A Life-Changing Experience | The Philippines

It may shock people to learn that Carrie left me…for two weeks.  She had her eye on another love…mission and traveling so she went out on mission to the Philippines and is having a great time (though I can’t wait until she gets home)!

She left on March 2, but how crazy is it that we are able to communicate moment-by-moment via texting on our cell phones?  That is, however, made difficult by the fourteen hour time difference.  There really aren’t all that many hours when we are both awake to talk, sadly.

She is really enjoying this  trip.  They are staying on the island of Leyte where there is a University.  One of the problems that the people of the Philippines face is that few women are able to get an education in agriculture and they need to feed their country, so Carrie is with a team of people who are working to build a women’s dormitory at the University.

A mission team started the dormitory 20 years go, finishing two rooms.  In a recent disaster, the roof failed and a mission team was needed to repair it: it re-ignited the dream that began two decades before.  Carrie is very excited to be part of the team that is working to take the project further (with local construction crews, too, of course).  Carrie has been loving this project and feels passionate about the need.

It’s not just construction, though. Her team also collected books and clothes, shipping them in advance of their trip.  The United Methodist Church is finding great success in the Philippines and they have many people who want to be trained as clergy, but there is little education for pastors.  They need help educating pastors, so Carrie is also part of a group providing training for licensed local pastors who have not had the benefit of a seminary education.  Carrie also surprised me the other day when she  suggested that we should plan, in the future, to go to the Philippines to teach.  How fun would that be?

It was a long journey to get to the Philippines.  Her car was making some noise so I decided that we should keep her car here so I could get it to the mechanic (and so that she wasn’t driving an unreliable vehicle, of course).  We both had Ash Wednesday services so we couldn’t go up the night before like many people on the team.  We got up early on Thursday morning so I could get her to Chicago O’Hare Airport by 9 o’clock to meet the group.  We left the house at 5:30am and I got her there at 8:45am to meet the rest of the group, but, then, I rushed back to Hudson for a 12:30pm meeting at my church.  It was a really long day for me, but that was nothing compared to poor Carrie.  She traveled continuously for 52 hours straight!!!  I can’t imagine how miserable that must have been with flights, drives, and the seemingly endless layovers at airports.

It was a crazy-long journey for her, but I think the trip, so far, has been worth it.  Based on the photos she is posting on Facebook the food has been one of the most exciting aspects of the trip for her.  Is anyone really surprised?  I, on the other hand, am not very excited about the food I am eating while she is gone.  I’m going to appreciate her culinary skills all-the-more when she returns!

PS: Check out Carrie’s Instagram and Facebook pages to see more!

 

Family Death:  Aunt Darlene

We received news on Sunday that Scott’s great-aunt Darlene died.  She was a vivacious woman.  Even at 98 years old she enlivened a room when she entered.

Here is the obituary, published in the Quincy Herald Whig January 2-4:

GOLDEN, Ill. — Darlene P. “Mema” Myers, 98, of Golden, died at 11:50 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, at Golden Good Shepherd Home in Golden. She was born Jan. 8, 1918, in Bowen, to Clarence Edmund and Bessie Enid Powell Phillips. She married Evans W. Myers on June 29, 1946, in Galesburg. He preceded her in death on March 3, 1997. Darlene was a homemaker and also had worked as a telephone operator in the old switchboard days in Bowen and later worked for the Crossland Locker in Bowen. She also was the special baby-sitter for the Rick Ramsey family. She was a 1935 graduate of Bowen High School and a charter member of the Bowen United Methodist Church, now the Living Faith United Methodist Church in Bowen. Mema enjoyed sewing quilts, reading, gardening, doing find-a-word puzzles, baking and cooking, with homemade noodles being her specialty. She loved watching harness racing at the summer fairs.

The Phillips Sisters at a family gathering in 1956.

She is survived by a daughter, Maureen Leenerts of Linn Creek, Mo.; two grandchildren, Jeffrey (Madchen) Leenerts of Tulsa, Okla., and Wendy Leenerts of Arthur; a great-granddaughter, Emma Leenerts; a brother, Lee Phillips of Coatsburg; and numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her son-in-law, Roger Leenerts; three brothers, Donald, George and Lawrence Phillips; and three sisters, Marjorie Warner, Alice Barnes and Doris Hemphill.

