December 20, 2013

Love Came Down at Christmas

On my in to work this morning, several of us on the commuter van were talking about what days we were taking off for Christmas. One person remarked that she was going to have to work a lot of hours despite the holidays, because she was not able to get everything done in her office. This prompted another person to say that, for her, what was truly important was family and friends. She said that when you leave work, the people will miss you but the work will go on. Then she recounted this story.

Several years ago she was teaching this very lesson at a workshop for her employees. Her team is a dedicated bunch and they work very hard. It was a matter of pride that they accomplish their work goals. So when she said that if you leave, people will miss you but the institution won't care and the work will continue, that comment was met with some resistance. After the workshop my friend got a phone call that one of her team, who worked out of town, suddenly died--a forty-ish man had a heart attack and simply died to everyone's shock. The next day, my friend walked in to finish up the workshop and she told them about their colleague. Then she said, "And do you think that there isn't a person sitting at his desk doing the work this morning? He will be missed but the work goes on."

In response to her story, I joked that in many places you may leave but not replaced. And she answered, "But even with fewer hands, the work will continue."

So this year please remember what is truly important.

But for us Christians there is another lesson. God's work will always get done if not by us, then someone else. God never leaves himself without a witness. This can mean a lot of different things, but today, for me, it means that we are free and that's a big relief. None of us is so special in getting a job done that God can't find someone else. We don't bear the sole weight of responsibility--God does. Bringing in the kingdom does not depend solely on us. We can take a break and celebrate. Sure we should do our part, but we are just a part, not the whole.

Joy and Peace,

December 16, 2013

Early Morning Mary

The church I attend has a 7:30 am chapel service every Wednesday. Although the attendance fluctuates, there can be as few as four and as many as ten. 

I have led the service a few times when the pastors were on vacation or busy. Although the church is close to 25 minutes from my house, getting up early, usually in the dark, and driving to the small chapel to begin the day with other believers is a great blessing.

I led the service this past Wednesday and will again lead next week.  My message this week was about Mary which I titled, "How Can This Be?" I commented how Mary is held as an extraordinary  example of obedience to God's word, although her first response to the angel's message about  carrying God's son was "'How can this be?"

We do not know the process Mary went through to go from her initial response, "How can this be?"  to "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said,, but the scripture between her two comments offers helpful advice when we too are placed in situations where our response is "How can this be?"

Throughout life we have experiences which leave us saying,"'How can this be?"--a sudden job loss, a newly diagnosed illness, an unexpected pregnancy, learning about a move when a long-awaited job has just been secured. This happened to me twice. I received job offers for positions I long desired, only to find out a few months later we were moving; or any other situations which leave us surprised, confused, distressed.

Looking at the scripture, the angel offers a few words of advice to Mary. The angel says:

1. "Don't be afraid." Mary was obviously troubled by the angel's words as are we when unexpected events happen.  Unexpected circumstances remind us things are changing. We don't initially have a new plan or direction as our regular routine is affected.Remembering the angel's words,"'Don't be afraid," may calm our hearts as we begin to deal with the unexpected.

2. "The Holy Spirit will come on you." The power of the Holy Spirit is without limit. Even when we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit provides. The companionship of the Holy Spirit carries us, until we can reach a place of peace.
3."'God's power will rest upon you"'  Knowing that God was with Mary as she worked through the astonishing news was a reminder she was not alone. We too have the same assurance that no matter what is happening in our lives, God is with us.
Mary must have absorbed the angel's words, helping her arrive at a place of acceptance and peace so she could say with confidence, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said."'
The angel's words can help us  work through those moments when we say, "How can this be?"  Keep these words close throughout the year so that whatever happens we too can come before God, finding peace and acceptance.
Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

December 13, 2013

Newtown Anniversary: What If We Said No?

As we are all being reminded, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting which took the lives of children and adults. It is an event that reminds us how susceptible each of us is to violence and that no one age group or place is safe or sacred from the destruction caused by violence. At the same time, it is a reminder that life still goes on after bad things happen.

I do not know what propels people to watch countless hours of television, as reporters and the media regurgitate the same sound bites for hours. Yet, millions of televisions will inevitably broadcast images, the voices of so-called experts, stories of brokenness and hope, life and of course death.

While the media retells the story, again, we know that the families and town government have asked that we leave them alone and give them privacy. Families have asked people to stay away. If we listened, families could walk the streets of Newtown and remember or reflect, like I did last January when I visited with siblings. They could pop their head into the Misty Vale General Store and share their grief with locals, talking about what this past year has been like for them and the community. They could grab a bite to eat at Villa Restaurant and Pizza with a close friend. They could live their new lives without the disruption of our misplaced intentions.

When the grieving ask for privacy they do not mean, “Hey, please avoid knocking on our door and lurking in our garage.” I think they mean, stay away so that they can choose how to grieve in their own way and at their own home, within their community and without the media and gawkers. That is what I hear them asking for on this day.

So, I wonder. On this day when families ask for privacy and for us to turn our voyeurism into acts of kindness in OUR COMMUNITIES, what would happen if we turned off the television, avoided the news, and ignored, all together, any story about Newtown? Perhaps we could send a message to the media, and those who will choose to ignore the requests by creating chronic coverage, that we choose to respect the wishes of the bereaved.

While we continue to ask questions of “how and why” events like Sandy Hook happen and what we can do to help, it is true that we may want to talk about about gun control, access to mental health support, violence in American life, and all the other issues events like Sandy Hook provoke us to ponder. We should not, however, utilize this anniversary to remind ourselves (as if we ever had a moment to forget) that these questions run deep in our collective consciousness. This anniversary is Newton’s anniversary. The questions that need to be asked about this tragedy may be ours, but the grief that accompanies this anniversary is not about us and we must be clear about that distinction. I believe that clarity is the only thing separating us from respecting those who are filled with grief and those who wish to watch from the sidelines.

And for those of us who want to be supportive, often times that simply means listening and giving people the space they have requested.

