE SEASON OF PREPARATION

I read the first lectionary reading for this year's advent season as I was preparing for the December 2nd sermon...and I couldn't believe it. I started searching another lectionary text and another. WHERE WAS THE CHRISTMAS STORY? Why was I having to read about preparing for Jesus' return or prophecy or things like that? I wanted to preach about Mary, Joseph, and the BABY JESUS. Instead of picking a different text I asked myself what I was supposed to learn. The conclusion is that the Advent Season is a time of preparation. I had this same problem with my own wife's time of pregnancy. I have this same frustration sometimes with the churches here. When are we going to get going already!?! When can the pastors finish their education, when can the churches be built, when can we start receiving teams and volunteers...when can we arrive?

This Christmas season has already been a good reminder of the importance of setting things up well. I have seen this especially in the churches we work with as they try to set a good foundation, literally and figuratively. I was so excited this past week when the church in Masalula started on the foundation of their church building. I was just as excited to have pastors in my home teaching about the importance of worship and explaining about the tools that we have in the common lectionary. These may or may not sound like church geek things to you, but these are the foundations of our work. The church in Masalula has plans to use their building as a nursery school because their nursery students, 4, 5, and 6 year-olds are having to walk an hour to school.

Tarime United Methodist Church is using the lectionary and an advent worship service to cement their call to serve street children. The church is now known by many in town as the Church of the Street Children because we average around 10 in worship on a Sunday and more than that for the food and Sunday School offered before worship service. These foundations are the tools being used to set up the now for the later and they cannot be neglected (as much as we impatient people may have a problem with it). There are other foundations being set in place. Garnasara United Methodist Church has dug the foundation and is hoping to place the first stone soon. The leadership has already put forth an idea for a center for women and children, working on their education and rights within the village of Garnasara. A service that is very, very needed within the village of Garnasara that can be done inside the church building. The foundations are being put into place; we are preparing and will be ready when the Holy Spirit brings the opportunity our way for the next step.

Have a blessed Advent, a season for remembering the historic birth of Jesus, but also (and of equal importance) a season to prepare for his return.

soard.eric@gmail.com; elizabeth.soard@gmail.com; www.ingodslife.blogspot.com

Missionary Bios can be found at www.umcmission.org

This Fig Tree Is not Blossoming

Recently I spoke with a staff member of a small membership church. Because I've known him for a long time, I asked how things were going. He responded saying that the church was out of the way so membership was dwindling; there were no youth and only a few children. (And that was on a good Sunday.) The church was doing absolutely nothing as far as mission and he expected it to die soon, because the aging membership wouldn't be able to keep things going much longer.

Naturally, I shook my head in sympathy. But as I drove home this thought occurred to me; that church is only 10 minutes away from thousands of people. Not only that, there is a brand new subdivision with upscale homes just down the road. Maybe at one time the church was "out of the way," but not any more. And our church has people driving by his church to come to ours. So people will drive to go to church.

Then I remembered what he said about the church doing "absolutely nothing as far as mission." With that thought, my sympathy morphed into anger. What would you expect when a church acts like it is invisible to the community? And to think that he accepted all this as though nothing could be done about it. Or maybe he'd given up.

A very sad commentary on Christianity in some churches today. But whose's responsibility is it to wake up this church and its staff? The pastor's and/or staff's? The lay leadership? The District Superintendent's? The bishop's?

Whoever it is, one thing is clear, the people related to this church are not opening their hearts to God. Because this is a spiritual issue and not an organizational or programmatic problem. You cannot tell me that God doesn't want that church, or any church, in mission and ministry beyond its own walls. The church is the Body of Christ--a living, breathing group of faithful believers. Sounds like this church has cut itself off from the Body and is dead already. Just remember Jesus' warning to the unfruitful fig tree.

What would you do if this was your church? Or has it been your church already?

Grace, Kathy

December 11, 2012

How Can This Be?

How many times in life do we say or hear someone else say, "How can this be?"

My friend who lost in-vitro twins at 23 weeks cried, "How can this be. I ate right, took care of myself. We prayed for God to care for these babies. How can this be?"
A neighbor whose 35 year-old sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer told me, "How can this be? She is so young, exercises and lives a healthy lifestyle? How can this be?"

Far too many times the words, "How can this be?" bring together thoughts of something unfair, unexpected, undeserved.

The angel came to Mary, explaining that she was chosen to carry God's son. Mary replied, "How can this be?"

Mary surely was not expecting a declaration from an angel. Her confusion is recorded, "Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's message, and wondered what the words meant." The angel explained further God's mission. Eventually Mary replied, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said."

We can tap the angel's words when situations in which we say, "How can this be?" occur to us or to those we love. First the angel said, "Peace to you. The Lord is with you." Knowing that we are never alone, that God is always present, is solid grounding for whatever happens in life. The angel reminded Mary that God was with her. We can remember the angel's words that God is with us.

Second, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid. Fear is an unwelcome part of any unexpected event--fear about a diagnosis of cancer: what will happen next--fear when a job is lost: where will I get money to pay bills? Practices that deepen one's connection to God can sustain when fear is present but perseverance is needed.

Third, when the angel explained that Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, was also pregnant. The angel concluded, "There is nothing that God cannot do." These words offer hope. Hope that peace will come. Hope that persons saying "How can this be?" will find light in darkest circumstances.

So when we say "How can this be?" during trying times, we can rest in the angel's words to Mary: "The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. There is nothing that God cannot do."

God is present; God is hope. God's love can sustain us through the darkest night.

