Below you will find a statement released this week by the Central Conference College of Bishops regarding the proposed vaccinations of Central Conference Delegates.
There is deep concern about the inequity this idea presents for Africa, and these leaders in the Church were compelled to speak into this moment as we consider the potential delay of General Conference due to the Global Covid Pandemic.
We simply offer this to you as information to keep you abreast of all that is occurring in this liminal season leading up to a time when we can gather for General Conference.
It is expected that the Commission on General Conference will meet near the end of the month and will give direction to when General Conference will be held. It is worth noting that currently, only two bishops serve on the GC Commission with voice but not vote.
Statement from Central Conference bishops on vaccine offers
January 17, 2022
As Christians, we are called to serve all of God’s people without discriminating or choosing only those who agree with us theologically or politically. We are called to be of help to all those in need and not only those who would support our organization’s goals and desires.
That is why we are appalled by the action of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. The WCA has decided to raise funds to assist some United Methodists, mostly in Africa, with getting vaccinations for the sole purpose of making sure that those United Methodists who are delegates to the postponed General Conference would be able to travel to the United States.
While we understand that vaccines are not easily accessible to all people in many parts of the world, we are dismayed that the WCA would choose to help provide vaccines to only a few people and not the community as whole. If the WCA’s motives are pure, why not provide vaccines for the entire family of that delegate or the entire church or the community in which the delegate lives?
The world is in the midst of a global pandemic that so far has caused the death of more than 5.5 million people. Currently, the highly contagious Omicron variant has made many countries shut down again and reintroduce severe restrictions due to exponentially growing numbers of people infected. While the United States and Europe are struggling to increase the number of people fully vaccinated and encouraging a third and, in some places, even a fourth shot, countries in Africa are struggling to make vaccines available at all. In the Democratic Republic of Congo for example, less than half a million people out of a population of 80 million are vaccinated.
Furthermore, we know the virus is likely to continue to mutate as long as a significant amount of people are infected. This is why the Connectional Table has called the church to consider vaccine equity a missional priority of the church. The Council of Bishops supports this effort. As vaccine distribution is regulated and controlled by the government in each individual country, the efforts of The United Methodist Church are to focus on advocacy and education. This concerns our future – we are all affected, and we all know people who have been seriously ill or have died from Covid. Jesus called us to care for the least and making vaccines available across the globe and receiving vaccination when possible is a simple matter of obedience to Christ’s call and a tangible expression of love of neighbor, and far more important than our own internal struggles in the church. It is time that we wake up to this reality in God’s world.
Offering vaccines to General Conference delegates or covering the cost of delegates to travel to places where they can be vaccinated is not an expression of vaccine equity. Rather, it appears as an attempt to benefit those who have been given a special responsibility, and who the donor wishes to fulfill a certain purpose.
Furthermore, the official organizer of the General Conference is the Commission on General Conference, and when individual interest groups begin to offer benefits to delegates, they jeopardize the integrity of General Conference.
The unfortunate thing about the entire process by WCA is that it has all the marks of colonialism which our countries went through in some years ago. The tactics of divide-and-conquer have created chaos and division on the African continent and should not be allowed in our churches. One would have thought that our friends and partners in the WCA would have taken some modest time to consult with the church leaders in the Central Conferences so that we move together in how to implement such a cause. We people called United Methodists from the Central conferences promote unity and we treasure our connectional spirit but we deplore any form of colonialism.
Unfortunately, what we experience time and again is the brazen interference in the affairs of The United Methodist Church in Africa from our brothers and sisters in the WCA. If forming a new denomination means leaving a trail of destruction as we are now experiencing in Africa, we surely need to talk about it as friends and members of the family we call The United Methodist Church.
We, the undersigned bishops, have vastly different perspectives on the issues surrounding human sexuality. But with one accord, we stand together for the cohesion and unity of our beloved United Methodist Church. We will not be dissuaded from seeing one another as brothers and sisters in the church.
We live on different continents, in very different contexts. But together we carry out the task entrusted to us by our church, to be shepherds of the whole flock and to lead the church with honesty and integrity. We do not allow that trust in one another to be undermined.
We represent United Methodists on three continents with a variety of languages and cultures, styles of spirituality and convictions. We share a history which contains some dark and shameful aspects. But we are convinced that we can witness to God’s love more powerfully, beautifully, and invitingly if we continue to do so together. We do not allow others to pit us against each other.
Bishop Harald Rückert, Europe – president of the Central Conferences College of Bishops
Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Africa – president of the Africa College of Bishops
Bishop Rudy Juan, Asia – Philippines College of bishops
There are two times of year that I miss serving the local church most keenly. One, of course, is Holy Week and Easter. I miss the journey from Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter—the rhythms of the liturgy. We regularly need to hear the story that reminds us of our why. We need to be reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus as Paul reminds us in Romans 8.
The other season that captures my heart is Advent. I love the pageantry of preparation for the birth of the Christ Child. I remember well the sheer exhaustion of the week of Christmas. Multiple services on Christmas Eve. The desire to have just the right message for the occasion, knowing that there likely would be those in the congregation who were longing for something they could not even name.
I miss serving Holy Communion to children held in the arms by their parents or grandparents.
I miss looking in the eyes of those whose story had been sacredly shared in the holy space of my office at a moment when life hung in the balance as I served the sacrament.
I miss sharing the light of a candle that had been ignited by the Christ Candle.