Joseph M. Primo, MDiv.
CEO | Good Grief
38 Elm Street | Morristown | NJ | 07960
12 Stockton St. | Princeton | NJ | 08540
908.522.1999 x8011


Having to Stand in Line to Speak to Your Spouse

Who are the go-to people in your church? Who do you ask when the bathroom light needs replacing, when the sidewalk needs more salt, when the heat isn't working right, when the Christmas Eve service will start? Actually, I've had all of these questions in the last week. My answer? "I really don't know, ask the custodian, ask the trustees, ask the choir director, ask the pastor." I am not the go-to person!

A woman in our congregation drove this point home to me yet again. I was actually in the office standing in line to speak to my husband, when she poked her head in the office door, saw my husband was busy and thought she'd just ask me. The question had something to do with putting her mother on the prayer list. (Yes, important.) Would I see that my husband did this? And she left! I had to leave too, because I saw that he was never going to get to me and I had places to be. And if you're wondering, I did leave him a note about the prayer request. But there were about 5 other people in the office at the same time. Did she ask them? No, she asked me.

I'm happy that people feel that I'm approachable and compassionate, but I'm not on staff and I'm privy to no special information; and certainly I don't know where the extra light bulbs are.

But while I protest at not being a go-to person, people regularly think the pastor's spouse is just that. Like it or not, we are often seen as an extension of our pastor spouse. Some people in the congregation believe that saying something to us is like saying it directly to the pastor.And it has happened that a person feared saying something to my husband or they were angry at him, so they said it to me (and on rare occasions, my children). While you may like this or have a need to be needed, I don't. And I make as clear as possible that I don't carry messages to my husband. One reason is that if it's not written down, I'll forget and get it mixed up. But people assume that you know them, their story, their family, their problems; I don't. I may just see these folks once a month at best. But they assume that the connection they have with my husband, they can have with me. And they don't.

Most of the time, I smile and try to be as gracious as possible. But I'm also firm that I am not the right person to ask. I keep my boundaries. If I don't, there are always some people who are willing to set my boundaries with only themselves in mind. And I tried to teach my kids the same thing. That may be one reason that my kids still have a relationship with the church while other PKs just walk away and never look back.

As I reread this, it sounds a little harsh. Sorry, but this is a pet peeve. Perhaps you handle these situations better. If so, I'd love to hear from you.

Grace, Kathy

December 11, 2013

What Attracts People to Your Church and Keeps Them Coming Back?

The answer to that question is as varied as there are people. But there are some obvious answers. Most of which you probably know, but maybe need just a reminder.

People need multiple points of entry to your church. So you have to decide which your church can do. In the case of our church, folks come for the youth program. Others come because they believe in the missions we do in the community. Some come because they are United Methodist and have relocated to our city. Some come because of the worship, preaching, and music. But more and more come because they found us on the Internet.

It used to be that the church front door was at the front of the building. Increasingly, the front door of your church is your Internet page! If your church does not have a page, there are plenty of models and, at least, our denomination provides help to set one up--or just ask a youth in your church or community.

Internet pages are always works in process and need constant updating like any other piece of property. Here are a few examples from churches of all sizes.

Yesterday, I went to my dentist, David Dickerson. I think my dentist is great and one reason is that he is always on the cutting edge. He is always aware of the latest in dental care, but he also strives to improve his care for us patients. Before I had my appointment, I not only received a phone call reminder, but I got an email. Then after the appointment, I had the next appointment emailed to me to make sure the date was still ok. Then I got an email so I could offer feedback to make his practice even better. You may say that it too many emails, but I like it. And it lets me know that he is working not only to care for my health but to become more efficient and provide a better place for his staff to work.

The point? We need to do more than get people in our church, we need to let them know that the church cares for them and is actively trying to do a better job in caring for them. We need follow-up and follow-through. I recommend my dentist to my friends who are looking for a dentist. Churches can benefit from the same principle.

Please feel free to share your church website and what you are doing to attract people and keep them coming back.

Grace, Kathy

December 6, 2013


Here in Tennessee, even the threat of snow sends everybody to the grocery for milk and bread. The reason is that for us when the weatherman says "Snow," we get ice and snow. So when the forecaster predicts bad weather for the weekend, the first question many church folk ask is, "Will we have church on Sunday?" The answer is always, yes, but it doesn't stop folks from asking.

Last night with the forecast of an approaching snow and ice storm, we had buckets of rain. (Ice is supposed to come in the morning.) But it was also the night for our women's group (UMW) Christmas party, which was to be held in a member's home. As I drove in the awful weather, I kept thinking that I might be the only person there. It would be just me and the party hostess. She had already told me about all her preparations, and I didn't want her to have done all that work for nothing. So, at least in my mind, I bravely drove to her house expecting to find no one else there.

But guess what? When I got there, everybody was already there. It was one of the best attended meetings we've had recently. In fact one of the women said that her Bunko group had been known to get out when tornadoes threatened just to play a game.

Sure, I was happy to see my friends, but I was also a bit surprised. For some of these people were the same people who were asking if we are having church Sunday. Go figure!

What kind of priorities do we have? And what priorities should we have?

Grace, Kathy

November 20, 2013

Cultivate Gratitude

Want to have less stress and be healthier? Cultivate gratitude.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's a good time to remember how blessed we are. When we hear the news, watch TV, or read the headlines, it is a good reminder to be grateful for what we have and who we have to share it with.

Despite hardships and loss, God continues to bless us. Please take a few minutes to reflect on the grace that God gives.

Cultivating gratitude is good for your soul but also for your health and well being. This is more than "seeing the glass half full instead of half empty" or "positive thinking." Cultivating gratitude is looking for God in every situation and looking at each person as a reflection of the image of God. Cultivating gratitude helps us discern God's blessing. It does not minimize suffering, but it can help you be open to love and be loved.

This Thanksgiving as you eat, shop, watch TV--whatever, thank God simply for being our God.


