Posted: October 19, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Early Response Team at work after the Southeast was hit by Hurricane Matthew. (photo: SC Conference)
Hurricane Matthew was a very powerful and deadly Category 5 Hurricane that left a wake of destruction in its path. As reports and assessments continue to come in, we ask you to be in prayer for all of those who are affected. We ask prayers for those who have lost so much and for those responding to their hurting neighbors. May we be reminded that God is always with us in these long days ahead.
“Thank you to everyone who has already reached out to us on how to respond to those affected by Hurricane Matthew. At this time the only request is for trained Early Response Teams (ERT’s) to assist in the South Carolina, South Georgia and Virginia Conferences,” said Angela Overstreet, UMVIM/SEJ* Disaster Chair. “We will communicate other needs as soon as it is available to us.”
The Tennessee conference has two Early Response teams already deployed to South Carolina and Angela is working with trained ERT’s for additional deployments. As a reminder, do not self deploy. A strength of our connection is that we can cooperate and respond based on need.
As needs are communicated to us, our Disaster Response Coordinators, Robert Craig in Memphis Conference and Angela Overstreet in Tennessee Conference, will let you know specifically what kinds of supplies or kits are needed by our UMCOR warehouses, at this time there is NOT a need.
Here are two ways we can support our Brothers and Sisters who are hurting in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew:
- Pray. Our friends and partners across the Caribbean, and up the Eastern Seaboard need our genuine prayers in the days, months, and years to come.
- Donate. UMCOR has Advance numbers set up for both international and domestic disaster response.
To donate to the international effort, please click here.
To donate to the domestic effort, please click here.
*UMVIM/SEJ: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission/Southeast Jurisdiction
Posted: October 12, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Over and over as we travel to churches across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences, I hear about churches, large and small, that are reaching out to their communities by forming partnerships with their local schools. Earlier this fall, I received an email from Dr. Linda Gilbert, Director of Schools in Murfreesboro and a fellow United Methodist, who shared with me the wonderful way in which St. Mark’s UMC is partnering with Reeves-Rogers Elementary School to enable student success.
Rev. Martha Touchton, Minister Of Education at St. Mark’s, shared the following with me about the things they are doing. My hope is that other churches in our conferences reach out in their own neighborhoods in similar ways.
The cornerstone of our school partnership is the Mentor Program for children, which brings joy and encouragement to all who participate. Mentor coordinator Mary Jane Henry states, “We have been overwhelmed at the response and commitment to this ministry! This year we have thirty-seven mentors, including three from other churches, who give one hour each week to mentoring a child. It really is awesome to see how this mission has been received by our church family and how generously members have supported it with their time, money, encouragement, and prayers.”
Mentors make a difference in the lives of Reeves Rogers children. According to mentor Ann Scales, mentors may help students with a particular academic skill or simply serve as “a buddy, an encourager, a good listener, and a friend.” Margie Jennings, another coordinator in this ministry, beams as she says, “All the children want a mentor. Getting extra help is suddenly a good thing! St. Mark’s is changing the attitudes and perspectives of these students. We believe in them and they know that!”
“Next to my many years of teaching, mentoring is the most rewarding experience I have ever had!” Retired teacher Cindy Flippin
Another significant aspect of our partnership is offering support to those employed at the school. This fall, we are launching a new ministry that connects every teacher, administrator and support staff person with an adult Sunday school class for encouragement, prayers, and hands-on help with specials events and projects. We also sponsor a “Back to School” luncheon, provide food for parent/teacher conferences and Professional Learning Community days, give creative holiday gifts, and provide workers for the school’s book fair. We are always seeking new ways to shower each adult worker with the love of Christ!
There are many other practical ways St. Mark’s goes about building this partner relationship:
- St. Mark’s Wednesday Night Together fall kick-off event. “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” was held at Reeves Rogers in August. More than 200 church members shared fellowship with Reeves Rogers teachers as we toured the school building and learned about our neighborhood school and our shared community.
- Last Advent, St. Mark’s filled more than 150 gift bags for K-2 children. We plan to increase that number to 250 this year, and our prayer is that in the near future we can provide a gift bag for every child in the school.
- St. Mark’s provides material assistance to families through collections for food boxes, clothing, and school supplies
- Teachers and school families are invited to St. Mark’s Backpack Blessings Sunday and Vacation Bible School
- “Todo Galope,” (Total Gallop) an afterschool homework help site for Hispanic children and their parents, meets at St. Mark’s on Thursdays, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
- St. Mark’s UMMen have scheduled a work day at Reeves Rogers to help spread mulch
Our biggest plan yet? On October 30th, St. Mark’s UMC and Reeves Rogers PTO will sponsor a combined Fall Festival at Reeves Rogers. Since the school’s opening three years ago, it has not been able to afford a Fall Festival on its own. More than 1000 persons are expected! We are excited about the opportunities this event will provide for our communities to grow toward one another.
Bishop McAlilly’s theme for our 2016 Annual Conference in June was “Offering Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.” Reeves Rogers is St. Mark’s neighborhood. It is a place where we can welcome and love children in Jesus’ name, a place where we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and a place where we can be Christ. From a Deacon’s perspective, this partnership provides endless opportunities to connect the ministry of the church with the needs of the world. I give thanks for all those who give of their time and resources to deepen and expand this relationship and make these special events happen between school and church, and I pray God’s continued blessing upon St. Mark’s as we seek to be Christ in our neighborhood.