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana


December 10, 2012

Nursing Infants at Clergy Spouse Events Response

As this year’s chairperson of the Indiana Conference Clergy Spouse Retreat, I feel compelled to respond to the September 24th blog concerning the issue of nursing mothers that arose at our Retreat in September. I also want to respond to some of the comments to that blog as well as the most recent one on November 6th. I want to give a broader and accurate picture of what happened and what is being done since the event. But first, I want to give an historical perspective so that all who read will be able to see who and what the Indiana Conference is and more precisely, what the Indiana Conference and the Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee are not. I ask that if you feel you must respond to my comment that you do so only after reading the entire comment and that you do so kindly and prayerfully and try, for a moment, to walk in our uncomfortable shoes before passing judgment.
The Clergy Spouse Retreat of the Indiana Conference has been in existence for 40 – 45 years. There arose some child issues and, in 1989, a policy concerning children at the Retreat was written. This policy has been in effect since that time. It has been published in our brochures and in our communications. Evidently, this last year (and, it seems, in the most recent previous years) the policy was, regrettably, omitted in all communications. This happened because, well, we are human and have a propensity to err. And, err we did.
The mother in question was unaware of the policy and innocently brought her child with her to the Retreat. I was immediately made aware of this before our first session began. As I was busy doing what chairpersons do before the Retreat started, I asked the retired clergy spouse mentioned in the September blog (who is on the Retreat Committee) to speak to her and talk about our policy. About ½ hour later, I asked this committee member if she had talked with the mother and she said she could not find her. So, I decided to let the issue go and address it if it became necessary. The mother brought the child into the session and again, I just let time take care of what needed to be done. The baby did what babies do and the mother correctly took the baby out of the session. I asked a committee member, who has been on the committee prior to 1989, if I should go talk to the mother. She said yes. I went out into the hall and the following is the CORRECT chain of events and conversations. I simply told her I did not know how to handle this but there is a policy of no children at the Retreats. As an aside, I later found out I misspoke -– the policy states that children are not allowed in the sessions and at mealtimes. If a spouse chooses to bring their child, they must provide for their own childcare in the hotel room. I later corrected my error. I found out she had not brought any childcare with her. I told her that we did not want her to leave the Retreat but if she felt she needed to because she had no childcare then she was not to go home until the morning. The first session was an evening session and she lives about a hour from the Retreat site. I also told her I was going to call a committee meeting after the session and we, as a committee, would discuss the situation and try to find a solution so that was another reason she should not leave that evening. The Retreat committee, upon hearing of the event, expressed the range of emotions one would expect from anger to affirmation, both directed at me. Because we wanted to help and because this Conference has many spouses who have Open Hearts, several of the committee members volunteered to provide childcare for this mother. Bear in mind, these spouses and/or their churches paid a fee for them to attend this retreat so those who volunteered their time were willingly giving up their retreat time to help out. I went to the mother’s room and presented this solution to her. It was her choice to use only one person, the aforementioned retired clergy spouse. Never, not once, was this mother asked to go home. Rather, we bent over backwards to accommodate her, knowing we would be addressing this issue after the Retreat.
On the way home and afterwards, I ruminated about and prayed for direction in how to handle this issue. I devised a plan of forming an ad hoc committee to research and study this issue and then have this committee present their recommendations to the full Retreat Committee in March. I spoke with our Cabinet Clergy Representative about this and she was in full agreement that this would be a good way to handle this issue. I was in the process of formulating this plan when I got an e-mail from the mother asking if I could send her a copy of the policy and then could we talk. I responded quickly by sending her the policy and told her of course we could talk. I was very happy we could do this. She and I then had a long, warm, non-incriminating conversation. I shared my plan with her and she, too, thought it was a good way and she would be willing to serve on the ad hoc committee. That committee has been formed and will be meeting next week to discuss their research findings and start to formulate some recommendations.
I am concerned and disappointed that the Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee of the Indiana Conference has been portrayed and castigated as non-caring, exclusive, and, as one comment said, needing to “ask for forgiveness for being so mean spirited.” I believe we are far, far from any of those aspersions ascribed to us. I am disappointed that some fellow clergy spouses from wherever in the nation or world may now have a skewed opinion of our Conference from this one blog. I am also disappointed that several spouses who have posted comments have been very negative and judgmental even though uninformed about the total picture. I did appreciate one of the comments to the September 24th blog from Anonymous when they wrote, “There must be something else to this” and went on to ponder what the “something else” could be. Hopefully, my comment will help clarify some of the “something else.” I believe, with all of my heart, that the Indiana Conference has some of the most caring, loving, considerate, and open-hearted spouses in the denomination. I will defend them to the end.
Again, if you need to comment about my comment I ask that you do so prayerfully and carefully. Anger is not helpful and neither are nasty and spiteful comments. They really do not further the Kingdom of God. There are a lot of needs and emotions present in the meeting room at our retreats. A nursing mother is not the only need to be considered. We, as an imperfect people on this committee, want to do what we can to be the best we can for our fellow spouses and meet as many needs as possible. So, please, if you have any criticism of our actions, be kind and most importantly, do try to be helpful. If you have had experience with fee-based, adult, non-family types of church events and have faced this situation, we welcome genuine, caring comments.
Anita

December 5, 2012

Riding the Circuit to all the Christmas Parties

Just how many parties can one church have? Don't get me wrong, I love the Christmas season and enjoy parties. But sometimes I feel like one of those circuit riders galloping from one house to the next. This week I've got three, and that doesn't count another community dinner or office Christmas party.

Perhaps Christmas parties run the risk of being too much of a good thing.

As a clergy spouse, sometimes, I confess, I feel obligated to go. And I do hate to send my spouse to sit alone. The food is always wonderful and there is always too much. And too much temptation. So I am pacing myself this year with the food, because I don't want to gain the usual 5-10 pounds. So why do I bemoan going?

I do enjoy the laughter and good times, but I don't like making small talk to people whose's names I don't really know. And I suppose, I think that Christmas, while being fun, is also a time of reflection on the Incarnation, which Will Willimon calls, the "surprising overlap of heaven and earth."

Sometimes, I just want to stop and listen and admire the beauty of the season. I don't like the hectic rush, not all the time anyway.

Christmas is surely about celebration, but it is also about peace on earth and peace in my soul.

This Christmas I hope you have a chance to slow down and enjoy all the gifts that God showers upon you.

Grace, Kathy

December 3, 2012

We Reap from Fields We Didn't Plant

Yesterday as I was watching Rick Steves talk about Christmas in Europe on PBS. It seems that in England mincemeat pies are traditional Christmas fare. As the scrumptious dessert was served, the cook said that in the old days only the very wealthy could afford meat pies at all. Now, everyone enjoys them.

This got me thinking about how many things we have that, once upon a time, were reserved only for the rich.

Then I thought how many times I've prayed that my children would have it better that we have it now. I'm sure mothers everywhere pray that same prayer. We don't want our children to be faced with the wars and rumors of war, illness, or hardships we've experienced. We want our children to have a bountiful life surrounded by hope and love, and steeped in a vital faith.

We live in a world where we have received the benefit of the prayer, work, dedication, and faith of our fore-bearers. They nourished our faith and made our world what it is, for good and ill. I pray this Christmas season, our children find us faithful in our legacy to them.

Grace, Kathy

November 29, 2012

What Else Can You Say?

Last night a couple friends and I listened to another friend talk about her persisting and serious injuries after a recent car accident. One person finally said, "Well, it could be worse. At least you can still walk." But before she had all those words out, another voice spoke up. "Just let her be angry for a while."

Truer words were never spoken. Just let her be angry for a while. Don't point prematurely to the "sunny side." Don't move the conversation elsewhere, perhaps to make yourself more comfortable. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry.

In the Church we seem to have a problem with angry people. It's as though anger and Christianity don't mix, or we think of an angry Christian as an oxymoron.

Expressing angry feelings is healthy. Acting out, lashing out from or in anger is not. Anger can motivate us to seek out God in a deeper way or it can be a launch pad for sin.

If we don't find a healthy way to express our anger and, instead, turn the anger inward where is gnaws at our soul in its dark recesses, we will become depressed. Perhaps seriously so. Holding on to anger by keeping it hidden is one reason there are so many depressed clergy and clergy spouses. Unexpressed anger just creates a cesspool of hurt.

So what else can you say? And what did we finally say to our friend? How about, "How can we pray for you?"

Grace, Kathy

November 26, 2012

Christmas Eve Chaos

My first Christmas Eve as the spouse of a solo pastor was 6 years ago. The couple of months leading up to Christmas had been a whirlwind and I was looking forward to Christmas in the hopes that it would afford me a chance to stop and catch my breath. We had received news at the end of October that my husband was being appointed to a church and that we needed to be ready to move into the new parsonage by early December. The flurry of packing and goodbyes began almost immediately and our heads were still spinning when the moving truck pulled up to our new parsonage just 5 weeks after being told that we were moving. We found ourselves in a place that, at that time, felt very foreign and was several hours away from our families.

We did our best to unpack and settle in as quickly as possible. People from our church stopped by with poinsettias and fruit baskets, the youth group put together a directory of fun and helpful biographies of themselves. One woman offered to babysit for our 5 month-old baby whenever we needed her. Our congregation truly rolled out the welcome mat for us. But despite the welcome, what I remember most about that time is how chaotic it was. That was the year we did all of our Christmas shopping for both sides of our family in 2½ hours on December 21st. That was the year we bought our Christmas tree for half-price from the Lion’s Club, because it was so late in the season that they couldn't reasonably charge us any more. We were invited to Christmas parties held by some of the Sunday school classes and what I remember most is rooms full of strangers whose names I was sure I would never remember. So, why in the world I thought Christmas Eve would be any different from the previous 2 months, I really don’t know. For some reason I expected that on December 24th, the whirlwind we had been riding on for 2 months would magically stop and our little family would be able to do the things that most non-clergy families do-–finish up the last of the baking, watch some Christmas specials on T.V., and put our son to bed and wrap the last of the gifts together.