November 15, 2013

Scheduling Meetings on the Pastor's Day Off

I should be over this by now, but it bothers me that church people do not respect the pastor's day(s) off.

Yes, yes, I realize that there are emergencies. I understand that. But in the last couple of months, the church has scheduled multiple meetings and expects my husband to attend. In fact,  my husband (the pastor) has even scheduled some of the meetings himself. His comment to me is that this is an exceptional time of year--budgeting and the stewardship ministry kick-off. Naturally, those are vital. But it just seems that there is always something "vital" going on.

Now that our kids are on their own, I'm not bothered as much. But it makes it very hard to plan for us to do something together when I never know if there is a meeting or some other event planned.

Other minister's wives and husbands have told me that their spouse may not take any time off at all, so I guess I'm fortunate in that regard. And he is better than he used to be about having to go to all the meetings. My husband takes 2 non-consecutive weekdays off, but often times, he is planning or studying or going to Conference meetings on those days. And of course, it also doesn't count emergencies like funerals or hospital visits for emergency surgeries. And while he may "take off" 2 days, he works, on average, 7:00 am to 10:00 pm on all the other days. He does this, in part, because he's just that kind of person and would work that hard no matter what kind of job he had, but the church is only too willing to enable him.

You must also know that our church has about 800 members and there is no associate. I've jokingly said to some of the Staff Parish Committee folks that they are killing my husband and need to hire an associate. Actually many of them agree, but aren't moved sufficiently to do something about it.

On the other hand, our church is doing very well. It is a bright spot on the landscape of other churches that are declining. We continue to have many new members and meet our budget. And there are plans for expansion. I have no doubt that my spouse's leadership is largely responsible; and I imagine that when my husband stands before St. Peter, he will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

So, I support my husband and do not complain--unless it gets too bad. But how many of us spouses are in a similar position? We want the church to thrive, but at what cost?

Grace, Kathy

November 13, 2013

God Is with Us in the Midst of Storms, even Typhoon Haiyan

By now we have all heard and seen news about the tragedy unfolding in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. As people across the globe are reaching out to help, I have no doubt that UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is in the thick of things doing ministry on behalf of all of us.

While reporting the story, a newscaster raised this question: Where is God in all this? Here this another true story from the Philippines.

A dawn, just as the Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines during World War II, all the local people ran to the mountains, hiding themselves the best they could. It was imperative that no one make a sound, because if the Japanese found them, death and fates worse than death awaited. So whole families hid in the recesses of the mountains. That is all except one family. The mother was pregnant. She had hoped that the baby would wait until the family had escaped, but her contractions began the night before and by morning, the baby was coming. There was no time. But somehow her husband and other relatives, got her out of the village and into some bushes. She was out of sight but dangerously close to the oncoming soldiers. She told the rest of the family to run, which they reluctantly did. Because they all knew that even if she succeeded to giving birth in silence, the newborn's cries would give them away and into the hands of the enemy.

Silently suffering and alone, the mother did succeed in giving birth to a healthy baby boy. She prayed and prayed. Where is God? When the baby came, he did not cry but went right to nursing. He and his mother remained undetected by the soldiers. Silently together they laid in the bushes well into the night. And that is how the father found them when he came back and took them to safety.

Later, when the family was together, still hiding but this time safely in the mountains, the sister asked,"What should we name the baby?" Without fear or hesitation, the mother answered, "Emmanuel, because God is with us."

I met Emmanuel many years later. As it turned out, he found his way to the U.S. and eventually his family found our congregation. He was a successful professional and father of 2 children. But in his mind, this apocryphal story made him what he was--a recipient of God's grace and a beacon of hope for others.

Where was God? In the courage of people, loving each other the best they knew how. In the miracle of birth. In the silence that followed. In the faith of parents that was instilled in their children. In the will to endure. In the service of people who gave their lives. In the hope for a better future.

Grace, Kathy

November 11, 2013

You Know You Have a Child-Friendly, Healthy Church When...

This past Sunday no acolytes showed up to light the candles at the worship service. Sometimes this just happens and it happens in all churches. People don't show up, but life goes on. In our church acolytes are kids from the third to sixth grade, and they receive extensive training. It's a big deal to be an acolyte. And this Sunday something truly remarkable happened.

But first you must know that in addition to lighting the candles on the altar before the service and extinguishing them afterward, another part of the acolytes' job is to hand out the offering plates before the prayer, and then walk behind the ushers, collecting the attendance registration pads. When there are no acolytes, the liturgist just fills in and hands the ushers the offering plates.

But this Sunday there was a young boy sitting in the second row. When he saw that there were no acolytes to hand out the offering plates, he got up, went to the altar, and gave the plates to the ushers. It was a spontaneous gesture and he carried the job off flawlessly. There was no hesitation. He slipped in so quickly that nobody seemed to notice. The ushers took the plates and the service went on.

I was so impressed that the boy felt free enough to just step forward unbidden. These aren't many adults who would do the same. I wasn't the only one touched. I saw several others tear up too, because we know this boy.

I'm so thankful that our church is the kind of place where children take an active role. It speaks to the overall health of the church that when there is a need, someone just steps up--not with a lot of fanfare but just because the job needs to be done.

To me this also says something about being a Christian. When there is a job to do, a Christian is the kind of person who just helps out--no criticism, no expectation of praise, just a willingness to do the work of God.

