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!

Social Media Evangelism

(reposted from Pastor’s Posts on HudsonUMC.org)

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We are made to be in relationships.

We know this, intuitively, about God and ourselves.  Social media can enhance our relationships and create new connections. If you feel comfortable on the web you can make church a part of your online identity.

When you use a church cover picture or share a post, tweet or video: you are extending the reach of this church:  people in the community will learn about our after school program, come to the church, or, maybe, contribute to our missions.  Your virtual activity has real-world consequences.  Why not make your online opinions and relationships a force for good?  Here are a few ways you can connect your faith and your on-line life:

Facebook

These are ways that you can help get word out about our church, engage with friends and family about issues of faith, and keep yourself abreast of the happenings and theology of our local church.  By writing a 5-star review of our church, you are helping potential church-goers to see our church in a positive way and feel more comfortable visiting for the first time. There is one more way to extend our church to the world:  When we have a special event or holiday approaching at the church, of if there is something about it that touches your spirit, download our cover photo and use it on your timeline.

Last, but not least:  When you are in the building, at worship or any church event (in or out of the building) you can check in using your mobile phone.  If you snap a great picture at church, make sure you have permission of the person (or their legal guardian) and share the picture on Facebook with our church tagged as the location.  It will help people peek into the life of our congregation and make them want to be a part of it!

Yelp

Yelp is one of the first places a person might go if they have moved to the community.  Go to our church page on yelp to see our church as others would see our church.  Know someone looking for a church?  Sure, tell them about our church, encourage them to our website, but also suggest that they look us up on yelp.

Twitter, Instagram, pinterest, and others

By following the church’s twitter feed, you will not only learn about the church but connect to events of faith, United Methodism and our larger community.  It is also a great way to connect to theologians and church leaders. By following your pastor or other church people on twitter, instagram or pinterest you get a peek into others’ life and theology.

Youtube

When you find a video that you enjoy…or that connects to your faith…you can share it with friends.  Oh, and by subscribing, yourself, to our channel you will always be alerted when a new video is uploaded.

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The Easter Vigil


Meet Dr. Jim Papandrea



Dr. Papandrea is an assistant professor of Church History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary He is also an accomplished musician and brings Church History to life as a storyteller in the classroom.  He received his BA from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, earned a certificate in Classiscal studies at the American Academy in Rome, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.  I now welcome Dr. Jim Papandrea to my blog!


Think back to some of the parables Jesus told – parables about waiting, and watching. In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, for example (Matthew, chapter 25), the wise bridesmaids were the ones who kept their lamps burning through the night, and were ready for the return of the groom. The foolish bridesmaids were the ones who fell asleep, and let their lamps go out. In parables like this one, Jesus is teaching about his own return, the so-called second coming, and encouraging all of his followers to live in readiness, and in anticipation of the time when the Groom would return to claim his bride, the Church.

This concept of watching and waiting is embodied liturgically in the vigil service. Based on the Jewish tradition that a new day begins at sundown, the first worship services for a Sunday can actually be held Saturday night. There’s something special about an evening service – coming to the close of the day, with the sky darkening to twilight – it can heighten the sense of mystery in worship. And the liturgy that is arguably the most sacred and mystical is the Easter Vigil. This is an ancient tradition in which the first celebration of Easter begins late the night before, on Holy Saturday.

But the Easter Vigil doesn’t start out with celebration. It actually begins in darkness, with a small light, that expands to many candles, including the lighting of a new paschal (Easter) candle, and finally to the brightness of Easter. An Easter Vigil can last three or four hours, beginning in the late evening on Holy Saturday, and ending around midnight. It’s long, in part because there are many Scripture readings, telling the whole story of salvation history, from creation to redemption. By the time the vigil ends, the assembly has moved from the mourning of Jesus in the tomb to the joy of resurrection (Psalm 30:11).

The Easter Vigil also includes baptisms. In the ancient rite, that still continues in some traditions, adults who wish to be baptized and join the church community have been going through a catechism class, in preparation for their initiation into the Christian life. They have been waiting, waiting until Easter, when they are “born again” in the waters of baptism. And with them, the whole congregation renews their baptismal/confirmation commitment to Christ and his Church. So the Easter Vigil is an opportunity for the Church, the bride of Christ, to renew her wedding vows to her Groom. It’s an opportunity for every believer to experience a fresh start, to turn over a new leaf (an image that goes nicely with spring!). In the ancient Church, the concept of conversion was not thought of as a one-time decision, it was seen as an ongoing process, and the yearly tradition of the Easter Vigil was everyone’s chance to be converted again, through the renewal of their baptismal vows and through the recitation of the Church’s historic creeds.

