Gene Larson is a lay person and the Chairperson of the Worship Committee at First United Methodist Church in Normal, IL. I have found him to be a very capable in engaging both theology and Bible. He graduated from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) and found his way to the Bloomington-Normal area where we worked for State Farm. My first meeting of Gene was with his dogs. He is a dog lover and is as dedicated to his canines as they are to him!
I welcome Gene back to my blog and invite you to read another perspective on Resurrection and New Life.
The Gospel of Mark contains my favorite Easter story. Why, you may wonder? Simply put it contains two words that I relate to. Before I tell what they are, it is helpful to understand just what Mark’s gospel is. Most Bible scholars believe that it is, if not the actual dictation of the apostle Peter, it is very closely based on his testimony. It is brief, it gets right to the point. It is not flowery or verbose. Simply, it reads like something written very quickly, with a deadline; just the facts; just the salient points.
I have always liked Peter. We’re a lot alike. We’re both impetuous, often acting without enough thought. We’re often in trouble with those we’d rather please than offend. But, Peter’s heart, hopefully mine also, is in the right place most of the time.
On the first Easter morning, I’d bet that Peter was more beside himself with more than grief, he blaming himself for failing Jesus in His hour of need. He’d tried to do something in the garden, but Jesus had stopped him. Now he shudders to think of what he did in the courtyard outside the house where Jesus’ captors had taken him. It was a tough time for him and I’m convinced that he was planning how to best leave the disciples and slink away. Jesus was gone and there was no way to make meaningful amends to Him.
Then, those two words lifted Peter out of the hell he had created for himself. The angel outside the tomb said to Mary, “…go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
The words, “…and Peter” said so much to him that he knew he was still part of the grand plan. He was forgiven the impetuousness, the failures, and the cowardice which he had convicted himself of. Well, I suffer from those same faults as Peter and many more to boot. If Jesus can invite Peter to Galilee, I have faith that he can invite me too. There is still much to learn and Jesus wasn’t easy on Peter on the lakeshore. I don’t expect him to be easy on me either. Jesus asked Peter three times (once for each denial?) if he loved him. And, his threefold instruction to Peter after each question was the same—take care of the flock.
We are the hands, feet, voices, and hearts of God on earth right now. Jesus empowers us by his resurrection to be followers of his teachings and doers of his Father’s will. Jesus said to Mary, “…and Peter.” The power of the resurrection is released to each of us when we realize Jesus says, “…and [our name] to each and every one of us.
This song has been in my head most of the afternoon. Not sure why this song popped in my head on this day…but, then, as I looked out my office window I began to think about the emptiness of our campus. With classes out and students on break, it is eerily quiet in the student center, on the quad and even around town.
I have occasionally heard ‘townies’ (as we used to call them when I was in school and I guess that includes me, now) complain about the students. I have experienced some of those frustrations, too, for sure. There were times during move-in and move-out weekends that I sighed with disgust as I navigated traffic. My wife and I, while living in Pontiac, once made the mistake of going to Station 220 on a parent’s weekend and found ourselves crammed into a noisy dining room. And, yes, I have felt disdain when I find nowhere to park or students walking on a street or through a parking lot in a way that leaves it impassable.
Yet, the experience of being on campus is predominately a good experience, for me. Walking across the quad takes me back to my own days of going to class (or not going, as the case might have been). When I go to lunch at the Bone Student Center and see the students and feel the energy of the place, it energizes me. When I meet with students over in the Campus Café at Heartland I am amazed by the depth of community that exists there. Most importantly, being on these campuses makes me feel younger than I really am.
I suspect that having a major University and Community College has had a profound affect on this community in ways we will never even know. I think, though, it keeps us young and vital (and thinking) in ways we wouldn’t be otherwise. First United Methodist Church, I am very sure, is affected. Perhaps we are affected, because of our proximity, even more than most of the surrounding community. For this pastor, I am most impressed by the possibilities that exist here on campus in communications, programs, and worship: for which most United Methodist Churches would be envious.
I am thrilled to live in Normal, to be in a community with Heartland, Illinois State, and nearby to Illinois Wesleyan (in Bloomington). I think that the students and faculty (and wider community) have enriched me already and I look forward to the ministry to come! So, today, as I look outside my window and listen to a Peter, Paul and Mary song playing on a loop in my head, I wonder with longing, “where have all the students gone?”
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.