I know now that this really was an unreasonable expectation. I mean really, when you’re married to a minister and one of the two biggest church services of the year happens on December 24th, that day is not going to be like most other peoples’. And it shouldn't be like most people’s-–not if one’s pastor-spouse is committed to providing a meaningful Christmas Eve worship opportunity. But silly, inexperienced, na├»ve me was so caught up in the chaos of my world and my own wants and needs that I was truly blown away when Christmas Eve did not turn out like I expected. My expectation was that my husband, son, and I would spend the day together basking in the peace of lightly falling snow and listening to Christmas music, having conversation over cups of hot chocolate about how we had made it though such a tough couple of months, and anticipating the joy of watching our little one tear the wrapping off his gifts. Sure, my husband might have to wander over to the church around 6:30 so that all would be ready for the Christmas Eve service, but other than that I figured he probably didn't have anything else to do that day.

Well, suffice it to say, Christmas Eve turned out to look very little like the picture I had dreamed up in my mind. There were still many things that I needed to get done at home in order for our family to be ready to leave for our vacation that was to start right after Christmas. My husband needed to be sure that all the details for the Christmas Eve services were getting done, and many of those details had been left to him to handle. This was his first big event and having it go well would help set a foundation for the rest of our time at this church. However, I was so caught up in my own world that I was shocked when the day passed in a flurry of busy-ness.

What about that hot chocolate?

Time, self-reflection, and experience helped me to see that my expectations we really out of touch with reality. Being part of a clergy family means that Christmas is going to look and feel different for us than for the rest of the world. Our spouses are going to work themselves to the bone because they love and serve Emmanuel-–God With Us-–and want their congregations to experience all that God’s work through Jesus Christ means for humanity. I have come to see my husband’s Christmas planning and preparations as an act of love for God and our congregation. I love to watch him think up and put into action new ways of opening people’s eyes to the world changing birth of Jesus, the Christ, and I do not mind that our Christmas Eve doesn't look like most other people’s. I also know that come December 25th, we will get to snuggle up together over hot chocolate and watch the snow fall. We will reflect on the miracle of Christ’s birth and the blessings God has bestowed upon our family in the past year. And the chaos will have ended, because it always does.

Julie


Almost Advent

Liturgically, the great expanse of weeks and months between Easter and the first Sunday in Advent, called Ordinary Time, ends next week. Once again the four weeks of preparation for the birth of Christ begin.

From what perspective would you have liked to witness Jesus' birth?

Here are a few choices: the angel, Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper,the innkeeper's wife, other
ppeople on the way to Bethlehem, the donkey, the inn, the manger, the stable, the cow, other animals, the star, the people in Bethlehem, Simeon, Anna, one of the kings, the shepherds, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John, the swaddling cloth.

I asked this question to a group of friends and just about every perspective was chosen.

I selected the donkey because then I could have heard every conversation between Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem, as well as during and after Jesus' birth.

Perhaps as Advent begins, your perspective can guide the way to the manger with new insights and thoughts on the miraculous birth.


Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

November 13, 2012

You Are Invited

Most Jews, Muslims, and Christians are devoted and faithful. Still, on any given day, it’s difficult to avoid the vigorous and heated disputes between them, whether over the “Ground Zero” mosque, lobbying state legislatures against sharia law, sharing worship space, dissecting the fallout of the Arab Spring, protecting civil rights, or challenging the authority of sacred texts. With so much rancor, can there be any common ground? Do they even worship the same God? And can religion, which often is so divisive, be any help at all?

Four internationally known scholars set out to tackle these deceptively simple questions in an accessible way. Some scholars argue that while beliefs about God may differ, the object of worship is ultimately the same. However, these authors take a more pragmatic view. While they may disagree, they nevertheless assert that whatever the answers to these questions, the three faiths must find the will (politically, socially, and personally) to tolerate differences.

Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God? may be one of the most important questions of our time.

Your are invited to a frank and stimulating conversation on this question in Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 17th at the McCormick Place Convention Center at 2301 South Lake Shore Dr. in Room W196b. Speakers include Martin Marty, Bruce Chilton, Baruch Levine, Emil Homerin, Cynthia Rigby, and Elaine Robinson.

This event will be part of the 2012 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.

If you can't be in Chicago, you can still participate via FaceBook.
Go to: http://www.facebook.com/events/246414662152778/

Please don't miss out.

Kathy

November 9, 2012

Why We Apportion






Grace, Kathy

God in the Recent Storms

Watching the news can be hard on our mental health--so many crises, so many hurting people, so much uncertainty. During times like these, it's understandable that we want miracles--to reconcile difference in our land, help our leaders find common ground, sustain our resolve, heal the sick and wounded, and keep us safe in the storm.

But miracles do happen. Consider Christ working through us individually and as groups, or people doing heroic and unselfish things. Last night I heard about some of the rescues that firefighters made during Superstorm Sandy. One man dove under flames and water to hook up the fire hose. A group of firefighters saved children and a pregnant woman from a flooded and burning building. During disasters, true character is revealed. Heroes are made; cowards are revealed.

But heroic character was also shown by pastors and their families by opening their homes and churches to hungry, cold neighbors. So much giving. So much love.

God was doing miracles working through people, some of whom probably weren't even Christian. When that firefighter helped those kids to escape certain death, I doubt that anyone asked if he or they were Christians. They were people. That is all that mattered.

When we despair and ask where is God, let us remember that we together are his Body.

Grace, Kathy

November 8, 2012

Missionary Spouses and Families

Lest we forget, ministers serve across the world. Meet Eric and Liz Soard. These two young adults in their mid-20s are missionaries serving the UMC of Tanzania. They both graduated from Lambuth, a UM school. This is from their Oct. newsletter. I know they would love to hear from you, so I've enclosed their emails below. Eric and Liz have a special place in my heart, because they are also friends of my younger daughter.


Don’t go to church...be the church
If you have missed our blog lately, this has quickly become the focus of many churches in the district. Whether we are doing a seminar on men’s and women’s groups in the church, meeting with church leadership about member care, finding funerals as a place where the church can bring the comfort and hope of the Holy Spirit, or welcoming youth for a Sunday afternoon pick-up game of soccer our churches are quickly finding ways to get into the community and be the church during more than just Sunday morning worship.

We were blessed to be present for the latest episode of being the Church in Tarime town. The church in Tarime is currently renting space for Sunday morning worship. The space they rent is a business that shows soccer matches from the United Kingdom throughout the week, a pretty popular space for the teenagers and young adults of Tarime. What we have found out from meeting there since last February is that there is a group of street kids that sleep on the front porch at night.

Every night they come by and lay out cardboard boxes and by morning they are gone, trying to earn some money for food throughout the day. The oldest we talked to is 18 and the youngest around 8. What was amazing to see in the midst of this disturbing learning experience was the response of the church.

This past Sunday the church welcomed them inside and they accepted, we had 8 of the kids worship with us this past Sunday. The church welcomed them in with one of the church leaders introducing them as his guests. After church they stayed to talk to the pastor about their lives, some of their challenges, and the other place in town where street kids sleep at night. After they left the church leadership sat down and expressed their desire to do something and their heart ache that these kids were out here by themselves.

Families may be poor in Tanzania, but they still have each other. These kids have no one, no parents, grandparents, or siblings. They have left their homes either because they were forced to or chose to, the streets being better than home. Bonny, Charles, Fred, and Chacha were all honest, open, and just about in tears as they told us a little bit about why they chose the streets instead of home. The church will start next week, by preparing a small meal for Sunday morning and giving them some spiritual nourishment as well. The church wants to start small, not offering things they can’t deliver, and we weren't exactly prepared nor had we planned for this.

However, they are excited to be helping, loving, and offering grace to these kids that literally sleep on the front steps of a building, they may not have even known held a church service on Sunday mornings. I think everyone involved in this situation is excited about Being the Church.

soard.eric@gmail.com; elizabeth.soard@gmail.com; www.ingodslife.blogspot.com

Missionary bios can be found at www.umcmission.org

November 6, 2012

Nursing Infants at Clergy Spouse Events

The Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee of the Indiana Conference has formed a sub-committee to explore the presence of nursing infants at clergy spouse events. What policies do other conferences have on this topic? Are nursing mothers whose infants are under one year welcome? What type of provisions are required if a spouse brings an infant?

