Being A Pastor in a 5-4 World by Rev. Travis Garner

With permission, I offer you this pastoral word:

Unless you’ve not being paying attention to anything going on in the world, you know that this week was a landmark week in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban marriage between same-sex couples. In many ways, the way the decision was reached and the response on social media are more indicative of the current state of our culture than the decision itself. It was a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, and the justices were very divided in their writings on the decision. If you’ve been reading social media (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen incredibly divided responses as well. I have good friends, people of faith, who fall across the spectrum on their response to this ruling.

The question I’m pondering this morning as I prepare to head to church is this: How do you pastor a congregation in a 5-4 world?

The fact of the matter is that we are a divided nation, a divided people. In today’s culture, every possible division between people is emphasized and expanded and exaggerated and exploited. Everything is turned into an “either/or” scenario. Either you agree with me, or you’re a bigot. Either you agree with me, or you’re completely immoral.

This week, there are people who, in the midst of their story and their struggle are celebrating equality. But this week, there are also people who disagree, people who have a different story and a different experience. The reality is that there are not “two sides” on this issue. There’s not a singular gay experience or a singular straight experience. Each of us has a different story, unique experiences, particular struggles, and when we make anything a simple “either/or,” we greatly miss the mark. When we proclaim from our soapboxes that you’re either in favor of this decision or you’re a hateful bigot, we’re being shortsighted. When we say you’re either against this decision or you’re championing immorality, we’re failing to understand the complex reality in which we find ourselves.

What I’m feeling this morning as I prepare to head to worship in such a divided time and cultural landscape, is a deep sense of gratefulness that I believe in a God who loves all people. I’m thankful to be part of a church that has an open table: all people are invited to sit at God’s table. Which means, by the way, that people with whom I strongly disagree are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. People who are and have been hurtful to me are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. After all, Jesus died for bigots. Jesus died for the immoral. Jesus died for all of us.

Every single one of us in the family of God are a mix of saint and sinner, of struggle and victory, of lost and found. None of us, singularly, have it all figured out. We need each other, the people who think and act like us, but maybe even more particularly the people who are different from us. For it is in our difference and diversity that the body of Christ finds its true strength.

As a pastor, I’m a pastor to both the 5 and to the 4. I’m a pastor to people who sharply disagree with one another. And the bottom line is this: all are welcomed in my church and loved unconditionally by God. And all are asked and enabled to become more than what they are when they walked in the door – a person who is continually growing and transforming into the likeness of Christ. I am grateful that this morning, at my church, there will be space for everyone; all are invited.

From Ephesians 4: May we all be rooted and established in love, completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Remembering that there is one body and one Spirit, and one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
*Travis Garner is a Church Planter in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church 


Supreme Court Ruling

As you know, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in a 5-4 ruling that states cannot ban same gender marriage. Gay and lesbian couples across the country have a constitutional right to marry. This significant change in our civil law impacts each of us as we also live within the polity and discipline of the United Methodist Church.

As we seek to be in ministry with all persons, this law does not change what is and what is not allowed by United Methodist pastors and congregations. In a marriage ceremony of same gender persons, pastors may not lead the declaration of intent, lead the exchange of wedding vows and ring vows, or sign marriage certificates. Our church law does not prohibit offering a prayer or a homily in such a ceremony.

As your pastoral leader, I pray for the United Methodist Church in this season. I pray that we will lead with deep respect for each other. This is not a time to draw lines in the sand but rather a time to come together in prayer for one another and for all those with whom God calls us to be in ministry.

Together, let us pray:

Grant us, O God, in challenges of this present age, the grace to live with one another in the midst of a changing world. Lead us, O Lord, to live more fully in you that we may see your face in the faces of our sisters and brothers. Guide your Church to be faithful as we seek to embody your love, your hope, and your justice.

As citizens of this great nation, surround us with understanding in the midst of changes we do not always understand. As civil laws change, surround us with your wisdom that is greater than ours. Teach us to glorify you in all that we do.

 May we continually seek to be centered in your will.

In the midst of our diversity as the United Methodist Church, grant us the will to live in unity.  

Above all, teach us to walk humbly with one another and allow us to live with one another with grace and mercy as Christ has taught us to do.