In the first years of our marriage Lynn and I always made the long drive from Gainesville, Georgia to New Albany, MS, where her parents lived. Christmas Eve was a very special night with her family and it started with the Christmas Eve service at First United Methodist Church. Lavelle Woodrick was the Senior pastor. Every year, Lavelle would invite me to read the Christmas story, Luke 2, from the King James Version of the Bible. “In those days a decree went out…”
As a seminary student, not yet ordained, I was given the privilege of serving the sacrament of Holy Communion. I usually served the bread, Lavelle held the chalice, and together we shared the words, “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”
Then to share the light of Christ with a sanctuary packed with friends and family who had nurtured my faith and my call to ministry as we sang “Silent Night”. It was a holy time.
In my experience, on Christmas Eve, Maundy Thursday and Easter, the minister is on the receiving end of ministry, maybe more than at any other time of the Christian year.
We still come to New Albany, MS, for Christmas. We’ve been making this pilgrimage from one place or another now for 43 years. We’ve had the great fun of having all five of our grandchildren with us this week. Thomas, Micah, Iris, Bo and Mac. Lynn has employed her teaching skills of classroom management and had all five around the kitchen table doing Christmas crafts and singing Christmas carols. The voices of children singing carols is heavenly.
Today we will go to Oxford University United Methodist Church, where we will hear our granddaughter, Bo, sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” in the Angel Choir. Bo is four and she told us she was an angel since she sang in the angel choir. I do not dare dispute her claim.
We will be a part of the worshipping community and we will receive the bread and wine, served this night, by our son, Chris, who is Co-pastor at OUUMC. It will be a holy time.
This Advent season, I’ve reflected on the thought that Emmanuel means God with us. I’m wondering though, in light of what I’ve experienced over the years on this special night, Emmanuel means God embraces us with a love that will not let us go.
I am mindful of the grief our family has experienced during the Advent season since 2013, when my nephew Gale, was killed in the line of duty, to my father’s death two years ago, our family has longed for that embrace. We’ve longed for that embrace when we lost my mother at the onset of the pandemic, and most recently the loss of Lynn’s mother last April.
I am mindful, especially today, of those in our clergy family who will linger in the sanctuary a bit longer because for the first time they will come home without the embrace of a spouse.
I am mindful today, also, of those in our communities who will this Christmas be without a home because of the recent tornadoes that tore across our Kentucky and West Tennessee.
I am especially mindful that, if Christ is to be born in us this Christmas, we will need to reach with open arms to those in need. We will need to wrap our arms around our faith.
So, I invite you to be mindful that when we birth and cradle Christ in our own lives we will find our arms wrapping around others who need Christ birthed and cradled in their lives.
From our house to yours,
Bill and Lynn McAlilly
By Vicki Loflin Johnson (www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com)
In the midst of a stressful year with our fourth major weather event in 18 months, the Global Pandemic and the challenges that have constantly been before us, I asked my friend Vicki Loflin Johnson to give us some thoughts about coping with stress and becoming more resilient. Vicki has worked with a number of our people over the last several months through her coaching cohort, The Art of Wellbeing. I offer this post to you in the spirit of help for the common good.
When we are extremely stressed or overwhelmed, or in the midst of responding to a crisis, it is important that we also take some time for rest and recovery.
Here are some simple, quick ways to help you pause, breathe, and reset:
If you have 60 seconds:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in and out through your nose. Consciously relax your mouth, let your tongue rest. If helpful, imagine breathing out the tiredness/tension and breathing in energy/the Holy Spirit.
- Slowly nod your head up and down (yes). Then slowly turn your head from left to right (no). With your inhale face forward; with your exhale move up/down/left/right. If you are in your car, press the back of your head into the headrest while doing this.
- Try taking a “lion’s breath.” Inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale with your mouth wide open and tongue sticking out. Exhale as long as possible. Repeat 3-4 times.
- Take off your shoes and socks. Curl and uncurl your toes. Squeeze your hands into a fist and then open them wide. Open your mouth as wide as possible while inhaling, then purse your lips and blow out hard. Repeat these steps 3-4 times.
- Stop what you are doing long enough to look at something beautiful—a piece of art, a plant, nature outside your window, a treasured decorative item in your home or office. Let an object of beauty evoke a moment of awe and wonder in you.
- Stroke your cat or your dog. Hug a friend, your child, or your spouse.
- Drink 8 ounces of water.
If you have 5 minutes:
- Practice “ratio breathing.” Inhale to a slow count of 3 or 4. Exhale twice as long to a count of 6 or 8. This breathing technique has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Gaze out a window and let your eyes be soft. Ask yourself a question and listen: “What am I feeling right now?” If you feel up to it, you can also ask, “Oh God, what are you inviting me to do next?”
- Play with your dog. Do something silly with a child.
- Lie down on a carpet, rug, or yoga mat and pull your knees into your chest (do not cross your ankles). Hold onto your knees or shins and pull your knees as close to your chest as is comfortable. Let your low back completely flatten to the floor. If your chin juts toward the ceiling uncomfortably, place a folded blanket or low pillow under your head. Close your eyes and breathe.
- Watch a funny video that makes you laugh. Save those cute little animal or baby videos for just such a break as this! Laughing restores us!
- Look at your list or think through all the things you think you have to do and ask: “What is one thing I can say no to?”