Martha Touchton, St. Mark’s UMC
St. Mark’s is changing lives, along with so many of our churches across the Nashville area that are participating in Church & School Partnerships. Not only are these community servants helping children academically, but they are touching hearts, lifting social and emotional needs, and giving hope where there was none previously.
Dr. Gilbert closed her email with these words, “Proud to be a United Methodist.” I, too, am proud to be a part of a Church with a history of a heart for education.
Thank you St. Mark’s! And thank you to our many, many other United Methodist churches that are choosing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in local schools…providing miracles for children…putting faith into practice…yielding fruit.
If you would like ideas about ways in which your church can partner with a school, please visit PartnerToday.org.
Posted: October 6, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
As is the case in any organization, a church’s ability to develop, articulate, and implement its core values is critical to fulfilling its mission, vision and purpose. One dictionary defines a core value as a “principle that guides the organization’s internal conduct and its relationship with the external world.”
A church that effectively develops, articulates, and appropriates its core values can remain clear on what it believes about itself, and focused on what God calls it to be and do.
Core values essentially speak to:
- Identity. Who we believe we are.
- Theology. How who we believe we are fits with God’s vision for us.
- Action. How we will act on what we believe about ourselves.
As a church plans to engage in ministry, its core values are a key mechanism for keeping the church focused and on track.
As part of a strategic planning process several years ago, Epworth United Methodist Chapel in Baltimore spent a considerable amount of time in discernment, clarifying its core values in light of its history, present realities, and hope for the future. Epworth Chapel’s strategic plan states that: “As a church, our values stand at the core of all that we are, all that we do, and all that we seek to become as the people of God.” The seven core values Epworth Chapel named are:
- Prayer. Public, private, and communal prayer is central to all that we do.
- Excellence. We strive to offer God and one another our best in all that we do.
- Hospitality. Everyone we encounter should receive radical hospitality, a friendly and open welcome, and all persons are to be treated as full participants in the body of Christ.
- Justice. We are committed to a vision of society where every individual has equal access to the resources, opportunities, benefits, and protections that society offers, and where every individual is treated with dignity and fairness.
- Family-focused. We affirm and support the building of strong families as we model what it means to be the family of God.
- Nurturing. We are committed to supporting and encouraging each other, and providing opportunities for all persons to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Diversity. We believe that there is strength in welcoming and accepting persons of all ages, genders, races, abilities, orientations, identities, and nationalities — all God’s people — into the church family.
Core values can serve three critical purposes for a church. In a planning process, they provide a reflective mechanism for the development of church-wide goals and objectives. They can be used to judge whether a new ministry opportunity fits the church’s values. And they help individual church members live out their lives as Christ-followers.
Epworth Chapel has implemented our mission and vision statements with careful consideration to our core values. And, we give prayerful and careful consideration to new opportunities for church and community engagement that align with our core values. For instance, Epworth Chapel has developed an ongoing partnership with one of the elementary schools in its community. As this ministry opportunity fit our core values, the church embraced and implemented it.
A church that effectively develops, articulates, and appropriates its core values can remain clear on what it believes about itself, and focused on what God calls it to be and do.
This article is reprinted by permission from Leading Ideas, a free e-newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at churchleadership.com.
Posted: September 29, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
If your church communications are not working well, the advice in this article might help!
Ryan Holck, an expert on church communication, says that leaders tend to throw so much information at their congregants that nothing sticks. There’s also a tendency to use insider language while never addressing what people really want to know: “What’s in it for me?” He shares some simple fixes for these common communication challenges.
We’ve got great ministry ideas, and we’re working hard to connect people, but something isn’t working. We assume the issue is the event or a lack of interest by the congregation. More often than not, the issue is actually a communication challenge. There are simple fixes to these communication challenges.
1. We Say Too Much
Congregations have limited bandwidth. We spend all week thinking about our ministry plans, but they haven’t. When we throw everything at them at once, nothing sticks. A typical listener can only take in so much information before they shut down and stop listening.
If your church is struggling with communication, don’t worry. Do this one simple thing: Say less, with greater clarity, in ways that connect with people.
The solution is to be intentional about what we share. Pick the top three to four things in the life of your church and share about them well. This is best done with a calendar so you aren’t caught off guard as events approach.
A good rule is that a ministry opportunity needs to relate to 50 percent of those in attendance for you to share about it in worship. If it doesn’t, you should find ways to share with just the people who need to hear it. For example, you would announce an upcoming women’s retreat, since it relates to 50 percent or more of Sunday morning attenders, but not a men’s woodworking class, which could be shared with interested people in other ways.
2. We Only Talk to Insiders
I recently found a “secret menu” for In-N-Out Burger, a California-based fast food chain. The menu includes creative ways to take their basic ingredients (burger, fries, and drinks) and switch them up. I’ve been going to In-N-Out for more than 20 years and had no idea that I can get grilled onions on my burger and my wife can have a Lemon-Up — a combination of lemonade and 7-Up. Why didn’t we know? Because they haven’t printed the information on the menu board. The menu is so simple; you have to know what to ask for or they will serve it like they always have.
Unfortunately, we treat our church guests much the same. We assume they understand the context of our church, and they do not. We announce events in ways insiders understand but guests don’t. For example, “Join us for Bible Study on Wednesday in the MPR.” Guests need to know more.
The solution is to answer the questions guests would be asking. Who is this event for? What time is it occurring? What is the full name of the location? Where would I find this room? Can my kids come too? So for example: Life can be confusing! Join our adult Bible study as we talk through practical ways to gain wisdom and understanding. Wednesdays, 7 pm, Main Office Lobby. Child-care is available by reservation.