Bishop William T. McAlilly


Call to Prayer for Our Sisters and Brothers

We, the people of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church, are shocked and saddened at the violent acts perpetrated upon our brothers and sisters at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. While any form of violence against any person or people for any reason is unacceptable, we are further grieved that racial prejudice appears to be the motivation for the attack. Our Social Principles state that “racism plagues and cripples our growth in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself” (Book of Discipline, paragraph 162).

We are told in scripture that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and that in the fully realized state of humanity made known to us in Jesus Christ, all of the categories we use to divide ourselves, including race, gender, and socio-economic status all fall away, and we become one as God intended (Galatians 3:28).

 We urge all people to pray for the nine victims of this shooting and their families, for the people of Emmanuel AME Church, for the shooter and his family, and for the Charleston community. We renew our commitment to stand against the evils of racism and prejudice in all forms. We look forward to the day that violence, hatred, and death will be no more when God’s Kingdom is fully realized on earth.

 Signed,

 Bishop William T. McAlilly, Nashville Episcopal Area

 Rev. Stephen Handy Chair, African American Church Strategic Team

 Dr. Beverly  B. Madron, Chair, Tennessee Conference Commission on Religion and Race

 Rev. Matthew L. Kelley, Chair, Conference Committee on Church and Society


Tragedy in Charleston

Response to Charleston

                                                      SEJ College of Bishops

 

In response to the murders of the pastor and eight others during a prayer meeting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015, the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops of the United Methodist Church offers the following response:

 

 

“The College of Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church stands with our Methodist family at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, with our brother Bishop Richard Franklin Norris of the Seventh Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and with our colleague Bishop Jonathan Holston, of the South Carolina Conference.

 

We condemn this act of violence in the house of the Lord.  We commit ourselves anew to the work of reconciliation in the midst of hatred.  And we lift high the cross of Jesus Christ, as God’s witness to the violence and division that is our human condition.

Please join us in acts of prayer, compassion and justice on behalf of our Pan-Methodist sisters and brothers.”

We also commend the Statement on Racism offered at the Council of Bishops in Berlin, Germany, May 7, 2015. 


A Pastoral Letter about health care to the People of The United Methodist Church – Nashville Area

episcopallogoSisters and Brothers:

Grace to you from Jesus Christ, who calls his Church to care for “even the least of these.” One of the ways we participate in that possibility is to create personal, environmental and social conditions in which each individual can receive good health care. In the Gospel of John 10:10b Jesus says, “I came so that they could have life – indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” It is our deep desire that all persons across Tennessee might have the possibility of living the abundant life.

The Social Principles of our church remind us of this truth in its statement on the Right to Health Care. “Health is a condition of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted.” [Para. 162(v), 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church]

In caring for our neighbors and allowing more of our fellow citizens to have access to good healthcare, I urge your prayerful support for Insure Tennessee, an initiative that Governor Bill Haslam has recommended to the State Legislature. Its passage will allow 200,000 more Tennesseans to have adequate health coverage. The program will be open to Tennesseans earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $16,000 in annual income for an individual or $33,000 for a family of four).

A special called session of the Tennessee Legislature will be convened on February 2nd to consider the Insure Tennessee plan. I encourage you to do the following four things prior to that date.

1) Become fully informed and educated about the benefits of the Insure Tennessee Plan.

A good website to consult is www.insuretennesseenow.com.

2) Personally contact your Tennessee legislators and give voice to your opinions. Letters, emails and phone calls can all be effective. If you need contact information for a senator or representative, it is available at www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators (Find My Legislator section on right side).

3) Share this letter with friends, family members and neighbors as a part of your witness of care for fellow citizens who need better health coverage. Click here for a PDF copy.

4) Pray for our legislators that they might seek God’s will as a part of their own discernment process.

The New Testament teachings of Jesus remind us over and over again of his ministry of healing and wholeness. I encourage you to respond promptly and faithfully to this opportunity to join him in this mission.

I invite you to share this with your congregation this Sunday. Click here for a PDF copy.

Expecting Greater Things,

Bishop William T. McAlilly

Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church

(Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky)


We are 30% of the way to $1 million goal for ‘Imagine No Malaria’

Imagine-No-Malaria-logoThe Jan. 16 issue of the Romans 12 Newsletter produced by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship includes information about a United Methodist church in Iowa that is working to raise money for Imagine No Malaria and the unique way the church decided how and why to be engaged in mission in a meaningful way.