Grace, Kathy

November 4, 2013

Healing the Hurt

            Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to go on the Walk to Emmaus, and I expected that when I went on this retreat that God would do work in me.  I was surprised, however, that it hurt.
            My dad was a United Methodist pastor, and a very good one at that, as well as a doting father. God had done innumerable wonderful things for countless numbers of people through him, and I have always been proud to be his daughter. I wasn’t in the habit of giving much thought to what the fruitfulness of his ministry had actually cost me. In my mind, I had gained a tremendous upbringing, full of prayers and full of Christ!  On this retreat, I was surprised when this is what God brought up – an awareness of the cost.  As an itinerating family, it had cost me a stable upbringing in a community that knew me from birth and loved me.  We went from church to church, and the church where we were the longest had been a church in which I never really fit in.  In every church and through every move, God did amazing work in the lives of other people, but each move cut into my development in negative ways.
            Now my husband is a United Methodist pastor, and I continue in the life of moving.  In his 8 years of ministry, we have moved 3 times.  Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible sense of disorientation, sensing the tremendous disconnect I have from any one community anywhere on the planet.  And wherever we move, it seems I am surrounded by people who have lived in the community forever, whose parents live there, whose grandparents live there, whose childhood friends live there with their children who now play together.  Even people who have moved away from those communities still get to return on occasion.  There is a cost.
            It was at Emmaus that God brought these things to the forefront of my mind, and I cried and prayed, wound exposed.  It was then that God began to apply the balm.  God’s plan for the fullness of time – the goal of the universe – is to draw all things together into a unity with God that is so close that Jesus speaks of it in terms of his unity to the Father (Ephesians 1:10; John 17:21).  When we draw close to God, we inevitably draw close to others into the only community that is truly forever.  “In me you will lack nothing,” God whispered to my spirit.  “My gift to you is ineffable.”  God wants us all there!
            In the Congo there grew beautiful acacia trees with lovely flowers and leaves.  There were birds that attacked the food supply of the community at one point, and the people needed arrows to shoot the birds down.  And so it was decided that they would use the wood of the acacia trees to make arrows.  To do this, the tree’s flowers and leaves had to be cut off.  The God-given beauty of the branches, the parts of the tree essential for its health and well-being, were discarded.  Then, with its flowers and leaves gone, the branch went through the whittling process, all for the sake of producing a straight, well-balanced arrow.  To become an arrow cost the plant something good, something that other trees got to keep.  But the arrows produced by the acacia were deadly weapons against the threats to the community in the hands of skilled archers.  Was I willing to let my flowers and leaves fall so that my family could be a dreaded weapon in the hands of God, whose aim never falls short?  

            The cost is real.  But so is the gain, for me and for others.  In him I lack nothing, and his gift to me is ineffable.  For the sake of drawing many into this gift, I am privileged to be an arrow in his hands.  And, amazingly, it becomes my joy.


November 1, 2013

All Saints Day

Originally, Halloween was just the prelude to All Saints Day. But these days we celebrate Halloween by dressing up and giving candy away to kids, but we really don't do much for All Saints Day, which is today. We will remember those who have passed away during the past year at church on Sunday, but we don't have services today.

But All Saints Day presents an opportunity for us to think about all the saints that have gone before us and who are now part of that great cloud of witnesses. It's a chance to remember what being a faithful witness is really all about.

In the first church we served, there was a kind soul by the name of Miss Esther. Neither she nor her family came from great means, but she was goodness and light personified. (Although she also made the best coconut cakes I ever ate.) In her own way, Miss Esther taught me what it meant to be an unselfish follower of Jesus. And there have been many times that I wish that I could be as kind hearted as she was.

On this All Saints Day, I also remember my parents, who despite their all too human failings, were as faithful as they knew how to be. I also remember those pastor's spouses who pioneered to make parsonage living easier for me and my family. Further, I pray that when my children and grandkids remember me, they'll think of me as a faithful witness of our Lord.

As the song says, "Let those who come behind us, find us faithful."

I hope you take this opportunity to remember that saints who have touched your life.

Grace, Kathy

October 25, 2013

Are We Hard Hearted or Just Tired?

The week began with another school shooting, this time in Nevada. The investigation is continuing as information about the person who committed the crime is gathered, sifted, checked for accuracy and finally released to the public.

I remember back in December when the Newtown shootings occurred. The news was on every station. As the day progressed, pictures of the children, teachers, and other school personnel who were killed appeared on television. Extensive coverage continued through the weekend and into the next week as memorial services and funerals were conducted.

Anytime there is a school shooting my heart trembles. My oldest daughter is a teacher in Denver. Her passion for teaching and compassion for her students far exceeds any expectations a principal might request. She loves and cares for the children as if they were her own.

What distressed me about the shooting, and other school shootings that have occurred since Newtown, is that these events are reported almost nonchalantly--as if we are 'getting used' to such occurrences. Is it "no big deal' anymore that lives are lost in tragic circumstances with consequent emotional harm given to those who witness or survive? I have heard very little since about the shootings, compared to the barrage of coverage that occurred in December.

Are our hearts hardened to loss of life or are we just weary of so much tragedy that happens in our own lives and in the lives of others all around the country. Are those in the news media also weary, reducing their coverage of these tragic events that happen way too often.


October 15, 2013

Should All Churches Be Neighborhood Churches?

A friend recently causally remarked how odd it was to want to drive into the city to go to church. As it turns out for this particular church, thousands of people do just that each Sunday. They drive 5, 10, 15, 20 miles to go to church. When my spouse was in the Conference office and our family got to pick our church instead of being assigned to one, we drove past 5 or 6 United Methodist churches to the one where we felt at home. At that time we were also looking for a strong youth program for our daughter, and this church had one. But the point is that we did not go to the church nearest us.

People also don't necessarily go to the nearest or neighborhood grocery store or mall. We have the freedom to go where we want and to find what we need. So the question remains, should we expect people to necessarily attend their neighborhood church?

Again, when my spouse served a large downtown church, people drove as far as 40 miles to attend. Yes, 40 miles each way, each Sunday to come to church. Must be something special about that church? For that family, they wanted their children to attend the church where they had friends.

In our Conference, all pastors are being asked to chart out their neighborhoods and map out where their members live. Sure, it's always good to see, know, and serve the people in your reach. But these days churches can have a much farther reach than their neighborhoods or where they think they can reach.

I know of one small church pastor who started posting his sermons online. Many in the congregation thought it was a huge waste of time. Who would see it? And if they did, they probably wouldn't come to their church. But surprise, they did. And that church now extends the light of Christ around the world.