Meet Rev. Dr. Mark Fowler
I have often thought of Pentecost and the activity of the Holy Spirit as wind and fire, of the birth of the church with thousands of folks swept up in the witness of Peter (although I have been amazed that the church does not utilize the scripture from Joel that Peter used in this “birth” sermon of the church, hmmm!) It is a dynamic and dramatic experience that is reported at Pentecost.
In an age when we are drawn to the “big show”, the dramatic increase in numbers, the pyrotechnic displays and the moment-by-moment sensory overload so central to our consumer culture, the Pentecost story could be easily exemplified as a reasonable expectation. Shouldn’t the people of God, using God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, use the craft and expect the results of Pentecost to draw the world?
In a time when the traditional church is in traumatic dislocation, loss of privilege, bereft of its traditional social influence and seemingly in disarray. At the recent United Methodist General Conference, proposals for changing ecclesiastical structures are left on the table, traditional covenants of ministry are tossed aside for a more effective way in which “only the temporally effective pastors are allowed to stay on the bus” (without a similar capacity for assessment being placed on the unassailable Episcopal office) and a casual vote declares a rather sizable number of delegates have put a restraint on the prevenient nature of the grace of God, a distinctive principal of the Methodist movement and a hallmark of its proclamation and effective evangelism. And, we all will move forward to try to capture lightening and wind in a bottle as an assurance of the future survival of the denominations.
For me this year, Pentecost has been preceded by a delightful bit of weather in Chicago. It has drawn me to the lakeside to sit and relax, reflect on the future. I have felt close to the experience of the disciples prior to the amazing events on Pentecost that gave birth to the church, a ten day retreat in the upper room. My mind flew to John Wesley prior to the Aldersgate Street experience that renovated his soul and was the source of the regeneration of the church through the birth of the Methodist movement. It came to clear memory that in a difficult turning point in my own ministry, that it was preceded by a time of wilderness in the desert southwest where I experienced the disorienting reality of my own life in the vast and unfamiliar landmarked desert.
In this anxious time for the church, we cannot fancy ourselves capable of doing the work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of the church. Nor do we exactly know what form it will take or what methods of evangelism and discipleship will be most effective to be embraced in the mission dei toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the creation and the beloved. We must discipline ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s presence and work among us and in the creation. We must Sabbath intently and yearn for God and trusting the promise that “in these last days, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh…and the daughters and sons will prophesy and the old will dream.” And, the dreams and visions will be of a world re-born and the loving purpose of creation will be fulfilled in our experience!
The United Methodist Church has become, like seemingly everything else, an overweight, super-sized monstrosity. It has become both victim and perpetrator of the falsehood that bigger-is-better. The bureaucracy and, even, the local churches have lost connection with a quickly changing America because we are fat and living in the past. Now, I know I will receive criticism for not calling it a ‘global’ church, but the United Methodist agencies physically have their offices in the United States and General Conference, in 2008 and since, has chosen to not take it’s global nature seriously, so how can I? Also, I am located in the United Staes so I can only speak for the portion of the Church I see in action. I cannot speak for the European, African, or Asian Churches, for instance. So I will speak of the US UMC.
In most ‘regions’ of the US United Methodist Church, the largest amount of waste and disconnect in the church is our historical Annual Conference Systems, offices, and staffs, but that is a topic for another day. Today I want to address the challenges facing General Conference which is raging right this moment. For those of you who don’t know, General Conference, in short, is a global legislative conference of the United Methodist Church which sets polity and direction of the church and it’s many boards and agencies.
The most controversial proposals before that body this week (and next) are concerned with restructuring and ‘streamlining’ the church. The words I like to use is that the United Methodist Church must become more nimble if it is to begin responding to a new culture,a new way of life in the World, and being a global church, which is a necessity! Yet, groups, especially agency staff (surprise) and many of the young people of general conference seem to be concerned that there will not be fair representation if we shrink the structure. (I’m sure there are others, again, I can only attest to the tweets, blogs and voices I have seen and heard…)
At first, when a very small board was proposed, that might have been a serious concern, but now that the authors of the “Call To Action” have accepted the need for larger board(s), this is no longer a real concern, if you ask me. The concern is more likely for people who have been serving as board members, like me, or staff members, who fear that there will not be room for them in the new system. We have to put aside these worries.
I chose not to put my name in for a general board or agency during this next quadrennium. I have plenty to do trying to make my local church more vital. I suggest that others, including General Conference delegates do the same. We all need to show a willingness to ‘give up our own seat’ before we can talk authentically about the needs of the church and the good of this church that we all love.
