June 27, 2014

Help for Finding Our Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Grace, Kathy

June 25, 2014

Looking for Opportunities to Find and Share Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 23, 2014

Yes, the Church Is Worth It

We had a wonderful surprise this Sunday. Some members of one of our former youth groups drove 5 hours (one way) to be at our worship service, just because...

I must add that they are no longer youth but now have children of their own; although I still think of them as "the kids." My husband was their youth director and I was the (unpaid) assistant, so we really were not  much older than the high school youth, maybe 2-5 years. But we were adults, just barely.

As we told stories and reminisced about old times, I told one of mine. This urban church had a dance each Friday night for the neighborhood kids. The police thanked us because the crime rate went down during that time. The dance drew about 200 kids and had been a ministry of that church for over 15 years--so it was an institution unto itself.

At 10:00 we ushered the crowd out the door and were ready to lock-up and head home. Except locking up was always a problem. The church had an ancient alarm system which consisted of a silver magnetic tape that went over the doors and windows. Invariably, one of the kids would slit the tape with a razor blade, which made finding the break almost impossible. But we got pretty good a finding it, but it could take as long as an extra hour. So I was usually annoyed, because that meant that we wouldn't get home until midnight leaving no time for us.

After I told my story, one of the "boys" spoke up. He asked, "Why do you think they did it?" I just thought they were up to mischief, and I had ample reason for believing it too. But he answered, "It was because, we didn't want to go home." This floored me. I had never considered that as a reason, but knew in my heart that it had to be true. All that for an extra hour away from home.

I have many fond memories of this youth group, because it was really my first. So I experienced many "firsts" with them. It was the first time I had such responsibility and authority and they taught me a lot. It was one of the hardest jobs I ever had, but yes, it was worth it. They were worth it. My husband baptized each of the ones that visited and they still had their certificates so many years later. They turned out ok, but many of their friends did not. We just planted seeds. Some took root; others didn't. But it was still worth it.

When I see so much pettiness and ugliness in the church, I wonder if being a church professional is worth it. Sunday reminded me that, yes, it's worth it and a lot more. I hope you keep your reasons for staying in ministry ever before you.

Grace, Kathy

June 13, 2014

Helping the Next Parsonage Family Make a Smooth Transition

About one third of us move each year, at least in my conference. Here are some ways you can help make the next parsonage family transition smoothly.

1. Well before the move, meet with the new family and get to know them. Then show them the parsonage. Also be prepared if they don't like some of the things you love about the house.
2. If the family is new to town, leave a list of important phone numbers, for example, the trash pick-up people, the nearest grocery, where to get the best coffee, where to go eat after church on Sunday, etc.
3. Make sure you leave the warranty info and directions to the various appliances.
4. Say positive things about the family to the church folks. Share some of their interests and different ways they can connect with the congregation.
5. Leave the parsonage clean when you leave, but know that the church folks will probably clean, paint, etc. after you go. Some churches use the time between parsonage families to do repairs and spruce things up.

Saying good bye can be hard, but we all want the next family to make a great first impression. You can help make that happen.


June 12, 2014

Book Review: Three Simple Truths by Adolf Hansen

Adolf Hansen, former pastor, vice-president emeritus at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, theologian in residence at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, has spent time exploring his own beliefs, and selected three truths which have been formative and important to his faith. His book, Three Simple Truths: Experiencing Them in Our Lives devotes a chapter to each truth, examining each one, word by word or phrase by phrase. 

Dr. Hansen's three simple truths are: God is good, all the time; God works for good, in everything; and Trust God, no matter what. His book is appropriate for group or individual study, and is published by Inkwater Press, Portland, Oregon.

He includes numerous references to scripture, offers"'pauses for reflection" in each chapter, and concludes each truth with a personal experience, questions for discussion, practices to express each truth, a prayer, and an original short song.