Thank you for your insights, suggestions, perceptions, comments on this topic.

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

November 5, 2012

Liberal or Conservative--Who Cares?

As the call for disaster relief goes out to help those effected by Hurricane Sandy, do you think that the folks receiving help are going to ask the workers if they are liberal or conservative? When UMCOR goes to help churches in New Jersey, do you think that they are going to ask if the churches paid 100% of their apportionments? When pastors organize and plan to rebuild, do you think that they give their members a theological litmus test? No, no, and no.

When disaster strikes, no one is going to ask if you are a liberal UM or if you are a member of Good News. No one really cares if you are for or against the guaranteed appointment or if you are for or against term limits for bishops. All that matters is that you are there to help.

When disaster strikes, it's a good time to remind ourselves about what really matters. All our tinkering with church structure and fretting over the membership of the UMC pales in comparison of getting help to people in need. I think that is what Jesus would do too.

If you would like to share how your church is helping in disaster relief or in mission and ministry, please let us know here at spouseconnect.

Grace, Kathy

November 1, 2012

All Saints Day for Clergy Spouses

On this All Saints Day, I thought it would be fitting to share some of the unrecognized contributions of clergy spouses. While we often picture the lone circuit rider traveling the connection on his horse, the reality was different. Pastors not only traveled with other pastors when possible, but also took their wives and children. In days before parsonages, the entire clergy family traveled the circuit as well. And when the parsonage system quickly followed, the pastor's wife was considered the resident spiritual leader when the husband was away preaching. Being the pastor's wife was considered a vocation of its own. And being the bishop's wife carried even more prestige.

But times change and because of the poor pay, wives had to seek outside employment. A dear sainted pastor's wife was once berated by the bishop's wife for working outside the home as a teacher. Didn't she know that she was hurting her husband's ministry, to which the pastor's wife retorted that when the Church paid for her sons' college education, she'd be happy to quit. But in the meantime, she planned to continue. This happened in the 1960s (not that long ago) and is a favorite true story told in our conference.

We have parsonage standards, not because of kind hearted laity, but because spouses saw to it and worked the system. And I know more than one pastor who was elected bishop because of the political savvy of the spouse.

So on this All Saints Day, remember all those spouses who have made things better and easier for us.

Grace, Kathy

October 31, 2012

Help and Thank You Prayers

Anne Lamott says that there are only 2 kinds of prayers: Help me and Thank you, Lord.
Like many of you, I have friends and family on the East Coast. And like you, I was seriously praying for them before, during, and after the storm. Thankfully everyone in my family is ok. But I'm still praying, because there are a lot of people who are not.

And I have no doubt the UMCOR is there, as well as other help from churches across the country. Perhaps your church is providing direct assistance.

While Anne says there are only 2 kinds of prayers, and perhaps there are if you only think prayer is talking to God. But prayer is also listening to God and talking things over with him. As we rebuild devastated parts of our country and head toward the election, I hope a lot of us doing more listening than talking to God.

Grace, Kathy

October 30, 2012

Guaranteed Appointment Upheld

The Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church has upheld the guaranteed appointment. Below is from the article from the online UM Reporter.


...the church’s Judicial Council, meeting Oct. 24-27 in Elk Grove Village, ruled that the General Conference action was in violation of the church’s constitution.
Security of appointment “has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church” and “abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for itinerant superintendency,” the nine-member court said in Decision 1226.
The General Conference action was in violation of the church’s third and fourth Restrictive Rules, which ban changes that would destroy that historic plan and do away with clergy rights to a trial and appeal, respectively, the court said. That right to trial and fair process is “absolute,” the ruling states, and it has been upheld repeatedly in previous decisions.

‘Itinerancy is the cornerstone’

Frederick K. Brewington, the General Conference delegate who had asked that the matter be referred to the Judicial Council, argued in favor of overturning the legislation during an Oct. 24 oral hearing before the court.

“Itinerancy is the cornerstone of the whole structure,” said Brewington, a lawyer and lay member in the New York Annual (regional) Conference. “This action shifts power from the annual conference to the episcopacy. There would no longer be a need to bring charges against an elder, just fail to appoint them.

“Elders make a contract, a covenant, to serve where the bishop sends them,” Brewington said. “This turns things into a mish-mosh — and that’s not a legal term. It will take away our ability to attract new and young clergy, who will go elsewhere.”



Kathy

October 29, 2012

Letting Go Is Better Than Throwing Stones

Clergy spouses and clergy families are often the collateral damage during church conflicts. So much so that sometimes you just have to laugh. We would be bitter persons, indeed, if we couldn't forgive people who hurt us. But sadly, it's too easy to be bitter or want that sweet revenge.

What makes us hold on the those hurts and withhold forgiveness? After all, not forgiving only hurts ourselves. The other person may not know or even care that they've hurt us. But we continue to harbor the grudge, stewing over our wounds--sometimes for years. It's like taking the poison we want someone else to drink. It only hurts us. Sometimes not forgiving can cause depression or physical illness. Not forgiving will weaken our immune system, making us even more vulnerable to other hurts. And don't you know that bitter people look bitter, even to the ones they love.

So what can we do? We all know we need to forgive, but it's not simple. How can we just let it go? Does forgiving mean that we forget? No. Even if we forgive easily, it still takes time to heal--like a broken arm or a black eye. You can forgive, but the body takes time to mend, so be patient. Does it mean that you let someone hurt you over and over? No. Getting hurt serves as a warning to stay away, or when we can't do that, take appropriate precautions.

Sometimes the best we can do is just let it go. That's the first step. The next step can be to walk away or, at least, not cast stones in revenge.

A number of years ago a co-worker told me this when sometime had hurt me. She said, "You may have to wait on them, but you don't have to do them any favors." In the church, you may have to see them every Sunday and you may have to sit in the same room with them during a meeting, but you don't have to do them any favors. You can forgive, but you don't have to invite them to hurt you again either.

Yes, we pray for our enemies, even begrudgingly. But to truly forgive often means that we need to rely on God's grace. That's what makes Christians different.

Grace, Kathy

October 25, 2012

Who mentors clergy/spouses young in ministry?

I spend each Tuesday volunteering as a chaplain at one of the Indiana University Hospitals fairly close to my house. Today I was walking through the lobby and saw one of Mike's (my husband)former district superintendents, Paul, and his wife, Mary. I was so glad to see them. They are getting close to eighty, but remain active in church, community, and family interests.

Paul was Mike's superintendent from 1981-1983. We brought them a meal when they moved. We were in their house numerous times for dinner, along with other clergy and their spouses. Paul and Mary came to our house too. Our friendship with them was close, like family. Paul mentored Mike and the other pastors in the district. Mary mentored spouses with warmth, and genuine care. We were so blessed to be in their district.

I wish clergy/spouses young in ministry could be mentored the way Paul and Mary did for us. They were integral parts of our growth in self, in God, and in ministry. My heart aches when I listen to spouses who have no one to walk alongside in close and meaningful ways. Our districts are so large now, geographically, that there are assistant district superintendents who help the district superintendent. Administrative tasks have increased. Ministry is so much more complex than in the early eighties.

The gracious hospitality that Mike and I received from district superintendents and their spouses the first twenty years in ministry was such a grounding for the future.

How do other conferences nurture clergy/spouses young in ministry?

Jacquie

October 18, 2012

Call to Action: Is Anyone Listening?

Dear Friends, As you may know many dollars, hours, and a lot of ink has been split over the UM Call to Action. Recently the final report was issued. I urge you to read this closely. Do you agree? Is the report specific enough? Do you see this affecting you? What changes do you suggest? Does the report restate what you already know? What is new in the Call?

In my opinion, this report could have been written 30 years ago. In fact, much of it has been repeated for at least that long with no better results. I pray for the growth of the Kingdom, but there are still too many vested interests for real change in the UMC to occur. And as long as we look to our structure to solve problems or for the hierarchy to change, we will remain only issuing calls.