3. We Share Details with No Heart
The power of the Gospel is its ability to connect people to God. These are people who want something more from the life they are living and don’t want to waste time on trivial things. Our guests come to church each week, and we fill them in on all the “exciting ways to get involved.” But they don’t connect.
Why? Because they approach every opportunity, subconsciously or not, with a mental question: “What’s in it for me?” They want to know what makes this opportunity something worth considering, and boring announcements with event details aren’t enough. People are hungry for the solutions God offers. It’s our responsibility to show them.
The solution is to highlight the benefit of attending and participating. Go beyond the details and present examples of life change in your ministry. Look at previous attenders, congregation members, and your community. Share the way God has used the ministry in the past and the difference it can make for those in similar situations.
One Simple Rule
If your church is struggling with these church communication mistakes, don’t worry. There is hope. You can reverse the trend by doing one thing:
Say Less + With Greater Clarity + In Ways That Connect With People
Do this consistently, and you will see growth in your congregation. Neglect it, and you will struggle to connect and retain new people.
This article is adapted from “3 Top Church Communication Mistakes and How to Fix Them” on the Church Tech Today website, June 3, 2016, and used by permission.
This article is reprinted by permission from Leading Ideas, a free e-newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at churchleadership.com.
Posted: September 16, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
“Ultimately, environmental justice and creation care require that we embrace the power God has given us to protect and care for the planet. This is precisely why this is a matter of the soul.”
– Bishop Bruce R. Ough
As you probably know, United Methodists have supported the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Today, if you have read or listened to the news, you know that there is a state of emergency in our own jurisdiction due to a leaking gasoline pipeline.
This is an issue we all need to give our attention.
I am in full agreement with the statement about this released last week by the UMC Council of Bishop’s president, Bishop Bruce R. Ough. It is reprinted below. Other links are provided as well. Please become knowledgeable about this issue and how we can help.
(Lakota for “Water is Life”)
The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are leading a growing protest against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline designed to carry a half-million barrels of oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.
Protests against the pipeline have been ongoing since a prayer vigil began in April. They intensified on August 10, when construction was scheduled to begin on the pipeline’s crossing of the Missouri River under Lake Oahe, just a half-mile north of the reservation’s boundary. The protests have since grown to over 1,000 supporters from more than 80 other Native American tribes, several faith communities, Hollywood celebrities, as well as organizations such as the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.
With the support and assistance of the San Francisco-based environmental law firm Earthjustice, the Standing Rock Tribe filed a federal lawsuit objecting to a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers on July 25 to cross the Missouri River. This has resulted in a temporary halt to the construction of the Missouri River crossing portion of the pipeline. The protesters continue their non-violent vigil, waiting for a federal judge to rule by September 9 on the tribe’s injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Standing Rock tribe believes the construction and operation of the pipeline threatens its environmental and economic well-being and would damage or destroy sites that have great historical, religious, and cultural significance to the tribe. The tribe’s lawsuit contends that the pipeline violates the National Historic Preservation Act and the Clean Water Act, among other laws.
Their protest is informed by the memory of broken treaties and disingenuous promises. Their protest reflects that water and ancestral grounds are sacred to the Lakota and Dakota peoples and cannot be owned or controlled or desecrated by themselves or others. Their protest is on behalf of all who rely on the Missouri waters for drinking, irrigation, and recreation all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Their protest invokes the alteration of the sacred Missouri and the displacement of many native families when the river was dammed, creating Lake Oahe. Ultimately, this is a protest about the stewardship of God’s creation and justice for the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. Ultimately, this is a spiritual battle.
This is a very difficult and complex issue for our country, and for me personally. I grew up in the oil fields of northwest North Dakota. My father earned his living and supported our family working for an oil exploration company. My grandparents homesteaded on land less than 20 miles west of Watford City, the epicenter of the Bakken oil fields. I have farmed and cared for that land and its precious water resources. I attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs school during my junior high years. After college, I spent two years living and working on the Standing Rock Reservation. I was living there during the American Indian Movement’s protest at Wounded Knee. I grew to love the Lakota and Dakota people, their spirituality, and their deep respect for God’s creation and creatures. I have a unique history and perspective on the current conflict.
We came to this impasse—with Energy Transfer Partners (pipeline construction company) and law enforcement on one side and Standing Rock tribal members and supporters on the other—in large part because of the reckless, greedy, and largely unregulated exploitation of the Bakken formation before environmental and human consequences could be determined and appropriate infrastructure built. One of the saddest ironies of the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is that pipelines are necessary to capture and utilize the millions of cubic feet of natural gas (a by-product of seeking the more lucrative oil) that are flared every day in the Bakken. This is one of the primary sources of atmosphere pollution and climate change on the planet today.
The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles offer helpful guidance on the issue of energy resource utilization: “The whole earth is God’s good creation and as such has inherent value. We are aware that the current utilization of energy resources threatens this creation at its very foundation. As members of The United Methodist Church we are committed to approach creation, energy production, and especially creation’s resources in a responsible, careful, and economic way” (2012 Book of Discipline, p. 106).
Ultimately, environmental justice and creation care require that we embrace the power God has given us to protect and care for the planet. This is precisely why this is a matter of the soul. The creation story in Genesis teaches us that God, the Creator of a universe so large we cannot imagine it, created us— human beings—in God’s image and blessed us with power. We have the power to destroy the life of all living things. We have the power to clone living creatures. We have the power to start wars or make peace. We have the power to lay down our lives for the sake of others. We have the power to harness the energy of atoms, sun, wind, and fossil fuels. We have the power to use so much energy that we pollute the rest of creation—land and water. We have the power to hoard the resources God has given us to steward. We have the power to deny others their identity, disregard their voice, destroy their culture, even enslave them. We also have the power to honor all created in God’s image and protect their rights and heritage. We have the power “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” And, we have the power to submit, as Jesus did, in loving obedience to the God who created us.
