Thursday, September 27, 2007

General Conference: The Mail

Today, I received the first mail from a church group/agency that I'm getting because I am a General Conference delegate. This is the beginning of what will be several months of lots and lots of mail. As a delegate, you typically get books, DVDs, CD-Roms, packets of letters from congregations, brochures, etc., from interested United Methodists trying to communicate their views and hopes for GC to the delegates.

When I was a lay delegate to GC in 2000, I was a senior in college. Mail is scarce in college, and you are always wishing for more. (What you don't realize is that the mail grown-ups get is mostly bills. Later in life, you will get more of these than you ever wanted.) The months leading up to GC 2000 were excellent - lots of mail, everyday. I enjoyed reading over the materials, looking at what was motivating people to go to the trouble and expense of contacting 1000 delegates.

Today, I still have some of the materials - some were concise summaries of particular points of view. The vast majority of mail I received was on issues of human sexuality, and some of the resources were good at hitting on key scripture verses, summarizing major arguments, etc. But did any of the mail I received impact me in terms of how I voted at General Conference? I'm not sure.

I try to remain open to where God's voice is calling us to go as a church. In the midst of the rules and debates and tensions of General Conference, sometimes God's voice is a hard thing to hear. On major issues, like human sexuality, where I've already given lots of thought and time and energy to figuring out what God wants from us, I can't imagine changing my mind by something I get in the mail, or someone's two minute speech on the floor of Conference. Is that wrong? I guess it could happen. But it would be hard, and probably take a parting of the clouds and a dove descending. Maybe that's exactly what we need!

But on other issues, over time, with study, with resources, I can see my position changing. In 2000, I voted against legislation that would have made the UMC in the United States into a central conference like other central conferences. Similar legislation will be brought this time around, and now, I'm convinced making this change is critical to the future of our denomination. What brought this change of mind about? I can't pinpoint it exactly. My work with GBCS has played a role. My understanding of how the church works, and where the church is and isn't headed. I'm not totally sure. Still, I'm glad to know that I can change my mind, change my understanding of what God wants from me/us. If there is no hope for God talking to us in new ways, there's really no hope for the church, and not much point in General Conference. Of course, I'm sure some would say that's exactly the case....

What has led you to change your mind about an issue of faith?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Following Jesus and Being United Methodist

Another item floating around the methoblogosphere: the excellent article written by Ben Yosua-Davis about the generation x/y gathering earlier this year.

I didn't attend the event, but parts of the article really hit the head on the nail for me, articulating the split personality I often feel as a person fully immersed in the denomination, the organization, the structure, the way of functioning of the Untied Methodist Church, and the growing sense that to be a real disciple of Jesus, I'm missing the boat entirely doing what I'm doing in the way we're doing it.

Ben writes:

"Participants voiced both deep love for and deep frustration about the denomination. They expressed a passionate loyalty and appreciation for United Methodism, yet also a conviction that the church they love may end up killing them spiritually. This pain does not come out of disconnected idealism, but rather an intelligent, painful realism that has made many realize that their leadership in traditional parish ministry and traditional churches is bringing them farther away from God's call for their lives.

A deeper issue ran under the surface of almost all the conversations, namely, "Can I follow Jesus, be faithful to my call and remain United Methodist?"

There was a sense among many (although not all) that the church has not created space for young adults to be faithful disciples as they understand it. Instead, like a round peg in a square hole, they feel jammed into ministries that do not fit their gifts, into churches where they feel sucked dry and futile, into ministries that others define for them, without any room to explore what it means to be both Christian and postmodern at the same time. There was a sense that for many, The United Methodist Church is not looking for gifted Christian ministers; rather they are looking for by-the-book, work-within-the-system professionals who would pay their dues, innovate only within the system and not rock the boat."

"Can I follow Jesus, be faithful to my call, and remain United Methodist?" That is the question, isn't it? Is it easier to be a disciple inside or outside of the organized church? Is there room in the church for people who really want to be disciples? Isn't it funny that we have to even ask these questions?