If you have 10 minutes:
- Walk in silence. You can set your timer for five minutes for one direction and then turn around, but try not to look at your phone. If you feel like it, skip, dance, or wiggle while you are walking.
- Make a gratitude list. Write down even most the obvious things you are thankful for until you run out of ideas. Or list the people who have done something nice for you that day. An ideal time to practice a gratitude journal is at bedtime.
- Take a “hot beverage” break. If you are planning to have a cup of coffee or tea, try your best not to multi-task while you are drinking it. Try not to look at your phone. Just relax and enjoy the drink.
- Practice allowing your feelings rather than trying to control them. Notice what you’re feeling and name it without judgement. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, etc. A wise leader once said she would set a timer when she needed what she called a “pity party.” She would allow herself a certain amount of time to experience her painful or negative feelings; but interestingly, once she allowed them, they sometimes lessened or dissipated altogether by the time the timer went off.
- Stretch your body before getting into bed at night. Start by clasping your hands in front of you and then flipping them outward. As you inhale, raise your interlaced hands above your head as far as you are able. Exhale and lean to the right. Inhale, return to the center. Then exhale, and lean to the left. Again inhale and return to the center. Next, get down on the floor and do any gentle stretches you know. Set a timer. You will be surprised how fast 10 minute goes by.
If you have 15 minutes:
- Practice a longer version of lying on your back with your knees pulled into your chest.
- Write like a psalmist. Get a blank piece of paper and write whatever comes to your mind for 15 minutes. You can start out by lamenting or complaining. Don’t worry! You can throw it away when you are finished. Be sure to allow 60 seconds at the end for praise and thanksgiving.
- Set a timer and move slowly around your kitchen, office, closet, or living space—sorting, ordering, picking up, throwing things away. Rather than think of this as cleaning or organizing, just piddle and see what happens in 15 minutes. Take a minute to observe how ordering one small part of your life affects your emotions.
- Block 15 minutes a day for fully connecting with your closest relationships. This is important even in good times but especially in times of crisis. For those you live with, be sure to put down your devices and look them in the eyes. For those who are away, use FaceTime or videoconference to connect if possible. Prioritize calling a friend who can listen to you as well as expect you to listen.
- If you need to connect with loved ones or others who deplete your energy, visualize putting on your spiritual armor before calling. Ask for protection so that you will not “take to heart” whatever comments might normally trigger reactive feelings. Your spiritual armor can be light and porous so that you will be able to listen and respond but not be wounded.
Choose one or two of these ideas to try and then observe what affect they have on you. Use this list to generate your own ideas! Ideally, you might choose several of these very short rest and recovery practices each day.
For more support and encouragement in challenging times, consider joining one of the January group coaching cohorts of The Art of WellBeing by visiting: http://www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com.
No doubt you have seen video footage of the destruction the recent tornadoes have visited upon the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference as well as the Kentucky and Arkansas Conferences and beyond. This was a multi-state event with tornadoes touching down in six states. For our part, we have major damage in western Kentucky, and in west and middle Tennessee. We have had 30 tornadoes touch down in our area in 2021. This does not include the flooding event that hit Waverly and the surrounding area early this year.
We must come to grips with the fact that it is not a matter of if, but when, the next storm will hit. We must be prepared, and we must think about how to respond quickly. As soon as a storm hits, our phones start lighting up with questions of how we can help.
Tornadoes, unlike hurricanes, are random. In a hurricane, you have days to prepare and the option to think about evacuation. A tornado comes quickly, and one has a matter of minutes to decide where to seek cover. Evacuation is often not an option. One house is leveled, and the house next door is spared. One community is leveled and the next is not touched.
Across the Nashville Episcopal Area, we have numerous places that were damaged by the storms of Friday night and early Saturday morning. While Mayfield, Kentucky is getting the media attention (I’ve never seen so many camera crews in one place in my entire life as when I was there on Sunday) many of our communities have been overlooked. These include Cayce, Clear Springs, and Benton in Kentucky and Dresden, Samburg, and Kingston Springs in Tennessee. And each day, we hear about more.
If we are not careful, in a few weeks, another news story will capture the hearts and minds of America and our needs will be forgotten for the next storm. Even now, Waverly, Tennessee, has only begun to make sense of the flooding that occurred earlier this year, and now attention will be drawn to other places.
The truth is, The United Methodist Church is committed to long-term recovery through our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). We are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave in any disaster that visits our communities. Every donated dollar given to disaster response goes directly toward the survivors, and no dollars are expended to fund the organization. To be clear, UMCOR is us. It is the good people of The United Methodist Church responding to the needs that arise in the aftermath of any disaster. UMCOR leverages its relationships with other agencies who have the skills we do not have and together we forge a future. This is what we have done. This is what we are doing now.
I am proud of the way in which our pastors are leading in the midst of this challenging season. I am proud of the Methodists who are showing up with resources and skills to begin the recovery process.
To be clear there are some simple things to remember.
#1. The first phase of any disaster is search and rescue. This is a time when those credentialed and skilled are tasked with the awesome responsibility to discover where people are and what lives have been lost.
#2. The second phase is clean-up and debris removal. This phase lasts from one week to several weeks depending on the damage done. (Individuals needing property clean-up assistance can call a Crisis Cleanup Helpline at 800-451-1954.)
#3. The third phase is long-term recovery which can often take 2 or more years to complete.
On this blog are resources for you to access for responding.