I stand with my Lakota and Dakota brothers and sisters because I believe the central question of the creation story is at the heart of their lament and their protest: What will we do with the blessing of power God has given us? This is a particularly poignant God-question for those of us who have the power of privilege in our country and the world. I urge all Dakotas United Methodists to wrestle with this question so central to our faith and witness.
Whatever the outcome of the court’s ruling, this may be the moment God is giving us all to come together, not as antagonists in bondage to our traumatic past, but as mutually empowered advocates for the common good and the sacredness of the waters and all of life. This may be the moment God has given us to use our power to define a just and life-giving future.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
The United Methodist Church
Tennessee Conference to Send Hygiene Supplies to Standing Rock Tribe
United Methodists stand with Standing Rock
Standing with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protest is sacred mission, Oklahoma religious leaders say
Posted: September 6, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.
“Discovering God’s Future for Your Church” Conference and Live Stream
Saturday, November 5, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
What next faithful step is God calling your church to take? It is vital to know God’s direction — or vision — for your congregation.
At Discovering God’s Future for your Church, you will learn how to discern this vision — a step-by-step process for considering the strengths, challenges, and people that God has given you both in your church and in your community. This process can reveal what God is calling your congregation to be and to do.
You will learn that whether God’s vision for your church is large or small, it has to be right for your congregation — right at this time, right in your context. And you will learn how to make this vision come alive in your church to be faithful and fruitful to God’s will.
Attendees may participate in person at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, or via live stream from their own computer or mobile device across the globe. Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is ecumenical and designed for both laity and clergy.
Your Church’s Future and the Clarity of Vision
How to Discern a Vision
Living the Vision
The Power of Vision
Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is distinguished professor of church leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and director of the Lewis Center.
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church
is a turn-key tool kit to help you implement in your church the process of discerning and living God’s vision. The resource includes video segments, discussion exercises, planning tools, and much more to guide a congregational visioning process. The tool kit will be available on DVD/CD and download in early December. Preorder through November 5 and save.
- Live stream registration:
$50 $40 for one person; $75 $60 for groups of two or more people
- In-person conference registration:
$50 $40 per person
- Current Wesley Theological Seminary students may register free for the in-person conference.
Posted: August 15, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Our friends in Louisiana need our prayers and our help. They are in a state of emergency due to massive flooding. Some areas have received more than 25 inches of rain since Friday and the flooding continues. So far, 6 people have died and 20,000 have had to be rescued. Over 10,000 people are in temporary shelters.
We also know that there is ongoing flooding in Mississippi. Within the United Methodist connection, we currently are responding to 150 disasters in 38 states. We lift all those affected in our prayers.
In the midst of a disaster, we wonder what we can best do from afar. Our initial response is to want to be there, in person, to help. This often is not best for those who live there and are in the middle of a crisis. The recovery in Louisiana and Mississippi will be long and we will have future opportunities to send teams to be onsite.
Until that time, below are recommendations for immediate assistance that our conference Disaster Response Coordinators, Angela Overstreet, in the Tennessee Conference, and Rev. Robert Craig, in the Memphis Conference, have forwarded to me.
Thank you for your prayers and your help. May God have mercy on those affected by this devastating flood.
How You Can Help
Prepare and Send the Following Items (as indicated)
(Videos with assembly instructions: http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Relief-Supplies/Relief-Supply-Kits/)
- Rakes – yard rakes (No leaf rakes)
- Box Fans
- Garden Sprayers – 2 gallon only
- Flat Bill Shovels
- 25 foot Extension Cords
In the Tennessee Conference, bring these items to:
TNUMC Conference Office, 302 S. Perimeter Park Drive, Nashville, TN 37211
Phone: 615-329-1177 (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. M-F)
Contact: Angela Overstreet, email@example.com, 615-695-2765
Please check the Tennessee Conference website for updates in the coming weeks.
In the Memphis Conference, bring these items to:
Memphis Conference Office, 24 Corporate Blvd, Jackson, TN 38305
Contact: Robert Craig, firstname.lastname@example.org, 731-583-9970, Ext 101
Please also check the Memphis Conference website for district drop off locations and deadlines to be posted as soon as confirmed.
Pray for Louisiana
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, resident bishop of the Louisiana Conference and guest speaker at the Memphis Conference service of ordination in June, asks that we continue to pray:
Pray for those still trapped by rising waters…
Pray for those yet to be affected…
Pray for the first responders who have left their own flood ravaged homes to rescue others…
Pray for the children who have difficult questions with difficult answers…
Pray for our government officials; may they get the rest they need…
Pray for our churches; may they respond with the grace of Jesus Christ.
Send Funds for Supplies
Financial Donations may be sent directly to:
Louisiana Conference of the UMC, 527 North Blvd, Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Please indicate that funds are for: August floods 2016.
You also may give to disaster relief online through UMCOR.
Please DO NOT send other items and DO NOT deploy volunteers to that area.
Currently, there is no space to store non-requested items and certainly nowhere to house volunteers! The Louisiana Conference Disaster Response Coordinator will do an assessment of needs and will communicate to us when our Early Response Teams can come to Louisiana to assist. IMPORTANT: They will only accept properly trained volunteers AND our teams must be invited by the Louisiana Conference before being deployed.