Here is an extended quote from the report:

We affirm:
That the local “charge” or congregation is the primary venue for making disciples. We believe there is an urgent need for redirecting significant leadership, time, and money toward the adaptive challenge of building and supporting United Methodist people and their witness on the ground and, in particular, working to increase and sustain the number of vital congregations.

This can be accomplished by:
1.Creating clear expectations and metrics for all leaders

2.Creating a non-residential bishop to lead the COB and build collaborative work on the adaptive challenge

3.Cultivating a new generation of young UM clergy with education and support systems that focus on the adaptive challenge

4.Creating a unified UM Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry constituted from 10 existing agencies with a new governance structure.

5.Redirecting apportionments in 2013–16 by up to $50 million for work on the adaptive challenge including:
Intentional and substantial focus on new faith communities for new people
Increased emphasis on recruiting and developing young clergy under age 30 who
are called by God and confirmed by the church for leadership
Fostering consensus about the personal and professional gifts, skills, and
practices needed for effective clergy
Fostering a "culture of call" in which congregations regularly invite and
encourage persons with the needed gifts to consider if they are being
called
Providing financial support through scholarships

6.Redirecting $5 million of general church receipts for theological education in the Central Conferences

7.Redirecting $5 million of general church receipts for focus on developing young laity as UM leaders

8.Reforming the clergy system
Making the recruitment of gifted young people to full-time ministry a
priority and devote resources to helping them complete their theological
education
Expecting and working with seminaries to train for the skills and practices
most needed to revitalize existing churches and start new ones
Continuing to purposefully avoid deploying clergy based primarily upon
seniority/salary and toward deploying persons where their gifts can have
the greatest impact
Improving ability and processes to more promptly exit low-performing clergy
from the system

9.Reforming the episcopal system
Greater consensus about leadership qualities needed for Bishops in the 21st
century
Bishops have public accountability for improving vital indicators in their
residential areas
One bishop dedicated and accountable for encouraging and supporting others on
the Council of Bishops
Align appropriate work of the general church more closely with annual
conference strategies for embracing the adaptive challenge

See see the Call to Action as proposed go to: http://umccalltoaction.org

Grace, Kathy

October 16, 2012

Health Care Information: Where Do the Candidates Stand?

Because clergy are almost un-insurable, it behooves each of us to know as much as possible about proposed changes by the presidential candidates.

Here is some information regarding health reform and differences in what is being considered by President Obama and Mitt Romney and how Mental Health Policies might influence models of practice, treatment, and reimbursement. Not all the information might apply to you, but it comes from a reliable source.

http://allhealth.org/pubs_toolkits.asp
http://allhealth.org/publications/Mental_health/mental_health_toolkit_112.pdf

Grace,
Kathy

October 10, 2012

Prayers for Another Fourteen Year-old

Last week our church buried a brave 14 year-old girl who lost her battle with cancer. This week we pray for another 14 year-old, who is fighting for her life and for the rights of girls to attend school in Pakistan.

You've surely seen the news report, but she is Malala Yousufzai. Malala had blogged against the Taliban and was shot for her courageous efforts.

We pray for Malala, her family, and her country.

Grace, Kathy

October 9, 2012

Clergy Depression

We continue to hear a lot about clergy not taking care of themselves. This self-neglect makes them expensive to insure (sometimes almost prohibitively so)and cuts short their ministry. While most concerns, at least in our conference, center on lack of exercise and excess weight, clergy depression still goes unappreciated and under-reported. Why is this so?

For many people, depression is "just" a mental "thing" or merely feelings of sadness. No, depression is not being able to get out of bed in the morning, or eating too much, sleeping too much or too little, feeling drained all the time, or feeling empty and bored with life much of the time often with no identifiable cause, having too much or too little desire. Depression is a real illness that effects a person's spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and intellectual life.

And pastors are more prone than average to be depressed, in part because they minister to large numbers of other depressed persons. You can know that you are around a person who is depressed, because they just wear you out. If you are surrounded by lots of depressed people (in the jail, in the hospital, in the pastor's study, in the nursing home, in the funeral home), you need to pay attention that you and your spouse don't get worn out beyond recognition.

What can you do? First recognize when you are being drained by interactions with people. Try not to schedule too much in too short a period of time, so you can give yourself time to decompress. Do not grab another bite of cake or an extra cookie, but take a walk instead. Get outside. Do something you enjoy with friends and family. Call or email or text a friend. Renew a friendship or deepen an acquaintance. Make sure you have something to look forward too. Learn something new about the Bible. Start a blog. Contribute to this one. Listen to some good music. Play with the kids or help them with homework. Get inspired. Find your passion. Identify hope in your life.

But if you are depressed and have been feeling down and out-of-sorts for over six months, check with your doctor. Pastors are too valuable to be wasted.

Grace, Kathy

October 8, 2012

Ever Present Help in Times of Trouble

As spouses of pastors, we see the worst and best of the Church. On Saturday, I saw our church come together and truly be the body of Christ.

On that day, the church held funeral services for a young girl, who had bravely fought cancer for over a year. Because she and her family have been active members of the church, school, and community, my husband knew that there would be many youth who had never attended a funeral and many adults who don't attend church anywhere. We would need to be especially sensitive and offer extravagant generosity.

In addition to the sanctuary where the casket would be, some folks pitched in and hooked up the gym with streaming video for the overflow crowd. As we stood, greeted, and directed people, I was proud how everyone helped, even without being asked. People brought food for the guests and food for the family afterward. Several people took up posts with sound and video. One person saw that no one had put a reserved sign on some of the pews for the family, so he quietly went about getting it done. The day was filled with quite acts of service, not out of obligation but Christian love for the family.

It's often said that the church can be good in a crisis, but over the long term people tire and fall away. Yes, our compassion wears out and we want to move on to the next thing, or even the crises in our own lives. But in cases like this, when your friends lose a child, we will have to continue to stand by for a very long time. It is also why the church is a body of believers. We can't survive or serve alone.

So it was a sad and difficult day, despite the fact that we did celebrate this young joyful life. And there will be bright days ahead, but for now, we will walk beside our friends as they journey through their grief. God, grant us all the grace to endure.

Grace, Kathy

October 2, 2012

Including Children in Worship? All, Some, or None?

Having young families in a church is a sign of congregational vitality. And it goes without saying that having young families also means having young children.

As a young mother, I welcomed childcare at church when it was available. That was my quiet time, when I could worship, pray, and even collect my thoughts. But some parents prefer to sit with their children, because they see it as a time for family worship.

As clergy families, it is different for us, because one or sometimes both parents are upfront leading the service. And there were a couple of times, my pastor husband had to say something directly to our kids to make them behave. That was embarrassing, because I was doing the best I could in the pew and obviously, sometimes, I lost the battle.

But now that my children are grown and one even has children of her own, I enjoy seeing and hearing kids in worship. I think it is important for them to drink in the experience, even if they don't fully understand---but then, who does fully understand God anyway. But it is also true that a baby crying during the pastoral prayer or during the sermon is a bit distracting for the preacher and congregation, but not to God obviously.

Currently in our church we have children's church. Kids stay for most of the service, but have their own program during the sermon time. What we've noticed is that since we started up children's church again (there was a time when we didn't have anyone to do it), our attendance has gone back up and is increasing. I don't pretend to understand what all that means, but I think it means that most parents like to worship with fewer distractions. And I think it means that the kids get more out of an age-appropriate lesson then they would otherwise.

Still I also know there are churches where children are to be seen and not heard. In my experience, those churches are dying. Is your church welcoming to children?

Want your church to grow? Offer something special for young families. Something that they want and need.

Grace,
Kathy




September 28, 2012

Hero Speaks Out Where Girls Don't Count

How does someone become a hero? Consider Razia Jan, a woman fighting to educate girls in rural Afghanistan and standing up for what is right. She is a hero in a difficult and life-threatening situation, serving her community.