The Easter Vigil symbolizes the time of waiting. On one level, it’s the time between Friday and Sunday – when Jesus was crucified and was in the tomb, and his disciples waited for the resurrection. On another level, it’s the time between his first advent and his second coming – when we wait for his promised return. It symbolizes – and it allows us to experience – that very moment when the Church goes from mourning into joy, from darkness into light.

Whether you celebrate Easter by attending an Easter Vigil, or the traditional Sunrise Service, or the big main service with all the trumpets, don’t let this Easter go by without making a conscious effort to rededicate yourself to Christ and his Church. As you wait for him, he is waiting for you, and he wants to give you a fresh start – no matter what the past year has been like for you.

Jim Papandrea
Associate Professor of Church History, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
www.JimPapandrea.com

Photo by Scott Carnes in France
Confused about Race.
I grew up in a small town which was very insulated.  It was a predominately white town in a predominately white county.  Actually, not just predominately…overwhelmingly: the county is currently a little over 97% white and I’m guessing that figure is down from when I lived there.  I am proud to say that my parents, in that environment, tried to instill tolerance for people unlike me.  In the process of attempting to instill tolerance, I heard statements like, “There is no difference between us and black people.”

When I arrived in Carbondale at Southern Illinois University I was confronted by  evidence that proved those statements fallacious.  For instance, the suitemates assigned to share a bathroom with me and my roommate were big, black guys from the South side of Chicago who sold drugs out of their room.  These people were not the same as me and they were reinforcing every stereotype that my parents had discounted.

During that first year of college I began to experience race in a different way.  It was uncomfortable and troubling.  At times, it seemed, the things I had been taught in childhood were lies told out of ignorance.  Fortunately, these uncomfortable new truths were not the only thing forming me.

During the course of that first year, and all of my college career, actually, I also met black folk and people of many other ethnicities/cultures who were different in good exceptional ways.  I became close friends with a strong black woman who was a single mother who had come back to school to work on her PhD.  Not only was she caring for her own daughter, but she had taken in her infant nephew who did not have a stable home.  She was a hard-worker, she was dedicated to her family, she was incredibly smart and she was compassionate: I could understand those things. Another friendship that developed over time was a man, about my age, who is also, now, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  But, unlike me, he was black, from the South, from an urban area, and had sweet dreadlocks.  He was so much unlike me in several ways, yet when together we could stay up half the night, with a group of friends, talking about culture, politics, church, and theology.

These relationships were teaching me that I could experience, and, even, celebrate cultural differences and find meaningful commonalities.  It isn’t about being the same or different, it is about growing in relationship and celebrating who we are and how we are in relationship with other people.

blessings,
New Seasons of Life
Yes, I’m a church nerd, but I always look forward to the season of Easter.  I look forward to a great Easter Sunday morning at church, yes,  but, then, I enjoy reveling in the ‘afterglow’ of the next few weeks.  I spend those weeks looking for signs of new life, reflecting on the experience of the cross, and expecting resurrection, not just because of old stories found in the Bible, but I expect signs of resurrection in the world around me.  I suppose signs of new life are always present, but I get excited about the season of Easter because it helps me to pay attention to the amazing things God is doing in this world.  This year, though, Easter wasn’t the season I expected it to be.
This year, I found myself tired as I came to Easter because I was doing a mandated (by the United Methodist Church) internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center along with my full-time job.  Because of my exhaustion, I didn’t really take in Easter the way I ought to have, perhaps.  More devastating, however, was the abrupt end to our pregnancy after Carrie and I suffered a miscarriage.  A season that was supposed to draw my attention to new life became a season of loss and exhaustion.
Today, as I look toward Pentecost (this Sunday) and a new church season, I realize something, suddenly:  Even though I had a difficult season…there is hope.  I have an opportunity to let go of the troubled weeks of Eastertide and celebrate the hope of a new season in my own life.
You see, professionally, as I plan worship, I will set aside the themes and scriptures of Easter and I will prepare for a new season of different scriptures, songs, and worship themes.  I guess, in my personal life, I would do well to set aside the difficulties of these past weeks and months, in a similar way, and allow myself to focus on a new season and find hope for better weeks ahead!
For me, the hope that comes in a new season is:
  • the possibility of getting pregnant, again;
  • welcoming a new pastor to my church and fostering a new friendship;
  • renewing my own body and spirit this summer with exercise, right eating, and spiritual disciplines;
  • working on my relationship with my wife that the experience of this season would help us to deepen our relationship for the next.
As we leave the Easter season, we don’t leave behind the message of Christ or hope for the future.  Likewise, as we move from one season of life to the next we should never lose sight the experiences we have had, yet we have an opportunity to look for new life and experience resurrection.  Over these next weeks, I pray that we will continue to experience Christ’s resurrection and I pray that it will draw our attention to the resurrection all around us and help us to find renewal in our own lives!
blessings,
Making Facebook Work This Year.