We in the church shouldn't settle for only those people we can see, we should reach out so that people will see Christ through our church, whether in our neighborhood, city/town, state, nation, or world.

Dream Big,

October 11, 2013

When Laws Are Unjust

In this morning's paper there is a story about a 6 year-old who is being sent to live with his biological parents. According to the article, the mother was a teen when she gave birth and signed the legal documents giving up custody. She has never seen or supported the child. The biological father never signed anything, but he did file suit for custody about 5 years ago, but never acted on it until now. He has never seen the child at all nor offered any support. The child has been living with his "parents" since he was 4 days old and considers them his Mom and Dad. Up until this point, he has been a well adjusted and happy kid living a normal life with people he loves and who love him.

Enter the judge and the court system. The judge believes he is upholding the law, no doubt, but sending the child to live with his biological parents. But in this case, what is in the best interest for the child? Is this a case where the law and strict adherence to it is unjust and immoral? While we might question what is happening with this child, there is no doubt that he will be traumatized and injured as a result of living 6 of his formative years with loving people only to be sent to live with strangers who may or may not love him. He is bonded to his currently family, and psychology suggests that he will never completely bond with these other people. It's been too long and he is too old now.

We in the church can turn to what Paul says about the Law. Paul was speaking of religious law and tradition, but what he says also applies to civil law. In the church we must be careful to make sure that the form of our laws and traditions fit with the spirit of Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law. And when we see laws that are unjust or immoral, we, as citizens, must speak up and act to change things.

When we say we want to transform the world, this is one way the world needs Christ's transformation.

Grace, Kathy

October 10, 2013

Here Is Servant Leadership at Its Best

Want to see what servant leadership looks like? Here it is. I can just imagine Jesus doing the same thing. Religious or not, what a witness!


South Carolina man vows to maintain National Mall during government shutdown

Posted: Oct 10, 2013 7:43 AM CDT Updated: Oct 10, 2013 7:43 AM CDT

The government shutdown led to furloughs for many park service workers.  Now, one man from South Carolina armed with a leaf blower and a push mower is taking it upon himself to clean up Washington's memorials in their place.
Chris Cox calls himself the Memorial Militia and he's been taking away trash, blowing away leaves and even using a chainsaw to clear branches from a path in the area of the National Mall
“Our veterans are coming here in protest and I didn't want to have to see trash littered or spit cups, diapers, banana peels, half eaten apples,” said Cox. “You name it, it was on the ground out here.”
Cox says he's occasionally been asked to stop what he's doing but plans to be there as long as the government is shut down.

Grace, Kathy

October 9, 2013

Communing with the World

I received a call from the church secretary last week, asking  if I could bake a loaf of Liberian Rice Bread for World Communion Sunday. Because I like to bake bread, I was delighted to make a bread that called for some interesting ingredients. I was also interested to see how the bread would look and taste.
I took the bread to church. When I arrived that morning, I walked into the sanctuary to see the altar filled with loaves of bread representing the many cultures and parts of the world: Native America, the Mediterranean, Pacific Islands, Middle East, Central and South America, India, and Africa. The variety in color and texture of each loaf reminded me of the diversity of our brothers and sisters around the globe who would join me as I received Communion.
There was also a blessing of each loaf using these words: "Bless O Lord this (name of bread) and the people of (the country) whom you claim as your beloved."  All of the bread was consecrated as the body of Christ.
The meaning of World Communion was visually represented in a way that brought deep meaning to my experience and participation in the service of remembrance that Christ gave to us, his disciples.
How did your church honor this annual celebration?
Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

October 8, 2013

Raising Church Walls in Masarura Africa

From Eric and Elizabeth Soard, Missionaries

It is hard to talk about someone else’s experience. It is hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is definitely the case with us and short term mission teams. It has just been a long time since we have been new here. It has been a while since I have had to process something without at least some insight into the culture that produced the response. It has been a while since I had tons of people around me and I didn’t understand a lick of what they were saying. Since it would be a difficult task to talk about the experience that the Northside UMC mission team from Jackson, TN had, I won’t. Instead I will talk about what we loved about having them here.

We loved to see the walls at Masarura UMC being raised. This is a church that started its foundation almost a year ago. This next step has been a long time in coming and it is great that Northside was here to participate.

We loved seeing smiling faces on kids…and adults as they participated in Vacation Bible School at four different churches. It was great to see kids running around, but equally heart warming to see grown men color painting and helping with the kids as they learned Bible stories.

We loved hearing about the new knowledge that people gained through medical seminars where instead of giving out medicine that will be used up in a short time, people were given knowledge of how to do preventative medicine on their own and spend less time and money at the hospital.

Most of all we loved seeing a team come back. This is the second trip for this church and for some of the team members. This type of continuing relationship and the knowledge and friendships it builds means so much to us and how effective the mission team can be in their time here.

We also love how they did what they did. They saw, they listened, they learned, they experienced, they took more memories than pictures, and they started the always necessary and challenging task of processing an intense, cross-cultural experience that is normally at least a little uncomfortable and complex in its abruptness. I know because we talked about it. We talked about how a mission trip is for a week, but when that uncomfortable week can stretch into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, and years into a lifestyle, whether at home or overseas, then we know that we have done something right.

We can’t speak for them, but we can say, “Welcome back, we would love to have you again.”
 Missionary Bios can be found at

October 7, 2013

When Going to Worship Hurts

How many times have I heard clergy spouses share stories of pain? Way too many--even some of my own experiences in churches brought challenges.  

One of the most difficult aspects of pain in ministry has to be seeing persons in church each week who have made unkind remarks or caused disturbances in committee meetings that have hurt my husband and consequently have an impact on me and our family.

I hear lay people comment that attending church is a source of renewal and comfort, a time to gain support in the body of Christ and to celebrate those occasions that bring joy.