We look at our own daughters and consider them as precious, as smart, as worthy as sons. But we all know that it isn't the case everywhere. In some parts of the world, girls don't count as people. While tragic for both the girls and their communities, in parts of the world educating them is criminal. It takes courage and deep conviction to stand up and speak up for those who would have no chance otherwise. In rural Afghanistan, the person, that woman, is Razia Jan.

While we may not suffer that kind prejudice, there are even places in our country where some people count for less than others. There might be some church members worth less than others in your own church.

Please pray for the girls and women in Afghanistan. And please pray that we might be more like Razia Jan and have the God-given courage to stand and speak out for our convictions. But more than that, help us engage those with contrary convictions so that we can find common cause for justice.

If you know of a hero in your church or community that you'd like us to honor, please send the name and a brief statement why.


Grace, Kathy

September 24, 2012

A Delicate Issue of Inclusion

The annual clergy spouse weekend retreat for the Indiana Conference concluded today. The event went smoothly except for one thing--a young clergy spouse brought her six month-old baby, whom she was still nursing and was promptly asked to return home, because of the baby.

Fortunately, a retired member of the event offered to care for the infant, so that this mother could attend the lectures, discussions, and participate in meals.

Many clergy spouses were upset that this young woman was asked to leave.

Other comments included, "The baby is a distraction." "Even if she takes the baby into the hall, the noise he makes is still a distraction to the program."

The conference wants to encourage all spouses to come, but an infant appearing, the first time in many years, took everyone off guard.

The retreat planning committee meets in a few weeks to discuss this year's event, and to get ideas for next year. I wonder, how do other conferences handle mothers who need to bring infants? Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you!!!!

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

September 21, 2012

ReThink Open Doors

http://discipleshipstudygroupumcsp.blogspot.com/2012/09/rethink-open-doors.html
by Pastor Eric Helms


The United Methodist Church has had as its slogan in recent years, "Open Doors. Open Hearts. Open Minds." The idea has been to project the church as a welcoming place that will not exclude anyone and will love everyone. It is an image of hospitality.

But the truth is, I'm not sure that the core of our Christian calling is hospitality. Hospitality is great--creating a warm welcoming environment in the church is important, and thriving churches certainly do this well. But the new buzzword in Methodism is "ReThink Church," so lets Rethink our open doors. What if we use the same slogan and simply adjust the metaphor?

We have long assumed that when we say, "Open Doors," we mean the doors of the church--something through which an outsider could walk through and come inside. A bit more sophisticated might be to think of "Open Doors" as the doorway into a relationship with God--and so the church is a doorway into spiritual connection.

But I have come to believe that the most scriptural way to think of "Open Doors" as a slogan for Christians is to think of the doors not as beautiful wooden doors like what you might find on a fancy house or church building, but as the metal barred doors on a prison cell.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus spoke about why God sent him, he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me... to proclaim release to the captives." This is the mission of the church. In fact--when we remember the true nature of the church--it isn't a building at all, is it? As a faithful church, we need not be so concerned with how we open our doors to let people in. We do not even have doors to open--we are not a building. There is nothing separating insiders from outsiders when we speak of the church most faithfully. Rather the doors in need of being opened are the doors to prison cells--doors that have made all of us captives in one way or another. The church is the body of Christ, and if the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus to proclaim release to the captives, so also the Spirit of the Lord is on us to proclaim release to the captives.

Notice what happens. When we say that we are the church of open doors (meaning we let everyone in) there is hospitality, but no clear message of renewal or growing righteousness. We accept everyone as they are, we have open hearts and minds and so do not challenge anyone (including ourselves) as perhaps needing God's word of redemption. There is no redemption in this model. Assuming that Jesus actually meant that people were living in captivity to something, all we did was invite fellow captives to come and be captives with us. There is no release--only fellowship among captives. This does not look like God's Reign breaking in, it looks rather like hell.

But if as the church we cease to have doors--and we find ourselves among all kinds of captives, and we do not simply accept them or, for that matter ourselves as we all are. Rather, with the Spirit of the Lord upon us, we proclaim release: release to those captivated by alcohol and drugs, release to those captivated by poverty, release to those captivated by the love of money, release to those captivated by all kinds of sexual immorality, release to those captivated by gossip, release to those captivated by depression, release to those captivated by pride, and release to those who would rather lock the doors in a fortress and never engage with the other captives...

How can we move beyond the ministry of hospitality and embrace the ministry of proclaiming release to captive hearts and minds? How can we stop viewing people as "church people" or "unchurched people" and begin simply seeing us all for what we are: captives who are in varied degrees of being set free by the God who sent us Jesus for precisely that purpose.

Don't open your doors, there should be no door to open. Rather proclaim the gospel of Christ that will open the door not only to your own heart and mind, but also the door to the hearts and minds of all who have been held captive by all kinds of sin, all kinds of brokenness, all kinds of disease.

May the Spirit of God set us all free.

September 20, 2012

Need a Lift on Fridays?

Dear a good word on Fridays? Check out Faith's radio program. She is a person of deep faith and commitment. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/artoflivingwell/2012/09/14/fridays-with-faith-1

This week Faith's guest is Andrea Sneed. Andrea is owner and director of
BREAST THERMOGRAPHY of Middle Tennessee. http://www.proactive-wellness.org

Andrea will share about the importance of healthy breasts. She will answer our questions about ways we can protect our breasts... explain the differences between mammogram and breast thermography. If you have questions or comments, call them at (805)292-0349.

We all have either experienced breast cancer or know someone who has. My mom was a survivor, as was my sister. I just can't say how important this is.

Grace,
Kathy

September 14, 2012

Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?

In a book that will hit the shelves in early November, four experts representing Judaism (Jack Neusner and Baruch Levine), Christianity (Bruce Chilton), and Islam (Vincent Cornell) tackle this deceptively simple question.

Baruch Levine says the question is not: Is God on our side? but Are we on God's side?
And God is on the side of those who keep God’s covenant. This means that for the redemption of humanity and lasting peace, we all must recognize that the modern state of Israel must hold an honored place in the family of nations, free, sovereign, and rejoicing in Jerusalem, God’s holy city. But for the state of Israel to continue under God’s covenant, Jews must negotiate peace with the Palestinians and neighboring nations, most of whom are Muslim, and hence monotheist.

Jack Neuser looks at the question from the vantage point of Classical Judaism.
Accordingly, only Classical Judaism affirms authentic monotheism and only when we all accept this can we have true interfaith dialogue. Because Christianity and Islam are not monotheist, they can lay no claim to unique possession of the truth and there can be no common ground for discussion. Judaism stands in judgment of Christianity and Islam because it alone sets the standard for true monotheism.

Bruce Chilton answers this way: Being able to make comparisons about how we believe God acts does not mean that we actually believe in the same God. Likewise, comparing the theologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can give us common ground, but it does not mean that we start or conclude with belief in the same God.

Vincent Cornell says that Islam stands in a medial position between Judaism and Christianity. Do they worship the same God? In the case of Judaism, yes. In the case of Christianity, it depends on who Christians worship. If they worship Jesus, the answer is no; but if they worship God, the answer is that there is more room for conversation. Even so, it is still not possible to bridge the differences between Islam and Christianity enough to create some kind of Abrahamic world theology, but at least a strictly Trinitarian Theology of worship can provide some common ground. Interreligious conversation derives its greatest benefits from counterpoint rather than comparison.

Then Martin Marty writes in his epilogue that the conversation surrounding the question of whether Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God can and must proceed. And amazingly through this difficult and complex discussion, we can all learn and reap unexpected benefits.

This book will be worth your time and energy to digest. The title is, Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God? Here is the ISBN: 9781426752377.