I’ve been contemplating the efficacy of facebook for a church (or other organization).  I’d like to take some time this new year to reflect on what seems to work and what doesn’t.

What you see above doesn’t work.  It gives information, you’re right.  It shows what we were doing, at the time, certainly.  There is nothing wrong with sharing information and announcements on facebook, but that can’t be the totality of it…in fact i’m not convinced that facebook is even particularly good at working like a calendar or bulletin, but I think there are ways to do that…I’ll get to that in another post.   What I want to say today: facebook is meant to connect with people on a relational level.  There should seldom be a post that doesn’t share a photo, video or link to an interesting story.

But, just because you have a link or a photo doesn’t mean its good.  Some churches augment their ‘announcement feed’ with links to denominational news stories or, worse yet, stock photos**.  If that is the extent of what we do, then we are doomed.

I want to suggest that developing a successful church facebook page comes with continually developing original content.  There is no other way to do it effectively…

Photos:  Pick up a digital camera or the nearest smart phone and take photos.  Not blurry snapshots and not all of them can be from the back of the room.  Get in close to people and show happy expressions.  OH, and please, get a variety of people.

Get Permission:  It should go without saying, but please take the time to ask permission from adults to use their photos and make a permission slip for photo an video a part of your sunday school registration so that you can easily know which parents are cool with you using their children’s photos and which ones don’t.  Don’t post photos where children’s faces are clearly visible without permission (the exception, for me, is public performances where the photo or video is of a large group from a distance)!

Video:  It can be as simple as an iphone or as complicated as a professional camcorder, but there are middle-of-the-road options for most churches.  Get a digital camcorder with an external mic plug (there are some inexpensive ones).  With an adapter or two from radio shack you can plug the church microphones into your camera and have decent sound if you do an interview.  But, again, don’t just put up anything.  Just because it is video, doesn’t mean it is good.  Just panning across a crowd will cause yawns to form and people will not click your next video.  Sure, pan the crowd and get videos from behind children and adults so that you have some b-roll that you can use without faces…but get some close up videos and pull people out of the room and ask them to tell what is happening; why they chose to come; and what they like about the event / the church.  Remember, we are not reporting just WHAT happened, but who and how it makes us feel.  and then… most computers have a basic video editing program.  open it up and put together a short video.  For the most part (for shots around the church or short interviews): don’t go over 2-3 minutes, in fact, 30 seconds – 1 minute will give you the best results in my experience.

Recommendations:  There is a very under-used section on facebook pages called recommendations.  For a company it is used for customers to ‘recommend’ the company or the product they sell: “I love [restaurant]’s food because it makes me think of home,” “Everytime I walk into this [business] it makes me think of the day I got engaged.”  Companies use this section to connect.  Churches need to start asking people to think about what they love about the church and post it there.  It is called evangelism and this is a very simple yet powerful way to share our feelings about our church in a visible way.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to remove unhelpful recommendations or comments that get put there… and seek out a variety of voices for this section: get your youth and college students involved here.

Insights:  There are a million tutorials for facebook and the most accurate are right in the facebook help section…  spend some time learning about insights.  They are powerful tools that help you understand how your page is being used.  Very basically, the more that people like, share and comment about a post or recommendation…the more others are going to see your church and know that your organization is an active force in the community (that is “Reach”)

Comment, Share, and LIKE:  Talk with your church staff or leaders to set an expectation that they would spend some time on the page and encourage them to regularly like, comment and share posts.  Now, here is the thing:  discourage people from liking everything.  Why?  My friends are likely to stop paying attention if something from my church comes up on their feed 5 times a day from me, but when staff and church leaders see something that actually connects with them – they should be sharing it.  When a person sees a variety of postings from your church that many of their facebook friends are connecting with, they may actually pay attention!