Jesus throughout the gospels is asking us for everything - a full commitment, a complete commitment, a commitment to give our whole life up. Yes, he calls us to do that at the same time as he offers complete forgiveness, unconditional love, free grace. But discipleship, the kind Jesus is talking about, is total. I find, honestly, that it is hard to ask that of people in the church - we're not set up in churches to communicate that what God wants from us is everything. We're set up in way that tells people we're ok with whatever they want to give. (I'm not just talking dollars here - I'm talking people - what they want to give of themselves.) We're set up in a way that doesn't encourage pastors to be disciples, really. I feel like it is so easy for me to go through the motions of being a disciple, the motions of following my call, without pushing myself beyond what is required.

I'm looking for something more. I'm wishing someone would demand something more from me - more authentic discipleship. I think people who are really searching for God, to follow God, don't want someone to tell them how easy it is to do and fit into their already full lives. They want - or at least I do - someone to tell them it is time to repent - to change the mind's direction - and be a disciple.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing...

A few weeks ago, the United Methodist News Service reported that the General Board of Discipleship would be asking General Conference 2008 to support the creation of a new hymnal revision committee. Not long after that, you may have read at the methoblog that a Good News email has gone out asking people to vote for excluding hymns from the new hymnal that emphasize feminine images of God. *I have not seen this email myself, but this is what was forward to me as the content of the email from Good News.*

The email:
"Good News was much involved in providing input and feedback to the Hymnal Revision Committee that gave us our current 1989 hymnal. We believe that significant grass-roots involvement saved the church from some serious mistakes that might otherwise have been made. The new hymnal added scores of Charles Wesley hymns and gospel songs which had not been in the 1964 hymnal. We will be watching this process carefully once again... We would encourage you to participate in a hymnal survey being done currently by the church. You can share your ten most favorite hymns as well as the ten least favorite that you would like to see removed from the hymnal. Mark Tooley reminded us recently that the supplement to the hymnal which came out in 2000, entitled The Faith We Sing, had some problematic hymns included. They were approved because the supplement did not have to be approved by General Conference. Hymns such as "I Am Your Mother," "Mother God," and "Womb of Life" to just name several, have problems theologically. They would be good for your removal list. To participate in the hymnal survey, go to: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=JqqQD9anWCmmPk9oc6QApg_3d_3d ."

I think "Mother God" must refer to the hymn "Mothering God" in The Faith We Sing. None of these hymns are particular favorites of mine, but I just reread the text of each of the three listed, and can't find much theologically problematic. "I am Your Mother" is a hymn subtitled "Earth Prayer," and is mostly a song about taking care of the earth. The final verse talks about God as Creator. "Mothering God" uses the word mothering as a descriptor for all three persons of the trinity - "Mothering God you gave me birth," or "Mothering Christ, you took my form," or "Mothering Spirit, nurturing one." Unique imagery? Certainly. Creative. Theologically troubling? Not to me, at least! "Womb of Life" is probably my favorite of the three listed here. The final stanza says, "Mother, Brother, Holy Partner; Father, Spirit, Only Son: We would praise your name forever, One-in-three, and Three-in-one. We would share your life, your passion, share your word of world made new, ever singing, ever praising, one with all, and one with you." The language used to describe God may be different, but theologically the hymn is well-rooted and grounded in pretty traditional theology.

I do find some hymns troubling. "Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war" has always been hard for me to sing. A song like "For All the Saints," with a couple verses I really like, mostly has verse filled with war and battle imagery. I know this language is biblical (as is some feminine mothering language), but I have a hard time reconciling this imagery with Christ, Prince of Peace. I have a hard time singing "Faith of Our Fathers" - although at least alternate language of "Faith of the martyrs" is listed for those of us who find it hard to forget about the faithful women in our Christian history!

Truthfully, though, my favorite and least favorite hymns usually have more to do with the music - the melody - than with the words. My favorite: "Be Thou My Vision." The words are good. But it is the music that moves me. Some I don't like to sing? "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," or "The Old Rugged Cross." The words don't bother me. But the music doesn't usually inspire me.

What are your favorite hymns? Why? Do you find some hymns theologically troubling? What are your least favorites? What do you think of The Faith We Sing? What do you think about a new hymnal?

Oh - and don't forget to click on the link above to take the survey!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

District Day with the Bishop

Earlier this week I attended a District Day with the Bishop - my first district gathering in my new district with my new Bishop Suda Devadhar. As I've mentioned, Bishop Devadhar was elected out of my annual conference in 2004. I've known him for a long time, and it is a pleasure - and fun - to service in his area. He exudes a humility that is really rare at any level of leadership in the church, and it is refreshing.

