March 24, 2014

Lay Leadership in Our Church

This post is from the chairs of our education committee, sent out each Monday morning.

Lord, we pray for those who need you the most, and we pray for those who think they need you the least.

Good morning everyone,

The above prayer is part of the morning meditation on one of the mornings on the Walk to Emmaus. It has always stuck with me and I have been thinking about it a lot recently. On Saturday morning, I brought my kids to the church to once again help with the water ministry. If you have not had a chance to help with this ministry yet, I encourage you to give it a try! With 90% of our community expressing that faith is not an important part of their lives, it is more important than ever to spread the good news! These are the people who need God the most, but feel they need God the least. 

I was reminded of the above prayer again yesterday when the pastor spoke about fellow Christians who through their own judgmental ways, persecute other believers. I think we have probably all been guilty of this at some point in our faith journeys when we feel someone is not following Christ as we think they should. At that moment, WE are the ones who need God the most, but may be calling on Him the least. 

I personally have a person in each category in my life right now. I have one who is a non-believer and I have one who feels their spiritual journey is far above my own. So what do you do? PRAY, PRAY, and PRAY some more. We simply have to lift these people to God and allow Him to work in their lives. We also have to listen for God because He may call on us to be the one to make a difference in their lives. So today Lord, we pray for those who need you the most and we pray for those who think they need you the least. Bless our lives so we can be a blessing to those you put in our path. Amen. 

March 19, 2014

Some Thoughts on Homosexuality and The United Methodist Church

                It is difficult to be a United Methodist and not know that the issue of homosexuality is controversial for our Church. I’m even aware that there is continued and sustained talk about a denominational split, as some of our sister denominations have done already. But I am convinced that the one thing we cannot do is abandon the conversation to extremists on either side, because they are happy to take aim and shot their opponents using us as their cover and then turn around and express their regret to us, their collateral damage.
                What is at stake? The unity of the UMC, but more important what our unity means  ̶  effective Christian witness  and mission throughout the world. There is no doubt, that together as one Church, we are more effective. Many of you are fond of C.S. Lewis. He says that after he became a Christian he was amazed how much time Christians spent arguing about their differences. He was much more interested with what we have in common. I invite you to be of like mind.
                What do we risk? Aside from the obvious practicalities of who gets the Pension Board and who gets the Publishing House, for example, we risk losing the talent and commitment of some of our most gifted and Spirit-led members. Because there are gifted and Spirit-led people on both sides.
                How can this be? How can it be that there are Spirit-led people on both sides? Because that is the way it always happens. The Church has always been fond of labeling people it disagrees with as heretics. Sometimes the Church officials excommunicated, sometimes it elected to burn people at the stake. Perhaps we would all benefit from re-reading Church history. Who were some of those who left their Church? Martin Luther, John Calvin, and, oh yes, John Wesley. These left a Church that was too enamored of its doctrine and polity—their church law, their tradition.
                But what about Scripture? Didn't these reformers take up the banner and follow Scripture? Yes, but more important, they followed the living Christ into their world. Didn't they care about order and adherence to discipline? Yes, of course, but they also saw that legalism spelled death.

                So what do we do? What should we do as a denomination? The way forward is difficult, but Christians throughout history have not hesitated to walk through fire if their faith and trust in God was strong enough. Should we quit or shake hands and turn our backs on our friends and colleagues who disagree on this one thing alone? Are we so arrogant to think that we know enough to divide Christ’s Church over sexuality? We are not talking about grand debates about the nature of the Trinity or the divinity of Christ. We are not even talking about the Real Presence in Communion. People shed blood and died over these issues. We are talking about something that is quintessentially human. So will we divide Christ’s Church because of our own limitations? 
               I invite you to think through these issues and become more informed as we seek to embody the love and grace of God for each other as we move forward. The world is watching.


March 18, 2014

Our Prayer for the Ukraine

From Bishop Eduard Khegay, Eurasia Area of The United Methodist Church

My prayer is for Ukraine, for peace and unity. My prayer is for Ukraine – this is a song of our brothers and sisters from UMC in Kiev who created this video.