Oh, and if you are the page admin, don’t be afraid to share items to other people’s timelines.  For instance, when we had a Cantata I put up a video ‘as the church’ and then shared it to the choir director’s timeline.  If it is an item that especially needs attention, “Like” it yourself or comment on it (as yourself, not the page).

Voice: I can not stress this one enough…  Use the right voice on facebook pages!  There is a blue bar at the very top of the page, if you are the admin.  It will look something like this:

For most posts for major events, youtube videos, etc. I make sure that I am posting, commenting and like as “Normal First UMC,” but the staff and I have been trying to upload some photos short video clips and comments using our own voices…  (just go to the blue bar and click to change to your own “voice”).  In the new facebook timeline they appear in a seperate section that gets less notice on the page, but they don’t have to stay there!  Go to the “recent posts by others” click on “see more” and you’ll see all the personal posts that have gone up.  Click on the X.  It doesn’t delete it (although you could) but it gives you options and one of those options is “allow on page.”  That moves the post by someone else to the main part of the page.  It gives a more personal face to the page and to the church.

Hiding:  One last thing, this season we did advent devotional.  Each day I wanted to put up the most recent devotional as a note, but, I didn’t want 31 notes clogging up the page and making it look…well…boring.  So I put up the next day’s note each evening and “hid” yesterday’s note.  The note wasn’t deleted and people could still comment on them and they were still showing up in people’s feeds, but there weren’t 31 notes in a row on the timeline by now, either.  This is critical to understand: what you see on your page timeline is not the totality of your church’s presence.  Facebook is a complicated mix of timeline, notifications, newsfeeds and ads.  Posts exist even when they are hidden from your timeline and old items can be made new, simply by having people go back and like them (or re-sharing an old photo or video).

A successful page will have annoucements (although usually in the form of “events”), sure, but will have a focus on relationship building and content that is personal (not stock photos or, too often, denomination news links).  If you’d like to see some of things I’m talking about in action, feel free to stop by www.facebook.com/normalfirst.  Our page is far from perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.  I think that the staff are making great strides in how we take our church online and aim to ‘connect’ not just inform.

I hope your new year on facebook will be fruitful for you and your church!

**Hey, we occasionally use stock photos…but I suggest there is usually something better to use, it just takes more effort.

That’s your new website?  Really?
Image found at:  http://www.webtemplatesgallery.com/

I’m in the midst of thinking about church websites.  I started, as many pastors do, by looking at what I think are “better” church websites.  What I find are a lot of sites that look the same:

  1. You have the static, old HTML format pages that are out-of-date, not relatable,  and …well… ancient.  No thanks.
  2. You have the cookie-cutter sites from E-zekiel or some other company that are obvious from a mile away, are unintuitive, have back-end management systems that are either so complicated that staff job descriptions should require programming languages or are so watered down that you can’t implement mainstream apps like google and youtube, well, enough said, No thanks.
  3. Or you have, what I’ll call, the next-wave church website.  They are much better.  They are visually stimulating and are setup for more dynamic content and they are far less expensive than they used to be.  But they still all look much like one another…  they are still trapped in this mindset of “come to us,” and they still tend to be ‘information-based’ instead of relational.
These websites have come a long way, but I feel like even the best of them are still running behind corporate websites saying, “We want to be like you.  Wait up!”
What is it we need for the church of this millennium?  What is the right answer for us?
In my blog I have already been shouting (in fact, I’m blue in the face) that we need dynamic, relational content on our sites…but I’ve, sadly, always been thinking of the existing model of church website with ‘dynamic’ content and more relational content in an existing structure.
This week I’ve been thinking that this is altogether the wrong concept.
Right now, the typical church website tends to have information about itself, some stories about upcoming events (all of this in a depressingly informational style), a calendar, a link to sermons / bulletins, and the *ALL-IMPORTANT* newsletter.  Hmmm,  Church websites, then, are taking a variety of things we already and making their proprietary website a forum for distributing them.
Why are we letting a gutenberg-based (500 year old technology) medium, for instance, dictate how we do church communications?  Why all the disjunct technologies and modes put together in such a contrived fashion???  How do we think completely out-of-the-box to redefine how our church communicates both on-line and internally?
I have a couple of thoughts, but, to be fair, I need to work on them here in Normal before I say anymore here online!  Put on your thinking caps and let’s get outside of the box.  Let’s transform church communications.
Here is to Creative and Effective Communicating!
It’s not just WHAT you do, but HOW you do it.

The difference between a foodie and a food snob can be a very fine line.  But I’m going to suggest that “foodies” enjoy gourmet food yet also, hopefully, the experience of eating and the relationships that can grow around that experience.  A food snob allows their experience of food to overshadow relationships.

