My wise son shared the following story with me from Ben Quash’s book “Abide.”
One of the greatest female saints of the early Church was a woman named Macrina. She lived from around 330 until her death on 19 July, 379—a death that was recorded lovingly and in considerable detail by one of her brothers, Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory revered his older sister. She was an inspiration to him.
He calls her a Mother, Father, Teacher, Tutor, Advice-Giver, all in one.
He says that she was angelic—perfect in virtue and beautiful—but she was human; her profound holiness is grounded in her life, her relationships, and her place. Gregory was present at Macrina’s death almost by accident.
He was a hard-pressed bishop in difficult times, and had not had an opportunity to visit his sister for some years, when he found himself traveling near the community where she lived and he decided to go to her. As he drew close, he was met by a servant that warned him that his sister was gravely ill.
They took him to the holy dwelling in which his sister was lying, “terribly afflicted with weakness.” He doesn’t know it yet, but she only had one more night to live, and will die the following day. These precious hours give Gregory the opportunity for a series of intense and moving final conversations with her, in which she recalls the blessings of her life and shares them with him. Then progressively, as the final day of her life slips by, her speech becomes wholly prayer, her prayer (as her voice fails) becomes wholly silent prayer, and finally she passes from this life.
At Macrina’s request, Gregory is closely involved in the preparation of her body for burial, as well as with her funeral. It is in the preparation of her body that he encounters a scar, a small faint mark below her neck. It turns out that Macrina had in earlier times had a life-threatening tumor on that spot, which resulted in an open sore and which was so near her heart as to make it inoperable.
But she found herself the recipient of a miracle of healing, in which the tears shed during long prayers were mixed with the mud of the sanctuary where she prayed, and this mud—applied to her breast by her mother in the sign of the cross—was followed by an extraordinary recovery.
All that was left of that event was the scar, a sign of her fragility and weakness, but also a token of God’s powerful help.
The story of the miracle is itself remarkable, but what was also remarkable to Gregory was the scar. The healing was not the eradication of all signs of the tumor.
The skin does not revert back to total, unbroken smoothness. A mark on the skin abides, as a sign of what has happened.
If Holy Week is about anything, it is about the scars that are inflicted upon Jesus that bring healing.
Isaiah 53:5 reminds us:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
When we remember the last night of Jesus’ life around a table, there is the anticipation of betrayal, a scar to the soul of Jesus. By the end of Friday, the one we call Good Friday, Jesus’ body bears scars that come from being beaten and bruised. Nailed to the cross, speared in the side.
By the scars of Jesus, we are healed, made whole. Everybody I know who has lived long enough has scars.
You have scars. I have scars. Our bodies are covered with memories of our missteps, falls, cuts, and surgeries, by harm done to us and by us.
The scars are visible reminders of the wounds we’ve absorbed as we’ve lived life. We have places on our skin that have not returned to unbroken smoothness.
We have also experienced wounds in life that give our souls scars.
- Wounds from grief.
- Wounds from illness.
- Wounds from relationships.
- Wounds from failure.
- Wounds that others have inflicted upon you.
- Self-inflicted wounds.
We live in a world in which it is always possible, or so it seems, to wipe our slates clean. We delete all the old pictures from our FB or Instagram accounts and move on. We clean out the closets. Move to a new house. Pick a new career. You throw yourself into a new relationship. We cover up our scars and pretend like they are not there.
But, many of us have wounds that abide, that linger, that impair us. Unresolved anger or grief. Fears. Questions. Shame or guilt. Feelings of inadequacy.
And as much as we like to pretend that they’re not there; as much as we want to pretend that we’ve started over, we feel the rough edges of the scars. Our wounds abide with us whether we want them to or not.
The message of Holy Week and Easter is this—through the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are transformed. By the amazing grace of God’s healing we are given a second chance.
We come to the table on Maundy Thursday and receive the gifts of bread and wine. This holy meal is given for us. We are among those Jesus calls friends. By such, we are called to participate in a holiness of heart and life. When we rise from the table, we are sent into the world to love as we have been loved, scars and all.
John, one of my best friends in the world, has had a month-long hospital stay due to a complicated heart challenge. For days he was unconscious and unresponsive. We doubted if we would ever see John again, and if we did, we wondered what his prospects of a healthy life were.
Today, John was released from the hospital and able to be home. He is doing pretty well, given where he has been.
About 10 days ago, in the night, when things were not yet certain for John, he called me. He was alone in his hospital room and had grown anxious. He said, “When my wife goes home and I am alone in this hospital bed, I become very frightened about my prospects of a future.” I then asked John to recount all the positive signs that had come to him in the last few days.
I then said, “John, you have experienced a resurrection.” It was true. John knew it and I knew it. From that moment forward, John has made steady progress which made his release from the hospital possible.
While he had no visible scars, no surgery performed, he was bearing under the weight equivalent of a deep scar. And he is being healed. His lifestyle will change. But in his heart of hearts, he is a new creature in Christ.
May the love of Christ come to you through this Holy Season and bring you healing for your scars, visible or not, so that you may experience the fullness of resurrection.