During our meeting of pastors and leaders of United Methodist Church in Ukraine this week we lifted up our prayers for the people and the country, for peace and unity. Brothers and sisters shared their worries and concerns for the country’s future. Many could not come from the east to Zakarpatie where we have had our meeting. As I was preaching in our churches in Zakarpatie, my heart was filled with grace and faith, when brothers and sisters with tears in their eyes lifted up their prayers to God for their country. In this politically conflicting time, the church continues to share the gospel way – the way of active ministry to people, preaching of hope and faith, proclamation of God’s power and providence in the history of humankind. According to testimonies of brothers and sisters from different cities, Christian churches never prayed so fervently for their country and for their people as in this difficult time. Also, people were never so open for the gospel and for prayer as in this time.

I thank God for United Methodist churches in Ukraine, who bring hope and reconciliation to people in this difficult time, encourage people and serve those in need. Let us all stand in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, for all people and country. My prayer is for Ukraine.

Bishop Khegay, we join you and commit to pray for the people of the Ukraine. We will not abandon them.


March 17, 2014

UM Clergy and Same-Sex Weddings


The Rev. Dr. Thomas Warren Ogletree presided over the wedding of his son, Thomas Rimbey Ogletree, to Nicholas Haddad on Oct. 20, 2012. The service took place at the Yale Club in New York City. Subsequently, The Rev. Randall C. Paige, pastor of Christ Church in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and the Rev. Roy E. Jacobsen, a retired pastor in the New York Annual Conference, filed a complaint against Rev. Ogletree after his son’s wedding announcement appeared on Oct. 21, 2012, in The New York Times. The complaint triggered a supervisory process conducted by Bishop Martin McLee of the New York Annual Conference and an attempt to find a just resolution among the parties.  When this process failed to yield such a resolution in the time period specified by the The Discipline of the United Methodist Church, Bishop McLee announced that he would refer the matter to a Counsel for The Church for further investigation.
Bishop McLee appointed the Rev. Timothy J. Riss, pastor of The Poughkeepsie United Methodist Church and an elder in the New York Annual Conference, to represent the Church’s interests in all further proceedings.  Rev. Riss reviewed the facts in the case and eventually determined that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a charge being filed against Rev. Ogletree for violating ¶2702.1b of the Discipline, which prohibits United Methodist pastors from officiating at same gender marriage ceremonies.  He drew up a bill of charges, consisting of a single charge that Rev. Ogletree had violated the provisions of ¶2702.1b and presented his findings to Bishop McLee.  Bishop McLee accepted Rev. Riss’s recommendation to proceed to a trial and then appointed retired United Methodist Bishop S. Clifton Ives to preside over the trial.  He also scheduled the trial for March 10, 2014 at First United Methodist Church in Stamford, CT.
On January 29, 2014, at the first meeting among the counsels and Presiding Officer, Bishop Ives, in keeping with Disciplinary guidelines, made the decision to return the matter to Bishop McLee for a further attempt at just resolution.  This was done with the concurrence of Rev. Riss and the Counsel for Rev. Ogletree, the Rev. Scott Campbell, pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, MA, and with the agreement of Bishop McLee.  A meeting was fixed with Bishop McLee and the other parties for the morning of February 6.  At that time a verbal agreement on the general terms of a just resolution was achieved.  The details of the agreement were subsequently communicated, refined and agreed upon by the Church and the respondent via email and conference calls.  The terms of this agreement follow.

Agreement for a Just Resolution

After a process of dialogue spanning nearly two months, the persons signing this document have entered into a Just Resolution Agreement in the matter of the Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree and the New York Annual Conference.  The comments of the Rev. Randall C. Paige and the Rev. Roy E. Jacobsen, the original complainants, were received and considered as part of the just resolution negotiations.  They are entered as a part of the record of this process.  The terms of the agreement are:
1.  Dr. Ogletree agrees to forego his constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial by his peers.
2.  Dr. Ogletree agrees to make himself available, health permitting, for at least one public forum to be convened by the office of Bishop Martin McLee to reflect theologically, spiritually and ecclesiastically on the nature of the covenant that binds us together in the United Methodist Church.
3.  Bishop McLee calls for and commits to a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies and instead will offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation.  His statement is attached to this document. [below]
4.  Bishop McLee will convene within six months a public forum dealing with matters of human sexuality and the United Methodist Church.
a. The purpose of this forum will be to contribute to healing within the body and greater understanding among those who are affiliated with the New York Annual Conference.  The Bishop intends that persons would listen deeply to one another in an atmosphere of Christian respect.
b. This forum shall reflect a variety of different opinions and understandings.
c. Dr. Ogletree, representatives from MIND (Methodists in New Directions), the Wesley Fellowship, and other such parties as the Bishop shall determine shall be invited to participate in this forum.
d. The Bishop shall report on his plans for this forum and the results of this forum to the Committee on the Episcopacy of the New York Annual Conference.  This Committee shall have the authority to modify the timeline for this forum if necessary.
5.  The Parties recognize that certain limited third parties involved in legal consultation may be privy to the circumstances and terms of the Just Resolution proceedings.  Notwithstanding those limited disclosures, the Just Resolution negotiations themselves are to be considered confidential.  It is understood that the parties with whom such limited disclosure is shared are bound by the same confidentiality as the signatories to this agreement.