SERVICES: 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 6, at Living Faith United Methodist Church in Bowen with the Rev. Dr. David Bigley conducting. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery in Augusta.

VISITATION: 9:30 a.m. until the time of services Friday at the church.

MEMORIALS: Living Faith United Methodist Church or Golden Good Shepherd Home.

ARRANGEMENTS: Hamilton Funeral Home in Augusta. Condolences may be expressed online at whig.com.

Covenant

[The following is re-posted from my professional blog at www.hudsonumc.org/pastor]

Six and a half years ago I went before friends, family and God to make a sacred commitment.  That commitment was to my new wife that I would care for her and remain with her even when it was really hard.  She, amazingly, made the same commitment to me!  As I held her and thought about this commitment I was not just starry-eyed and excited (there was that, too), but I also had a feeling of anxiety.  I felt a little overwhelmed. Forever is a long time, you see.

That commitment means that even when I am angry.  Even when she has really messed up, I am not going to just give up (and vice-versa).  It means that we will work really hard to endure, even though we are both bound to break promises or make mistakes throughout our relationship.  It means that we keep going even when the ‘going gets tough.’  I think you get the idea.

On January first my church will renew our vows to God and remember our baptism during a Wesley covenant service.  It is not just the words we say to God, but recognizing that God claims us and remains committed to a relationship with us…even when we break our commitments.

So, if God commits to us even when we mess up or break our promises…why should we bother recommitting to God?

Well, it’s like a sound marriage.  The other person may forgive you for messing up, but if the marriage is going to be positive and life-giving: both people have to work hard at the relationship.

We can know that God is seeking after us.  We can know that God loves us and commits to us.  Yet, it will not be a sound relationship if we do not also commit to God, seek after God and love God in return.  Imagine a one-sided marriage, would that be pleasant for either person?

As we begin this new year, I encourage each person to think about their God who loves them and think about ways to be more faithful and committed to that God.  Not because God’s love depends upon it, but because, like a marriage, sharing that commitment will enrich your life and enrich your relationship with God.

Our Holiday Letter

This has been a year of extreme highs and terrible lows for our family.  This year began with illness and surgery.  Scott was experiencing terrible pain and the doctors misdiagnosed it.  He walked around with appendicitis for almost four weeks before a specialist rushed him into a successful surgery.  We cannot say enough about the care he received at BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington, and will remain silent in regards to another facility.

Scott’s recovery was swift and we were able to travel to Israel-Palestine in February.  In 2014 the conference graciously allowed Scott to defer his ordination trip so that we could, instead, travel as a couple on the 2016 Ordinand Trip to the Holy Land.  It was an incredible trip not just because of the sights and sounds, but also because of the many colleagues and friends who were on the trip with us.  Not only that, but Carrie’s sister decided to join the trip.  We were blessed to be part of such an incredible experience with such amazing people!

While we were on the extension trip in Ammon, Jordan we received a call from our foster care agency that they had a placement for us.  We, obviously, were not available to take the placement and we were crushed that after such a long wait we were unable to become parents.  Just days after our arrival home we received another call for a 10 year old girl to be placed with us.  We were overjoyed (and nervous)!  She moved in the next day on March 10.  “A” would stay with us for the next five months.  The situation was not what we or the agency expected and our home quickly became unsafe.  She was moved to a more appropriate placement in August.

During that summer Scott completed his second residency (set of summer classes) in the ACTS Doctor of Ministry program.  We are blessed that his church has given him extra time for continuing education and provided him with financial support that makes this possible.  He has one more assigned sermon and an integrative paper this year, one more residency and then begins his thesis writing.  He is almost there!

Carrie also worked hard this year to grow professionally.  She completed her certificate in nonprofit management from Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University) this year.  She also traveled to Chicago for the Mediation Skills Training Institute at Lombard-Mennonite Peace Center which got her interested in a Clergy Clinic process which she began in the fall.