Grace, Kathy

September 11, 2012

9/11

Even if you did not see the Twin Towers fall as it was played and replayed on television, surely you recall the empty skies for days afterward. A friend of mine who works in New York City said that for weeks there was a dusty haze that blanketed
everything. Another friend said it was months before he saw a child at any airport. And now it has been years.

During that time my daughter's high school band had accepted an invitation to march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. They were supposed to fly to NYC, but we parents made them hire buses instead. Several kids didn't get to go because of parental worries. But nothing would keep my child home, so our family fretted but proudly watched the band on TV.

We probably all have a story. Many of us know someone who was killed. We have all been effected. As we go about our daily routine today, let us remember what it means to be an American. Let us pray for those who still grieve, but let us also pray for our enemies.

Grace,
Kathy

September 6, 2012

How Spouses Became Who They Are in the Church

In the next month or so, Abingdon Press will publish American Methodism: A Compact History by Russ Richey, Ken Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt. Thought you might be interested in this, so I'll quote it at length. Think you'll be surprised about how we spouses became defined as we often still are.

"Stationed preachers and preachers' wives usurped roles ascribed by the Discipline to the class leaders. While class leaders struggled to find time for their duties, preachers and wives dedicated their entire lives to the cause. Preachers' wives discouraged by precept and practice in the early 19th century, became in the decades before the Civil War regular, indeed esteemed, resource persons for local church leadership. In station appointments, the preacher's wife evolved into a vital helpmate in ministry, increasingly an essential congregational leaders, and a vacation on its ow. Communities came to expect the preacher's wife to exercise a ministry, especially among other women and with the children--in teaching, in visiting, in comforting the ill and bereaved, in witnessing, in heading missionary societies, in modeling family piety, in interpreting her husband (to women and other preachers), in supporting the ministry, in negotiation the frequent moves, in short, in functioning as a sub-minister." (p. 54)

I would add that in some places these things are still expected of the wife, which confuses things if the spouse is male; because these expectations historically were prescribed only for women. Having a male clergy spouse, in and of itself, has redefined the role as have working and career-minded women.

Grace, Kathy

September 4, 2012

Does Clergy Moral Failing Point to a Sick Church?

Recently in our conference, a pastor took a grave misstep that resulted in a dramatic moral failure. While this is tragic for the clergy person and the parsonage family, it is also difficult for that local church. What makes the situation worse is that this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened to that church. In fact, the last three pastors have had a difficult time. This is not to say that all three pastors had moral failings, but 2 of the 3 did, and the third was basically asked to leave because of conflict.

Putting aside the role of pastoral leadership for a moment, let's look at the church itself. What do three short-term disastrous pastorates in a row say about that church? Could the church itself play a role in its tragedy? While no one wants to "blame the victim," the question really is, "Is the church an innocent victim or is the church somehow complicit in its leaders' failures?"

No one wants to say that any group of church people are sabotaging ministry, but clearly something is not right at the church. This church is not fostering health in its leadership. It is a known fact that church people as individuals project their fear, anger, and disappointment with God onto the pastor. What has not been studied as much is how the church as a whole or as a system)projects its corporate fear, anger, and disappointment on the pastor and the pastor's family. (Do not be surprised that the role of pastor extends beyond the pastor to the family.)What exactly is going on that this particular church is for the next pastor and DS to figure out.

So what can the pastor and the pastor's family do? First, diagnose the illness the church may be suffering. This involves learning the story of the church from key leaders (both acknowledged and unacknowledged leaders). Then talk to colleagues who have served there. If the church is not healthy, there are resources. See: healthycongregations.com. And here is a great book that can help, How to Lead in Church Conflict by K. Brynolf Lyon and Dan P. Moseley

We all have weaknesses, but as clergy and clergy spouses, we cannot inflict our own toxicity onto the church. We also bear responsibility for keeping ourselves healthy. Do the basic physical, emotional, relational, spiritual care. It is not rocket science. But if you find yourself getting sicker and not healthier, your unhealthy church may be part of the problem. Ignore it at your peril.

Grace, Kathy

August 27, 2012

Help for Hurting Clergy Spouses

"Be Still" is a caring ministry for clergy spouses in the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. We've put together a brochure, and if you want a copy let me know (jreed46038@hotmail.com). There are ten districts in our conference, but only three districts have spouses who are available to listen and be present to those who are hurting. We are working on more coverage.

I was talking recently with one of the spouses providing support. Both of us described separate experiences with spouses whose names were given to us by a district superintendent. We contacted the spouse several times, with no response. We decided to contact the referring superintendents for further direction.

Reflecting on the lack of response, I remembered a few conversations with clergy spouses, who were afraid that sharing personal struggles would somehow get back to the congregation (even though confidentiality is assured) and/or affect their spouse's ministry.

My question is, How to inspire courage for hurting spouses to "speak up," and utilize a caring ministry designed just for them? I know that asking for help does take a lot of courage, but the benefits for carrying one another and ultimately bringing the spouse to the one says, "Come to me, all who are tired and need rest" can be healing.

God there are many spouses hurting in my conference and I assume in other conferences too. Give them strength and courage to seek listening ears who are waiting to help. Amen.

Jacquie Reed,
Fishers, Indiana

August 22, 2012

God Is the only Answer

I have a friend whose daughter and son-in-law are finishing a three-year commitment to a international ministry. This young couple had a baby in February--my friend's first grandchild. My friend said to me, "Why would God punish me by not allowing me to see my granddaughter?"

My reply, "God is not punishing you. Your children are only following God's call for their lives."

When we want things to be different or life doesn't go the way we want, why are we quick to look to think "God is punishing me," instead of asking God to walk beside us seeking strength and insight or rest in the companionship of God's presence.

Here is another example. This question was asked at my kitchen table. My sweet friend, lost twins at 23 weeks almost two years ago. Through the time we've known each other (we met a month after her loss), she frequently asks me, "Why did God take my children?" Beth's loss is something for which I have no answer; but I tell her, "I do not believe God took your children. Sometimes bad things happen over which we have no control, but God is with you and can be a continuous source of companionship, strength and comfort." But I am not sure she believes that God is merciful.

Why do bad things happen to those who love God? Things happen, we know for sure that are sad and tragic and for which there is no reason. This question is most difficult because there is no answer other than to seek God and walk beside the grieving person with love and companionship. Lasting healing is found in our relationships with each other and with God.

All questions about God are too big. We may think, pray, puzzle, and search the Bible for answers. But it's in the search and the companions we meet along the way who are also searching that we find what we can in this life.

Jacquie,
Fishers, Indiana

August 21, 2012

How Do You Answer Big Questions?

The big questions keep coming my way. Even though my husband retired from ministry a year ago, my identity as one who can field and perhaps offer insight to difficult questions continues. A few years ago I even completed a two-year course of study at the Benedictine monastery in Indianapolis to become a spiritual director. Although I learned a lot about the desert fathers and mothers and other influential persons across denominations, when I get asked "big questions," I still struggle to find some sort of comforting answer. I find that no amount of training can ever prepare me for these persistent questions. I am grateful when God steps in, and provides answers; although, the words come from my mouth, they are not truly mine.

Although I do spiritual direction with persons individually, people often come up and ask me those big questions in Target, the library, the grocery store parking lot, at my kitchen table. Perhaps you attract them too.

Here is a question that came my way this week. Today I was at the library, tutoring a student. Her mother mentioned that she received a notice from her church to work in childcare. The mother said, "I felt terrible that I couldn't volunteer. I got the notice on Wednesday for the following Sunday. We already had plans for a family gathering Sunday morning. Am I a bad Christian because I said no?"

My answer to Judy: "No, you are not a bad Christian. Sometimes things don't work out. There will be other times when you can volunteer."

The question I asked myself was, "Why does this woman put a negative judgement on her life? Why did she frame it as being a good or bad Christian? Who told her she couldn't reasonably say no?

How would you have answered? What do you say when people ask you big questions out of the blue? Who do you turn to when you have big questions?

Jacquie
Fishers, Indiana

August 17, 2012

Need Help or Information about Autism?