You can be prepared to respond by encouraging volunteers to participate in UMCOR approved disaster response training. Registrations are now being accepted for Tennessee Conference Early Response Team Training in September at Cedar Crest Camp. Also, Recertification for those already trained will be offered on that Saturday. Click here for more information.
Posted: July 29, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
I was honored to be a guest at the Project Transformation Celebration Dinners this week in both the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. The leaders, volunteers, and outstanding interns are making a wonderful and significant difference in the lives of many, many children and their families!
At the dinner in Nashville, I was particularly moved by the witness of one young man, Luke Lea, and wanted to share his comments with you (below). Please keep all of the Project Transformation interns in your prayers as they return to college this fall. We are so grateful for their contributions to our communities this year!
Good Evening, my name is Luke Lea. I have served with Project Transformation for three summers, most recently as a House Pastor this summer in Nashville. I am humbled by this opportunity to share how I have witnessed Transformation through God and His servants.
In May of 2014, I took the 20-minute drive down Granny White Pike from my hometown of Brentwood, Tennessee towards Belmont University– a place I would call home for every summer of my college career. Of course I did not know this at the time. Then, I was listening to a record by Alabama Shakes, entering the front gate shaking a little bit myself, I’m sure, wondering if my introverted, blunt, and opinionated self would thrive in this community setting.
As soon as I walked in the door that first day, they shouted my name with absurd hospitality. “LUKE LEA, EVERYBODY!” Oh my. I knew a little bit of what I was getting into but not much. If this internship was going to be anything like that first day, I was in for a fun, loud, tiring, and fulfilling summer. This diverse group of peers from all over the country with all sorts of backgrounds, beliefs, and interests were ready to take me into the family.
There are really no words that I can offer to you this evening that will do justice in sharing my experience serving with Project Transformation. The best way I can begin to explain it is through the image of a summertime swimming pool.
Interns are interested in a summer with PT for many reasons but I’ll be honest: for me, it wasn’t because I adored kids. I just didn’t. They ask for Band-Aids too much. They aren’t as fast as me at recess. They can’t discuss good theology with me. These are the premises I carried with me but I still wanted to get my feet wet with some applied ministry experience. A church member from my home church, Forest Hills United Methodist, suggested PT might be the very place for this. And my follow-up research confirmed it. As a life-long United Methodist, I had been to these waters before. I knew the stunning connectionism our church exhibits, plus I knew I would eat well – “Methodism 101: committees and casseroles.”
By the end of my first summer serving in East Nashville I was knee deep in something I wasn’t initially able to fully process yet but I knew I loved it.
My team of 8 interns was family so quickly to me.
The community constantly exemplified Christ and service to one another
I learned to love people different from me. 10 year olds. Those of different races. Volunteers. Theological contrarians. I loved it so much I dove in for a second summer.
And each year, I took back with me an abundance of joys and challenging moments, in hopes that it would compliment my Biblical and Theological Studies at Lee University. In classroom settings that echoed ideals of justice and loving thy neighbor, I was forced to sit with overarching questions that were way bigger than one or two summers. All of this was certainly starting to connect to my calling to see hurt in the world and do something about it.
This is not to say I was ever comfortable in water. Over the course my summers serving at the Tulip Street site in East Nashville, I was constantly challenged about what it meant to come from White Wealthy Williamson County but serve families from Casey homes, the largest complex of government housing in Nashville. What did it mean to work for a Faith-based Non-Profit organization that impacted lives through Christ but see churches decline, paralyzed by injustice? We only had 8 weeks with our kids and their families but poverty goes on much longer. It’s not like it stops when a kid goes up a reading level, right? I was drowning in all of my thoughts and doubts about what the church is and what it could be and sometimes even who I was as in relation to Christ.
That’s not an uncommon feeling for people our age by the way. PT allowed me to jump into the water and figure out how to survive in the deep end. I took in some water, and at times forced to hold my breath longer than I wanted. I discovered Church was there in the drowning.
And I was wrong about kids. Not saying I want to work with them, but I’ve changed those premises I initially had. I like to think that Jesus always had Band-Aids on him, that’s how I read the Scriptures now.
When I study theology now I can’t help but think relationships are the most important thing God wants us to know about him and each other. My proudest relationship started in my first summer and continues today. Malik might just be the complete opposite of me—I’m white guy from Williamson County who doesn’t like coloring. He is a young black child who is has already seen more challenges than I might ever see but steals your heart with his smile. Even more amazing than him is his single mom, Ms. Victoria, whom I find true community in.
I met Malik in 2014 during my first summer with PT. I took a special interest and investment in this “reading rockstar” who had trouble connecting with the rest of the group. As long as he had a crayon in hand though, I could chat with him and convince him to get active in Movements every now and again. He knew I was looking out for him. The rest was history. Six weeks into the summer, his mom Ms. Victoria approached me and asked if I would be willing to be a mentor to Malik after the summer. She went on to explain that she is concerned that Malik doesn’t have a lot of positive male influences in his life, and that she saw how we had connected during the summer. I don’t know how it happened — why she gave me the opportunity to fully love Malik as my brother, and my best friend. After that, whenever I came back from school on weekends and breaks, Malik and I would hang out. We would go shopping at Goodwill, feed the ducks at Shelby Park, and watch Vandy football games. Anchor down. I returned to be his team leader in 2015 and have seen him grow so much emotionally and behaviorally because he has given space to learn and grow at PT. At Family Fun Night last year, he told me I had to sit with him and his mom because we are family. I love him. This year, when I get to drop into our East Nashville site at East End, he’s usually there, flashing me his big smile — and that makes me smile. It’s not just him either. Close to 150 kids came through Tulip St. over my two years there — reading, eating, laughing, and telling me my hair is like a girl’s.