This fall we cancelled our membership with our TaeKwonDo (Korean martial arts) Dojang (gym).  We really enjoyed Master Soo Kim and the other students at Soo Kim Martial Arts, but the times didn’t work with our schedules and the expense was great.  Instead we have gotten a membership at the Riverplex downtown.  Between exercise, healthy eating, and better sleep (and our Fitbit tracking) 2016 has been a year of increasing health for us as a family.

Despite our busy-ness we were able to get away for some days away.  In April we took “A” to Pere Marquette.  It was especially fun to see a little girl’s face light up the first time she stayed in a motel room.  We enjoyed hiking trails and seeing beautiful river scenes as well as a ferry boat ride and an afternoon at the Saint Louis Zoo.  In late April we took “A” to the Mark Twain cave and sights in Hannibal, Missouri and went down to the Berry family lake house in Saint Genevieve, Missouri in June for the twins’ birthday.  Carrie and “A” also got to spend a few days in late June in Saint Louis with family and, then, got to go to the Lincoln sites in Springfield.

In August, after “A” moved out, Carrie took a few days off to hike the Ozark trail.  Then, in September we spent two days in Chicago on a spur-of-the-moment trip.  We also dropped off our wedding rings for resizing (and added some bling to Carrie’s ring) and we enjoyed a day at Shedd’s Aquarium.

This Thanksgiving was spent with Carrie’s family, but at the home of…Carrie’s sister’s husband’s family (confusing? Not really, we’ll take them as full-on family any time)!Thanksgiving Day, itself, was wonderful overlooking downtown Saint Louis, but we also enjoyed several days visiting with Carrie’s family in Town and Country.  Christmas is expected to be with Scott’s family at his childhood home.  We are especially looking forward to seeing Scott’s sister and her husband who will be down from Wisconsin, so Christmas is looking to be just as wonderful as our recent Thanksgiving!

As we move into the holidays we reflect on a crazy year and we realize that we have received many blessings.  We look forward to Christmas celebrations at our churches and we hope that you and yours can count as many blessings in your lives as we do in ours!

Blessings & Peace,

Divided States of America

This election makes me sick.  I feel as though I have a front row seat to…finger-pointing and scapegoating.  Each candidate seems to be telling me that America’s problems are the other person’s fault and they are the answer to those problems.

I have blamed the candidates, the parties, and, even, the structure of our election process for this polarized political landscape (and there is enough blame to go around), but I’ve come to consider that the blame also rests with the citizenry.  The citizens of this nation have become incredibly entrenched in their views, overall.  Rather than civil discourse there are raised voices, hate speech, and violence.  Our politicians sometimes even get themselves into trouble if they are willing to work on a bi-partisan project or vote for a bill that doesn’t perfectly conform to their party’s platform.  From where does this entrenchment come?

Unfortunately, most people turn to television news that suits their existing worldview (yes, I’m talking about you, MSNBC & Fox News).  Instead of turning on the radio or television to have assumptions challenged: existing worldviews are reinforced.  Yet, one cannot solely blame television or, even, talk radio (although I like to try).

The advent of social media and internet news technologies allows a user to choose the news sources and information they want and much of it happens without us even knowing.  I share views with some of my Facebook friends but I am also connected with people who view the world in an opposing manner.  Though some of those opposing views pop up in my newsfeed (usually because of a heated argument in the comment section) most of the posts in my feed reflect the views of people with whom I already agree.  Facebook sees that I “like” and view posts by certain friends (that have shared points-of-view) and Facebook shows me more of what I want….

Most of our media is designed to reflect the world we want to see, rather than the complex challenging world that exists.  When a person sees the world as they want it is easy to become entrenched in a view.  As citizens of this great country we must seek out views that challenge us (and this is getting more difficult).  We cannot build relationships with people we do not understand and we cannot have a working government without understanding one another! We must work to understand the people who oppose us and have civil discourse on the issues that plague our civilization.  Here are three thoughts:

  1. Listening to opposing views will not betray one’s own beliefs, so listen to/read what other people have to say reserving judgement until you’ve heard/read it all!.
  2. Do not immediately comment or repudiate another person’s claims, especially on-line.  If the person is not standing in front of you, there is not a hurry to respond.  Taking a moment to consider another viewpoint may even help you to develop a response that is more persuasive.
  3. Remind yourself, when on-line, that each person owns their own posts and comment.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your response will undo a post. In fact, responding in anger one is likely to only deepen another’s entrenchment.  Presenting oneself in a respectful way (even if the other person is not being respectful) and looking for commonalities will further your own causes.