And perhaps it is time to let go of a jurisdictional pool system that has given such limited leadership (and helped certain people hold on to positions for so long), but, again, that is another topic for another blog. Hey, Jurisdictional and Annual Conferences are coming. I have to save some topics for those weeks!
*top image found at: image found at: http://www.efr.org/workplace-classic/eap/providers
Fat Tuesday is not a tradition with which I was very familiar growing up. In fact, as far as I can remember, the whole Lent thing was really played down when I was growing up. Since hitting adulthood, though, it seems I have always landed myself in a church where Fat Tuesday is a big occasion. Here in Pontiac the Pancakes and Sausages start flying onto the plates around 11am and will continue until 7pm or later. The tickets raise money for the ministries of the church and will fund everything from children’s ministry to worship; but money-making isn’t really what’s at the heart of Pancakes and Sausages on Shrove Tuesday. At the heart of Pontiac First United Methodist Church’s obsession with that “day of shame” is community. The men of the church, no matter whether they carefully grumble a bit or not, really enjoy getting together and making those hot, sweet pancakes and frying up sausages.
When we look around the church today we must be thankful for the women of the church because they are ever-present and, in many ways, they are the cement that holds the place together. Us men could not do all that the women do each week to make ministry happen. Maybe I’m being sexist, but I’m pretty well convinced that we’re just not up to the task. I think about the missions of the United Methodist Women, the worship leaders who are nearly all women, not to mention all the women who are involved in our afterschool tutoring and confirmation program.
In a way us men have let ourselves down. By backing out of the church more than we ever should have, we have lost our community. We need an outlet that speaks to our hearts, and, in this case, fills our bellies. That’s why I think we, United Methodist Men, like sausage and pancake day. Yup, for a full day we get to hang out with each other. For a full day our wives and children will not pester us about too much grease or too much red meat…or too much salt. Why? Because for at least one day of the year we are all together raising money for the church and enjoying ourselves at church. No woman is crazy enough to mess with that system.
For me, the question is whether pancakes and sausage are enough. I mean, it’s great that we have this day and this solidarity, but it doesn’t seem as though Christ is calling us together as men of the church just so that we can feed people unhealthy food and cause a mass-genocide of swine 🙂 There must be a greatness that we are being called toward. This community of men who have been doing this project for 25+ years (some of them) are surely being called to something more than pancakes.
Jesus fed people whenever he could and enjoyed doing it. I always say that’s a great place to start! But Jesus didn’t just feed people physically (and never poorly). Jesus fed people spiritually, physically, emotionally, and, even, educationally.
I think that the men of this church have started something good. I think we could keep doing it the same way for another 25 years and it will be good. But I would like to believe that we are called to greatnesss. Men of the church: Let’s look around at Pancake Day. What feeds us and how to we shape our excitement and interests into a ministry that does more than physical feeding. How do we create new ministries that are life-changing here at Pontiac First United Methodist Church.
1 Naaman, a general for the king of Aram, was a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. This man was a mighty warrior, but he had a skin disease. 2Now Aramean raiding parties had gone out and captured a young girl from the land of Israel. She served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could come before the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his skin disease.” 4 So Naaman went and told his master what the young girl from the land of Israel had said.
5 Then Aram’s king said, “Go ahead. I will send a letter to Israel’s king.”
So Naaman left. He took along ten kikkars of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 He brought the letter to Israel’s king. It read, “Along with this letter I’m sending you my servant Naaman so you can cure him of his skin disease.”
7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he ripped his clothes. He said, “What? Am I God to hand out death and life? But this king writes me, asking me to cure someone of his skin disease! You must realize that he wants to start a fight with me.”
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that Israel’s king had ripped his clothes, he sent word to the king: “Why did you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
9 Naaman arrived with his horses and chariots. He stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent out a messenger who said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.”
11 But Naaman went away in anger. He said, “I thought for sure that he’d come out, stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the bad spot, and cure the skin disease. 12 Aren’t the rivers in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all Israel’s waters? Couldn’t I wash in them and get clean?” So he turned away and proceeded to leave in anger.
13 Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.’” 14 So Naaman went down and bathed in the Jordan seven times, just as the man of God had said. His skin was restored like that of a young boy, and he became clean.
Before my new Video Bible Study goes live tomorrow afternoon, I thought I’d give you all a little bit of a head-start on 2 Kings. Sorry I drone on a bit. Next time I’ll try to be better. Remember, this is my first try at on-line Bible Teaching. In the meantime, I hope you learn a little something about this fascinating book of the Bible.