This was recorded live on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
Live Stream Participants:
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Moderator, Rev. Deborah Owens
Tennessee Conference Delegation Leaders: Jim Allen & Rev. Harriet Bryan
Memphis Conference Delegation Leaders: David Reed & Rev. Sky McCracken
Over the course of the past several days and weeks I have heard a common refrain from my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who call themselves Methodists. Statements such as “I do not know who I am apart from the United Methodist Church” or “I do not know who I am apart from the Church” and I find myself reflecting on those same sentiments.
I do not know who I am apart from the United Methodist Church.
In 1968 I was confirmed in the Fulton Methodist Church which later that the same year became Fulton United Methodist Church. Along with some of the finest people I have ever known, we offered our lives as living sacrifices to Christ and his Church and promised to live in covenant with our sisters and brothers everywhere who were living out their baptism as United Methodists.
When I graduated from high school and chose to attend Millsaps College, one of our United Methodist Colleges, little did I know that I was entering a line of splendor that 40 years later would count me among 9 graduates who have been elected bishop in the United Methodist Church. The journey between Millsaps College and the Nashville Episcopal Area has been deeply rich and amazingly rewarding. That the providential hand of God has guided my steps throughout these years is without question. Navigating my way among the people called Methodists, has taught me that God is always going before, always surprising, new every morning.
I shall never forget the opening worship of my first General Conference in 2000.
I witnessed the most stirring worship as the processional featured persons from the Global Church. It stirred my deepest sense of praise to God and it opened my eyes to a wider circle than I had known. Since then, I have travelled across the globe and witnessed the power of God’s movement in multiple contexts and cultures. As I wrote recently, my experience in the Holy Land also deepened my love for the many people who have come to know Christ because the Church took seriously John 3:16 and Matthew 28.
It appears now that this church of ours is fractured deeply. Some believe it is fractured beyond healing. We may discover in the days to come this is our reality. Until then, however, I urge each pastor and congregation across our area to take a deep breath. Just as our counselors advise us in the recovery of grief, no decisions need to be made with haste. Let us be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Let us hold steady until we can better determine our future.
I do not know who I am apart from this great Church of ours.
My father was a part of a generation that experienced great personal and social transition. Soon after his death in December, I said to my sister and brother, “that our father heard a call to ministry and left the family farm and went to college and later to seminary accounts for the many ways we have been blessed beyond measure.”
Prevenient grace poured over my life the day I was born. The four churches my father served when I was a child poured into my siblings and me so that we would claim the faith of our fathers and mothers. Sunday School teachers, Boy Scout Masters, MYF leaders, Choir directors, Counselors at Camp, Conference Youth Ministry all contributed to my faith formation and for this reason I don’t know who I am apart from this great Church of ours.
Maybe, you too, do not know who you are apart from the United Methodist Church.
For generations, the people called Methodists in Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky have been writing God’s story. We are a diverse family—conservative-centrist-progressive. We often disagree, yet we hold firm to the primacy of scripture and the centrality of grace.
These same ideals were things I saw practiced by my mother and father in our home, things I learned in congregations across North Mississippi, and are things I see across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences.
The work now before us is to continue to walk with our brothers and sisters across the Church. It is often messy, hard and challenging work. We now need a deep healing. How might we be a part of healing our Church in this very divided moment? Holding onto each other is more difficult than letting go, loving in the midst of difficulty, finding hope in the midst of struggle and suffering.
I do not know the United Methodist Church without the Young People who are committed to Christ and this Church.
Over the course of the last few days, my son, a young pastor committed deeply to the United Methodist Church and to mentoring young adults who are discerning a call to ministry, shared this note with me from a candidate for ministry and a college student attending Birmingham Southern College. The student was willing for me to share his witness with you:
“Just got back to my apartment from General Conference and I want to share my thoughts with you. This was a difficult yet fruitful experience. My heart broke as I saw both sides attack each other. Yesterday, I could not fight back my tears as I saw a physical divide on the floor when two groups attempted to sing and chant over one another. I truly saw the ugliest part of our church. I was filled with disgust at the church as a whole. Despite this, I saw some of the most beautiful parts of our church. I witnessed people come together and proclaim unity even though the plan that they supported did not pass. I saw young, devout Methodists say that they have too much love for the church to give up on the denomination as a whole. I wanted to see our church agree that we might not all think alike but that we could still give hope for others who want to pursue ministry in our beautiful church (I was one of the 15,000 young Methodists under the age of 35 to sign that petition that made it to the floor yesterday). This has made me extremely ready to start ministry and to get as involved as possible in our annual conference.”
We in the Nashville Episcopal Area are deeply blessed to have young clergy and young leaders who deeply love the United Methodist Church. Our ministry with young people is profound and many are hearing a call to ministry. I am encouraged by their faithfulness and desire to follow God’s call upon their lives. When 2,500 young people gather in one place to worship and praise God, I am certain God is at work among us.
But what I do know is…God is not yet finished with the United Methodist Church.