I found Three Simple Truths to have great depth in meaning and a thorough exploration of the truths presented. I especially appreciated the"'pauses for reflection" and the many suggestions at the end of each chapter to expand my experience with the scriptures and each truth.  

I highly recommend exploring Three Simple Truths during this period in the church year called Ordinary Time, when I believe we are encouraged to deepen our moments with God in this church season.  

Jacquie Reed

Fishers, Indiana

June 6, 2014

What Pastor Spouses Want Their Congregations to Know

As some of us will be moving to new churches, it might be worth considering what you want your congregation to know. Here's my list. You might have a different one.

1. I don't play the piano. Might wish I did, but I don't.
2. I am not an extension of my spouse. I have my own views and convictions.
3. I don't carry messages to my spouse. For one reason, I might forget, but the other reason is that if you want to tell the pastor something, don't drag me into it.
4. You can talk to me about something other than the church.
5. Our children are our children. But please be sensitive to them, because they live in a glass house.
6. Don't come to visit me without calling in advance.
7. Criticism about the church or my spouse even if "given in love," is still criticism.
8. Christian people do not hurt their pastor by hurting me or the children. This happens more than you know.
9. I am not a co-pastor. Don't count on me to help on every committee or attend every church event.
10. I really do love the church, but I'm not married to it. Really.
11. I did not take a vow of poverty when my spouse decided to become a pastor. I appreciate and expect a fair salary as much as you do.
12. I really do appreciate all your support and have received many unexpected gifts of friendship.

I don't share all of these things immediately when going to a new place, because in time they will all come up naturally anyway. But I do stick to these principles and found the church people, not only understand, but appreciate knowing.

Blessings on you.

June 2, 2014

Is a Split Inevitable over the Homosexuality Issue in The United Methodist Church?

I do not know how many times in the past several months I have heard the phrase, "It seems like a split in our denomination is inevitable." Inevitable. This or that side is pushing their agenda too hard. To obey Christ in this area obviously means that we must disobey Christ in the area of church unity, because, of course, that is how God works. Do we really believe that?

When I was in college in 2000, General Conference had a heated debate over the homosexuality issue. I read about it in the local secular newspaper. As I sat at the kitchen table staring that newspaper article, I said to my mother, "Mom, I cannot be United Methodist anymore. It is not a decision, really. It is just a reality. THIS is not me." My mom said, "But if you leave The United Methodist Church, who will be left to give your voice?" I thought a lot about that. If I left, the denomination would still be called "church" before the world, and the world would associate it and its positions strongly with Christ, whether for good or for ill.

The reality is that, like it or not, the church as a whole bears a strong witness to the world as a body. And a body that is divided -- even if it is divided into sides that are faithful over here but unfaithful over there -- this inevitably presents a very confusing and not particularly effective witness to the world.

We believe in a God who can raise the dead. We trust that is so in the lives of the broken, in the cities that are devastated, in nations ruined by war. It is what we are called to do as Christians. And as United Methodists, through Christ's strength we have excelled! We are the first to respond to any devastation and the last to leave. But it is inevitable that we are going to give up here? We stick with people even when everyone else runs away. Will we abandon those who we each believe are stuck in the prison of false theology to provide a quicker fix? We are a part of international bodies that work for increasing ecumenical unity within Christ's body worldwide. But we can't even stick together ourselves? Wait, a church split is not who we are and it is absolutely contrary what we believe about God's resurrection power in Christ Jesus.

I am writing this for really one reason -- I want to ask you to pray. And, I know this is hard, but do not pray that The United Methodist Church as a whole will be changed to your position. Instead, whatever you believe, pray simply for our Lord to: "Break the lies regarding homosexuality in our church, in our nation, and in our world and make the truth prevail!" Then praise God that God can do this! And leave it at that in humility. Because, as James says in his rather strong words about "conflicts and disputes among you... God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

Originally posted here: http://holyconversationsatstpaulsumc.blogspot.com/2014/05/is-church-split-inevitable-over_27.html