Monday, July 28, 2008

First Female United Methodist Bishop in Africa Elected

Did you all notice the news that Rev. Joaquina Filipe Nhanala was elected this July as the first female United Methodist bishop in Africa? I think that's pretty exciting, although I haven't seen much about it in the blogosphere except over at Luke Wetzel's blog.

An excerpt from the news story:

Besides serving a large church in Matola, a suburb of Maputo, Nhanala has coordinated women's projects for the Mozambique church and led a World Relief HIV/AIDS program designed to mobilize churches for education and advocacy in Mozambique's three southern provinces. Nhanala and the program were featured in the 2004 Bread for the World video, "Keep the Promise on Hunger and Health."

Among those celebrating her election were members of the denomination's Missouri Annual (regional) Conference and its Mozambique Initiative ministry, which connects churches, groups and individuals in Missouri with partner United Methodist congregations and districts in Mozambique to strengthen the church there.

"We in the Missouri Conference have had a long relationship with Rev. Joaquina Nhanala, providing assistance for her to attend the clergywomen's event in California several years ago, working together in workshops around women's issues in Mozambique, and as a pastor of a covenant partner church, Matola UMC in Mozambique," said Carol Kreamer, coordinator for the Mozambique Initiative.

Nhanala is the only female United Methodist pastor in Mozambique holding a master's degree in theology, she noted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review: Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson

I finally got a chance to finish Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson while I was at jurisdictional conference last week. I had been reading Lisa's blog for a while (not even sure how I ever stumbled on it in the first place actually) and so asked for the book for Christmas. I got the book, but then it sat sadly with many other unread books for the longest time. I just wasn't in the mood to read it - I picked it up a couple of time and read the first page, and then put it down for months.

Finally, something sparked, and I read and read. I really enjoyed this book. I don't usually read fiction that I would call "Christian Fiction," but this book seems more a book about life, identity, and call, from a Christian point of view than a "Christian Fiction" book. (Maybe I just haven't read any good "Christian Fiction.")

The main character is Heather, a married woman with a wealthy physician husband and a picked-on teenage son. Heather is a spender. She buys and buys and has to have more and more. She's unsatisfied with church. She's unsatisfied with her life. She has a feeling that there must be something more, but she's terrified to change her life in any way to see if there might be something more. Eventually, though, circumstances arise that cause her to try to do something different with herself, her life, her direction, her relationship with God.

I think that this book does an excellent job of zeroing in on the conundrum of many Christians, especially middle-class or affluent Christians (people, really) living in the United States. There is a longing, deep within, a knowledge, a lure, a feeling, that we are living in such a way that misses the point entirely. And yet, we are unable to free ourselves, change our lives, take any steps to let go of the things that are tying us down to an existence that is also killing us. We have a feeling about what we should do. We just can't seem to do it. Fear doing it. Desperately try anything other than doing what we should be doing.

Of course, being a fiction novel, some of the things that happen to Heather are dramatic and over-the-top. For her, they are the events that cause her to step out of her routine and beyond to a more fulfilling relationship with God. Most of us don't experience such dramatic events. Can we step out anyway? That's the question I'm left with.

Highly recommended!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reflections: Jurisdictional Conference

Friday I returned home from a week at Jurisdictional Conference and the preceding NEJCYM (jurisdictional youth) event, the Nor'Easter. I've been seriously bad at blogging - seem to have lost my rhythm! But I'm hoping to be more consistent for the rest of the summer. Some highlights:

Nominations - Nominations to General Boards and Agencies and to Jurisdictional teams (Tables in the NEJ) happen at Jurisdictional Conference. I had the honor of being one of four nominating committee members from my episcopal area, a task I had also done as a lay delegate in 2000. The process can be extremely confusing, sometimes very fast, sometimes very slow. It operates almost like a sports draft. We draw numbers to determine picking order, and then take turns assigning people to agencies with available slots. Some agencies have bigger boards than others, and some spots (like Connectional Table) are highly coveted. When we get through everything, we have to look at our work and see if we were inclusive - is there a balance of men and women? Clergy and lay? Are all the nominees white, or are we racially diverse? Are their young people on the boards? Then some 'trades' happen to balance things more carefully. Areas make changes and compromises. I think we did a decent, though not perfect job. My real area of disappointment is that not a singe youth (age 12-17) was placed on a board from the whole jurisdiction! I raised this concern twice, but no one was willing to give up a spot an adult was nominated to to give youth a voice. We did have eight young adults (including two stellar young adults, Kurt Karandy and Stephanie Deckard, from my Annual Conference) nominated, out of 100+ available spots.