Unlike some of the clergy who left Mississippi during the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s, my father stayed, rolled up his sleeves and worked to bridge the gap between where we were and where God was leading us. Through the leadership of many faithful lay and clergy men and women in small, medium and large congregations, bridges were built and huge strides were made in our congregations and our communities with regard to race relations. My father taught my siblings and me how to build bridges across divides as God shows us a way through.
I want to say to our LGBTQ members and friends, you are beloved children of God. Many of you were baptized as infants in our churches, nurtured in Sunday school, and participated in our Youth Ministry. You were confirmed in our Churches. You are living out the tenets of your faith—in new and transformative ways that have never existed. You have given your life to Christ and His Church. Communities in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences celebrate the gifts God has given you. I am looking for the churches who will be sanctuary for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We are the Church—and it is up us to demonstrate our love for God and our love for those God loves.
The unfolding journey as United Methodists is ever before us, not behind us.
As we continue processing the next steps for our denomination, I will be praying for the God who formed us in our baptism to lead us in discovering our future together in the United Methodist Church.
God is writing a better story in us and through us.
Let us be attentive to one another, to the Holy Spirit, and to the places where God is already on the move.
This Sunday, the Table of our Lord will be spread.
It is God’s Table and all are welcome.
To submit a question to be addressed during the live stream, please send an email to GC19question@gmail.com. Please try to get it to us by Tuesday, March 5. Thank you!
We are nearing the end of the final day of General Conference 2019, the special session that was called to be held in St. Louis just this week. I want to tell you how grateful I am for the prayers of the Memphis and Tennessee conferences, as your delegations and I have been here seeking to find a way forward for our United Methodist Church.
I want you to know that while we have been in St. Louis, we have been praying for you as those across the Memphis and Tennessee conferences have been facing flooding. We’re mindful that there are many who are displaced because of those floods, and want to remind you that Robert Craig is our Disaster Response Coordinator and you can find contact information for him on our conference websites.
Many of you have watched the live streaming of the special session, and you have followed the coverage – many of you, moment by moment. You have probably also followed some of our United Methodist news service outlets. But if you’re not already aware, this afternoon we passed the Traditional Plan which was passed by a significant margin, 54% roughly to 47%. That plan has been adopted and it will need to be further studied by the Judicial Council to rule on constitutionality.
As a result of the decision, some of you feel relief. Others of you are in disbelief, and some are angry. Many feel a sense of grief. My first reminder today as your chief pastor is to love one another. Some of your neighbors, some of your church members are hurting because of this decision.
It will take time for all of us to understand how these decisions will affect us at the grassroots..how they will affect the future of the United Methodist Church.
Likely there will be adjustments that we have to live into within the reality of our Church, but one thing is certain, the church will continue to be the church. We will continue to love the least and the last, our neighbors in our communities. We will continue to offer hope to a hurting world in every place we exist in the Tennessee and Memphis conferences and Kentucky.
Our conferences will continue to value local churches as the disciple-making center of all of our ministry. We will continue to be diverse. We will continue to be rooted in Christ, and we will express a deep love for one another.
This coming week, your church will gather for worship. Someone will teach Sunday School. Youth will gather for MYF. Other churches will reach out to those in need with food pantries and clothes closets. For some, they may need to set some time aside for grieving.
As soon as the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops meets, I’ll return to our Episcopal Area and I will begin the hard work of doing ministry with you as we discern what this decision means for the Church.
I ask you that you allow us the opportunity – before you or your church make any decisions regarding your relationship with the United Methodist Church – to be in conversation with you.
On Sunday, March the 10th at 3:00 p.m., I, along with our delegation heads, will be coming to you livestream, and you’ll have an opportunity to hear more details about what we discern is our future.
If you wish to send questions, you may do so at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updates will continue to be shared through our conference websites, and our task teams on the ongoing work for our New Conference that will continue.
I invite you to continue praying for the future of our denomination, for the future of the Tennessee and Memphis conferences, for the work that God has called us to do in a very specific, particular place called the Nashville Episcopal Area.
I’m deeply grateful for each of you and I thank you for your willingness to work with me in this time of transition. May God be with us.
Lynn and I returned last week in the wee hours of Thursday morning after a wonderful pilgrimage in the Holy Land. We traveled by bus with some of our recent Ordinands and several Laity from across Tennessee and Alabama.
Every time I walk in Galilee, stand on the banks of the Jordan River, or walk the trail from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, I am reminded of how wide and vast is the influence of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, and his tribe called Christians. On pilgrimage alongside our group were Asians, Africans, Germans, Italians, among others!
Every time I walk the Via Dolorosa, I reflect on the worldwide nature of the Church–not just United Methodists—but persons from every nation, language, people and race.
Such a journey gives one perspective.
As we approach February 23 and the beginning of the called session of General Conference, we all could use a little perspective. Sometimes it is helpful to take the long view. The work of Christ’s Holy Church began long before we came along and will go on long after this moment.
There is no doubt that this is an important moment. The debates about human sexuality and who can be ordained and who can be married are important for the United Methodist Church. The Commission on the Way Forward has presented the 2019 General Conference with three plans to consider. Across every Conference, there have been sincere listening, courageous conversations, and meaningful discourse. There have also been hurtful attacks, fear-mongering, and misinformation. It is impossible to know what will happen among the people called United Methodists in three brief days in St. Louis later this month.