I want to encourage you to read the newsletter, themed “Running from Malaria,” because it offers helpful information about reframing ministry questions that address global health issues and living as disciples of Christ. A pdf of the newsletter may be viewed and downloaded here.

Because this newsletter talks about Imagine No Malaria, this seems the right time and place to address where we are with our Nashville Area campaign to save 100,000 lives by raising $1 million for Imagine No Malaria by this year’s Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences in June 2015.

Through Dec. 31, 2014, our total giving from both conferences is $292,484.36. The total includes $123,068.01 from the Memphis Conference (with approximately 400 churches) and $169,416.35 from the Tennessee Conference (with approximately 600 churches).

I’m going to round up that total number and say we are 30 percent of the way toward our goal!

I am so proud of all our local congregations that are imagining God’s greater things as they raise awareness and save lives. I have heard and read stories about many creative fundraising events, including volleyball tournaments, chili cook-offs, bake sales, Thanksgiving dinners, children’s events, craft sales, Christmas offerings, t-shirt sales, concerts and more.

Unlike many other diseases that await a cure, malaria was eliminated in the U.S. in the 1950s. Even though it is 100 percent preventable, it continues to kill a person every 60 seconds in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Imagine No Malaria is part of a global partnership to beat malaria once and for all. Over the last 15 years there has been a 54% drop in mortality from the disease.

Imagine No Malaria is our opportunity to respond to our calling as Christians and United Methodists—to show our love through generous gifts. As John Wesley said, “It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.”

United Methodists are committed to a denominational goal of $75 million for Imagine No Malaria and have so far raised just over $64 million. Our Nashville Area goal is $1 million by June 2015.

If your church has not already worked to raise at least $1,000 for Imagine No Malaria and submitted these funds to your conference treasurers, I hope you will make plans to do so in the coming months so we may celebrate reaching our $1 million goal in June at our Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences.

To learn more and find resources, visit www.imaginenomalaria.org or contact your district office.

~ Bishop Bill McAlilly, Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church (Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky)


DMin degree program is one more way Nashville Area of The United Methodist Church is living into its mission

wesley john

JOHN WESLEY

As I am well into my third year of serving the Nashville Episcopal Area (Memphis and Tennessee Conferences), one issue always on my mind and heart is making sure we have a well-planted Wesleyan theology throughout all of our congregations and ministries.

I want to help secure a Wesleyan theological foundation for our Christian faith and practice that embraces Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I think this foundation is especially critical for the success of our new Area-wide mission to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.

As one of many ways to address this theological grounding, my office is currently coordinating the offering of a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree program that begins this month.

To initiate this program with about 10 students from each conference, I, along with Dr. Douglas Meeks and Rev. Tom Laney of the Cal Turner Center for Church Leadership at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., identified potential students. My hope and intention, however, is that this will be only the first cohort of an ongoing program. It is also my desire that those who complete the degree will help carry forth the teaching of Wesleyan theology across our Area.

The DMin program is a partnership with Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and the Turner Center. Cal Turner, Jr., has provided a generous grant to make this program possible.

Students will meet four times over a two-year period for two weeks at a time at four different locations: Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tenn.; Methodist-LeBonheur Healthcare System in Memphis, Tenn.; Wesley Theological Seminary; and Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.

The degree program will focus on issues important today that also were part of the original Wesleyan revival: healing and health care delivery, education, urban and rural poverty, and the penal/political/economic system.

The DMin program will employ an interdisciplinary approach to equip pastoral leaders for the challenges of their mission fields. Each course will include work on scripture, Wesleyan theology, congregational formation for mission, and social, economic and political analysis of mission opportunities in middle and west Tennessee and western Kentucky.

I want to express my appreciation to the Turner Center for the grant funds it is providing to cover the cost of tuition for those who decide to enroll. (Students will pay for books and travel.)

The Turner Center also graciously funded an event last August to introduce and explain the degree program to potential students. Dr. Meeks met with the group and, among many things, talked about how John Wesley served “in the world.”