If you want information for you and/or your church about children with Autism, you will want to check out Ellen Notbohm. She is the author of the best-selling book, Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew. Here is her web address:
http://www.ellennotbohm.com/

You might also want to subscribe to her free newsletter that is available when you go to her site.

Kathy

Church Art Reflects Church Values

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to visit. I try to go four or five times each year. I appreciate art. I like to create art, which is a way for me to pray.

Last summer when Mike, my husband, and I were looking for a new church following his retirement, we visited six churches, all United Methodist. We were very much aware of how we were welcomed--or not welcomed--what kind of follow-up was in place for first-time visitors such as receiving a letter from the pastor noting our attendance sometime the next week, and what kind of contact was made to determine our interest in Sunday school or other activities.

Something I also noted was the art--or lack of art--that I saw in the hallways. Four out of the six churches had large oil paintings of all of the persons who had pastored the church. One had a picture of our bishop. These portraits lined the halls where everyone walked--in other words, seeing these portraits was the first thing I noticed after entering the building. I did not see any artwork illustrating the life of Christ or other event in the Bible.

One church had what I call "life in the kingdom of God" photographs lining the walls of the large narthex. There were close to twenty photographs of adult and youth mission teams at work, the Christmas program, a Thanksgiving collection of filled grocery bags at the altar, a Sunday school class, Bible school events, and other experiences from various ministries and events that were important to that congregation. The last church we visited had stained glass windows, altar sculptures, embroidered kneeling pads--art was everywhere even on the ceiling. I appreciated the pamphlets available that described the meaning of all of the art in the building.

I was discussing my observations with a friend who is Catholic. I commented that all of the Catholic churches I visited are filled with often very graphic art, depicting the life of Christ. There is always a statue of Mary and as well as other paintings. She commented that Catholics view art as integral to the worship experience. However, she described a fairly new Catholic church close to me, that has only a crucifix hanging in the sanctuary and no other art. She said that this church intentionally did not want any art because the thinking was that "the people are the art of the church."

Reflecting on several weeks of art adventures in churches made me wonder what a church is saying by its choice of art? What type of art do you have in your church? What type of statement, if any, might that art have for those who visit? Does God speak through art? If so, what might God be saying to you?

Jacquie
Fishers, Indiana


August 15, 2012

Growing in Love and Marriage

My husband, Mike, retired a year ago after 37 years in ministry. I did not anticipate any great difficulty with this change in our lives, as we already had lots of events in which we participated in place years before we even thought about retirement.

So, I was very surprised to discover we had two very different styles of preparing/leaving for church. Now, we had not ridden to church together for 35 years. That fact should have been my first clue to potential difficulty. Mike insisted we leave 45 minutes before the service began (a drive that only takes 25 minutes max). My habit had been to skim in right when the service started or even during the opening hymn. "Why arrive any earlier?" I thought, "I can visit with people after church."

Convincing Mike that he no longer needs to arrive early to open the church, check the baptismal fount for water, make sure the communion elements and bulletins in place, etc. etc., is a major task. He also has had to find space on the passenger side of the car for me to "move in." My style on Sunday morning for 35 years had been to finish getting ready for church at each stoplight--putting on makeup and inserting my contacts.

Needless to say, there was an adjustment necessary on Sunday morning that I never would have predicted. Now that a year has passed, we have reached a compromise. I've shaved fifteen minutes from our departure time, and Mike has adjusted well to having me in the car. In fact, he recently bought a box of kleenex so that I didn't need to transport the box from my car to his each week.

As humorous as these changes have been, Mike broke my heart several times. A few weeks after he retired, I asked, "How are you doing?" He replied, "I have my soul back." I was speechless. I wasn't expecting that reply. Then not too long ago, he said, "I am almost getting to the place where I can think of a weekend without sermon preparation or typical weekend responsibilities at the church."

I knew that Mike had served well and deeply with persons in the various congregations he pastored, but I thought that retiring would enable him to relax immediately and adapt to a new weekend pace. The rhythm of ministry is rewarding, but also difficult and grueling. People bring who they are to church life--worship, commitee meetings, fund raising, and all other aspects of participation, which means they bring all sorts of challenges to ministry.

I am so thankful that Mike sits beside me in church. That is a really big deal for us. We cherish our time driving to and from church, wondering about the sermon on the way down, and then discussing the worship experience on the way home. I am so thankful that finally after a year Mike can relax, and experience God's presence so deeply each Sunday. We have grown during the year--with humor and God's blessing realizing that compromise can occur in any part of our married life.

Jacquie Reed, Fishers, Indiana

August 13, 2012

Lessons from the Olympics--Happiness Is Perspective

I love the Olympics and am sorry that we'll have to wait 18 months for the Winter games. They offer some good life lessons.

Perhaps you heard the research, but it seems that bronze medals winners are generally happier than the silver medalists. The silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medal winners. They think, "If only I had done a little more." So they go to the podium disappointed. The bronze medalists, on the other hand, compare themselves to all the people who didn't win. They see themselves as much better off and just lucky to be there at all. They go to the podium with gratitude. The level of happiness is a matter of who they compare themselves to.

Are you happy? Who do you compare yourself too? We are blessed with so much material and spiritual wealth. But many don't feel satisfied with their blessings, because they think other people have more. They feel shorted even cheated when compared to "everyone" else.

While I certainly like my creature comforts, there have been times when our family struggled. The parsonage was substandard. Money, or the lack of it, was a constant worry. If seemed that we were always just one step away from financial ruin. But we were still happy. Happy to be together and learning how to depend on God with more trust. Times are better for us now, but the lessons we learned from the hard times have not gone unheeded. And now I can even thank God for them.

How is it with you? Are you struggling? Are you continually disappointed with your lot in life? Perhaps it is time to express gratitude for what you do have and thank God for your blessings, which God willingly wants for us.

Dear God, With so many unhappy people in our congregations, help us keep our eyes focused on you and the blessings you give us. Help us express gratitude so that we can experience the joy of living. In Christ's name, Amen.

Grace, Kathy

August 10, 2012

Train Up Children as They Should Go

Like most, many United Methodists have a love/hate relationship with discipline. But for us, UM's, we tend to take a broader view. For us, discipline is not simply "training," "living according to rules," "being kept in line," or even the pain of reproof or punishment. Rather, discipline is our way of doing Church. Even our book of Church doctrine and polity is called The Book of Disciple or simply The Discipline.

Russ Richey, Ken Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt tell us in their book, The Methodist Experience in American: A History, the first Discipline, even by its title, pointed to John Wesley's power and authority to convene, pose questions, answer those questions, keep record, and structure the Methodist people as he would. But recourse to Wesley's rule was quickly rethought and overturned as new leaders shaped and adapted the Church to its new context in America and elsewhere.

Still, we Methodists have ambivalence toward discipline, even our Church's official, codified version of it. But as all parents know, discipline is necessary. And while sometimes unpleasant, discipline consistently done with kindness, love, and empathy will help our children grow into responsible, caring adults.

The same is also true with maturing Christians (meaning all of us) as we walk on that road to perfection that Wesley talked about. We need to pay consistent, close, measured, and thoughtful attention to faith as we practice it daily. For us, though, practice does not mean perfect, but being increasingly transparent to God's love.

So when someone strays from our common pilgrim road, we need to pursue them as a good shepherd. Our first impulse should not be to yank them back in line but to gently coax, so it can be their true choice. But also as parents, we all know that there are times when yanking has to happen, but more about that another time.

As for our own practicing, how is your daily Bible study? How faithful are your acts of mercy? Do you tithe? Fast? How is it with your soul? How is it with the soul of your congregation? What fruit has your work of discipline produced? More justice? More equality? Less bigotry?

Just remember the goal is not discipline itself. That only leads to legalism. The goal is what discipline yields--as our Communion ritual reminds us--a whole person who is freed for joyful obedience.

Grace, Kathy