It’s easy to get discouraged because we have no idea how it is going to turn out.
The uncertainty we are all feeling can turn us inward into the places in our souls that are most afraid, that long to control outcomes.
It can turn us inward to the worst spirits in our culture: the spirit of competitiveness, the spirit of power.
We must turn outward beyond ourselves.
We must turn outward
towards one another in love and mutual respect,
towards God in prayer.
We must turn outwards
watching for Jesus, the man from Galilee to go ahead of us
listening for the Holy Spirit to speak to the Church.
I confess that there have been moments over the past two years when I have been discouraged by the tone of conversation in our beloved Church.
There have been times when I have doubted and when I have been afraid.
But, God continues to remind me that the work of Christ’s Holy Church began long before we came along and will go on long after this moment.
And so I invite you to pray with me.
I am praying for humility, wisdom, for kindness, for generosity and self-control.
I am praying that the witness of those gathered in St. Louis February 23-26 will bear witness to the love of God in Christ.
I am praying that the Church will cease its mission drift and will continue to bless those who are discerning a call to ministry.
I am praying that we will do no harm.
I am praying that when the history books are written, this era of Church history will be judged not by the lens of short-sightedness but through the lens of God’s great grace guiding us through challenging waters.
One of the last things we did in Jerusalem was to walk the Via Dolorosa and go the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
I was reminded as I walked that lonesome road of something Dr. Davis Chappell said to me the day before we departed. He said:
“The truth is – all 4 strands of Judaism were disappointed in Jesus. The Sadducees said – he’s too radical. The Pharisees said – he’s too liberal. The Zealots said – he’s too conservative. The Essenes said – he’s too inclusive. Jesus didn’t line up with these groups! And consequently, they were all disappointed in Jesus. And so, they found a way to get rid of him! But God raised him up.”
I can’t help but wonder with which strand Jesus would align. Or if he were to come, and he didn’t align with our particular strand, if we, too, would reject him.
Beware of assuming that Jesus lines up perfectly with your group.
Remember that Jesus is always going ahead of us
sometimes surprising us
because his thoughts are not our thoughts
and his way is not our way.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ here by God’s great grace alone.
I don’t know what will happen at General Conference.
I don’t know which plan will be adopted.
Here’s what I do know—my role as a bishop in the United Methodist Church is to lead all of God’s people—not just those with whom I agree. When I was elected and consecrated a bishop, the values and beliefs that have guided my life did not change. From the time I was a college student serving as a youth director until this day, my desire has been to be in ministry with all persons. I have sought in this office to abide with Christ and to abide with the Church even when the Church didn’t seem to desire to abide with itself.
The trip to the Holy Land gave me new perspective.
God has not abandoned our Church.
God was at work in the people called Methodists long before we came along
and I believe that God’s work among us will continue.
This weekend four of our five grandchildren have been in Nashville.
It is for them that I hold out hope for this church of ours.
It also is for those who Saturday attended the Orientation to Ministry, discerning their call to ministry.
It is for the young clergy who have gone to great lengths to acquire the necessary educational requirements to serve our churches.
It is for those who have yet to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that it is critical that we allow the Holy Spirit to move among us and that we live with hearts of peace.
Our Lord God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. We do not always know ourselves as well as we think we do, and even though we often believe we are following your will that does not mean we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And we pray for that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. We know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road. Amen. (adapted from a prayer by Thomas Merton)
December 2018 – Bishop Bill McAlilly
The Nashville Episcopal Area
Report Of The Advisory Group Toward
Creating a New Conference
Fall Update, 2018
Over the last several months, an advisory group made up of lay and clergy members began the hopeful and challenging work of living into the decision of the 2018 Annual Conference to continue the work of alignment between the Memphis Conference and the Tennessee Conference.
The primary question to be answered in these last months is do we simply adopt best practices of the two conferences or do we strive to truly to become a new conference with a new vision and a refined mission?
The answer the advisory group has adopted is that we must create a new entity focusing our energy on what God is leading us toward rather than simply blending the two entities. We believe God is saying to us: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
The group agrees on the following:
We believe that the local church is the primary disciple-making entity in the conference.
We believe that we are called, through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to create a culture within the conference where we:
- Lead with Grace
- Discover, connect, equip and send well-qualified lay and clergy leaders who are spiritual leaders
- Are wise stewards of resources as we maximize the resources at the local church
- Foster Innovative expressions of Church
- Foster Innovative expressions of leadership
- Expect a Diverse Church
- Discover and engage with young people in leadership
- Foster emotional intelligence among leaders
- Expect excellence in communication among leaders
- Reflect, Adjust, Do, as we move forward with regard to all ministries
- Hold one another accountable in love
- Celebrate God’s work
The group has organized teams to begin work around the following opportunities: Benefits, Finance & Funding, Property, and Conference Organization & Mission.
The Advisory Group will meet again in early December. Please continue to be in prayer for us as we continue this work.
Last Sunday night, Claflin University Choir provided a mini concert for the Council of Bishops. Their opening number was the historic “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, written by James Weldon Johnson.