Our day opened with worship at Westwood United Methodist Church, (which I didn't realize at the time is where methoblogger Melissa is doing her field ministry) and Rev. Tom Korkuch gave a sermon. Preaching on Matthew 28:16-20, he talked about political maneuvering by religious folk in order to "get votes so that you can force people to live the way you want them to live." He talked about authority, “authority from compassion” and “not the sword but the towel” authority. Authority that is the "power to serve under," not the "power to serve over."

Bishop Devadhar had asked folks to read Bishop Schnase's book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. I had thought I would be out of town on this day, so I have to admit I didn't read the book, but the Bishop gave us a good review/summary:

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations – Bishop Schnase
  • Radical Hospitality – “arising from the source”, drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the normal, promotes practices that exceed expectation, “going the second mile” “a surprising and unexpected quality of depth and authenticity in the church’s care for the stranger” (pg 21) Not afraid of failure.
  • Passionate Worship – intense desire, ardent spirit, strong feelings, sense of heightened importance, speaks to both emotional connection and/beyond intellectual consent. Eagerness, anticipation, expectancy, deep commitment, belief. An extraordinary eagerness to offer the best in worship, honoring God with excellence and with an unusual clarity about the purpose of connecting people to God.
  • Intentional Faith Development – deliberate effort, purposeful action toward an end, high prioritization, sense of heightened importance, absolute critical nature of Christian Education and formation, small group work, Bible study for all ages, interests and faith experiences. (not criticizing where other people are finding spiritual growth, like Alpha)
  • Risk-taking Mission and Service – stepping into greater uncertainty, a higher possibility of discomfort, resistance, sacrifice, takes people into ministries that push them out of their comfort zone, stretching them beyond the circle of relationship and practices that routinely define their faith commitments. “Not known as the church of the middle class but as the church of the poor.”
  • Extravagant generosity – exceed all expectations, goes to unexpected measures, lavish, describes practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectation and extend to unexpected measures. It describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and neighbor. “Give until it heals.” Not hurts. Shouldn’t chair finance if you are not giving extravagantly?

Bishop Devadhar also shared with us that ethnic representation to General Conference 2008 has declined by 30%, a figure I hadn't heard before. The Bishop says about this: “The system produces what the system hopes for.” He says we have become congregational over connectional because of restructuring freedom in annual conference that has allowed checks and balances that encourage and cultivate diversity to go by the wayside.

We also heard "reality facts" about the GNJ conference, which I suspect are similar for many other conferences:

597 churches. 20% of total average attendance is found in the 20 largest congregations. 20% is found in 306 of the smallest congregations (51% of all churches)

Our largest 20% of churches grow at average of 2.5%/year. Our smallest 20% of churches decline at a rate of 7%/year.

In 1965, Methodists represented approx 6.5% of NJ’s population.

Avg. age of GNJUMC membership is 57, but average of NJ is 37. In many churches, folks in their 50s are the youngest members. Over last 40 years, the number of UMs has declined by over 100,000, while the population of NJ has increased by 3 million+.

I haven't really processed all that information yet, but there it is. But it was good to meet some of my new colleagues in ministry, and always good to be thinking about these things. What do you think makes for a fruitful congregation?



Friday, September 14, 2007

CROP Walk

I'm walking in the CROP Walk again next month. This time I'm walking in a different state, but I'm still walking! I have fond memories of CROP Walking through junior high and high school. In college, we participated in our own special version of a CROP Walk by making different unique displays to carry food across the main stretch of campus. However you do it, the CROP Walk is a good event to be involved in. I've found my fundraising always goes more successfully online, so if you feel like donating, please consider clicking the above link!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fake Pastors





Have you seen this site? Hilarious. I especially like "Fake Joel Osteen" and "Fake Rob Bell."

(h/t to Gavin)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Review: Personality Type and Religious Leadership

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I recently retook a short Myers-Briggs personality test, which pegged me (so accurately, I think) as an INFJ. While I was unpacking books this past week (an aside: one of the movers said he loves watching items come of the moving truck - it is like Christmas, because people never recognize their own stuff!), I came across this book: Personality Type and Religious Leadership. I bought it at a continuing education event in Maine a few years back and forgot about it.