Statement by Bishop Martin McLee of the
New York Annual Conference

I am grateful to report that the matter concerning the Reverend Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree will not result in a church trial as a just resolution has been achieved. The just resolution provisions of the Book of Discipline are clear in voicing just resolution as the preferred response in Judicial Administration. Church trials produce no winners. While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward. Church trials disrupt annual conference life, they drain dedicated Episcopal and staff time. Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. The burdensome cost of trials combine to negate any benefit in the ongoing debate on matters relating to human sexuality.
As the Bishop of the New York Annual Conference, in consideration of my responsibility to provide spiritual, pastoral and temporal oversight for those committed to my care, I call for and commit to a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation. I understand that nothing in this agreement deprives any clergyperson of his or her constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial.
In the next few months I will invite the Reverend Dr. Ogletree to join others from varying perspectives to a public forum on the true nature of the covenant that binds us together. Clearly there continues to be multiple perspectives on matters of human sexuality and the response of the church. While this forum may not resolve this ongoing challenge, it will provide an opportunity for healing and a chance for open and honest dialogue.
God bless us all as we seek to be light and life in a time of theological challenge.
All my prayers,
Bishop Martin McLee

Statement by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree

In recognition of Bishop Martin McLee’s publicly stated intention to approach the matter of marriage equality in a non-juridical manner, but instead to offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical reflection, I hereby relinquish my right to a trial on the charge that has been brought against me for officiating at a same gender wedding ceremony. I further agree to make myself available, health permitting, to participate in the above-mentioned Forum that Bishop McLee will convene.
Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree
End of Just Resolution Agreement

March 14, 2014

Hidden Messages

If you think you're observant, take a look at what's "hidden" in these familiar logos.

Funny thing is, at least for me, once you've seen it, you can't "unsee." Every time I go past that ice cream place, I'll forever see the "31."

Being a Christian is much the same. Once someone knows you're a Christian, they will never look at you the same way. That's because people have preconceived ideas of what Christians are supposed to be like. Sometimes that's a good thing, but many times people suppose we vote a particular way or hold certain opinions, which we may or may not.

No one likes to be prejudged, despite our mistakes, gaffs, and lapses in judgement. So let's just be kind and gracious to each other, even in the church. And extend the grace that God so freely gives us.

Blessings on your ministry.

March 12, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

This from the February issue of Christian Century. (Yes, I'm behind on my reading.)

The 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population or 3.5 billion people, according to Oxfam.

Think about it.

March 4, 2014

Rekindling Your Flame

Every Monday, our Sunday School leadership sends out an email to all teachers. The thoughts below are from last Monday's email. The phrase that really caught my attention was "I'm not sure if it has been this brutally cold winter or just time in the valley..." With so much winter this year and with so many sick, who doesn't need a rekindled flame. Thought you'd enjoy her words of encouragement.

"John 15:5-8
The Message (MSG)
5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

Good morning everyone,
Have you seen those Charter commercials that start with, "When your cable goes out...."? And then it follows a downward progression to some absurd, but funny ending.  Have you ever thought that the same example could be used for our spiritual life? I think it would go something like this: When our flame goes out, we get stressed and depressed. And when we get stressed and depressed we try to take things into our own hands.  And when we take things into our own hands, we make bad choices.  And when we make bad choices, we think we are failures.  And when we think we are failures, we get in a rut. Don't get in a rut.  Ask God back into your life and get in the groove!

I'm not sure if it has been this brutally cold winter or just time in the valley,  but I have noticed a lot of people who seem to have lost their flame.  God tells us we will have highs and lows, but no matter the season, we must draw near to Him.  I pray that we reconnect to the life-sustaining Vine so we can produce much fruit for the Kingdom!"

Grace, Kath