In 1899, Johnson was asked to speak to a crowd in Jacksonville, Florida. The occasion was the coming anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Just two decades had passed since the Reconstruction era. The segregated south was deeply divided racially. Lynchings were on the rise across the South.
As Johnson considered his opportunity, he decided to write a poem. The opening line, “Lift every voice and sing,” gave rise to the powerful poem which is now a hymn, the music composed by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson who was classically trained, putting the stanza’s to music. ( ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’: The story behind the ‘black national anthem’ that Beyoncé sang. Washington Post Samantha Schmidt). http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/black-authors-spoken-word-poetry/lift-every-voice-and-sing/
It is a powerful poem, both lyrically and musically. Essentially, it is a poetic recounting of the journey African Americans across the 17th and 18th Century. I never sing the hymn or hear the hymn performed without being deeply moved.
It is a song a of memory and hope.
From the first stanza:
Sing a song full of
The faith that the
Dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of
The hope that the present has brought Us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day
Let us march on till victory is won.
Last Sunday night, almost in unison, the entire room was quickly on their feet acknowledging the power and meaning of these words. It was a moving experience for me in light of the continued racism that continues to be alive and well in our lives.
For my entire life, racism has been a challenge for our church and for our culture. Despite all the progress many folks thinK we have made, we cannot help but be reminded daily of the failures of the progress we are not making.
This was brought home to me recently when ten individuals, including four people of color attended a rally in Nashville. One of the four is a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church. The group arrived at the event after registering properly. Those of color were asked to leave while the others were allowed to stay.
One student in particular is a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. As he seeks to live out his baptismal vows to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression” he participates in movements that support equality, access to healthcare, among others. This brave young man has shared with us that he was only seeking to hear the opinions of a candidate for office. I have asked myself why he was removed and after reviewing the video footage, the only reasonable conclusion I could reach is that he was removed because the color of his skin.
When I consider my own baptismal vow, my own commitment to Jesus Christ and the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, I believe we cannot be silent before injustice.
At the Council of Bishops this week, I joined with my colleagues on the Council who are African American who call the Church to stand against the resurgence of racism in the United States. Today I ask that you pray for unity, acceptance, movement in our own hearts and most of all peace to those who may be different from ourselves. We are more alike than we are different, but we celebrate the uniqueness of God’s cultural and racial diversity in all of us.
I call on all United Methodists in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences to reaffirm your baptismal vows to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. I give thanks to God for those who daily stand against racism and injustice for all people.
In the midst of the recent election cycle, perhaps Samuel Beckett’s words from his 1983 novella, Worstward Ho, offer a more appropriate (and humble) approach to the challenges we now face: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
(This appears in the September 17, 2018 issue of TIME. http://time.com/5388356/our-racist-soul/)
May we United Methodists ever move forward in spite of our failings. And may we ever be steadfast in standing with those who, on our behalf, are brave enough to bear witness to God’s love for all people.
The summer before I began seminary, I had breakfast with the pastor of the Baptist church I grew up in. I told him that I had been offered and accepted a fellowship, which promised a full scholarship in exchange for a commitment to serve the rural church for at least five years after graduation.
“Why would you do that?” my pastor asked. “Don’t you want to go serve at a larger church? That’s how you launch your career.”
It’s a refrain that I heard often, even after I began serving in a rural parish. Well-meaning clergy, people that I respect and admire, would offer similar advice. “Go to that rural church,” I was told, “Don’t make any waves, and in a few years, they’ll reappoint you as an associate pastor at a larger church.”
When I first entered into seminary, my pastor’s remarks, along with that consistent line of advice about waiting out my five years in the rural parish, echoed in my head. Underneath all of those comments is an assumption that valuable ministry rarely happens in the small-membership rural church. For many, the narrative is that rural ministry is a place for the beginning of careers – a place to escape from once you’ve proved your skill – or a place to end a career. Underneath this well-intentioned but misguided advice is that rural communities are not places to have a high-impact ministry. In reality, though, our rural congregations face unique challenges that require thoughtful and strong leaders.
In many rural communities, local churches are some of the only permanent institutions. While businesses, elected officials, and even schools come and go, the rural church remains. Each week, the pews are filled by small business owners, teachers, nurses, and community leaders – a claim which almost no other organization can make.
My previous appointment was a small, rural church in North Carolina. Brought into the connection by Francis Asbury, the area has seen a tremendous amount of change over the last few decades. In the 1970s, farmlands were converted into a lake, which today is a popular daytrip for the nearby urban areas. The once quiet farm road where the church sits is now a busy backroad between two suburbs. Hundreds of cyclists dot the road each weekend in the fall and spring to take advantage of the rolling hills and scenic paths.
The questions that we wrestled with are not that unique: How do we navigate this change? Who is in our community now? What resources are available to us? How do we make this community better?
Rural churches have the potential – and responsibility – to be leaders in the midst of this enormous change in their communities. The Turner Center at Martin Methodist College is committed to empowering and supporting rural congregations as they explore how their congregations can lead transformation. Our goal, as we like to say, is to help rural congregations recognize, cultivate, announce, and invite others to participate in the Kingdom of God that is already being built around them.