A foodie will likely send back something that they don’t like…in fact, if asked “Could we improve,” or “What did you not like,” by a server:  A foodie may even offer their opinion, but tastefully, I would hope.

A food snob is more likely to ruin the dining experience for all those around them with comments, sneers and rudeness.

I observed this recently in one of the restaurants on our cruise.  A person found their meal to be less-than-satisfactory and began berating the server and making obvious comments and rudeness.  It doesn’t take an etiquette coach to see that others at the table were not enjoying their meal: not because of the food, but because of the experience.

It wasn’t that this woman returned her food or that she offered her opinion it was the way in which she did it.  It wasn’t a question of what but how.

I think an experience, like this, at a restaurant has implications for other facets of our lives.

  • It is not a question of whether we sit in church and ‘hear’ a sermon.  It is a question of experiencing God and others in worship and in fellowship.
  • It is not a question of whether or not I carry my wife’s purse or help her down a step, it is whether my action is an expression of my love for her and done joyfully.
  • It is not just that my in-laws would invite me above deck to the hot tub as an obligation, but that they are truly extending an invitation that I be a part of the family.

And for all of us:

  • It is not a matter of whether we take time to sit around a common table as a family and eat, but it is a question of whether we allow our time spent together to be a family-enriching experience or not.

I hope that as we spend time with others in our lives, whether ‘family or friend,’ ‘friend or foe,’ we would think not just about what we are doing, but about how we do it!  I pray that we would all strive for life-enriching, relationship-growing, community-renewing attitudes and experiences!

Ephesians 1:3-14 A Call to Love in Troubled Times

 

   
 As I sit at my desk, writing this blog entry; I look out the window to see beautiful clear blue skies and shriveled near dead brown grass. What a shame. The need for rain is at the forefront of most people’s minds with whom I speak. I spoke with a couple people this week who recalled the depression, others with whom I spoke recalled the drought of 1988. This is certainly a troubling summer. The anxiety which this drought is causing is only exaggerated by the uncertainty of the times in which we live. 
Normally in such times, many people have turned to God and their elders; but here we may find ourselves struggling as well. Church membership and attendance is down. At the most recent General Conference it was reported that the average United Methodist is 58 years old. Churches no longer filled with children in Sunday School are filled instead with memories and worry. As we face this fact, we are forced to recognize that the church of yesteryear is no more. We are called by God and add campaigns to “ReThink Church”….but where do we begin?

As a nation, we are grieving as we watch members of what was dubbed by Tom Brokaw “the Greatest Generation” die. These are people who remember the Great Depression, lived through World War II and worked to rebuild the nation into the country that it is today. They have guided us and our parents (or are perhaps our parents). As much as we grieve them individually as they pass, we grieve something else as well: an idea. This generation represents a link to a distant past, a different time. They stand in the American consciousness like a mighty oak: a symbol of strength, wisdom and endurance. When members who were a part of this generation in my church die, I often witness others shaking their heads, asking “What will become of us when this generation is gone”. It is the end of an era.

With all this uncertainty it is no wonder that tensions, in the church and in the nation are high. We are faced with mounting problems. Old solutions aren’t working. So we lash out like a scared and hurt animal- because that is what we are. As we look to the fall and the coming election, I confess I am filled with dread. Yes, I worry deeply about what the results of the election will be when votes are tallied, but I worry as well about the cost of the election- not the financial cost (which will be unimaginably huge) but the psychological and spiritual cost of the fighting which has already begun. 

This Sunday, many churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary will begin a study of Ephesians. As I reviewed and studied “Ephesians”, I was struck by the ways this ancient text sympathizes with and speaks to our troubled times. This letter, which most likely circulated amongst a number of churches was written after the fall of the temple in 70 AD. The destruction of the temple forced many religious communities to re-think the ways they practiced their faith, and who held religious authority. They were plunged into confusion and uncertainty. Compounding the struggle with a changing religious life was the death of a generation. At the time that this letter was written and circulated, Paul had most likely been executed. The other apostles, those followers of Jesus who walked, talked and learned with him; and who subsequently founded many of the first churches were dying. Faced with new questions and problems, the early church struggled to know where to turn. All too often they chose to turn against one another. 

