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.


September 4, 2013

Learning from Our Jewish Brothers and Sisters

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with my neighbor, Julie. Julie just graduated from college with a degree in Jewish studies. She had been accepted into rabbinical school in late spring and plans to become a cantor.

Julie described her course of study for the next five years--yes, persons who want to be a rabbi or cantor spend five years in graduate school. She told me the first year she and all other rabbinical/cantorial students across the United States would live and study in Israel. These students live in apartments, taking a rigorous schedule of classes.

I was so glad to spend time with Julie before she left for Israel. I know she will have wonderful year, studying and experiencing immersion into the Jewish culture. I also thought about those who study in Protestant seminaries. What if these students were required to spend a year in Israel too? What meaning and depth could come from spending time where Jesus walked and taught while studying the gospels, the letters, and other books in the New Testament. Lectures by the Sea of Galilee, advent meditations in Bethlehem--what enriching experiences could happen!
I am also aware of the great number of second career clergy (Are there similar numbers in the Jewish faith?) The challenges of second career clergy are many. Would a year away from home be practical?
I do admire Julie's path, which began when she was in third grade attending Hebrew school one day a week when she finished her regular school day, to learn to read and write Hebrew. She truly began studying to be a cantor when she was eight. Now she is twenty-two. I have mentored three students in recent years during the four month course of confirmation planned by my church. I remember the struggle getting students to commit to this period of time, and our classes were not always weekly.
What can we learn from our Jewish friends--about seminary education--about training  our children in the faith? 
Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana