Thursday, February 28, 2008

Room in Your Heart

Michelle over at 33 Names of Grace has a really beautiful post up about how we love congregations, and how congregations love pastors, and about how both can continue to open their hearts to love again when their is a change of pastoral appointment.

She writes, "Whenever anyone says to me, "I'm glad you are here" they pretty much say immediately after that "But I loved my previous pastor, too." I usually just listen but would it help if I said this: I loved my previous church too. It is a strange thing to be a pastor, to have a job that invites you to love a people and then be ready to leave them, and to leave them completely enough that they can connect to the new person whose job it is to love them, and so on. It is privileged and odd work, and it is the work to which I have been called.

When I became Zane's mother, I was once going on to my spiritual director about how completely he filled my heart. "I can't imagine having another child," I said. She smiled that wise smile at me and said, "You don't split your love with another child. Your heart expands." I didn't believe her. Then Theo came along. Hoo boy, I could never have imagined this expanse of love inside me before I became a parent, and of two children."

I, too, of late, have heard from folks in my previous appointment about how much they enjoy their new pastor. Of course, this is what I told them would happen, even though it was hard to see as I was leaving! God created us out of love and to love one another. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves with our capacity to love again and more and in differently.

It's a lesson I'm learning myself, even as I share it so confidently with others. I, too, wondered if I could ever have the same relationship with a new congregation as my old congregation. And the answer is both yes and no. I will never have another first appointment, and I will never have the same people in my congregation or be in the same community. So no, I can never have the same experience twice. But can my heart hold in it love for another community of faith? As I journey through Lent with my new congregation, even in the midst of struggles of many kinds, I can confidently answer, "Yes."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

General Conference; What *should* we talk about?

We've spent time around the methoblogosphere in the last couple of weeks talking about General Conference. I think many of us agree that even though we don't agree on issues around human sexuality, that we'll be sorry to see a once-in-four-years gathering of the UMC focus so much time and energy exclusively on those issues.

I received my Advance Daily Christian Advocates in the mail last week - there are hundreds and hundreds of petitions. Though certainly many surround these controversial issues, the bulk of them address the whole wide scope of church life - finances, global ministries, poverty, fighting AIDs, discipleship, ministries with young people, the candidacy process and elders orders, the episcopacy, etc.

So, what is important? What are the issues you most want to see us address at General Conference?

I'm particularly interested in:
1) The "global nature of the church" and proposals that decentralize the role of the United States in the denomination
2) Legislation concerning young people and the role of young people in the church
3) Legislation relating to the different orders of ministry and the appointment/itineracy system.

Of course, I'm also critically interested in talking about the role of the church in society, and why our denomination fails to be making disciples (in many different senses of the word), but that's hard to address in legislation, isn't it? Perhaps that's a key problem right there! As we shorten the length of General Conference by two days, I wish we could lengthen it by a week(!), so that we could not only do the legislative work that must be done, but also spend more time in conversation, more time in reflection, more time in discernment. The frenzied proposed schedule really worries me, and I fear for the integrity of our process together...

What's important to you at this General Conference?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beyond Day to Day: Visioning

Lately I've been struggling with what I expect is a typical pastoral dilemma. There are so many things I think about us doing together as a congregation long term, so many visions I have, so many things that float through my mind as possibilities for our direction together. We struggle with lots of typical issues, but we also have lots of potential for growth, discipleship, social change, etc...

But, when it comes down to it, I spend so much of my week just taking care of the 'regular business' of being a pastor. Writing a sermon. Preparing for the worship service. Leading the worship service. Meetings. Sunday School. Seasonal plans. Meetings. Statistical tables. Visitation. Meetings. District/Conference obligations. Planning baptisms, weddings, funerals. Even occasionally reading a great book about things I'd like to be doing in my congregation.

How do you move beyond the things that just have to get done every week to carve out time for thinking on a grander scheme? I relate to my brother's recent post about the plans we make with our time and what we actually end up doing, except without the cute kid to make my lack of action seem quite so valuable.

How do you make time for going beyond the day to day life of the church? Do you think it is necessary to have a 'bigger picture' plan in ministry? Maybe if what I was involved in doing day to day seemed more like really being in ministry, really responding to God's call on my life, and less, sometimes, like checking boxes of things to do that aren't essentially of critical importance, maybe then I would think living day to day was all we needed to do. After all, I'm pretty sure Jesus said something about not worrying about tomorrow so much.

On the other hand (and there is always the other hand, isn't there?) - this Lent we've been using songs from the musical The Lion King each week to talk about Jesus' journey to the cross. Up this week? "Hakuna Matata." "No worries." I find myself writing a sermon that contrasts the motto "hakuna matata" with a woman ready to receive living water. The characters in The Lion King use their claim of "no worries" to run away from responsibility. Jesus tells us in this passage, though, that true life-sustaining food is found in "do[ing] the will of [God] who sent me and [completing God's] work." Not worrying doesn't mean not doing either.

How do we find balance? How do you handle the day to day necessities of ministry (which, to clarify, can be extremely rewarding in themselves) with your hopes for the future?

*Image source:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

General Conference: Can We Stay Together?

Saturday, I had another delegation meeting for the NCNY delegation to General Conference. The UM Reporter blog has a good set of interesting articles out right now about General Conference. John over at Locusts & Honey has a conversation going about this pastoral letter from Foundry UMC. And I've got General Conference and our future as a denomination on my mind and in my heart.

At our delegation meeting, we talked about the Pre-General Conference Briefing that delegation heads attended last month. They reported back about church leaders really hoping that we can focus on ministry concerns at General Conference, specifically "four areas of focus: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; creating "new places for new generations" by starting new churches and renewing existing ones; engaging in ministry with the poor; and fighting the killer diseases of poverty such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS." I would love if General Conference and our work focused on these issues, with other matters as small aside issues. But, having been to General Conference before, I'm skeptical.

Can we stay together? Work together? Move forward from this place? That's what's on my mind. Our deep disagreements over human sexuality issues, and, at core, theological understandings, scripture authority, biblical interpretation - these divisions are killing us as a denomination. Sometimes, I think both 'sides' wish the other sides would just leave the denomination. Sometimes both 'sides' say just that. Sometimes, 'liberals' (I know, labels, labels, but for lack of better words) wish 'conservatives' would just realize that eventually our position on issues of same-sex relationships will have to change. Sometimes, conservatives wish liberals would just realize it's never going to change. Any way you look at it, I feel like we're all losers in this situation.

Is there a way beyond our division? I'm no fan of confrontational arguments on my blog as you might know, so I'm not really looking for whether you think ordination/holy unions/etc. for gay and lesbian persons is OK or not. We've all done our "drawing lines in the sand." We've all heard the arguments for and against. What I'm wondering about it: do you see any possible way we could move forward from where we seem stuck as a denomination? I guess if we could answer that question, we'd not be stuck here anymore. But I'm looking for a little inspiration. Or do you think things are just too far gone?

The United Methodist Church is such a theologically diverse denomination. That diversity is so frustrating sometimes. I can't deny I've occasionally wished for a denomination where everybody thought mostly like me! Seriously, if we had more common ground, I feel like we could spend our energy for God in such more constructive ways. But I've also been richly blessed by our theological diversity, even in my frustration. I'm not willing to give that up so easily. What do you think?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Free Concert: "Grateful"

Just a quick last minute invite for all of you New Jersey readers: we're having a free concert at Franklin Lakes UMC tomorrow night (Saturday, the 16th, at 7pm.) Richard Koons, a professional actor/musician and member of FLUMC is performing a concert titled, "Grateful," reflecting on his spiritual journey. He'll sing music that has been meaningful to him over the years - traditional hymns, contemporary praise music, and other selections. If you're in the area, think about stopping by!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Question: Communion Study


Every Lent, I lead a small study/communion service with my congregation. We meet in a small group, celebrate communion with a short study-service lesson, and then enjoy a meal of soup and bread together. This will be my first round teaching this style of study/service in my new appointment. In the past, I've focused on communion, prayer, etc., and this year again the focus will be communion. Usually, I spend one week talking about the parts of the communion liturgy, one week focusing on scripture texts related to our practice of communion, another celebrating a Wesleyan Love Feast.

If you were teaching about communion in a small group worship setting, what topics might you cover?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Greater New Jersey Bloggers

Since I now enjoy relationship with two annual conferences, in addition to my NCNY bloggers list, I'm also adding a list of bloggers from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the UMC. If you're a GNJ blogger, let me know, and I'll add you to my list. Here's who I know of so far:

Chris Heckert - Chris is a clergy member of GNJUMC, and Assistant General Secretary for the Advance at GBGM, blogs here about GBGM trips, mission stories, etc.

Joe Tiedemann - Joe pastors two churches, a long-standing church and a church-plant congregation. He blogs at Life in the Way.

Eric Helms, associate pastor at Grace UMC in Wyckoff, just started a blog, Eric's Blog.

Greg Milinovich, associate pastor at Clinton UMC blogs at agentorange (where you'll also discover that Greg's an artist - who knew?)

***updated to add:***

Pastor Blue Jeans, another Greater NJ clergyperson, blogs at Forever in Blue Jeans.

If you know of other GNJ bloggers, let me know and I'll add to my list.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Reflections: Bishop's Convocation - Part II

Okay, here’s the second part of my reflections on the Bishop’s Convocation. Our second keynote was Leonard Sweet. Sweet is a professor of Evangelism at Drew (among, of course, other things), and so I had him for class in seminary, and had his books as part of my coursework in various other classes at Drew, and, and… I say this to be up front and say I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this session because I felt that I’d already heard what he had to say. I certainly think he has some good ideas, creative ideas, and he has a way of presenting his ideas that is unique, but beyond that, I wasn’t always sure in my classroom experience that we were coming from the same place. I guess that’s ok too. Anyway, here are some of my notes, with highlights of ideas that I found more compelling.

EPIC – this is a concept Sweet’s been talking about for a long time. Worship, church life that is Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich, Connective.

We’re trained: Rational, Logical/Linear, Representational, Currency of Words instead of image. What’s your image statement? All about the individual. This culture: more hunger for facebook equals more hunger for face to face and in your face. Relationship. We have the right word: Connectional. But we connect to structure not to people.

Karaoke Culture – Performance based.

Now everybody wants to participate.

EPIC is itself value-neutral. IE, people can use EPIC for bad things.

Power-point is a Gutenberg use of image, etc.

Creator creates so the most creative place in the world should be the church.

Made less in God’s image than in God’s imagination.

Crisis of imagination.

Imagination of more as better or more as different. Better, or different?

Bigger/More as better: Spiritual gifts inventories. More as better can be good, but…

More as different. Spiritual weakness inventories. Google. Apple.

McKibbon – book, No More More, Deep Economy. More and better roosted on the same branch, you can throw one stone and hit both. Now, they are farther apart. You have to choose one – more or better.

Sweet – We should keep more, but start using the imagination of different.

IE: wii (more is different) vs. xbox (more is better)

Climbing the ladder – worst image of success invented. Climb ladder to what? Leap into unknown. Don’t climb the ladder. Just start at the top and risk from very beginning.

“Anglicans are Pentecostals in drag.” (figure that one out!)

Don’t do anything half-way.

Work is a result from being expelled from the garden. Tend – Conserve. We’re created to be gardeners. Not preserve, but continue creativity. Conceive.

“You treasure what you measure.”

Inability to confront a consumer model with a biblical model of success that’s alternative. “I consume therefore I am.” “You conceive.” Conservation is conservative and conception is liberal.

Attendance Buildings and Cash. ABCs churches are built on.

The language of the new priesthood: Everyone wants to learn doctor-language. MRI.

MRI: Missional, Relational, Incarnational

We are mostly APC: (All-Purpose-Cure for Aches-Pains-Complaints, Aspiring, Phenacitin(?), Caffeine) Attractional, Propositional, Colonial, Attendance, Physical Plant, Cash. May work short term, but it will kill you.

When missional and relational come together, incarnational is formed.

JW accused of being an enthusiast. When is the last time you were so accused?

“Every age is equidistant from eternity”

The problem is not that we don’t have the freedom to do it, the problem is that we aren’t taking it, taking risks. Sacrament of failure: “shake the dust of your feet.”

Sweet talked about not attacking the dreams of rich because doing so is attacking dreams of the poor. I know where he was going with this, but I wonder if we aren’t instead called to shape the dreams people have in a different way?

I found this particularly interesting: 75% of churches are dying or declining. 25% are growing – but 24% are growing from the alumni association of the 75%! Walmartization of American Christianity. 1% of churches, 3,300, maybe less than 2,000 even that are really growing. The 1% church. Are you reaching or recycling?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Reflections: Bishop's Convocation - Part 1

Finally, a chance to blog about the Bishop's Convocation. The theme of the event was "In the Spirit of Fellowship," and on that note, Bishop Devadhar invited my colleagues Joe Tiedemann, Chris Heckert and me to present a workshop on blogging and how blogging can be used to create/enhance/nurture community. This is the second time I've taught a workshop on blogging, and I find it an interesting experience. Particularly for older people (clergy in this case), I find there is still a bit of fear/anxiety when it comes to using the computer/internet, etc. But once you walk people through how very simple it is to read and start a blog, people become hopeful and full of ideas about what they might do, how they might connect via blogging.

I've been asked to retool my workshop to present to youth next week. Actually, I feel like most young people will know virtually everything I've presented in my other workshops. What would you say in a workshop about blogging to young people?

Monday evening we had a sort-of open dialogue time with the Bishop. (Bishop Devadhar is one of the most hospitable bishops I know. I know he reads my blog, but I can 100% tell you I'd be saying this even if he didn't. He must have stopped to chat with me 5 0r 6 times throughout the event to see how I was doing. He really goes out of his way to connect - I appreciate that!) Clergy were invited simply to comment, ask the bishop questions, bring up matters of concern. The conversation seemed to focus on the lack of young clergy in particular and young people in general in the church. The bishop said, (rightly, I think) that he believes young people are simply not finding the church relevant. (Actually, I think the bishop was quoting someone here, but you get the point.) Some young clergy in the conference shared that they didn't feel respected or equal or included in the conference. People seemed to want to show their appreciation for these voices, but I'm afraid much of the conversation continued with people referring to young clergy as if we weren't there in the room!