As Dr. Meeks told the potential DMin candidates, if Christ’s love and forgiveness can’t be conveyed by our United Methodist churches in the midst of current events, we are no different than any other organization.

It is my hope that this DMin program will train and prepare these clergy to convey grace and share the gospel while “in the world” so others may learn and know the love of Christ.

~ Bishop Bill McAlilly, Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church (Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky)


SOS from Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel

SONY DSC

Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel preached at the 2014 Memphis Annual Conference in Paducah, Ky., in June.

Today I received the below communication (originally dated Dec. 28 from Africa) from Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel, resident bishop of the East Congo Episcopal Area. To remind you, Bishop Unda preached at our 2014 Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences in June 2014. He thanked our Nashville Episcopal Area for raising money in 2013 to construct an Episcopal office and residence in the Congo, which I helped dedicate during my August 2014 trip to Africa. If you wish to offer any financial assistance for the current crisis he describes below, please send to your conference treasurer for “Bishop Unda SOS.”  ~ Bishop Bill McAlilly

To brothers and sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As I write these few lines, my heart is too heavy because of the situation going on in Beni territory, northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is part of my Episcopal Area. The efforts of our army (are) insufficient to protect people.

People there are killed every day in the neighboring villages and we run the risk of losing all our believers. Two weeks ago, a group of Uganda rebels killed people in the villages (of) Kamango, Oicha and Mbawu. A Methodist family (a father, his wife and their two children) were killed with machetes.

Many people are fleeing to Beni. Our local congregations there are crowded with displaced people who flee from villages for their lives. We need your prayers. But, as you know, food and basic needs must be met. Our evangelization should reach people in need.

I am sending this SOS message to all those who may want to help.

May God be with us all during Christmas, but let’s keep in mind that our brothers and sisters are dying somewhere because of selfish interests.

Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel
Resident Bishop, East Congo Episcopal Area


A Bishop’s Letter on Immigration

episcopallogoGreetings,

The humanitarian crisis that unfolded this summer on our southern border, with the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children, brought to our attention the plight of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the globe. These children have been relocated with family members across the United States, and they may even be your neighbors, Sunday School students or the classmates of your children.

Why are immigration issues important to us as United Methodists here in middle and west Tennessee and western Kentucky? Both emerging population trends from the Census data and our Social Principles (¶162H) lead us to care about these issues.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, there are now over 1,000 children in the state of Tennessee placed with family member sponsors after entering the United States unaccompanied. Many of these children have escaped dangerous circumstances in their home countries in Central America. After fleeing from violence and surviving the treacherous journey across the U.S. border, they now face the difficulties of our current immigration system.

Throughout scripture, we witness a clear command to love our immigrant neighbors:

  • “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)
  • “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)
  • “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)
  • “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 CEB)

Our mission in the Nashville Episcopal Area is to offer Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time. As many of our local communities continue to grow and change, it is essential that we extend hospitality to the neighbors in our midst. As United Methodists, we have a holy responsibility to “recognize, embrace, and affirm” all persons.

In response to recent events, I ask that each of you respond in the following ways:

  1. Pray for the immigrants in our community, particularly those who have recently entered the United States under difficult circumstances.
  2. Support efforts to provide these families with hope, hospitality, and basic needs. Become involved with an organization such as Tennessee Justice for our Neighbors, which helps provide free and affordable legal services for immigrants in our community.
  3. Advocate for those who may not have a voice of their own. Contact your elected officials in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

Let us remain faithful in prayer and dedicated in action for the families and children impacted by our broken immigration system.

We remain hopeful for justice in the name of Jesus Christ, our great source of hope.

In Christ’s Love,

Bishop William McAlilly
Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church

 


The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state:

“We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, healthcare, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-social-community#immigrants


The Ferguson Decision and Our Jesus-Centered Response

ferguson1-519x388

People hold hands and pray during a vigil in August 2014 near the site where Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo. United Methodist News Service Photo by Rev. Matt Miofsky

Rev. Richard Smith, senior pastor of Germantown United Methodist Church in Germantown, Tenn., in the McKendree District of the Memphis Conference, offered some personal reflections last week (to staff and key leaders of his congregation) about the situation in Ferguson, Mo. Germantown is a city that borders Memphis, Tenn., on its east/southeast side. With Richard’s permission, I am sharing his reflections (below, slightly edited) as a way to help us all move forward from this tragedy.