What can clergy spouses do, when Sunday becomes the hardest  day of the week. (I've heard these words so many times, especially recently).  Where can spouses go to seek God's presence in worship? 

Something I did a few years ago, helped me greatly.  I asked my husband if I could go somewhere else to church for a month of Sundays. He knew I was supportive of his ministry, but circumstances at church were just too overwhelming, and I needed a break. He agreed.  

Since I knew every United Methodist pastor serving a church within a twenty mile radius of my home, I decided to attend four different Quaker churches. I walked into the sanctuary and came to a place where I could be present to God. I did have a sense of community experiencing worship in the body of Christ even though I didn't know anyone.  

I found the Quaker service one of peace and quiet. The ten minutes of silence in the middle of worship was an opportunity for me to drink God deeply into my soul. I appreciated my time away from my own church, and returned refreshed and renewed.

An interesting aspect of my time away was no one missed me. No one asked my husband where I was. I realized I did what was necessary to care of myself. It just did not matter what anyone said or thoughy. 

I pray that if your church is a place of pain that you can find another church to attend for worship, even for one week to care for yourself and re-connect with God.


October 2, 2013

A Fun Read

Want to help your congregations know more about who we are and what we believe as Methodists about God and God's will? Then check out this new book by Dr. Don Thorsen.

Calvin Vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice (9781426743351)

Many people do not consciously select a belief system. They do not critically examine or compare various faith communities. Instead they breathe in the prevailing cultural air and with it, the theology de jour. Given recent discussions in the public square, it appears that Calvinism, with its vocal emphasis on God’s sovereignty and God’s will, is holding sway. In fact, there is so much Calvinism saturating the culture that some people do not even know that there is an alternative way of thinking about their faith, despite how they behave in their daily life. Consequently, people can be left thinking like Calvinists but living with a desire to change the world, offering grace and hope to hurting people in mission and ministry—loving the least, the last, and the lost. In other words, they may believe like Calvinist but live like Wesleyans.

In his new book, Calvin Vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice, author Dr. Don Thorsen writes that  what Calvinists and Wesleyans actually believe about human responsibility, salvation, the universality of God’s grace, holy living through service, and the benefits of small group accountability. Further he demonstrates how these concepts connect to how everyday people live out their faith. Calvinists and Wesleyans are different. And by knowing the difference, people will not only see the benefits of Wesleyan theology but will be inspired to learn more, so that they can make an informed choice. Then by knowing who they are through faithful living, they will be further motivated to reach out in mission with renewed vigor. They won’t be obstacles to grace and holiness; but with an open future and in freedom, they can choose to be better disciples and advocates for Christ through service in this world.

The idea behind the book is not that Wesley is right and Calvin is wrong but that what we believe is reflected in how we act. 

Here is a video review of the book by Shane Raynor from the Ministry Matters website.



October 1, 2013

Prayer Requests

An Iranian court rejected pastor SAEED ABEDINI's appeal for a shortened sentence, increasing the likelihood he will serve eight years in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Abedini, 33, is an American citizen who was arrested last year while visiting Iran to set up a government-approved orphanage. Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, called the court's decision "devastating" for her and her two children. Abedini's legal counsel said the ruling amounts to a death sentenceunless the Tehran Supreme Court intervenes. 

Pray for Saeed Abedini and his family.

North Korea rescinded its invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit imprisoned American citizen KENNETH BAE. Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, had been scheduled to travel from Tokyo to Pyongyang to seek Bae's release. North Korea, which blamed the U.S. for the cancellation, accused Bae, a Christian, of subversion and sentenced him in April to 15 years of hard labor. Bae has since lost 50 pounds and was hospitalized with a variety of health problems.

Pray for Kenneth Bae.

May God's Grace Be With You,

Our Mission: Passionate Witness

Matthew 28:18-20
“Rekindle in us the power of your love.”  Some will recognize those words as part of the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. The power of Christ’s life fueled the Disciples and enabled them to fulfill their mandate to spread the Gospel throughout the world. We, who are Jesus’ disciples, are also tasked with this same mission. In fact, we repeat this mission every Sunday when our pastor asks our congregation, “And what is our mission?” And we reply, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world.”  When we say these words each Sunday, I think of the great cloud of witnesses, those who have come before us, encouraging us to go forward.  And I imagine that God is pleased with our willingness to witness, but I am convinced that God is more pleased when we actually do it—when we are freed for joyful obedience and act on our faith. Having good intentions isn't enough.

For years I've had good intentions about exercising regularly. I’d start and do well for a time, then quit when the going got tough or when I just was too tired. But having breast cancer this spring gave me an opportunity to take advantage of the wonderful fitness ministries at the YMCA, one of which is the ABC program. As part of this program, I get to meet with a personal trainer who helps me and keeps me accountable so that I can make my fitness goals. I still am tired from my long commute to and from work. Most days it is still hard to drag myself to the Y, but knowing that my trainer has set aside time for me and has an investment in me, gives me added motivation. She rekindles my resolve by the power of her investment in my progress.

So how much more will God rekindle us through the power of his Spirit? God is invested in us and has tasks for us to accomplish. We can be sure that we don’t have to go it alone. In addition to his Holy Spirit, God gives us each other.  And that’s a good thing, because transforming the world takes all of us. God is our trainer. He’s there to motivate us and keep us accountable. But God also provides us with the fuel of faith to help sustain us when things get tough.

Dear God, Rekindle in us the power of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew and face of the Earth. Oh God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.


September 27, 2013

Clergy Spouse Retreat

The Indiana Conference has a long-time history of an annual clergy spouse retreat. The event was held last weekend in Indianapolis, a central location.
There was a speaker, singing, worship, an afternoon for shopping or sight-seeing, and, of course, being with friends who live all over the state.
I want to share two comments from spouses/my friends, which I feel summarizes the weekend.