Tuesday, following up on the previous night's forum, the Bishop shared this thought from Brian McLaren, from a magazine - not sure which - anyone know the source?:
(paraphrasing) We are at a juncture where the changes we need are very profound. We don’t just need a few small tweaks . . . when you’re asking new questions, that’s what revolution is all about. I think we’re at a place where we need to ask a whole new set of questions . . . I think we need to face a few realities. Mainline churches realize they are using younger generations. (think answer is music, but jazzing up music won’t help if not answering real questions) Another kind of discomfort our churches will feel if they don’t address these questions. (Loss of younger generations accelerated) See the church as a religious country club – if they want to make a moral difference in the world, the church isn’t the place to do it in . . . In our mainline churches we have been so accustomed to the cold war between liberal and conservative that we haven’t imagined a new arrangement, a convergence . . ."

Our keynote speaker on Tuesday was Garlinda Burton, the General Secretary of COSROW. I thought her presentation was very powerful, heartfelt, and moving. She spoke on the theme of General Conference 2008, “A Future with Hope.” She asked, "what do we believe the future should be? There's a distinction between just having hope and putting legs on our hope."

Here are my mostly unedited notes on Garlinda's presentation:

Part I

Hope in Jesus Christ. A difference between hopes in institutions (clergy, churches) rather than hope in one who actually holds the future (Jesus). “built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” Getting a paycheck from the church is not the definition of who we are as Christians.

Speak God’s truth to power when we see power capitulate to money, sexism, racism, etc.

Risk. Risk. Risk. We’re called by God to use the power we have. To transform the church. Clergy have considerable power.

Clergy: balanced, biblically grounded, spiritually healthy, self-loving. We ordain and assign too many unbalanced, ungrounded, unhealthy, self-important and self-loathing clergy. If they aren’t out of balance when we get them, the church can sometimes smack people out of balance.

We are not meant to be in ministry in isolation.
Finding covenant group and worship setting for yourself.
A future with hope requires that clergy be equipped to supporting ministries beyond institution.

Life in Christ can’t be only in our heads or hearts – our hearts have to be changed so we can’t see hunger, etc., without feeding! Walk out of the church into places of darkness and declare that the light has come. Sermon her pastor preached titled – “It’s been nice, now get the hell out of here.” Views shaped only by those who look like us, afraid to offend our congregations.

We’re not scratching where society is itching. Our love affair with our privilege is preventing us. Avg. household income of a General Conference delegate last time around was $110,000!!!!!!!!!!!

You gotta get out there. (My note: "Get out There" is also the slogan of Royal Caribbean. Guess I still have cruising on the brain!)

By teaching/speaking recovery, repentance, reconciliation for racial/gender injustice. People of color – 25%-30% country, but only 10% umc, Less than 6% of our large membership churches led by women. People in pews – higher incomes, higher educations. UMC is climbing away from poor. Institutional racism, classism, and sexism.

“Diversity fatigue” – CEOs, one UM bishop, say they are "tired of being guilted." Patient thousands of year of racism, but not 40 years of diversity training.

You speak and act like the kingdom of God is coming today. If Jesus had suffered diversity fatigue…

Part II

Three Simple Rules – Rueben Job
(From JW) "First do no harm, do all the good you can, and stay in love with God"

$50million dollars in misconduct and related details spent this (year, quadrennium?)

Attending worship. Self-care.

If you're a clergy person, do you have a place outside your own congregation where you can/do worship regularly? I've been meaning for years to try to find someplace where I can attend worship midweek.

Strengthening healthy boundaries.

Things we must stop saying:
• We’ll take a woman or person of color as long as he or she is qualified. Assumes men/whites are automatically qualified.
• We had a woman superintendent (or etc.) and they almost split our church. We’re just afraid to have another one….Don’t hear “we had a male bishop and he was so bad and we just don’t want another.”
• Their worship is so different than ours – they like to dance and clap and they don’t want to worship with us boring white folks. If your worship is boring, no matter what color you are, you have a problem!
• Ethnic churches are not financially viable. They can’t sustain themselves and become a drain on the resources of the conference. When we invest in people they will invest in the church and not a second before.

Song: “I will not harm you with words from my mouth.”

Prophetic pastors create more God-focused congregations.

Staying in love with God.

If I am unable to demonstrate love to _______, I am a noisy gong and clanging symbol.

“Cindy has a part of Jesus’ story that I need” (poor, but also (me) conservatives)

Clergy: moving up means moving away from the poor

I'll have another post with Part 2 (Leonard Sweet) tomorrow.