The Ferguson Decision and Our Jesus-Centered Response

By Rev. Richard Smith

There is no way for any one of us to know for sure whether Darren Wilson was guilty of a crime when he shot Michael Brown to death on Aug. 9. Whether justice was truly served is beyond our comprehension, I believe; certainly beyond mine.

Do I personally believe that Officer Darren Wilson bore some level of responsibility for the death of Brown? I do. It is hard, from the outside looking in, to see that the level of force he used was absolutely necessary. Would sitting in the conversations and the evidential reviews of the Grand Jury have led me – or you – to a different perspective? We’ll never know.

Let me offer some personal reflections, which may or may not help in any way, but they are my heartfelt feelings about how we move forward from this tragedy and its aftermath – both in Ferguson, Mo., and in Memphis, Tenn.

  • There is tragedy on several fronts here. The Brown family has lost their young son in a violent way and that pain will be real with them for months and years to come. Meanwhile, Darren Wilson will not be able to live a normal life for months and years to come; if ever.
  • It is clear that the racial context in Ferguson – and here in Memphis – cannot be ignored. There were too many chilling accounts of police profiling and mistreating blacks in the Ferguson community for us to not pray for and encourage a change in that community. There are too many instances right here in Shelby County, Tenn., of African-Americans being mistreated for us not to pray for and actively seek greater justice, equality, and compassion as we live and work as brothers and sisters in our wider community.
  • Our Church and the Church at large must be a venue for a Jesus-centered response. As I see it, a Jesus-centered response says we must:
    • Listen to those who might radically and passionately disagree with us on issues like this. No one has all the answers and when we care like Jesus, another person’s opinion and experience matter to us.
    • Avoid demonizing either Officer Darren Wilson or Michael Brown. Only God knows fully what happened that night of Aug. 9 and why.
    • Passionately, fervently step up our efforts to make our communities more loving, equitable, affirming, racially- and culturally-inclusive places. We Jesus folks have a unique opportunity to show the world at large how we deal with heated, complex and controversial matters without any of us claiming absolute knowledge or wisdom. We can show the world what it means to treat each other with respect, consideration and Jesus-grounded love.
    • Spend fervent prayer time praying for the Browns, the Wilsons, the civil authorities involved, the religious community of Ferguson, ourselves, our community at large. This is a time when considerable prayer is needed by all people of faith.
    • Be clear that while protests are a natural and sometimes needed response to extreme civil disappointment, violence and hateful disruption are not acceptable. We need to work toward reconciliation which then leads to disciplined conversations about what needs to change for things to be different for those who are racially and economically mistreated in our society. Racism is alive and well in America and we cannot ignore that.

Bishop Schnase calls for prayer as Ferguson, Missouri awaits grand jury ruling in shooting death of Michael Brown

let-us-prayBishop Robert Schnase, resident bishop of the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church, today issued “a call for prayer” (below) as Ferguson, Missouri waits for the St. Louis County grand jury to decide whether Officer Darren Wilson should stand trial in the August shooting death of Michael Brown. The grand jurors have until January, but a decision could come at any time between now and then.

A CALL FOR PRAYER

I’ve preached twice in recent weeks in St. Louis and as I visited in our churches, the tension is palpable as people await the news from the grand jury in the Michael Brown case. Fear runs deep that there will be more violence. The tragedy has left the community on edge as it copes with the anger, frustration, and mistrust felt by so many people following the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darin Wilson.

The issues involved are far larger than Ferguson, than St. Louis, and than Missouri. The entire country and the whole church need to engage these issues. The focus for law enforcement and the legal processes is on what happened on August 9. But the tragedy forces people of faith to confront a larger question: What happens now? What happens next? What do we learn about ourselves and our communities that will cause us to change so that such events are less likely in the future? What kind of preferred future does God intend for our communities and for our world?

Followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and believers in the God who is the lover of justice must come together for prayer and dialogue to address the deeper and more intransigent issues that have been too long repressed in our communities. These are issues such as racial profiling, mistrust of authority, violence in our communities, underemployment, quality education, fear of one another, white flight, inequalities in our justice system, family breakdown, and under-representation of ethnic officers in law enforcement. There are hard issues and issues that require deep commitments and changes of attitudes, values, and behaviors. These require changes in systems. These require long-term work and a willingness for community and church leaders to stay engaged for the long haul.