Confronted with all of the frustrations of their day, the author of Ephesians opens with magnificent praise for the God of heaven and earth. We, the readers are assured that we have a God who is not removed from our problems but who instead is at work for us. Before the beginning of time, God made a plan. That plan is not broken economies, destroyed temples, failed crops or oppression. The writer explains, “This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 Common English Bible). This is a plan rooted in love and advanced through grace. God has set aside an inheritance for us. 
Inheritance is given based on who a person is not what they do, we are given this inheritance not because we have always made good choices but because we are a part of God’s creation, because we are God’s children and because we are loved. God has planned this inheritance, saving it and setting it aside for each one of us. Though it is given to us it is not ours, for it was first God’s. We, as God’s benefactors have a choice: we can squander that inheritance or we can use it to honor God by participating in God’s plan. 

The writer explains that God’s design for creation is not something simply of another, heavenly realm. God’s has plans this world, this earth. God plans to see this world reconciled with one another and with God. Because of this, as we approach this election we are called to care for all God’s people and all of the issues that effect them. We are invited to labor in love and make wise decisions based not in malice but in the love God has for each of us. I know that as we near the election, my blood will at times boil. I will be filled with indignation and anger. But as hard as it may be somedays, I am not the only inheritor of God’s love and grace. I am not the only person that God blessed, chose and adopted. Indeed all of us, rich or poor, republican or democrat, of every race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality have been blessed, chosen and adopted by God. So let us then go forth endeavoring to treat one another through our words and  actions with the respect due to a child of God.

 
A Weekend of Wonder

Contemporary Worship this week at Normal First United Methodist Church





Here is my message from this past weekend at Normal First United Methodist Church.  If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area or are ever passing through on a Sunday morning, I hope you will join us for worship.  I generally preach and lead worship at the Contemporary 11:10 am worship service in the fellowship hall, but we have 3 worship services on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to meet your needs!


Scripture 
Psalm 130

Sunday’s Message
Not exactly as preached, but you get the idea, at least…

This psalm has turned out to be timeless.  It has appealed to people throughout time:  Calvin called it a Pauline Psalm because, he said, it contained the truth of the gospels.  John Wesley heard this psalm sung earlier in the day and it prepared him for an evening on Aldersgate street when his heart would be strangely warmed.

I think this psalm is timeless because everyone can relate to these words.  Despair is a universal experience, isn’t it?

After my mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma -an ear tumor- and had brain surgery to remove it about a year ago:  I immediately realized that I had similar symptoms.  So, last July, I went to my doctor.  That was a long wait in the waiting room. They called in an audiologist, then an Ear Nose Throat Surgeon…intense and long waiting.

They wanted only to ‘rule out’ an acoustic neuroma.  So we thought we were coming to some resolution when we scheduled with BroMenn for an MRI.  It turned out that I didn’t have one of those…but they found a totally unrelated brain tumor in my cerebellum

It was four o’clock on a friday and I found out there was a mass in my brain.  That weekend our imaginations went wild.  My wife and I fell into the depths of waiting and waiting can cause despair.  That weekend was the longest wait of our lives.

I waited until January for a plan of action and to schedule surgery. I waited until February for my surgery.  After my surgery I thought I had made it through…but a spinal fluid leak brought me back to St. Louis for another operation in April.  It turned out that recovery is just another kind of waiting!

It wasn’t just a brain tumor that left me waiting during this past year.  Because my church knew they could no longer afford two pastors, I’ve known I was leaving Pontiac since last fall.  If there has been a theme for my year, it is waiting and despair.

Even once it was announced that I would be coming to First United Methodist Church, I found myself excited, but still on medical leave and still waiting.

Like so many people who have come before me, I identify with the Psalmist.  A psalmist who was in the depths and waiting… and waiting… and waiting, “more than the night watch waits for morning.”

The psalmist reminds us of the importance of faith that a new day will come.  The psalmist reminds us that no matter how far we are lost into the depths; no matter how alone we feel, no matter how much has been placed upon us…  no matter what has set us back…   hope is the greatest ally we have.  That is to say:  leaning on God, and having faith that a new morning will come is the greatest comfort we can experience.

I imagine each person here has a time when they were in the depths and waiting.  This church has been waiting and in transition these past few months and, I imagine, there is anxiety as you wait for a new pastor.

I have faith that my appointment at Normal First United Methodist Church is the new morning I have been waiting for during this long hard period ‘in the depths.’  I have faith that the people of First Church, the community of Bloomington-Normal and the campus community will bring light into my world and strengthen my faith!

And I hope, that after months of transition and months of waiting for a new associate, that I will brighten up your world, support you in your faith, and join in your disciple-making work here in this community.