"I've always said that I couldn't care less about who the speaker is; I just LOVE being able to let down my shields for a weekend, to spend time with people who 'get it.'" Another friend added,"Being with people who really get what my life is like is what draws me back more than anything else."
I believe these two comments indicate the value of our time together. We do understand the nature of our lives more than anyone else. Having an opportunity to share stories, challenges as well as "glory moments" is important to our mental and spiritual health.

Although social media makes communication and connection easier for those who live in various towns and cities, but actually being physically present adds depth and meaning to our encounters.
I am so thankful for the retreat. Do other conferences have similar events?
Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

September 25, 2013

Should the Primary Location of Ministry Be the Local Church?

Should the primary locus of ministry be the local church? Believe it or not, our UM Church is struggling with this question.

You might be surprised to find that the "official" answer is "yes." But keep in mind that Methodists across the world answer that question differently. Our friends and fellow Methodists in the British Isles would actually say "no." Their answer comes from their experience of being part of a Christianity that is under siege. I have an English friend who has done a lot of work helping youth in Northern Ireland get to know English youth. He says that Christian mission works best outside of the church, in secular places. He says that way, we, like John Wesley, meet and minister to people where they live.

The local church is obviously important for congregational life and it is an important place of ministry. But acting like it is the only or even most important place where ministry takes place simply blinds us to other opportunities. The local church is where Christians gather, but the emphasis should be that we are sent from there into the world to light it up with our witness. Being sent out to make disciples is our commission given to us from Jesus, not counting noses in worship.

One ramification of believing that local churches are the primary places where ministry happens is that most of the resources are concentrated there. So, in these days when money is scarce, ministries like Wesley Foundations on college campuses, seminaries and religious colleges and universities, hospitals, and other religious social service agencies, missions like UMCOR both here and abroad go without. Or they are relegated to the curb and given a tin cup in which to collect a pittance.

What if we saw the local church rather not just as a place, but, in addition, as a life-giving process? The task of the local church would not simply be "to be," like a bump on a log, but a means or method by which people are sent. Then it might not be so difficult to imagine being sent from (and not just to) other places as well, for example: seminaries, general agencies (yes, even them), college campuses, United Methodist Men and Women groups.

For ministry to be effective and attack the complex problems of our day, we have to marshal all our resources and not segment our lives with church in one compartment and mission in another. This is surely what Wesley had in mind. For Wesley the locus of ministry was never the local church, if that were true, we Methodists would still be Anglican. For Wesley, ministry is a process of connecting people to what they need. For him this is salvation, which includes salvation from starvation, disease, ignorance, poverty, and injustice.

You can probably tell that I feel strongly about this.
Grace, Kathy

September 24, 2013

Forgiving Those Who Hurt Us

Is giving forgiveness easy for you? If you're anything like me, it can be extremely hard especially if the same person continues to hurt you over and over. Last week, the third grade son of a friend had an incident at school where he was bullied by a couple of boys. These boys were in his class and they had a knack for picking on him over the past couple school years. On this particular day (we'll call him Tom) in his way stood up for himself, and I guess it was a shock to the boys doing the bullying. They immediately went and told the teacher. When confronted by the teacher, Tom burst into tears. You see the boys told a lie to the teacher about what Tom had said to them; and being the soft-hearted child that he is, he didn't know what to do about the false accusation except cry. She took him out in the hall and was able to determine what had really happened. She told him to go to the bathroom and dry his eyes and then come back to the classroom. While he was in the bathroom, she confronted the whole class and with tears in her own eyes, asked if the whole situation was worth hurting the feelings of the sweetest boy in third grade. Some of the children were also overcome with tears, and she said that it had been a good learning lesson for them all on how they should treat each other. The teacher emailed the mom and the mom emailed the teacher back to thank her for how she had handled the situation. 

But the mom worried about she was going to approach the conversation when she picked up Tom that afternoon. Her heart was hurting so badly for what he had been through, and she was unsure how he would be feeling or if he would want to talk about it. So she prayed.

Much to her surprise, when she picked up Tom, not only was he in an excellent mood, but he was walking with the boys who had hurt him. He got in the van and she explained that she knew what had happened and wanted to know if he was OK. He simply said, "Sure Mom, everything's fine. They're my friends."  Needless to say, she was shocked!  If only we adults could have the forgiving heart of a child. Children are able to show love much like Christ loves us.

My friend says, "I wonder at what point we learn how to hold a grudge or maybe we forgive but don't forget. We adults tend to believe that it is wrong to readily offer forgiveness for that would mean we are condoning the wrong done. Indeed, we want to hold on to our hurt and anger or teach the wrong-doer a lesson. Children in all their innocence magically free themselves from these negative elements, thereby experiencing spontaneous joy and satisfaction in whatever their hearts dictate them to do. If we adults take time and interest to observe, listen and learn, our world would certainly be a better place for all of us. I pray that God renews our child-like faith and we offer forgiveness just as our Heavenly Father has forgiven us."

Grace, Kathy

September 23, 2013

View from "My" Pew

I am beginning a new chapter in my life this week--starting a part-time hospital chaplain internship. There are four other students in the program, and I am the only non-clergy.

We were talking on Tuesday, getting acquainted, sharing church stories. Someone mentioned how people are attached to a certain pew, always wanting to sit in the same place each week. 

I shared that my only anxiety the first Sunday in a new church was that I would sit in someone's pew. However, I quickly added another perspective, "Sitting in the same pew every week might be the only consistency some persons have amid the chaos or suffering happening in her/his life. Knowing  the same place is waiting each week may provide comfort and eliminate having to make a decision."  
There have been times when I have faced personal challenges, and I sought "my pew" the same way I would greet a close friend or family member. The familiarity of place, of having my seat in God's house, offered me grounding and stability when parts of my life were crumbling, especially since I usually sat by myself.
Although I have heard stories of persons asked to move or change places in a pew, I want to offer another perspective to consider.
Jacquie Reed, 
Fishers, Indiana

September 17, 2013

What Do We Do about Kids' Sports on Sundays?

