Home For ChristmasPosted: December 24, 2022 Filed under: Bishop's Blog Comments Off on Home For Christmas
Say the word and it conjures up all sorts of images.
For as long as I can remember, home has been the place, where during the Christmas season, Lynn and I have longed to be.
Home for most of my life is wherever our family gathers for Christmas celebrations.
When our family was young and our children small, many years we headed out after the Christmas eve service to North Mississippi where our parents lived. Do you know how hard it is to find something to eat for hungry children at 9 pm on Christmas Eve?
Nothing seemed right until we gathered at the table of my mother or Lynn’s mother. Some years it was hard to do both.
I remember when we were in Georgia, our first Christmas as a married couple, my father flew to Gainesville, Ga., and picked us up at the Gainesville airport. We flew home in a Cessna 172. It was a cold, windy December day. He flew us to New Albany, MS, where Lynn’s parents lived. The day was cloudy, overcast, and very cold. Lynn and I wondered how safe flying in those conditions could be. Somewhere over Alabama my father picked up the radio signal of a distressed pilot who had lost his ability to communicate with the air traffic controller in Nashville. Dad could hear the pilot and the controller. He became the conduit that connected the two. When the pilot of the distressed plane landed, he profusely thanked my father for helping him find his way home.
When we landed in New Albany, waiting for us on the ground were Lynn’s mother and father. When the plane finally came to a stop on the tarmac and we greeted our family, we knew we were home.
Later that evening, we gathered in the sanctuary of our home church First United Methodist Church, New Albany. Reverend Lavelle Woodrick was the pastor. Knowing I was going to be in worship that night, Lavelle invited me to be the liturgist at the Christmas Eve service. That meant I would read the Gospel Lesson for Christmas, Luke 2. When I stood before the congregation that had nurtured me, loved me, invited me into a life of faithfulness, I knew I was home.
First United Methodist Church has been that place, for over 50 years, I have known as home. As the son of a United Methodist pastor home has always been elusive since we lived in so many places. Since 1969, the one constant in my pilgrimage has been the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, New Albany.
Last Sunday we were able to go there.
It was the first time we had been in a sanctuary in four months. It was good and right to be in the place I call home to worship as the choir offered their Christmas Cantata. I was given the privilege of thanking the congregation for their prayers. I acknowledged that First United Methodist Church had been my foundation.
Being there was wonderful. I saw adults who were in the youth group I led between 1981-1984 when I was the associate pastor. It was somewhat of a reunion. These adults are now in their 50s. I haven’t seen some of them in a long time. Sunday, when we saw each other, it was as if years have not passed. We laughed and we remembered. I give thanks for those memories.
Christmas this year will be different. Our children will not come to us and gather around the table in our home. We will go and be with them. We will worship Christmas Eve at Oxford University United Methodist Church at their early afternoon service designed to be children friendly. 3/5 of our grandchildren will be there. Later we will worship at First United Methodist Church, New Albany. We will be home.
In 18 months, my time as a bishop will end. We have been planning for over 15 years to come home. Home to New Albany. Home to the church where Lynn was baptized, where we exchanged wedding vows, where our son Chris was baptized, where I served my first appointment out of seminary. We will come home to the house Lynn’s grandparents lived in, and it will become our home.
We have planned, dreamed about this homecoming. Lynn’s sisters are there. My brother and sister 20 minutes away in Tupelo. Our son and his family 35 minutes away in Oxford. I’ve dreamed of being a part of First Church again. Maybe teaching Sunday School, leading a Bible Study. Supporting the pastor in whatever way might be helpful.
There’s just one problem with my dream. The church is planning to vote on disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church. That vote is scheduled for January. My deep concern is that over one hundred years of faithfulness in the same direction will be severed.
I suspect across the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, many share my concern.
Here’s what I know: God continues to work.
The church is not ending, and God is doing a new thing by showing us that home comes in new ways.
I’ve spent more time at home than I ever dreamed I would these last 4 months. I’ve had to adjust my expectations of myself. I’ve had to depend on others, especially Lynn, to help me function. Lynn dropped everything she was doing to give attention to my needs. I am filled with gratitude to her for her care and love. I am grateful for the home that is provided for us by the TWK Conference. I am grateful for Paula Grout and the Episcopacy Committee for making sure a ramp was installed and other accommodations were made in our home to make it possible for me to manage my recovery.
This season has also been humbling. I’ve learned to look only as far down the road as the next procedure. (I’ve been in the operating room four times since August 26). I am learning to walk again but not without the aid of a cane. I am learning that the body has its own timetable regarding healing. My physical therapist is one of the kindest people I’ve ever encountered, and my physicians really are the healing hands of God.
As I anticipate retiring in 18 months, I am mindful how quickly this time will pass. These last four months have been preparing me for the journey home. We’ve been tossing the word resilience around since Covid-19 visited us. I think resilience and I have become companions.
The wreck of August 25 sidelined me in multiple ways as well as those who were apart of the accident that day. I have prayed daily for their healing as well. I trust that you have as well.
Perhaps the most hopeful, promising sign I have seen during this time is that we have an amazing team of leaders who have kept moving forward despite the absence of my presence.
As for the future, I do wonder where my spiritual home will be in the last third of my life. It’s a worthy question.
There is a lot of rhetoric about the United Methodist Church, about Bishops, about disaffiliation. I hope those wanting so badly to leave will do some soul searching. I am remembering a line in the movie “Cold Mountain”. The central character Inman is walking home from the Civil War and says to his companion, “Don’t you think God tires from hearing the prayers of both sides.”
I sense that same weariness in congregations that are pushing to vote on disaffiliation. What saddens me is the misinformation and rhetoric that places judgment on pastors and bishops when many have never had conversations with us about what we think, believe, and feel.
I am confident that all any of us want is a place, a spiritual home, a Church where when we go there, everybody knows our name and everyone is glad we came. In short, a home. A spiritual home.
Mary and Joseph went home and there was no place for them.
My sense is that we all long for home.
I’m learning that life circumstances often leave us feeling as if we are without a home. We feel lonely. Isolated. Afraid.
I’m especially mindful of those who in these days of below freezing temperatures have no place to lay their heads. I am grateful for those congregations who offer “Room in the Inn” for our residentially challenged friends in these frigid days.
In this season of uncertainty, of loneliness and isolation, fear and uncertainty, I remember the words of the psalmist, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘he is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” Psalms 91:1-2
But the message of Christmas, the good news of the Gospel, is that there is a home for us. The Psalmist gestures to this but this longing that stirs in us finds its completion in the promises of Revelation. At the end of time, the home of God is with mortals. And this is the insanely good news of the Gospel!
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us!
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will find your home in Emmanuel, God with us!
“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.” Fredrick Buchner,