Worship - I enjoyed worship. Mark Miller and his crew, who led worship at General Conference, provided music for us. Fabulous as always. What I love about Mark's music is his ability to go from an upbeat contemporary, gospel, or global praise tune that he's half making up on the spot, to a pulling-out-all-the-stops organ prelude and fugue, which he has memorized of course, without even seeming remotely fazed. Safiyah Fosua was the primary preacher, and she was also excellent. A real highlight was a sermon by retired Bishop Roy Sano. You can read the text here, if you scroll down to page six. The theme, Extreme Church, Extreme Expectations, was not a theme that really resonated with me, but we made do ;)

Elections/Interviews with Episcopal Candidates - We had a full day of interviews with our candidates - 13 of them in all. It made for a very long day. I wonder how much the time of day affected how I felt about a candidate. The afternoon candidates were the hardest. Post-lunch is just such a hard time to pay attention! Every small group asked every bishop two questions: "When you retire as bishop, for what do you want to be remembered?" and "What moves you to tears? Laughter?" By the end of the day, the candidates were clearly tired of these questions! We also asked many others - about making disciples, connecting with young people, leadership in merging conferences, favorite bible characters and verses, a really full candidate. The difficulty was in electing only one new bishop - several candidates seemed equally strong to me, and I had a hard time really 'ranking' my preferences. Ultimately, though, Bishop Peggy Johnson was elected relatively quickly. In Greater New Jersey, Bishop Devadhar remains for another quadrennium. In my conference of membership, NCNY, Bishop Marcus Matthews, now in the Philadelphia area, will come to replace retiring Bishop Violet Fisher.

Boundaries - Significantly, we voted at NEJ to approve the 2010 merger of Troy, Wyoming, Western New York, and North Central New York annual conferences. Our four conferences have been working hard to prepare for this vote to come to the NEJ for many years now, and it was gratifying to finally have this decision made official. What was even more exciting is that we spent virtually no time debating the proposition. It wasn't that people were avoiding the discussion, at least to my perception, but that there was a sense of trust in the process we'd worked with, a sense of moving of the Spirit, and, hopefully for many, an excitement about this new venture. We don't know yet how all the details will work out, but we're ready to move to the next step.

Youth Work - Preceding the conference was the Jurisdictional Youth Event, the Nor'Easter. We spent a day at Hershey Park, and three days worshiping, workshopping, and business-meeting. During a discernment process for sending folks to work with the Division on Ministries with Young People, some interesting conversations took place around race, age, and gender, and how these issues should or shouldn't figure into who we send. Do you think sexism is an issue that young people have to worry about/confront/experience less today than in previous generations? The Jurisdictional Youth encompasses a lot of young people with a wide variety of theological perspectives, of course, and it was certainly interesting to watch how different young people express their faith and deal with differences in points of view.

Did any of you attend your jurisdictional conferences? What were highlights for you?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Life Sometimes

Earlier this month, my Great Uncle Bob fell and broke his hip. He'd been in a nursing home in Central New York for a few years, struggling with debilitating Parkinson's disease. He wasn't expected to survive surgery to repair the hip, but he did. Then, just earlier this week, his wife, who had been living in Texas with her daughter who was caring for her, my Great Aunt Betty, fell and broke her hip. Yesterday, somewhat unexpectedly, she died from complications from the fall. Then today, my Uncle Bob died. They had been, due to circumstances, living halfway across the country from each other for the last few years. But somehow, they were quite bound together, it seems, in the strange way that life presents for us sometimes. Two broken hips, one day apart.

I wasn't as close to Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob as I was when I was younger, but they certainly were important people in my life. My Uncle Bob was a United Methodist licensed local pastor. He baptized me in September 1979. (That's my mom with the 'fro holding me at my baptism in the bottom picture.) When my grandfather took ill when I was in high school, my Uncle Bob also tried very hard to stand in for him a bit. The newspaper picture is from an essay contest I won third place in, a scholarship from the Masons. My grandfather was a Grandmaster Mason (I think I have the term right), and my Uncle was a Grand Chaplain. He took great pride in stepping in for my grandfather.

In my ordination stole, which my mother had specially made for me with pieces of stoles of others in my journey of ministry, is a piece of one of his stoles.

The top picture is of my Aunt Bet - having fun dressing up as a Harley Biker for a day, a kind of fun humor I didn't always get to see a lot of from her. She and my Uncle Bob were snowbirds, living a great deal in Florida, and I remember them coming up to the summer garage sales in my hometown in July, with their "flea market" merchandise to sell, which I was totally fascinated by - lipstick that changed color when you put it on! Fancy jewelry!

I'm thinking of them today, and mostly, of just how life works the way it does. Please keep my family, especially my grandmother and her siblings, in your prayers.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Endorsed Candidates for the Episcopacy

In a few days, I will be heading to Harrisburg, PA for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. UM Portal recently published a list of candidates endorsed for the episcopacy. Electing bishops is one of the primary tasks of the jurisdictional gathering. In our jurisdiction, I believe we are electing just one bishop this time around. Other jurisdictions have many more elections, and the process can be quite lengthy.

A few observations about the list of candidates:

The North Central Jurisdiction has two female candidates, and the Southeastern and South Central Jurisdictions each have just one female candidate. The jurisdictions also seem to vary in their degree of racial/ethnic diversity among candidates as well.

Candidates in NCJ and SEJ all (almost) have their own websites! Candidates seem to list several endorsements on their pages from many individual endorsers, in addition to listing biographical/resume information.

(In the NEJ, campaigning for the episcopacy is against the rules. I wonder if a website would count as campaigning? Of course, campaigning can take place in some indirect, discreet ways, but generally is frowned upon.)

What are your thoughts, if any, about these candidates? What are you looking for in a bishop?