I still don’t swim very well. I know God is calling me to work in the church. Sometimes I know exactly what that means and sometimes I don’t. I knew this summer would help with that tremendously. For the past eight weeks, I have served as a House Pastor in Nashville and as they say 3rd time’s a charm. Leading bible study, planning worship and our daily devotions, cultivating relationships in our intentional Christian Community, and seeking God out among my peers are tasks that I think God has given me gifts for. I have really enjoyed evaluating my strengths and shortcomings as a leader and having incredible support from staff, interns, and my fellow house pastor in Nashville, Aleah Lodge. After these 8 weeks of programming, in what sometimes feels like treading water, tonight is a night that we take a giant breath of gratitude. Everyone in this room has a part in this summer; we keep each other afloat.
PT wows me in the sense that it is so reflective of what the church should look like. We are diverse in the standard categories, which is a good start: age, race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. Beyond that we have contributed diversely as volunteers, interns, meal-providers, financial supporters, readers, suppliers, experience, fresh ideas and how we see God transform. And, at the same time we are One, in that we are PT, we are the Body of Christ, and that together we see God transform.
For me, the deep end is what my PT story is about. It’s hard and scary and where people are drowning so isn’t that the way in which we should swim? I celebrate 3 years with PT tonight because that’s what this organization does – we swim to those places. I celebrate the Holy calling to serve children, as they are our future, and our best chance at restoring justice. I celebrate 36 inspiring and amazing interns, because our generation is already the church, and we are here to claim that (even if we don’t do their dishes well all the time)! I celebrate that the Kingdom of God is like a swimming pool. I owe so much to Project Transformation Tennessee. For 5 summers now, they have shouted people’s names in radical hospitality and love.
The mission of Project Transformation is to engage young adults in purposeful leadership and ministry, support underserved children and families, and connect churches to communities in need. For more information and to volunteer, please go to: http://projecttransformation.org/tennessee/
Posted: July 26, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Below please read the report our Executive Director, Courtney Aldrich offered Sunday night at Barlett United Methodist Church as we celebrated the inaugural summer of Project Transformation Memphis. There were so many glory sightings as listened to the witnesses of our interns and leaders. Thanks be to God for all who made it possible! 184 children! Over 500 volunteers!
Good evening. When Project Transformation’s journey to Memphis began a few years ago as a whisper and a nudge from above, the only thing we really had to start with was the extravagant generosity of one transformational God. What a foundation to build on!
In 2014, after several Memphis Annual Conference leaders — who are here tonight — visited Project Transformation at work in Nashville, they couldn’t help but wonder if they were being calling to bring this model of ministry to their hometown. Could there someday be a Project Transformation in Memphis?
These leaders immediately recognized a holy convergence of need and opportunity.
They knew there was a need here for a ministry that would involve and engage college-age young adults in service, leadership development, and ministry exploration. They knew there were vulnerable neighborhoods in Memphis that already were being served, but far too many that weren’t. They knew there were willing churches who could partner with PT’s service model for providing free summer programs to underserved children. They knew there was a tremendous spirit of generosity and caring, just waiting to be tapped. But they also knew that without the transformational power of Jesus Christ, none of this would matter.
And so, we began to journey together—leaders from both Memphis and Project Transformation—praying, listening, discerning, asking a lot of questions, praying again, listening still more, and walking forward in faith, one day at a time. And today, almost three years after hearing those first whispers, we are here tonight, celebrating being on the cusp of completing our inaugural year of Project Transformation in Memphis. Just look around this room. This is what it looks like when a community says YES to God’s holy nudges. Praise be to God!
Tonight, we say “thank you.” Thank you in behalf of Project Transformation for all you have done, for all you are, for your prayers, your gifts, your service, and for taking part in this joyous celebration.
We thank all who have made this banquet possible. To Bartlett First United Methodist Church for providing this space and meal … to Kristofer Roof for serving as our emcee … and to Marlon Bradford for our music.
We’ve already noted the story of “Corduroy” adorning each of your tables. At Project Transformation, we believe that everyone has a story to tell. And we seek to honor each and every story. There are the stories of our 184 children who have participated this summer in PT in Memphis, as well as the stories of their families. There are the stories of our more than 500 volunteers who served in Memphis this summer – each of whom brings their own personal stories to Project Transformation – and leaves with some new stories to tell. There are the stories of the two brave churches that serve as program sites for PT. And finally, there are the amazing stories of our young adult interns. So many stories! We hope many of you have gotten a chance to meet some of our interns and share meals with them and learn a little bit about their personal stories — how they are having an impact through PT, and how through PT that God is impacting them.
We thank the members of our Board of Directors and Memphis Launch Team for your commitment to our mission. If you serve on our board or Launch Team, please stand. Each of these people brings incredible talents to the leadership of Project Transformation – offering guidance, counsel and vision for our young nonprofit ministry. Thank you.
We want to express our deep gratitude to Bishop Bill McAlilly, Lynn McAlilly who serves on our board, and leaders of the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church for your support of the young lives of Project Transformation. We thank God for your willingness to introduce us to so many parts of our connectional church. You continue to offer your support in ways too numerous to list.