At times, that means taking a step back and learning how to see the real needs and gifts of a community. Or, other times, it might mean forming connections with other community leaders in business, non-profits, and elected officials. And still other times, it might just mean taking a look at how our congregations can better serve the changing communities.
I often think back to that time when my pastor told me I would be wasting my time in a rural congregation. Then I think about the meaningful moments in my ministry: helping high school seniors write their college applications and watching them become first generation college students, partnering with a local hospital to offer preventative health-screenings, or working with a food pantry to distribute healthy meals to families during the summer. While those moments are not big and flashy, they will have ripple effects that continue on for years to come.
The truth is that rural communities have a huge potential for high impact ministries. Given that 65% of the churches in the Nashville Episcopal Area are rural, our opportunity for transformation is enormous.
Our goal is to help rural congregations unlock their potential to transform the world for the sake of Jesus Christ. One way that we’re doing that is through our Community Transformation Grant. Rural congregations and District leaders are encouraged to apply for a grant up to $10,000 to fund a project that will impact their communities in a meaningful way. For more information about that program, along with resources for rural ministry, visit us online at www.mmcturnercenter.com, follow us on twitter (@mmcturnercenter) and like us on Facebook.
Rural churches are not forgotten places, rungs on a career ladder, or communities to avoid. They are places where God is at work, where Christ is transforming the world, and they need leaders who are committed to seeing the beauty, the challenges, the gifts, and the opportunities to make lasting, meaningful, God-honoring change.
Reverend Allen Stanton is the Executive Director of the Turner Center at Martin Methodist College
It is Time to Fill the Truck with Disaster Supplies!
Thank you so much to those churches that have been gathering and storing supplies for our sister churches in communities affected by the recent hurricanes. It now is time to fill the truck!
Thanks to the generosity of Sundown Express in Gates, TN, the Nashville Episcopal Area has a semi-truck that we can fill and transport the supplies where our UMCOR teams need them the most. The shipment will leave our Area at the end of October, so please bring supplies to the indicated drop-off locations by the dates given below.
Our Area-wide Disaster Response Coordinator, Rev. Robert Craig, says that the supplies begin accepted for this shipment include the following:
Hygiene kits | DETAILS
Cleaning kits | DETAILS
Tornado buckets | DETAILS (Tape list of contents to side of bucket.)
Tarps: 12×16 feet and larger
20-inch box fans
25-ft extension cords
2-gallon garden sprayers
Metal garden rakes
Please choose one of the following locations to deliver kits, supplies and buckets. Feel free to use the closest, most convenient location. CALL FIRST to confirm hours/deadline before making delivery.
Memphis Conference Dropoff Locations
From the below locations in the Memphis Conference, all items will be transported to Forty West Designs in Jackson, TN. On Saturday, October 27, volunteers will palletize all supplies at Forty West Designs for shipping out on Monday morning.
- Christ United Methodist Church| 4488 Poplar Ave. | Memphis, TN | 901-683-3521 | Drop off items at front of church (under breezeway) Mon-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Germantown United Methodist Church| 2331 South Germantown Rd. | Germantown, TN 38138 | 901-754-7216
- Mississippi River District Office|1382 West Church St, Alamo, TN 38001 | 731-696-4117
- Omni Tech| 1050 S. Main, Dyersburg, TN | 1050 South Main St, Dyersburg, TN | 5 to 8 p.m. each weekday. Go to lower rear building and enter at large rollup bay door.
- Benton First United Methodist Church| 845 US Hwy 641 Spur, Benton, KY | 270-527-3990
- Tennessee River District Office| 24 Corporate Blvd., Jackson, TN | 731-660-1376 | Monday – Thursday: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. | Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
If you have any questions, please contact Robert Craig at email@example.com.
Tennessee Conference Dropoff Locations
In the Tennessee Conference, supplies can be dropped off during the week at the locations listed below.
- Feed America First, 319 Murfreesboro St., Murfreesboro, TN 37127 | Monday-Friday. 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. (The Feed America First staff will palletize and shrink wrap supplies as they arrive! This is a great blessing for us.)
- Cedar Crest Camp | 7900 Cedar Crest Camp Road | Lyles, TN 37098 (There will be an enclosed trailer located at the Cedar Crest office for deposit of supplies from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday. If you have questions, call the camp office at 931-670-3025.)
- Columbia First UMC | 222 W 7th St. | Columbia, TN 38401 (Dropoff at the church between 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call the church for more information at 931-388-3306.)
- New Chapel UMC | 5016 Highway 49 W. | Springfield TN 37172 (Please call Jim Rogers at 615-944-3327 to set up a delivery time.)
- Waverly First UMC | 115 W Main St. | Waverly, TN 37185-1556 (Please call Betsy Haley at 931-622-0692 for a drop off time between 8 a.m. -2 p.m. on Monday-Thursday)
Churches on the western side of the Tennessee Conference also are welcome to bring their supplies to Jackson on Saturday, October 27, to Forty West Designs warehouse, 52 Ragland Rd., Jackson, TN.