In the short-term, the role of the church is to be the purveyor of peace. The sin of racism must be dealt with, but not through violence. Violence rights no wrongs, heals no harms, and leads to no positive change. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

What can United Methodist Christians do?

First, pray. Pray for peace. Our faith finds its roots in the hope for a day when “the lion shall sleep with the lamb.” We serve a Lord who said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” For nearly two thousand years, we have offered “grace and peace” to one another when we gather in Christ’s name. Peace is our hope, our prayer, our yearning, our aim, our end, and it is our gift to the community.

A number of our United Methodist churches in St. Louis and across the conference are already planning prayer vigils on the day the grand jury decision is announced. Other of our churches are working with Metropolitan Congregations United to plan “safe places” for the community to gather for dialogue and to offer support to one another. These churches are also planning to offer a variety of worship experiences and other services needed by the surrounding community.

Second, call upon officials to work for ways so that people can express their frustrations and voice their concerns peacefully. People need a way to participate, to speak out, to gather for mutual support, and we need leaders willing to give room and space for it in a way that reduces the possibility of violence rather than ratcheting up tensions.

Third, support the efforts of two of our United Methodist Churches near Ferguson, Wellspring and The Gathering at Clayton, who are developing extensive plans to be open and available to the community as places of peace and respite. These two churches are collecting supplies and gathering individuals with the needed skills sets to be helpful. Manchester United Methodist Church has volunteered to be the drop-off point for supplies. We are collecting a pool of volunteer pastors to be sent to Wellspring and the Gathering in Clayton to offer support as requested and needed by those two churches. The Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, an interfaith group, has also offered suggestions to area congregations on how they can be helpful.

Along with other religious leaders in Missouri, I renew my call to everyone in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area to be an instrument of peace amid chaos, a calm voice in the turmoil, a sign of grace when the world needs most the message we offer in Christ.

Yours in Christ, Bishop Robert Schnase, The Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church

 


Council of Bishops issues statement concerning human sexuality

November 8, 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Grace and Peace to you!

Below is a statement that yesterday afternoon the Council of Bishops adopted, unanimously, regarding our ministry with all persons, regardless of sexual orientation:

As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church. We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people. We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.

This statement is offered to the United Methodist Church to affirm our vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We are mindful that many across the Church will disagree; some expecting more, others expecting less.

As a global church, we wrestle with language that does no harm-either in the United States or abroad. What we are clear about is that the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is our deepest call and commitment.

We acknowledge that differences and divisions exist within our denomination and across the Nashville Area. Therefore, we will prayerfully consider ways in which to open space for deeper conversation among one another with regard to our differences around our understanding of human sexuality.

Please continue to offer prayer for each other and for the bishops as we move toward General Conference 2016.

Serving Christ With You,
Bishop William T.  McAlilly
Resident Bishop

*For more information about this statement from the Council of Bishops, click here to read Nov. 7 story from the United Methodist News Service.


Clergy Cannot Be Punished for Future Action

Prelude:

Across the United Methodist Church these last several months and in particular the last 10 days much attention has been given to the Judicial Council with regard to the fate of Reverend Frank Schaefer and his status or lack thereof as a United Methodist minister. Reports from news outlets have trickled out sensationalizing the story, yet with varying degrees of accuracy.

Below, Jim Allen, Tennessee Conference Director of Administrative Services and Conference Treasurer, offers a factual article on the Schaeffer case and perhaps it will shed light on what actually has taken place within the United Methodist Church with regard to Judicial Process that resulted from Reverend Schaeffer’s decision to perform the wedding ceremony of his gay son. The article below is not a commentary on who was right and who was wrong. Rather, it is a simple statement on what happened in the case and the various processes of appeals that the legal process of the United Methodist Church offers any person.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Clergy cannot be punished for future action

By Jim Allen

Journalists creating headlines have long lived by the mantra, “Dog bites man is not news; Man bites dog is news”.  I suspect that is why every headline I found trumpets that the Methodists support pastor Frank Schaefer who presided over same-sex marriage.  I wish less sensational, but more accurate, headlines had been used.  But who would have read an article with the headline used here?