Tonight, we thank our two site churches: Centenary United Methodist Church and Longstreet United Methodist Church. These churches have graciously opened their doors and provided us with a space to connect with their neighborhoods. In so doing, they have strengthened their own presence in their communities – building new relationships and finding new ways to be in ministry.
We thank our 21 partner churches — without whom we could not exist here in Memphis. You provide us with volunteers, supplies and financial support and, together, we are transforming local communities.
We offer our thanks to the leaders of Christian Brothers University for welcoming our interns to live on your beautiful campuses. And our thanks to the community organizations that step forward with so many valuable resources … to our financial donors whose generosity and sacrifice have paid for everything from snacks for our kids to stipends for our interns … And may I ask: If you have ever served as a volunteer of any kind with PT, would you please stand and accept our applause?
We thank our inaugural class of Memphis interns—our pioneers who have given their hearts and souls to honoring God’s vision for this new ministry in West Tennessee. And supporting all of this are our gifted PT staff members, who inspire me daily with their passion and faithfulness. Keller Hawkins, Samantha Meadors. Sarah McCormick and Ali Sokolowski. Thank you all.
Finally and most importantly, we offer our praise and thanksgiving to God, who is the source of every good thing that we’re here to celebrate tonight. For every single thing that has occurred this summer at PT — whatever has been true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable — we give thanks to God.
We thank God for the relationships we’ve forged together this summer. For we know that the power of Project Transformation lies in relationships — in how God is using the sacred space between volunteers, children, young adults, and churches. It is in these relationships where barriers are broken down, and we fully live into the diverse and beautiful body that we were created to be. It is in these relationships that we are given a glimpse of who God is and who we are in God.
Posted: July 16, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Lynn and I are delighted to be reassigned to the Nashville Area, the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. The week of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference has been rich and filled with many high moments of worship and celebration. While we had anticipated being reassigned to the Nashville Area and had hoped for this to come to fruition, like pastors of local churches, the potential of being sent to another ministry is always a possibility. So we did have, all week, a low level of anxiety that we might need to be gathering boxes!
When I spoke with the Southeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, I told them that during the first four years we have been laying the foundation upon which we can build. We are well positioned to lead toward helping congregations increase their capacity to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the coming four years I am committed to leading the Nashville Area of the United Methodist Church in ministry that is centered in our call to discover, connect, equip and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time. I ask you to join hands with Lynn and me to deepen our alignment to accomplish this mission across our two conferences.
We give thanks to God for the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences and look forward to what God will do in us and through us in the days to come.
Expecting Greater Things,
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Posted: July 16, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement regarding the results of today’s Episcopal election at the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Western Jurisdiction has elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco to serve as a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson.” This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.
Our Book of Discipline has clearly delineated processes in place for resolving issues even as complex and unprecedented as this election.
The authority to elect bishops is constitutionally reserved to the jurisdictional and central conferences. Any elder in good standing is eligible for election as a bishop of the church. An elder under an unresolved complaint is still considered to be in good standing. Being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church, if indeed this is the case.
The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely. The Council does not have constitutional authority to intervene in the election or supervisory processes at either the annual conference, jurisdictional or central conference levels. And, we are careful to not jeopardize any clergy or lay person’s due process by ill-advised comments.
However, we clearly understand the Church appropriately expects the Council to provide spiritual leadership and for bishops to uphold our consecration vows. In May, prior to General Conference, the Council again affirmed to keep the promises made at our consecrations, including, among others:
· Shepherding all persons committed to our care;
· Leading the church in mission, witness and service;
· Ordering the church including administering processes for handling complaints;
· Seeking unity in Christ, including the work the Council proposed to the General Conference in “An Offering for a Way Forward.”
There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. Others will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been. Still, others will likely see this election as disrupting or even rendering moot the purpose and work of the Commission currently being formed by the Council.
The Council continues to place our hope in Jesus Christ. Though conflicted and fragile, The United Methodist Church remains a strong witness to the transforming love of God and the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We affirm that our witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but how we act in our disagreements. We affirm that our unity is not defined by our uniformity, but by our compassionate and Spirit-led faithfulness to our covenant with God, Christ’s Church and one another.
As a Council, we continue to maintain that the proposal for a way forward and the formation of the Commission is the best path. An endless cycle of actions, reactions and counter-reactions is not a viable path and tears at the very fabric of our Connection. The current and incoming COB Executive Committees recently met by conference call to initiate the implementation of our Offering for a Way Forward and the formation of the Commission called for in the proposal. We will resume this work at our regularly scheduled meeting on July 19-20 following the Jurisdictional Conferences. A progress report will be released shortly after the meeting.
Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable. We are confident God is with us, especially in uncharted times and places. There is a future with hope. We invite your constant and ardent prayers for the witness and unity of The United Methodist Church. May God guide us as we seek to maintain unity in the bond of peace.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops
The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States: the Alaska Conference, the California-Nevada Conference, the California-Pacific Conference, the Desert Southwest Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference.
Posted: July 14, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
A Missional Initiative of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference
From The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops
The Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction recognize the unique strengths, characteristics, and challenges of our Episcopal Areas. As leaders of the Church in the SEJ, we see a timely opportunity to increase our strategic thinking and action with regard to our context in the Southeast. Further, it is our hope to continue to focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
In Article V Paragraph 27.1 of the constitution of the 2012 Book of Discipline, the jurisdictions are given responsibility to:
Promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary, and benevolent interests of the Church and to provide for interests and institutions within their boundaries.
