Gang Living.

I was just with a couple of other people who have been camp counselors and I realized that I’m not the only one looking forward to summer.  I can’t wait for camp to come again!
Since I’ve been thinking about camp, it really hit me when we were visiting Quinn Chapel AME last week.  The youth that I met there were so different from the youth with whom I work each week.  They are kids that don’t likely have the opportunity to go to camp each summer.  Instead of worrying about which game system they will get for Christmas they are worried about whether their parents (if they have parents) were able to pay the heating bill.
Quinn AME is in the middle of what used to be the worst neighborhood in Chicago, but now the poor are quickly being pushed out and housing projects are being shut down  because large companies want the land for new developments.  On the outside this sounds okay, a bad neighborhood is being redeveloped, but where do the poor go as rent goes up and housing is torn down?
In Janesville, Green Bay, Marion, Murphysboro, Carbondale, and Pittsfield…in most of the places where i have lived I have not been confronted by this kind of poverty.  On mission trips it still seems like someone else’s problem once time and distance is put between you and the street.  Here it feels like it is my problem.
In the photo above, you will see some of the city housing projects.  The one at the far right (distant) is gang controlled.  The city (and community) has simply abandoned these people and when it gets too bad, they start shutting them down and selling the only housing that some people can afford because the land has become too valuable.

When did a person’s safety and welfare begin to come with a price tag?

New Church, New Ways.
It takes time to get completely integrated into a new church.  I feel fortunate that I have so quickly gotten to know folks at Cargill United Methodist Church.  Beginning to feel as though I have gotten to know people is a dangerous time, as well.  When a person is new to a group, organization, or even a one-on-one relationship, it is easy to overstep.
I may have overstepped yesterday.  Not sure yet, but being the new guy on campus it is easy to let my desire to spur change and innovation to make another person feel undervalued.  I believe that we all find times when our best intentions might hurt another person.
I believe we are called to be tactful, thoughtful and caring in all of our relationships – even when we find ourselves in conflict or difficulty.  To be thoughtful to another person does not mean that we ignore the possibility of innovation or betterment…it means that we find gentle ways to nurture our community (or friendship) toward a new ideal or a new way of doing things.
This is especially true in the church.  I have worked with pastors who tried to create new PROCEDURES or RULES for doing things, but that often causes rifts and division in the church.  Forrest Wells is the pastor in my current church and I hear him say, “as long as a ministry is true to our mission there is room for it in our church,” and “the staff and pastors must empower the people to do ministry, not try to own the ministries themselves.”  Rev. Wells is truly a nurturing person who will encourage – over time, not overnight – the congregation of Cargill UMC toward innovation and exciting new ministries.

I am very blessed to be a part of such a staff.


J-Term has been good for me.  I was having a difficult time as the Fall semester was ending and I was very worried about my grades.  I had some personal struggles, I serve on a Board of Directors which was in the process of not recommending our executive for re-election, and I was starting a new job.  There was a lot going on.  Luckily I came through in good shape.
My J-Term class (as I talked about last time) is amazing!  We worship with the Quinn Chapel AME church last Sunday, spent the day with the pastor on Monday and then worked in their food distribution ministry on Thursday and attended a special worship service for the folks off the street who come in for food.  It was very powerful and we learned SO much about the AME church and inner city ministry, not to mention the history of the black church.  We’ve had a lot of reading, but combined with the first-hand experience, we had a great class.

I am finally going to get back to my church in Janesville on Tuesday!  I can’t wait to get back up to Janesville, I’ve had such a great time getting involved with this church and I really enjoy the youth!  I’m mostly looking forward to beating Ryan on Guitar Hero next week.

Cross-Cultural Worship Experience

I’m taking a class with Dr. Ruth Duck for J-Term.  For the next two weeks we are studying African American worship and will be involved in Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city.  Quinn Chapel was the first African American church in Chicago and I can’t wait to finally get there on Sunday.
I just finished a class in United Methodist Worship with Dr. Ron Anderson and learned soooo much about United Methodist worship practices and now as we look into cultural practices in worship I am finding more questions than answers.
I suggest that everyone finds time to worship with churches of other traditions.  I have usually taken confirmation students to AME (African Methodist Episcopal) churches when we are on mission because  I especially enjoy AME worship, but this class has helped me to better understand why African American worship is so distinctive and is helping me to to better appreciate the journey of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout diaspora, slavery and oppression.

Most importantly, it is not just worship practices which are different.  With African roots and a history of slavery African Americans have had a community centered-ness that many Anglo-Americans can not begin to understand and the church has been at the center of that need for community.  I hope that everyone reading this blog will join with me in experiencing the community of support and ministry of an African American congregation during the next month, if you do not already worship in one.

God Surprises Us!

When Rev. Forrest Wells called me at the end of last summer about a possible position at Cargill UMC I politely (I hope) said, “No thanks, I am a full-time student now and I want to dedicate myself to seminary.”  I told Forrest that if they needed some help with any project, finding a youth pastor, or with a retreat I would be glad to consult, however.  Forrest called me back about two weeks later asking me if I would be willing to lead a retreat and I agreed.  Like any good employer with an opening in his organization, Forrest kept the invitation of a job open…and I continued to turn him down.
It is truly marvelous how God works in our lives.  I had a plan, but after I spent a weekend with some truly amazing youth of Cargill UMC I found myself calling Forrest to see about a job.  The church in Janesville has welcomed me and already I find myself developing relationships with the people there, especially the youth.

It seems that in this time and in this place I am called to be in ministry.  I don’t yet know what that will look like or how I will accomplish it, but I leave that to God’s capable hands.  How is it that God is calling you into ministry?  What is God asking of you in this time and in your place?

New Church, New Year.

Sorry it has been so long since I last updated my blog.  The past month has been a blur.  I don’t think I have been in any one town more than a week.  I was in Birmingham, AL taking part in a very difficult meeting during the first week of December.  I got through my finals and papers during the second week and started a new job in Janesville, WI at the same time.  I’ve been settling in at Cargill United Methodist Church but I was at home for a week from Christmas until New Year’s Eve. I just got done with a Ski Trip with my new youth group and now I’m getting ready to go back to school for January Intensives….    whew.
It has been a crazy holiday season.  I am really enjoying my job though, and even though it made for a difficult end-of-semester, I’m really glad that I took the job.  The youth are really fantastic and I’ve really begun to get-to-know them much more quickly than I expected to, being on staff half-time.

We did some videotaping of the ski trip from this past weekend.  I’ve already put up the first video of one of the Sr. High youth impersonating me.  I hope you enjoy.