Frank Schaefer was convicted under The Book of Discipline ¶2702.1b (conducting a same sex marriage) and ¶2702.1d (disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church).  That much is undisputed.  The problem arose with the penalty which the trial court sought to impose:

Suspend Rev. Frank Schaefer from all ministerial duties effective immediately for 30 days. If there are any violations of the Discipline during the 30 days, his credentials will be surrendered to the annual conference. … If at the end of the 30 days Rev. Schaefer has determined he cannot uphold the Discipline in its entirely, he must surrender his credentials.

After 30 days, Shaefer reported to the Board of Ordained Ministry, and said

I have been directed to report to you on whether I can uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. My honest answer has to be: No, I cannot.

In fact, I don’t believe anybody can. It’s impossible to uphold the Discipline in its entirety because it is filled with competing and contradictory statements.

The Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals, and subsequently the Judicial Council in its Decision 1270 agreed (perhaps reluctantly) with Schaefer.

The trial court tried to split the baby.  Rather than punish Schaefer for what he clearly did in the past, it tried to fashion a penalty that would be imposed only if Schaefer did, or did not do, something in the future.  There were other problems with the verdict, but this was at the heart of the problem.

The Discipline forbids clergy from committing a “crime”.  Using the general definition of “crime” (an illegal act that can be punished by the government), driving 60 in a 55 zone is an offense that can be punished by the government, and by the church.  Who among us could take an oath that we would never, ever violate any traffic rule?  This is a silly example, but it points out the need to withhold judgment until the bad action occurs.

Decision 1270 does not absolve Frank Schaefer of chargeable offenses.  Decision 1270 recognizes that the trial court’s penalty was improper and unenforceable.

The Judicial Council recognized, correctly, that many in the church will be unhappy with their decision.  But in the end, the Decision stands only for the proposition that verdicts cannot vary from what the Discipline permits.

Below are various likes to stories that have appeared in recent news outlets with regard Reverend Schaeffer.

Methodists uphold reinstatement of pastor who presided over son’s gay wedding http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/27/methodist-panel-upholds-reinstatement-of-the-rev-f/

Top United Methodist Church Court Supports Rev. Frank Schaefer’s ‘Refrocking’ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/27/methodist-frank-schaefer_n_6054720.html

Frank Schaefer wins final reinstatement with Methodists http://www.religionnews.com/2014/10/27/methodist-rev-frank-schaefer/

Top court affirms Schaefer’s reinstatement as clergy http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/top-court-affirms-schaefers-reinstatement-as-clergy

Judicial Council Decision 1270 Re: Frank Schaefer http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/preview/judicial-council-decision-1270-re-frank-schaefer

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Postlude: 

We who are United Methodists find ourselves in a precarious place regardless of where you land in the spectrum of debate about same gender marriage and Church law.  Therefore, I appeal to all United Methodists everywhere to join me in prayer and fasting for the Unity of the Church.  Many rejoiced when the verdict was given.  Others are incensed and calling for schism or worse, saying they can no longer remain United Methodists. I call upon all United Methodists to live with a spirit of love and grace toward ALL persons.  Let us find space to hold this tension.  The Clergy in each of our two conferences, Tennessee and Memphis,  have recently spent a day considering what it means to be in Covenant with one another. Our commitments to Christ and his Church are deep and abiding.

And as your Bishop, I will uphold the Covenant I made to God and to the United Methodist Church to seek to maintain the unity of the Church and uphold it’s Book of Discipline.  This I will do.  I can not do it alone. Therefore, I call upon all lay and clergy members to join me in that prayerful attitude which seeks the face of Christ in the midst of a turbulent and changing world.

In writing to the Church at Corinth, I Corinthians 2:2, Paul writes: “I made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified.”(CEB)

This is our greatest hope and the marching orders I seek to live by.  I ask you to join me in deep prayer for all that is before us and all that is to come in the days, months and years to come.