First of all, pray. Pray for the survivors, pray for all the communities affected. Pray for pastors who are standing in the gap, especially those whose congregants’ homes and businesses were destroyed. Pray for the servant ministers who come to our aid. Pray for our future in Christ.
Second, give. Give your contributions to the long-term recovery efforts. Here is the online giving link and the mailing addresses for you to send checks directly to this effort (please note Disaster Response in the memo line):
Checks made out to the Tennessee Conference – PO Box 440132, Nashville, TN 37244
Checks made out to the Memphis Conference – PO Box 10667, Jackson, TN 38308
Third, plan. Plan how your congregation can engage in the long-term recovery effort. Is it to send a work team? Is it to provide support for other teams? Please let us know by completing the Volunteer Form when is posted on our disaster response webpage. Trained Emergency Response Teams will be the first to respond. But, in a few weeks, it will be safe for other groups to help, and we will contact you.
Fourth, prepare your church with a disaster response plan. Should a disaster hit your community, how will you contact your membership? If a storm were to emerge in the midst of worship, where would you direct people? We have learned through this storm that had persons been in a fellowship hall underneath the sanctuary, there would have been a great loss of life. Think carefully about this.
Fifth, how can you offer spiritual and emotional care to persons displaced by this storm?
It is my observation that the people called Methodists do not shy away from challenges but rather they step into them. I look forward to seeing how God will empower our people to offer Christ to a hurting world as we engage in the long-term recovery from the most recent storm.
Your prayers and support are appreciated.
My heart is filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for our very successful completion of organizing the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference of The United Methodist Church last Saturday. This good work was brought to completion by many, many people over a ten-year period of time. One of the sometimes forgotten players in this story is Bishop Ben Chamness who served as interim Bishop 2011-2012. Under Bishop Chamness’ leadership, the Memphis and Tennessee Conference Cabinets began meeting together and in that season a few cross-conference appointments were made. When I arrived in September of 2012 we considered how to continue this journey.
While the cabinets continued to meet and work together, we laid down the conversation of a new conference until we could gain clarity over our mission and vision, and values which we did. Our mission and vision have not changed as we continue to “offer Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.” This has not changed as we seek to find opportunities to strengthen local congregations. Over time, we continued to collaborate and discover ways to create new relationships and opportunities for growing together.
I am including the video of last Saturday’s message, “What Shall We Now Do?”I encourage you to share it with your congregations as we seek to remember our Why.
In this Advent Season, may our hearts be filled with joy as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.
I give thanks that God has allowed me to walk this journey with you.
A few days ago, the religion writer for The Tennessean approached our team about writing a story about our new conference. We believed in the good faith of the writer to offer a story to the readers that reflected the good and faithful work of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. We were asked many things and offered several positive expressions of this work over the last nine years. Much of what we offered was not included in the article.
The Future of the UMC
There were some questions about the future of the United Methodist Church in light of the Protocol for Separation with Grace. To be clear, the Protocol is legislation that is being proposed to be considered when the General Conference is held. You will recall that the 2020 General Conference was postponed due to Covid-19. Currently, it is scheduled for September of 2022. If it is safe to travel worldwide and if we can gather for the important work of the United Methodist Church, the Protocol Legislation will be considered along with hundreds of other petitions and resolutions that shape our Church.
We are not sure where the reporter found the information he initially included in the story. It was not from those of us who were interviewed.
The implication of the writer of The Tennessean was that the potential divide of the denomination was already approved and action was waiting to occur. Unfortunately, this new writer is unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church and inaccuracies were reported.
The reporter has since made corrections to his online version of the article that more accurately reflects the truth.
In the age of social media, several opinions are expressed about the future of our beloved Church. When General Conference meets, whether it is 2022 or after, only ideas that have been offered properly will be considered. It is premature to speculate what the outcomes of General Conference will be.
To be clear: no denominational decisions have been made by the general Church or by our future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference (TWK). If you have heard otherwise, the information is incorrect.
Our New Conference
The article paints a picture that reflects more about the editorial perspective of the newspaper than about the reality of how our new conference has been formed.
Likewise, this article seems to want to produce a story about a church in distress. That is not what is happening in our conference – our churches are evidence of this. In 2012, when I was assigned to the Nashville Episcopal Area, the rationale for my assignment was my history in Mississippi of being a part of two Annual Conferences that had formed a new conference. I understood that one of my responsibilities was to lead the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to form a new Conference. This we have done with a steady pace over 9 years. On December 4 we will hold the organizational meeting that is the next step as we officially become the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference.
One of our commitments, which we have intentionally led over the last 9 years is to allow congregations to retain more of their tithes and offerings at the local church rather than hold apportionments at the previous rate. The fact is that the apportionments across the two legacy conferences have been reduced by 40%. Our goal has always been to strengthen our local churches. The reduction of apportionments has been one of the strategies.
Another strategy is that our new leadership structure redefines the roles for conference-employed staff. In recent years, our conference staff has become smaller and more decentralized. Our strategic direction and conference ministry are now in the hands of volunteer leaders with staff there to support them.
Here is what is true: God has provided us with abundance – strong, connected churches with spiritually gifted leadership. God has equipped us with a nimble, hopeful vision for the future.
In Christ Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope, rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ as we seek to serve in love. We have not wavered from that foundation.
