At Home Already

It has been a short time since we moved into our new home in Abingdon and already I step over toys and wonder what neighbors must think of the toys in the yard and dogs barking. We have moved in. Not just into a house, but, because of this remarkable congregation and community, it feels like our home!

Carrie, Henry and I love to go on walks and, already, when we are out walking we are always running into people we know and Henry already just loves some of his new friends. People can see us coming because the stroller is often empty, seeming to move itself with a little boy who wants to push it himself. ūüôā We were nervous about moving to such a small town but this is going to be a fabulous place to raise Henry and any other children we have along the way! We look forward to ministry here!

A Time of Transition

Three years ago we bought a home in Peoria and began new ministries: Carrie in Peoria and Scott in Hudson.  We were welcomed into those congregations and we have loved them, both.  It is with deeply conflicted emotions, therefore, that we share some news with our congregations, communities, family, and friends.

Bishop Frank Beard has prayerfully discerned that we will both be reappointed to new churches beginning July 1, 2017.  We will move to Collinsville, Illinois where Scott will serve as the pastor at First United Methodist Church and Carrie will be leading The Journey, a new church start of Belleville Union United Methodist Church.  She will be the associate pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Belleville primarily to be the pastor of the Journey in Freeburg.

We will be pleased¬†to be so near to¬†Carrie’s family in Saint Louis and we¬†are fortunate to¬†be a bit closer to Scott’s family in Pittsfield, but we have never been far from family and the drive has always been worth it…to do great ministry with amazing¬†people. ¬†Other the past seven years we have been in loving congregations doing vital ministry wherever¬†the bishop has sent us.

Our hearts will break to say goodbye to our congregations in June.  We must pack our home and move to a new community and, certainly, we leave things behind: our hearts, prayers, and the fruits of labor (born of us and our current churches).  Though, we will also take some things with us: We take the love of our congregations, the lessons learned, and the experiences gained.  Most importantly, though, we take cherished memories and Christ-filled hearts

We mourn our losses and treasure our past experiences, but we also look forward to the ministry that lies ahead.  We know that wonderful people and experiences await us in Collinsville and Freeburg/Belleville.

Why do United Methodist pastors move?

We realize that lots of questions arise when news of pastoral moves come up.  First of all, whether you are in one of our churches or any other United Methodist Church, feel free to sit down with your pastor to learn more about why we do this and the benefits of our system.  In the meantime, click here to learn more about where this strange practice comes from and how it works.

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.

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!

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 ‚ÄúReThink Church‚ÄĚ….but where do we begin?

As a nation, we are grieving as we watch members of what was dubbed by Tom Brokaw ‚Äúthe Greatest Generation‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúWhat will become of us when this generation is gone‚ÄĚ. 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 ‚ÄúEphesians‚ÄĚ, 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, ‚ÄúThis 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.‚ÄĚ (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.