To that end, the Bishops of the SEJ recommend the following:
Forming a Southeastern Jurisdictional Missional Initiative for the purpose of focusing on the following:
1.) new forms of church beyond the walls,
2.) children and poverty,
3.) unity and human sexuality,
4.) making disciples,
5.) racism and white privilege,
6.) structure, finance and the future church.
At the 2017 College of Bishops meeting in January, we will collaborate with the Conference Lay Leaders, the Committee on Episcopacy, and Directors of Connectional Ministries on this initiative. It is our hope that our collaboration will offer input to the commission being formed by the Council of Bishops. We also will connect this work to the Four Areas of Focus for the United Methodist Church.
We will assign a bishop and appropriate lay leaders to convene and guide the work of these five initiatives. We hope to then invite every delegate here this week to a gathering which will be held within the next eighteen months where recommendations will be received from the leadership of the Initiative. Expenses will be the responsibility of individual delegates. We encourage each conference to provide scholarships as needed.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops
Posted: July 13, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We celebrate the way God is working through you and the churches you represent to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Your witness is making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities around the world.
We write this pastoral letter with hope in Jesus Christ. Yet our hearts are heavy as we recognize that as a result of our denominational conflicts we stand at a fragile place. Our Christian witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but by how we act in our disagreements.
Many in our church are working to change our Book of Discipline’s current position on human sexuality, believing that it is exclusive, unjust and based on a misinterpretation of Scripture. These actions are being done through processes our polity has in place for making such changes.
Many others in our denomination are working to maintain our Book of Discipline’s current position on human sexuality, believing that it is grace-filled, orthodox and biblically-based. These actions are also being done within the context of our church’s polity.
Still others in our denomination, including some Boards of Ordained Ministry and Annual Conferences, are acting in nonconformity to our church’s legislation about marriage and ordination standards. These actions are not within in the bounds of our church’s polity.
We, the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops, grieve over the deep divisions in our beloved United Methodist Church. We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change. We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive.
As a College of Bishops, we are fully committed to keeping the promises we made at our ordinations and consecrations, including:
- shepherding all persons committed to our care;
- leading our areas in mission, witness and service;
- ordering the church, including administering processes for handling complaints about violations of our Book of Discipline that occur within our episcopal areas;
- and seeking unity in Christ, including the work the General Conference requested the Council of Bishops do in relation to the Commission on Human Sexuality;
We invite you to join us in prayer as we strive to faithfully and compassionately fulfill our covenant with God, the church and one another. We also encourage you to stay the course in your covenant relationship with God, the United Methodist Church and each other.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops
Download PDF: SEJ College of Bishops Letter-2016
Posted: July 8, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
I shall never forget the phone call I received from my brother December 23, 2013. He said, “Gale has been shot.” Gale Stauffer, my nephew, my sister’s son, a police officer in Tupelo, MS, shot in the line of duty. For our family, his death forever altered our lives. For his children, Dixie and Skip, will live with the memory of their dad, his big smile, barrel chest, heart of gold. For Beth, her life spun into the realm of widow, single mother, sole provider.
For every life that is lost at the hands of a police officer, the grief of a family member is no different than the grief of our family. Someone loved, cared about, and was related to the person killed by a police officer.
Regardless of the complication, the deep seated, underlying truth is that the racial turbulence that is raging into a full blown storm, is deeply troubling. With the Psalmist, we cry, “how long, O Lord, how long?”
One of our pastor’s writes: Friends, this morning I’m hurting. I’m scared. I’m afraid that when my cute, six year old black son becomes a muscular black man some bad apple somewhere is going to profile him and do harm to this kid who is as sweet as they come.
I have no idea what it feels like to be a black man in this world. What I do know is that too many people are dying. Indeed, the call to us all, in light of terrorism, the mass killing at the Pulse bar in Orlando, there is no justification for taking a life.
Let’s face it, the world is full of people who are culturally profiling others who are different. Some of those who are culturally profiled daily, hourly, are black and Hispanic men.
The prophet Micah speaks: “And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Doing justice today is to speak the truth. And the truth is that we have a deep seated racial problem in our world. Tennessee and Kentucky are not immune to the trouble.
During the recent meeting of the Tennessee Annual Conference, our Commission on Religion and Race brought forth and we blessed “Vital Conversations” which give us an opportunity to increase our capacity to deepen our relationships with our sisters and brothers who are of a different race from us.
I am deeply hopeful that the team that is bringing this forth will give us the tools necessary to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. The world’s best hope is for good, Christian people to stand up and be healers of our nation. I know the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to be those who desire to bring healing and peace to our land.
Posted: June 29, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Louise Short at General Conference, 2012. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Louise Short was a gift to the United Methodist Church. Her longevity allowed her to experience and walk alongside her husband, the late Bishop Roy Short, who served the Nashville Area from 1952 – 1964. She lived to be 110.
In one of my first visits with her after becoming the resident bishop of the Nashville Area, I was trying to find a place of common ground with Mrs. Short. I mentioned having met Harry Denman when I was a teenager.
Her face lit up like a lightbulb. She began to reminisce about the many ways their lives had intertwined and impacted the then Methodist Church.
Mrs. Short enjoyed her prominence as the oldest living Bishop’s wife. This often afforded her the opportunity to speak to groups many years after the death of her beloved husband.She had a clear voice and opinion, which she loved to express. She was never shy.
In 2012, the last General Conference Mrs. Short attended, she was invited to address the conference and said, “I’m a relic.”
She will be sorely missed by everyone who knew her.
A funeral service for Louise Short will be at 3 p.m. on next Wednesday, July 6, at West End United Methodist Church, 2200 West End Avenue in Nashville.