Over the last 9 years, many people – more than 500 lay and clergy members from both legacy conferences – have worked diligently to create this path to our new conference. These teams collaborated and created our new leadership and funding models for the new TWK conference. Because so many faithful disciples of Christ provided input and have been a part of the journey, we are stepping into a new era with strength.
Our new funding model that we chose together at the annual conferences is simple. Local churches will begin working toward giving a simple tithe as a connectional commitment to the ministries of the conference. Choosing to gradually reduce the commitment over the next several years reflects the new focus of keeping financial resources in the local faith community.
Finally, our strategic decision to create a new conference is rooted in our response to follow God’s call so that we can share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. At no time was the vision of a new conference rooted out of financial necessity. Certainly, we are looking for efficiencies, which we have found.
Our Call Moving Forward
Our call has been to follow God’s leading to create a new vessel for us to share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. It is in that connection that we will find strength. In the midst of the stress of Covid 19, we have found strength together.
This has not been an easy time for any of us.
Here’s what I know:
I know that God is still at work.
I know that God has work ahead for us to do.
I know that God is going to raise up something powerful out of this moment.
I invite you to join me on a journey of paying attention to God’s call on our lives so that we are able to nimbly respond to that which God invites us to be and do.
May the peace of Christ be with all of you,
Since March of 2020, our Episcopal Area has witnessed one crisis after another, most of them weather-related.
- March tornado
- Covid pandemic concerns
- May winds causing Middle Tennessee power outage
- Christmas bombing in Nashville
- March floods
Now August flooding. Our hearts are heavy this week as our neighbors in Waverly, New Johnsonville, McEwen, and Hickman County begin the long arduous task of recovering from last weekend’s flash flooding event.
Three days into the search and rescue efforts there remain many people unaccounted for. The recovery will be slow. It will be long. It will require resilience from the survivors who will not have all the resources necessary to rebuild. Unlike a tornado that hits one neighborhood and spares another, a flood overwhelms entire communities.
Robert Craig, the Disaster Response Coordinator for our Episcopal Area is already working with agencies that respond best. The primary coordination of volunteers in a disaster like this is done through the state VOAD – Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This is a non-profit association of over 60 organizations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), who engage in every aspect of recovery.
When disaster strikes, the United Methodist Church always responds. It is one of the hallmarks of our Connection. The strength of United Methodists through UMCOR is quality training and formation for long-term recovery as well as disaster case management. We give thanks that already, UMCOR is responding with an initial disaster response grant that the conference can utilize to get support where it is most needed. Also, supplies are already in transit from the UMCOR Warehouse in Decatur and from the Holston Conference.
Our districts are currently identifying collection points if your church wants to contribute specific requested items that will include cleaning buckets and hygiene kits. Details will be available later this week at twkumc.org/disaster-response.
When our trained Emergency Response Teams are invited in, we will be ready to deploy. Until then, there really is not a great deal that untrained volunteers can do right now. Unsolicited volunteers cause an additional burden on communities that are already overwhelmed in the rescue phase. As the county leaders communicate the time for larger relief efforts to begin, the UMC and many other partners will offer our human resources.
The TWK Conference and UMCOR will be working with the Tennessee State VOAD to coordinate our efforts in responding to the storm. We will be working with Inspiritus (formerly Lutheran Services of Tennessee), to follow their lead in cleanup efforts and coordination.
As we are learning, several hundred homes have been flooded. There will be needs to feed and shelter those who have been displaced. The VOAD will be coordinating these efforts. Robert Craig will alert us daily with the ways we can respond once the timeframe for relief has been determined.
This effort is developing and ongoing. Watch for updates on TWKUMC social media and at twkumc.org about how and when you can help.
When Early Response Teams are welcomed into the impacted areas, Clifton Tackett, TWK Conference ERT Coordinator, will coordinate their deployment. If you are an UMCOR trained Early Response Team member and have not heard from Clifton, please reach out to him directly (firstname.lastname@example.org). All other volunteers should wait until it is possible to deploy untrained volunteers.
Monetary donations are the best way to quickly help the Conference respond and assist those in need.
- Donations made to UMCOR should be directed to Advance 901670 for US Disasters. Please signify TN Flood to help direct the money to the Conference.
- Checks can be made out and mailed to the Tennessee Conference (with Disaster Response in the memo line) at PO Box 440132, Nashville, TN 37244
Your prayers and your financial gifts are deeply appreciated.
As United Methodists, we are people committed to John Wesley’s first rule of doing no harm.
We thought we were moving beyond the pandemic. News reports tell us that we are not.
The risk of novel or breakthrough infection from the Delta variant of Covid-19 gives us all reason to evaluate our practices of safety and prevention, both vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.
When the TWKUMC Covid-19 Task Force was assembled and first met, one thing that the team agreed to acknowledge was the fluidity of this pandemic. They affirmed the phrase “when we know better, we do better.”
Based on the CDC’s most recent best practices encouraging all people to mask when together indoors, we again offer the guidelines developed and distributed by the TWKUMC Conference in 2020 as current best practices to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
I recommend that your churches follow these guidelines at this time.
We know this is not where we expected to be, however we are led by Wesley’s rule to do what is needed to keep our neighbor and ourselves safe.
Over the past 18 months, we have proven we can adapt quickly to ensure our ministries continue safely. Along with masking and social distancing, we know vaccination is the most valuable tool available to combat this pandemic.