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A Change in Family

Our family has undergone a major change.  Our foster child has moved out of our home.  We, simply, were not able to provide the level of care which she needed.  It has been heartbreaking to watch a child struggle so much and endure such pain.  We will take a break from foster care for the next few months as we set some more careful parameters with the agency, in which we have a great deal of disappointment right now.  We believe we have much to share and we believe there are children who need our home.  Please be in prayer for us as we process this change.

Although we have experienced a traumatic few months we are still very committed to foster care and pray that others will remain hopeful, with us.  If you would like to learn more about foster care and the successes that can and do come or to learn about other ways to help children in Central Illinois, click here!

Three Weeks in Chicago

The past few weeks have been fun, challenging and rewarding.

In case you don’t already know, I traveled to Chicago for three weeks of classes as I work on my Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree.  This program is a joint program of several seminaries in the Chicago area and brings together some of the best known preachers and professors for a unique program.

This marks the beginning of my second year and, so I have friends and colleagues who greeted me (and I, them).  It is a homecoming, in a way, and I feel blessed by the people who surrounded me over the past few weeks.

It’s funny, I’ve spent a few weeks with these other preachers and, yet, I feel very close to some of these new friends of mine.  I feel as though they know my life and yet they have only known me, in-person, for the length of six weeks, collectively.

Perhaps knowing a person is not about the length of time we have known them, but the depths we have gone with them?  Is it possible for two people who have been friends for just a few months to be closer than a brother and sister who have known one another for forty years?  Yes, I think it is possible that as human beings the best relationships we will experience are about depth, not length.

I hope to find opportunities to pursue deep and meaningful relationships and I hope you will join me in this journey.

Remembering Home.

Due to a housing shortage at the seminary where my Doctoral program meets (it is an ecumenical program with several schools including Garrett-Evangelical), I couldn’t stay in Hyde Park the first week of classes. I got a room at my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical (G-ETS), and I’ve been commuting to-and-from class this first week.

I was not looking forward to the commute. Something happened, though, the moment I stepped on campus: I felt as though I was home. It is not just a building. It is not just a landmark or even a person that I know.  It is the experiences that form my memories which make G-ETS feel like home and those memories are triggered when I see the sights, smell the smells, sit in the space.

When strong memories are triggered they can transport us.  Sometimes they transport us across time, sometimes across space, and sometimes both.  Each night this week I have gone walking by the lake.  When I go for these walks I am not walking down a physical path: I am walking in a different time.

What triggers your favorite memories?

Perhaps this week you can find some of these triggers that transport you to a different time and place.

The Preacher-Moving-Season

The United Methodist Church is well-known for moving their preachers from church-to-church.  Sometimes congregations cheer and sometimes they jeer.  The same is true of pastors, of course.  Many people have asked me about this ‘strange’ practice.  First let me share about its origins before I share more about how it works and the pros and cons of this process:

In the 18th century there was this Anglican priest named John Wesley who was frustrated with the church in England.  He began an effort to revitalize it by developing small groups and inviting the whole church into both prayer and action.  Eventually the Anglican church was exasperated by him and his “methodist” followers so they shipped him to America.  He began his efforts in the new world until they, too, became exasperated with him and sent him back to England, but his effect upon the frontier of America was incredible.  Lay people began methodist societies and lay preachers would go from place to place, but the people who were part of these new Methodist societies didn’t want to then go to an Anglican church just because John Wesley said so, they wanted to be Methodists.  Methodist preachers were eventually ordained and they were sent on horseback from one society to another and new “Methodist Episcopal” Churches began popping up anywhere these “circuit riders” showed up.