Bishop Bill McAlilly


Sacred Leadership:

November 20, 2014 Center for Faith and Health, Methodist Health Systems, Memphis, Tn10:00 AM to 2:30 PM

Led by Bishop Bill McAlilly, Nashville Area of the United Methodist Church, Lynn Taylor, Coordinator of Emerging Ministries, Nashville Area UMC and Gary Shorb, CEO Methodist Healthcare

Sacred Leadership is a day to explore leadership in form and philosophy, in technique and theology.  Along the way we will examine the traits, qualities and characteristics of effective clergy leadership.

  • You will hear from lay people about the skills they would like for clergy to have or develop for leadership in the 21st century.
  • We will explore some of the barriers and obstacles to effective leadership and we will look specifically at the importance of Emotional Intelligence.
  • We will examine secular leadership, organizational development theory and look for the intersections between the secular and the sacred.
  • We will seek to clarify the difference between faith-centered leadership and secular leadership.
  • At the end of the day we hope that you will be on your way to becoming a more effective, adaptive leader.

Click this link for registration: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/sacred-leadership-with-bishop-bill-mcalilly-gary-shorb-lynn-taylor-tickets-13464989145


My Congo Pilgrimage

By Rev. Randy Cooper, Martin First UMC, Martin, Tenn.Randy and friends

TOP PHOTO: Rev. Randy Cooper (right) and his United Methodist clergy friend, John Paul, at the East Congo Episcopal Area Conference Round Table. BOTTOM PHOTO: Cooper (left) and Kinshasa, daughter of Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel.

Two Martin First UMC youth heard Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area announce last year at the Memphis Annual Conference his goal of raising $87,000 for the East Congo Annual Conference. Our two young people returned to Martin, Tenn., and challenged our congregation to raise $5,000. I thought the goal was beyond our reach, but we surpassed it.

Our interest in the Congo continued. We invited Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel of the East Congo Episcopal Area to our church this past summer. He preached for us on Pentecost Sunday in June when 400 Martin First UMC and McCabe UMC (also in Martin, Tenn.) people crowded into our sanctuary for a service that lasted nearly two hours. We were blessed by Bishop Unda’s presence and spirit.

Four days later I received an email from Bishop Unda, inviting me to come to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to witness firsthand the work and presence of United Methodist people in his land. I accepted the invitation in the full knowledge that those two young people and the youth group of my church deserved all the credit for this unfolding chain of events.

My journey to the Congo in August 2014 was a mixture of adventure, heartbreak and inspiration. Adventures aside, let me share with you a few of those heartbreaking moments and one inspiring moment that has been written onto my heart.

It is one thing to see dying children on television during the evening news. It was quite another to stand in hospital rooms in Kindu and Wembo Nyama, Congo near children who were dying from dysentery as their silently-grieving mothers comforted them. Also, I shook hands with United Methodist preachers who don’t own a Bible and who can’t afford a bicycle. I met a wonderful pastor who lived in forests with his people during the recent civil war in order to escape militias who intended to kill, maim, rape and destroy. I heard a widow of a Methodist pastor express heartfelt gratitude that the new Methodist pension program would keep her from the dangers of starvation. My complaints about the challenges I face as a pastor paled in comparison to theirs. These and other encounters will remain with me.

There was one moment that has come to represent to me the whole of my pilgrimage. Bill Lovell (translator and retired elder from the Tennessee Conference) and I left one of the hospitals with a United Methodist pastor who had been showing us around. I believe he sensed the sorrow weighing upon our hearts as we loaded into the back seat of a car. He sought to comfort us as he said, in his Otetela language and with Bill translating, “When we think of all our challenges and sufferings, if we are not joyful and grateful to God, then we are truly walking in the valley of death.”  I will never forget those words. They have become a sign to me of the hope that United Methodists in the Congo have.

Since my pilgrimage, I have often recalled Paul’s words about faith, hope and love in 1 Corinthians. I must say I don’t believe I saw more faith in Congolese United Methodists than I see in my local congregation. I doubt, too, that United Methodists in that part of the world are any more loving toward one another than we are. Yet I do believe I met people whose hope is richer and deeper than ours. The United Methodists of the Congo are a people who hope in God, who have nothing else and no one else to depend upon. If the apostle Paul were writing to them, I believe he would write to them about hope.

Any ongoing relationship we in the Nashville Area (Memphis and Tennessee Conferences) have with the East Congo Annual Conference in years to come will be a blessing to them, and also to us.


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