The vaccines approved by the FDA for expanded use in this country are both safe and effective against severe illness and death from Covid-19. Currently, vaccination is approved for persons 12-years of age and older.
Vaccines are available, at no charge, at most pharmacies and health departments, often without an appointment. Globally, 4.21 billion vaccines have been given, with 347 million of those vaccinations given in the United States. If your congregation members have questions about receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, please encourage them to have an open conversation with their healthcare provider.
We must all do our part to mitigate the spread of this new variant.
Peace be with you all in this season. Together we can stop this deadly disease.
Forward Tennessee supports coalitions promoting policies that make Tennessee a fairer, healthier, more equitable state. Tomorrow afternoon through their Protect my Care initiative they will host a virtual event where pastors and doctors answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Their invitation follows:
Since March 2020, we have learned that even while physically apart, we are stronger and more effective at keeping each other safe when we work together as a community to combat COVID-19. For over a year, doctors from across the state have spoken out to call for a response based on science and data and keeps us all protected.
Now that effective and safe vaccines are widely available across the state for everyone 12 and older, Protect my Care is hosting a COVID-19 Vaccine Roundtable with both doctors and pastors to address your vaccine related questions and vaccine hesitancy.
I will be joined by:
Dr. Diana Sepehri-Harvey, DO, MPH. Family Medicine, Masters in Public Health, Franklin
Dr. Sara Cross, MD. Associate Professor of Medicine/Infectious Disease, University of TN College of Medicine, Memphis
Rev. Dr. Lillian Lammers, Associate Pastor of First Congregational Church of Memphis
Rev. Ian Cullen, Palliative Care Staff Chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Hope to see you Thursday!
Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, MD, MPH
Internal Medicine/Primary Care, Masters in Public Health, Nashville
Today we continue the conversations between Dr. Cynthia Davis and me as we think about spiritual and emotional care. We have a team that is working on a plan to deepen the resources offered through Spiritual Direction, Coaching and Counseling.
It is our hope that by Annual Conference we will be able to offer specific opportunities to support your journey.
Spanish subtitles are available under the “CC” tab on the right side of the play bar. Los subtítulos en español están disponibles en la pestaña “CC” en el lado derecho de la barra de reproducción.
Across the last 12 months I have become increasingly aware of the challenges facing our pastors as they have navigated the unevenness of the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racism. I have observed in my own spirit weariness of social distancing and the loss of our normal ways of doing and being as the body of Christ.
As your Chief Shepherd, it is my desire to find ways to assist our pastoral leaders in strengthening their resilience through tending to their spiritual and emotional care. What follows today and next week are conversations between Dr. Cynthia Davis and me as we think about spiritual and emotional care. We have a team that is working on a plan to deepen the resources offered through Spiritual Direction, Coaching and Counseling.
It is our hope that by Annual Conference we will be able to offer specific opportunities to support your journey.
Spanish subtitles are available under the “CC” tab on the right side of the play bar.
Los subtítulos en español están disponibles en la pestaña “CC” en el lado derecho de la barra de reproducción.
Please receive this a few days later than I had hoped.
Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Spirit of the living God, we pray for all people everywhere who seek to answer your call. Guide us as we face further decisions and strengthen us when the path of discipleship is difficult. Keep us open to your call in our own lives as we go out with you to invite all to be a part of your kingdom. Give us wisdom and courage to be willing to walk the road less travelled into the hard places of need. Forgive us for our failure of heart and our failure of nerve. We make this prayer in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
One of the things I love about Jesus is that he reaches out to ordinary people when he begins his mission. I’m especially fond of the fact that he called fishermen—not that I’ve ever been a particularly successful fisherman. My childhood friend and fellow PK, Ricky Wiygul was the best I have ever known at catching fish. He always seemed to have the touch to catch fish when no one else could.
I also love how Matthew’s Gospel places before us the high standards for the followers of Jesus. If you read the Gospel of Matthew carefully, you will notice that Matthew doesn’t give us Jesus lite. Or as a friend of mine said, the diet version of Jesus.
Even so, the gospel, right at the beginning, tells us Jesus calls the ordinary ones, telling them extraordinary things. He tells them he will empower them to do that which he himself does—which is to announce and invite folks into this kingdom.
Biblical scholar Tom Wright writes in his book Jesus and the Victory of God that the two most characteristic aspects of Jesus’ ministry are announcement and invitation. Not only does Jesus announce the advent of God’s promised kingdom, he also invites people to come forward and to be a part of that kingdom. Will Willimon reminds us that Jesus basically has one question, “Will you join me?” Simple agreement with the gospel is not enough. There is always an invitation and a response required from Jesus.
Is it enough to say that without an invitation, without an opportunity to respond in worship, we have failed the Biblical mandate of the Gospel? Before we are sent into all the world, Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” May I go so far to say that a church that is not inviting may not be fulfilling it’s call to be a disciple-making church. For in the end, our faithful call is to follow Jesus—to be those who fish for people.
One of the models for ministry I learned from my father was to be inviting and to include people in the journey. In every congregation he ever served across 40 or more years of ministry there were always professions of faith and positive growth. Usually, the people who came along side him in the congregations across North Mississippi were ordinary people.
Upon reflection, he must have learned that from Matthew’s Gospel—Jesus calling fisherman to help him do his work. Jesus needed these ordinary people to help him. Then, he issued the call to change. The message of Matthew 4 is: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (vs. 17).
I learned very early in ministry that I could not “see all the people” on my own if the churches I served were to grow. I needed to enlist some help. So every Monday night, a group of laypersons from the congregation I served would join me in visiting. We would go in teams of two. I think Jesus taught that, too.
A friend of mine, a pastor, tells the story of a church he served that took some ordinary people, a couple of grandparents, and sent them into the mission field. They decided at the Administrative Council meeting that they would visit every baby that was born within a mile radius of the church. They simply drew a one-mile circle around the church. Then, they voted on which members looked most like grandparents and sent this couple out to visit the babies. They took a little packet of information about caring for a newborn, a few coupons from local businesses, and some information about the church.
The visiting grandparents were always welcome. They would enter the home and say, “A new baby! You are in for some changes! If you need any help, please call us. We have been in the baby business a long time.”
He said, “What the church lacked in many things, they did have one thing in their favor: a surplus of grandparents. We turned that into an advantage.” In a society where the family is in big trouble, just something as simple as grandparenting can be used in Jesus’ consistent call to reach people.
My friend later said, “Here’s what we learned: it goes to show you that when people are terrified they are good subjects for the church’s evangelism.”
Maybe you remember that terror when you were a new parent. You are extremely vulnerable when that first baby comes. You do not know what you do not know. In short, most of us were and are ill equipped to raise a human being. Being desperate for help, new parents are open to the support from the Church. All we have to say is “We care; we can help.”
Maybe you have heard me say that none of us got into the Christian Family on our own. Someone brought us, invited us, or maybe even dragged us to Church. When did Jesus come calling your name? Maybe this is why we need to think about those in our one-mile circle who need a friend. Perhaps, also, you might consider what your gift is that could be shared. A former church member, Nanny Mae Underwood, made a wonderful homemade chicken pot pie. Often she would bake one and take it to a new neighbor with an invitation to our church. What might you offer? To befriend a child? To tutor a child in the summer to strengthen their reading skills?
Many of you already know how to do many things but maybe it has not registered that Jesus might use you and your gifts to connect with people, to become fishers of people for the kingdom.
Remember: Jesus calls us to be disciples. He promises that he will teach us how. In that promise we become part of his embrace of the world. In your journey, listen, watch, consider, what God might be calling you to do for the sake of His kingdom.
As we journey this Lenten season, may we listen for God’s holy invitation to fish for people.
This week, the Nashville Area Cabinet met to continue the work of the appointive cabinet for this conference year. We began by praying for each pastoral family and each congregation, seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We are far too mindful of our own human shortcomings as we do this work for we “see through a glass darkly.”
Still, it is the task for which we have been called and which we believe offers us the best opportunity to give the best leadership available to the congregations under our care. Over the last several weeks, District Superintendents have been in consultation with pastors and congregations seeking wisdom and understanding for the work that is before us. We ask for your prayers.
Perhaps you will recall reading the covenant around which we order our lives. The following exerpt relates to our appointive work:
Remember that we belong to the Annual Conference and, as so, our individual contribution to Cabinet Work is toward the economy of the whole. The mission of the Church is our first priority. In our appointive work, we hold these convictions in common and allow them to characterize our work:
- We cannot do enough consultation.
- It is better to make no appointment than to make the wrong appointment.
- We will only reward those who have been fruitful with the responsibility they have been given.
In all our work, we will maintain the practice and spirit of confidentiality by adopting the following practices:
- Hold all cabinet meeting conversations in strictest confidence unless/until permission is granted to share information with others.
- Hold all personal conversations between the bishop and cabinet members in strictest confidence unless/until permission is granted to share information with others.
- Ensure that Administrative Assistants hold conversations with the superintendents and communications between superintendents and episcopal office in strictest confidence.
- Embrace the most confidential use of technology for cabinet and district office communications.
Always during this season, I am reminded of God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.
From the beginning of the Methodist Movement, pastors have been sent. It is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the United Methodist Church. Since 1746 when John Wesley appointed lay preachers whom he called “helpers” to definitive circuits, we have followed this practice. I suspect that sometime in the future, this practice will be modified to address the changes in life patterns of 21st-century people. Until then, we continue to practice the gift of itinerancy.
May each of you be a blessing in the places God has called you.
Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
In these strange and unusual days, when darkness wants to defeat us
and the futility of life oppresses so many souls,
when belief and unbelief appear indifferent
and what is left
is natural passion to express the pride of life,
or the empty void of nothingness
when the nerve to live and to create is weakened and suicides increase—
O Lord, forgive the failures of your Church to witness to the world
that justice should run down as water
and righteousness a mighty stream,
O Lord, forgive the failure of the Christian life
That lives so worldly
That few can see the Spirit that must proclaim the Kingdom of God’s love to
to glorify His Name.
Fr. Gilbert Shaw, 1886-1967 in George Appleton, ed., The Oxford Book of Prayer, Oxford University Press
I love the Gospel of Mark. Mark doesn’t give us flowery language. He doesn’t elaborate in great detail the events of Jesus’ life. He gives us the clearest version of the life of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus’ primary vocation is that of a teacher, preaching the Kingdom of God. He is also a healer. However, in this text from Mark 8, he is teaching.
Most of us would have dropped the course after this lesson—when he tells his disciples that he must suffer many things…be rejected…and be killed. (vs. 31) With that, Peter gets on his soapbox and rebukes Jesus.
Then, Jesus turns and rebukes Peter calling him “Satan.” Whew!
Next the teaching begins…not only is a cross ahead for him, but for them as well. (vs 34)
We don’t speak of cross bearing much these days but the Gospels are clear…cross bearing and discipleship go together. Faithful discipleship is cross bearing.
The season of Lent focuses on the cross. Jesus points us there early in the gospel and the Church has taken the Lenten journey seriously to lead in the path of the cross. Here Jesus lays aside the pursuit of pleasure. He doesn’t do what we choose so often to do—avoid pain, sacrifice, gaining not losing. Mark tells us that Jesus lays these aside.
Bishop Will Willimon reminds us that these are laid aside for us. Not only is Jesus saying my way will be difficult. He is telling us, the way for us will not be free of struggle, pain or suffering. Peter really doesn’t want to hear this. And Willimon reminds us that this is no way for disciples to behave either.
I came across a story in my files this week. I don’t remember where I found it or if I ever used it in a sermon. However, as we come to end of Black History month and as I reflect on the racial tension that continues to find its way into our world and, unfortunately, the Church, it struck me as a call to discipleship for our time.
The writer begins:
I remember the day I learned to hate racism. I was five years old. The walk home from school was only about five blocks. I usually walked with some friends. On this day I walked alone. Happy, but in a hurry, I decided to take the shortcut through the ally. Without a care in world I careened around the corner. Then I looked up—too late to change course. I had walked in on a back-ally beating.
There were three big white kids. In retrospect they were probably no more than sixth graders, but they looked like giants from my kindergarten perspective. There was one black kid. He was standing against a garage, his hands behind his back. The three white kids were taking turns punching him. They laughed. He stood silently except for the involuntary groans that followed each blow.
And now I was caught. One of the three grabbed me and stood me in front of their victim. “You take a turn,” he said. “ Hit the boy!” I stood paralyzed. “Hit him or you’re next!” the giant shouted at me.
So I did. I feigned a punch. I can still feel the soft fuzz of that boy’s turquoise sweater as my knuckles gently touched his stomach. I don’t know how many punches there were. I don’t know how long he had to stand backed up against the garage. After my minute participation in the conspiracy they let me go and I ran. I ran home crying and sick to my stomach. I have never forgotten.
Thirty-five years later that event still preaches a sermon to me every time I remember it. One can despise, decry, denounce, and deplore something without ever being willing to suffer, or even be inconvenienced, to bring about change. If there is one thing that Jesus taught us it was how to suffer with and for others.
Jesus walked the way of the cross. He taught us the meaning of suffering as a servant. Perhaps my first chance to follow that example came in an ally by a garage thirty-five years ago.
I don’t know if that black boy from the alley grew up, or where he lives, or what he does today. I never knew his name. I wish I did. I wish I could find him. I need to ask his forgiveness—not for the blow I delivered—it was nothing, but for the blows I refused to stand by and receive. I think that’s what it takes. Source: Pulpit Resource Vol. 22, No. 1 January-March 1994 (Peter Velander—Editor’s Clip Sheets)
I can’t help but wonder today, how many of us fail in our willingness to take up our cross, to stand with those on the margins, to not shrink back. I invite you to reflect in these cross-bearing days of Lent to ask forgiveness for those failures of nerve and those failures of heart when we stood by or walked away or turned our head, shut our eyes to the pain and suffering and injustice around us. Then pick up whatever cross you have been given and walk to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to Calvary and the Empty Tomb.
For, in the end, we are Easter People. We are those whose power comes from two sources—the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit.
On this Sunday, the day when, in the midst of the 40-day journey of Lent, we celebrate the power of Easter, let us rise with Jesus.
Yesterday, the Commission on the General Conference announced that General Conference 2020 has been postponed yet again. This postponement is a result of the Global pandemic with which we have all come far too familiar. Additionally, the Council of Bishops have set May 8, 2021 for a Special Called Session of the General Conference to be convened virtually across the world.
The purpose of the Special Called Session is in order to suspend the rules of the General Conference to consider using paper balloting for 12 items of legislation. As you may now know, the Book of Discipline is not designed to assist the Church in functioning well during a global pandemic. By approving these 12 items, the Church will be able to move forward until it becomes reasonable to hold an in person General Conference. By exercising the use of paper ballots, we will experience the best possible opportunity for all delegates to participate.
Attached you will find a General Conference FAQ which will assist in answering your questions. I suspect these answers are inadequate to fully respond to all of your questions. These are unprecedented times and we are seeking to be adaptive to the circumstances that this Global Pandemic has created.
I will be meeting next week with our General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates to explore what this means for our life together. I anticipate the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference will meet in July of 2021 at which time those bishops eligible to retire would do so. It is also my hope that the final vote for the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference would be held. It is the Jurisdictional Conference that sets Conferences’ boundaries, so this is the last vote necessary for us to fully embrace our new conference. We then would anticipate our organizing conference to be in the fall of 2021.
While I understand the frustration of many regarding these decisions, the desire of both the Commission on the General Conference and the Council of Bishops is to allow our delegates to fully participate in the legislative process without disenfranchising anyone from full participation.
As we continue walking through this season of Lent, let us remember that our particular work in the Nashville Episcopal Area is to strengthen local churches to make Disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world might be changed. We continue to press forward with our work “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith.”
May the peace of Christ dwell richly within you.