Out on the western frontier, especially, the clergy would ride from church to church to preach, baptize and serve communion as they were able but in between visits it was the lay people who preached and taught in the church.  It was commonplace that a clergy person would only make it around about once a quarter.  As the church became more established clergy began to receive greater training and education.  As clergy became more educated ‘professionals’ they didn’t want to go out on horseback (at a breakneck pace) only to keel over dead at age thirty, so the bishops gave them smaller and smaller circuits until it became commonplace for clergy to be situated at a single church or churches for a year at a time. Back then, once a year the bishop would read the new appointments at Annual Conference and then all the clergy would go home with a couple of weeks to get moved!

Eventually the church realized that when clergy remained for more time it provided stability for local churches. Today, United Methodist preachers in Illinois are not very likely to be moved before they have been in an ‘appointment’ for three years, but it is also not very common for clergy to remain in a church for more than, say, 12 years.

How does it work?

The bishop can move a preacher at any time, but generally, pastors in Illinois find out where they are to go (or whether they will remain) by Annual Conference time.  Pastors can generally expect to be appointed to a local church from July 1 – June 30 of a given year, which makes July first “moving day” for many clergy across this state.  The bishop has district superintendents who are tasked with better knowing the individual churches in their districts and usually around January they begin discussing which clergy are retiring and any clergy or churches that are requesting a change.  By the way, requesting a move doesn’t mean a move is going to happen, but most bishops and superintendents take those requests very seriously (when the request has merit).

Between January and the annual meeting (annual conference), in June, the cabinet will likely meet 5-10 times for 2-3 days at a time during those months.  During each session of the cabinet they will discuss the churches where a pastor is needed and discern what pastor might best fill that position.  Once superintendents return home to their part of the state they begin meeting with churches and clergy who are affected and introduce the new pastors to their new soon-to-be churches.  This process often create a chain of changes, so it can be very complex and creative work when there are hundreds of churches and hundreds of pastors active in downstate Illinois!

There are many people who have given the bishop and cabinet flack about appointments, especially when they are thinking only of how a change affects them, but I cannot imagine how difficult it is to figure out the logistics in such a huge undertaking.  At its best, this system provides churches and pastors with ‘good fits’ that help the pastor and the church to thrive (and grow), but not every appointment works out as well as the cabinet expects.  Though, that does not mean that God wasn’t at work in the process, of course!

Why do we still do it this way?

Churches can become comfortable and, even, stale.  Sometimes change is needed to help the church gain new vitality and it is hard to see that from within the congregation.  So we have a bishop who looks at a church’s needs, solicits information and opinions, and brings wisdom.  It helps churches to not get stuck in a rut.  Moreover, who wants to tell their pastor: “Hey, everything is rolling along just fine.  We actually like you, but we’re going another direction.”  Even when the church is upset about pastoral leadership it can tear a church to pieces to fire a pastor and it can be just as destructive when a pastor decides to leave a church.  Churches that are not connectional, like us, can go years without a pastor…often feeling stuck…and pastors in those systems can go years without a job.

There is a larger issue at play, though, than just hiring, firing, and steady employment.  Sometimes when God speaks through a prophet / teacher / preacher the people are not going to like what they hear.  It happened for the ancient Hebrew people, it happened to Jesus in his hometown, and it happens regularly still today.  Just because it doesn’t feel comfortable doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be said.  If the church doesn’t hire and fire the pastor, but they are assigned by the bishop, it gives the pastor a certain ‘freedom’ in their preaching (but also when providing leadership and administration).  In the United Methodist Church the pastor has the authority to lead worship and preach with ‘freedom of the pulpit’ which has enabled United Methodist clergy, at times of great conflict, to offer prophetic wisdom and leadership when the church most needed it!

Are We Parents?

We got a call last night that Children’s Home Association, the agency through which we are licensed for foster care.  They have a child that needs to be placed with us. Unfortunately, we can’t share much on the internet or on social media, as you might imagine.

The truth is: I don’t know what to think.  There is an anxiety that is almost overwhelming.  We want to provide a loving home to a child in foster care but the idea of doing this is so much safer than the reality.  We are about to embark on a journey that is bigger than we imagined and the road ahead leaves me with a question: “Can I handle this!?”

I think we all find ourselves at some point in front of a task that seems bigger than we can handle.  It feels daunting. Luckily, with God all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26)  I am sure God will give me the strength for this!