There is always some sport in season; but with the start of school, sports can get out of control. I play in our hand bell choir and even though there are only about 12 of us, it's hard to find a time when we can all be at rehearsal. Somebody always has to be out because of soccer or some other travelling sport. And I can't point a finger, because our family faced the same thing when our daughter was in color guard for the band. With getting home in the wee morning hours from late night competitions, it was difficult for her to get up for church on Sundays. She did it, but when the competitions were far away and required Sunday travel time, there was no way for her to be at church on Sunday. My husband and I weren't happy about it, but we let her go.

I suppose you could say that unless parents refuse to let their children participate on Sundays, things will continue as they are. And you're probably right, but try saying that to a kid. It's especially difficult when your PK has to go to church when so many don't anyway and when other people notice when your child is not there (and make a point of saying that they notice).

Right or wrong, my spouse and I decided to let our daughter just be a kid. What we found is that she gravitated toward other Christian kids and hung out with them. They became her core group, and I'm sure they looked out for one another and lived out their faith even in some difficult situations.

Do sports do interfere with church or do they also provide increased opportunities for Christian witness? What's it like where you are?

Grace, Kathy

September 12, 2013

The Church: Hospital for Sinners?

It is often said that the church is not a home for the saints but a hospital for sinners. But the church is also called to be the heart and engine for mission in the world. While being a good hospital and effective engine for mission may not be roles that have to conflict, sometimes we just have to ask, how many badly broken people can the church care for inside its own community and still have adequate resources to reach out beyond its walls?

True, working together in mission can heal a lot of brokenness inside of church folk and bring relief to suffering in the world. And while we all agree that God does the healing and enables the church to reach out, in my experience any community of faith can only have so many badly broken people. Yes, we are all broken to some extent. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But we also have to recognize that there are different types of brokenness. While there are many types of brokenness, here are a few that I'll highlight.

First, there are those who hide their brokenness. And this may be most of us.

Second, there are those who have been so beat up and tired out by their experiences, that they just want to rest. And that is another large group of us. But if a church has too many of this type of broken person, it's difficult for the church to put energy into mission.

Third, there are those who are proud of their scars so much so that they wear them "in your face." These are the folks who flaunt their brokenness. Actually, these folks may be helpful in doing mission if they also don't demand that the church just take care of them or constantly stir up conflict.

Fourth, there are those who are so broken that they need the love and care of church people to hold them together for long periods of time. While we may all suffer tragedy and are dependent of the church in times of crisis, I'm talking about the folks who are dependent on the church as part of their lifestyle. These are the people who eat up inordinate amounts of the pastor's time and energy. If there are too many of this type of person in the church, mission can't happen, at least the way it could.

So it's a complicated thing. We know that we are all broken, but it can be annoying that those other broken people just go somewhere else so the church can get on with its mission. But somehow that doesn't sound right either. The church has to balance both roles. It has to be a hospital for sinners and an engine for mission. (You can probably have too many engineers as well.) But any hospital takes staff who are not broken or at least not broken so much that it precludes their ministry. 


September 10, 2013

What Church Suppers Might Say about Your Church

As United Methodists, we seem to believe that we can't have a meeting or any other kind of gathering without serving food. And I've several wonderful church cookbooks that I've collected. But nothing says more about a church than church dinners. In fact for many churches, the way they share food says a lot about the way their share their faith.

I love church dinners and my philosophy has always been to try different dishes. This is quite unlike my grandmother, who only ate the food from the people she knew had clean kitchens. Still different churches do church suppers differently. In one church, the women brought out their best china and silver. Having dinner at that church meant something special and they always brought their best--and plenty of it. Needless to say that church offered warm, generous hospitality. Dinners at another church were less formal, but again, the food was plentiful. At still another church, the members brought leftovers and hardly any of those. This church looked wealthy on paper, but they were poor in hospitality. At our current church, the men do much of the cooking, especially when we have church barbecues. But it's not uncommon for our men's group to host the District Christmas Party or other special occasions. And in our church we have a large number of leaders, both men and women who graciously step forward.

What do your church dinners say about your church? Are they warm and welcoming? Do they bespeak of generosity and hospitality? Who comes? Do you invite guests? Do you invite the homeless? What do you do with the leftovers? Donate? Throw them away? Do you take some meals to the shut-ins as a gift of love and service to let them know that they're still appreciated?

Jesus did much of his ministry over the meal table. In fact, one of our most important sacraments is a celebration of one meal Jesus had with his disciples--his last supper. I pray our church dinners demonstrate our faithfulness to Jesus' message.


September 5, 2013

From Vibrant to Dying Church

Had a conversation with a friend who recently visited a church. She said that the attendance was slim on Sunday but full during the week, because of the church's preschool ministry. In fact seeing 3 school buses in the marketing lot was what made her choose that church to visit in the first place. During her visit she learned how the church was stuck in the past and refused to grow, driving away prospective new members. With the age of the congregation, it is only a short matter of time before the church will have to close--a very sad story.

But as she talked the name of the church rang a bell in my head. I remember also visiting that same church years before. At that time it was alive and was active in Lay Witness Mission program, which was a successful renewal movement. The church also hosted what was then called "contemporary worship." In fact, several big name Christian music folks got their start performing in that sanctuary. As far as I could see, no church member flinched when the musicians brought in their guitars, drums, and sound equipment.

So what happened? This church went from being on fire for God to being wet blankets, saying "no" to anything new and different.

Perhaps they need to be reminded of their past. Or perhaps their success was frozen into tradition. I don't know, but, as we all know, it is up to every generation to pass along our Christian witness in a way that it will be received by new people; not so that they will do it like us, but so they can adapt it to their own situation and then pass it along to others.

Like it or not, to shine a dependable light into the world's darkness, our Christian faith has to have the Church as an institution. Faith is more than that, we all know, but the Church as a gathering place and organization is necessary. But the Church cannot exist for long without fresh air, which breathing the Holy Spirit provides.

Pray for your church.