Since I've been thinking about personality type again a lot lately, I quickly gave this book a 'thorough skim' and found it fun and thought-provoking. The book specifically looks at clergy and how different personality types function in the ministry. The focus is really Protestant clergy, although some attention is given both to Catholic clergy and people in religious non-clergy positions.

Here's what I discovered:

- Even though INFJs (Introverted / Intuiting / Feeling / Judging) are the rarest personality types, they are the fourth most likely personality type for clergy, and the only Introverted type to be in the top five.

- Introverts, as you might expect, have a hard time dealing constantly with the people-interaction that ministry requires. I suspect that most pastors are tired by Sunday afternoons, but I've always felt seriously drained after being 'on' all of Sunday morning. I remember feeling this way too in CPE when I was in seminary - visit after visit after visit was so difficult, and though I got better at how to do it, it never really got easier to walk into rooms. Even just this week, in my office, my hand hovered over the telephone as I tried to make myself call a parishioner. I've always hated talking on the telephone. I made the call because I have to make calls! But it is still and always hard.

- Introverts come across as spiritually deep, and tend to be better about engaging in spiritual disciplines. But they have a harder time with church growth. 'Sales', as the authors put it, "is the Extravert's cup of tea more than the Introvert's." (32) Introverts also have a hard time with conflict, and find themselves triangulated frequently. I can see that in myself.

-Introverts have it easier than Extroverts in one way though - sermon preparation. "You can expect . . . depth from Introverts in their sermons, more reflective material, good exegesis of biblical texts - all delivered with an economy of words." (44)

I talked over this book with my ENFP pastor-friend, and we especially laughed over the sections on sermon preparation, which seemed quite right to us.

Hopefully I'll be back to posting more regularly, as my internet service will finally be connected tomorrow!

Monday, September 03, 2007

First Things

I'm much more relaxed starting this second appointment than starting my first appointment, when I really had no clue. I'm thinking a lot now about what I want to do differently than I did as I started at St. Paul's. What are the first things you want to do in a new ministry?

I was talking with a colleague on the phone yesterday and we were talking about the opportunity of a fresh start, a clean slate. If you were starting over in a new ministry setting, what would you do? What would be your priorities in the first weeks, months, and year? What would you not do that you had done in other settings?

Of course, some things - many things, are context-specific. And many are the things you just have to do, no matter where you are and what else you might accomplish. (Think: Paperwork. Pension and health insurance forms. Looking at files. Figuring out the schedule and rhythm of the church.)

Do you make changes? I know some people recommend not making any real changes in the first year. I don't think I stuck to that rule in Oneida. But I also remember as a youth resenting even small changes made by new pastors. One pastor changed Children's Time to Young People's Time. No big deal, right? I hated it! Ah, how your perspective can change when your role in the life of the church is different.

Questions: What are the first things you want to do in a new appointment? Are you of the "sit-back and see how things are working" mindset? Or are you a "jump in and make waves" approach? Or somewhere in the middle?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Moving Reflections

Some highlights of the last few days:
  • I think I've cried more times in the last two weeks than I have in the last four years combined. (OK - that's a slight exaggeration.) My last Oneida cry was when I was leaving my strangely empty house there. My first cry here was when my mother and brother went back home to Central New York. I've been telling everyone about how my mother cried when she left, but not the part about me crying too - so here's my confession! I really hate crying. But I guess of all the crying I could do, this week has been full of the good kind.
  • I've already misplaced (and found, thankfully) both my set of office keys and my set of house keys. The house keys I just set down in the restroom. But the office keys - I actually left those on the roof of my car. And then I drove around town and at speeds of at least 40mph. And then I thought to check on the roof of my car for my keys. And there they were!
  • I've already met a fellow vegetarian at Franklin Lakes UMC. He's been vegetarian for a few years now - and he's ten! How neat is that?
  • The parsonage here has heated floors in the entry way. Seriously!
  • The parsonage committee members had the tables decorated with tablecloths, centerpieces, and place mats when I arrived, and had gotten me a lovely bouquet of flowers.
  • I've forgotten about driving in New Jersey. I have to learn how to be cutthroat and aggressive again...