Final Shipment to Load and Leave on Monday October 29
Volunteers are needed on Monday, October 29, to help transport supplies as well as on-site at Feed America First to help prepare the load for shipping. If you can help, please email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you in advance for answering this call to action to help our neighbors in need!
I am pleased to announce that Rev. Deborah S. Owens will be the Director of the Nashville Area Office of Leadership Formation and Development (formerly known as the Office of Ministerial Concerns). Rev. Owens is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Conference and currently serves in the Harpeth River District.
Before entering vocational ministry, Rev. Owens had a long career in project management with AT&T. She holds an M.Div. from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. In addition, she also holds a Masters Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University School of Business and Public Management and advanced certification in AT&T’s Quality Management System.
The focus of this position has evolved with the renaming and redirection of the office from the Office of Ministerial Concerns to one that is now dedicated to the leadership formation and development of laity as well as clergy.
The Director is an employee of the Tennessee Annual Conference, but oversees three primary areas of ministry for the Nashville Episcopal Area:
- Operations of the Boards of Ordained Ministry of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences
- Clergy Development and Nurture
- Lay Leadership Development
Rev. Dr. Bryan Brooks, head of the search team, said that Owen’s experience prepares her well for the added lay leadership emphasis for this position. “Deborah served as a Certified Lay Speaker in her church and received her license as a local pastor while in seminary. She then left her corporate career after her ordination as an Elder.”
Rev. Owens brings strong communications, counseling, and organizational skills to this position. She also has served with several district and conference organization and ministry teams, including serving as the secretary of the Tennessee Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.
“The search team was pleased to have so many good candidates apply for this position,” said Brooks. “In the end, we felt that Deborah’s experience aligned best with the new direction for this office.”
Rev. Owens will begin as director in late October at the Tennessee Conference Center in Nashville. She can be contacted at Deborah.Owens@tnumc.org.
More About the Position
The Director oversees all aspects of the Office of Leadership Formation and Development, serving as the direct supervisor of the Assistant Director and Coordinator. The Director is the chief resource for the Nashville Area Boards of Ordained Ministry as well as the candidates/clergy of the Nashville Area. The Director serves as part of the Extended Cabinet of the Nashville Area and is the liaison between the Cabinet and the Nashville Area Boards of Ordained Ministry.
The Director also relates to the following groups/committees: Boards of Laity, District Committees on Ministry, Connectional Ministry Teams, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Offices of Administrative Services, Orders of Elders, Orders of Deacons, and Fellowships of Local Pastors and Associate Members in the Nashville Area.
There are many things to love about The United Methodist Church. One aspect, in particular, is the work done through our campus ministries. For example, at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville Tennessee, the Wesley Foundation under the direction of Reverend Addison Shock and his wife Logan Shock, creates an environment where students find a place to belong and discover their beliefs.
They also are creating a church family in such a way that when two students travel internationally halfway around the world, they find each other. Pictured are Luke Hornby and Paul Tribble who traveled to see each other while in Europe. Tennessee Tech Wesley Foundation unites people around the world embodying Romans 12:5, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
We are blessed by the work of all of our campus ministries in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. You can learn more about them and what they are doing this fall through ministry links on our conference websites:
I am pleased to share news from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Please join me with prayers of support as the agency develops and implements a new strategy for expanding its role in leadership development and formation. I encourage you to follow and participate in this work (outlined below), whether you are lay or clergy.
GBHEM Board of Directors Lay the Groundwork for Formational and Educational Leadership Center
NASHVILLE, Tenn., August 14, 2018 – The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) Board of Directors has unanimously affirmed a new strategy to establish the agency as the resource center for leadership, education and formation to support future and current church leaders of the United Methodist Connection.
The strategy, approved at the board’s summer meeting last week in Nashville, was developed following a detailed evaluation of GBHEM’s impact across the global church, which included identifying the resources and competencies needed in leaders of today and tomorrow.
“What we are doing here at Higher Education and Ministry is building capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation,” said the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary at GBHEM. “I think that the church is asking us for both lay and clergy leadership development to navigate the changes that we are facing, both as a denomination, and in this country and the world.”
“Church leaders must be equipped to deal with diversity and the rapid pace of change, and be people of courage, vision and character,” Cape added. “It is our role to shape people to lead the community of faith. Those needs and those skills, knowledge, abilities and personality traits have evolved over time. We have an opportunity to move in the direction that I believe God’s calling us to move.”
The affirmation of the board, chaired by Bishop William McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area, is its commitment to make the new strategy become a reality. The plan calls for the agency to:
- Expand its role in leadership development and formation, with the expectation that these efforts will strengthen ministry in all places leaders are called to serve, especially in United Methodist-related institutions
- Generate innovative programs, research and evaluation instruments aimed at bolstering and fortifying leadership skills, while ensuring that GBHEM fulfills its mandated charges
- Collaborate with other agencies and groups to expand the availability of varied, relevant and promising models and processes
- Support those functioning in leadership roles across the denomination, ranging from clergy, ministry professionals and parish laity to institutional and educational leaders, chaplains and pastoral counselors, recognizing that these varied groups confront unique challenges within the scope of their positions
In her General Secretary Address, Cape highlighted the plan which positions GBHEM to address the ongoing needs of the denomination to cultivate effective leaders and to forecast leadership requirements for the future of the church.
“This vision comes even as the church confronts important challenges,” Cape said. “Regardless of the outcome of legislative decisions regarding the future structure of the church, the need for the denomination to have effective leaders to serve at all levels of the church worldwide, including local churches, districts, the episcopacy, colleges and universities, community service organizations and other organizations and institutions, such as the military, jails, hospitals and counseling centers, will not diminish. We believe this plan provides a vital, comprehensive vision, one not covered elsewhere in the church.”
The Rev. Stephen Handy, senior pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville, led the worship service at the board meeting and offered words of wisdom concerning the affirmation of the agency’s new strategy.
In addition to the Great Commission, Handy reminded the GBHEM board and staff, there is also the Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” In that, he said, the agency will find its next steps.
“If you don’t love God first, then whatever you put on paper won’t matter,” Handy told the board and staff.
Also, at the meeting, the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society, delivered the 2018 Willson Lecture entitled, “Between Private Sphere and Public Square,” to board members and guests.
Henry-Crowe, who has served as the social justice agency’s top executive since 2014, held up the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church as the latest examples of the rich tradition of “bold statements of conscience guiding the church and interfacing with society – taking stands for justice.”
“The genius of the Social Principles is that they address the issues where suffering, injustice and inequality exist,” Henry-Crowe said. “The Social Principles give the church an opportunity to speak and live out its faith in communities, societies and cultures all around the world. And they provide a way for religious voices to be heard in the halls of power.
“Bishops, the general agencies, annual conferences, pastors and churches find guidance and confidence in speaking on now the 76 statements, adopted by the General Conference as written by United Methodists from across the globe who face myriad injustices and inequities,” she said.
The Willson Lecture series is provided by an endowment from James M. and Mavis Willson of Floydada, Texas. The lectureship is designed to contribute to the spiritual and intellectual enrichment of people from the boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church. The lectures also present the scholarly contributions of leaders in higher education and educational philanthropy to the Nashville community.
To learn more about GBHEM and the board of directors, visit GBHEM.org.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.
Travel with Bishop Bill McAlilly and the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences
Holy Land Tour (January 2019) and Oberammergau Passion Play (June 2020)
I’m happy to offer two spiritual pilgrimage opportunities to you.
In January 2019, we are offering a trip to the Holy Land. Some have called the land the “fifth gospel.” Visiting this fifth gospel will put Scripture into context and open it to you in ways you cannot imagine as we visit the sites where Jesus walked, taught, and prayed.
In June 2020, we are offering a trip to the Oberammergau Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. This passion play, which is performed every ten years, tells the story of the Passion of Christ, beginning with His entry into the ancient city of Jerusalem, followed by His trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. This tour includes sites in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Both of these pilgrimages will be will be true faith experiences, and I would consider it a privilege to share this journey with you.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Holy Land Tour | January 21-30, 2019 | “Bible Land Exploration”
The ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land includes:
- Caesarea by the Sea, Mount Carmel, Megiddo, Nazareth
- Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes
- Tel Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Golan Heights, Bethsaida, Jordan River
- Jericho, Qumran, Masada, the Dead Sea
- Bethlehem, Yad Vashem, Israel Museum
- Jerusalem and the Old City
Optional Post-Tour Additions:
- Wonders of Petra & Dead Sea
- Jerusalem Extended Stay
Prices start at: $3398 from Nashville or Memphis and include:
- Breakfast and Dinner Daily
- Deluxe A/C Motor Coaches
- Entrance and Program Fees
- First Class Hotels
- Taxes, Fees, Gratuities
- Guided Tours
- Round trip International Airfare
- Study Guide
For More Information or to Register:
Click on “Know Your Tour Info” and enter the following:
Tour = HL19
Date = 012119
Code = S
- 2019 Holy Land Brochure http://www.eo.travelwithus.com/files/uploads/HL19_S_012119_Tennesee_MemphisConference.pdf
2020 Oberammergau Passion Play & Best of Switzerland | June 17-26, 2020
The ten-day tour includes:
- Munich, Germany
- Innsbruck, Austria
- Ettal, Oberammergau, and Passion Play
- Travel to Switzerland—Bern
- Gruyere and Lausanne
- Zermatt and the Matterhorn
- Interlaken and Zurich
Prices start at: $4896 from Nashville and $4996 from Memphis and include:
- Basic Tour & Guided Sightseeing
- Roundtrip International Airfare
- Daily Buffet Breakfast & Dinner
- Deluxe Motorcoaches
- Passion Play Ticket for full 6 hour performance
- First Class Hotels & much more!
For More Information or to Register:
Click on “Know Your Tour Info” and enter the following:
Tour = SW20
Date = 061720
Code = T
- 2019 Holy Land Brochure http://www.eo.travelwithus.com/files/uploads/SW20_T_061720-TennandMemphisConference.pdf
For brochures, Tour Host information, and general information, you may contact the Project Coordinators: