New Healthcare Challenges Ahead in Changing Political Environment

Nashville Episcopal Area clergy and laity are continuing their efforts in the fight for affordable healthcare in Tennessee. The report below outlines what they will be facing in the years ahead and how you can get involved. Please pray for those who fall in the coverage gap as well as those advocating for them.

UMC members of coalition for affordable healthcare

United Methodists at a coalition meeting of those advocating for affordable healthcare for all.

 

A coalition of community members from various nonprofit, public policy, and faith-based groups throughout the state gathered at the Tenn. Primary Care Association on Monday, Nov. 14, to discuss the future of healthcare in Tennessee, specifically the challenges ahead for TennCare, the Affordable Care Act and closing the coverage gap.

The Rev. Merrilee Wineinger, Coordinator of Faith that Heals Ministry at TN United Methodist Conference, was an active partner at the healthcare coalition meeting. Alongside Wineinger, representatives from the Tennessee Justice Center, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Tennessee Health Care Campaign, Nashville CARES, Mental Health America, National Healthcare for the Homeless, and fifty others were in attendance to discuss the future of Tennessee’s healthcare.

“There are currently lots of unknowns in the healthcare world over the next few years, making it even more important for the non-profits to join forces, share knowledge, and educate our constituents,” said Katie Alexander, Field Director for the TN Justice Center. “I am honored and humbled to be a part of so many compassionate individuals who want to come together to create a united front to ensure the most vulnerable in the state are not left behind.”

The current healthcare atmosphere is on shaky ground after Donald Trump’s election, running on promises to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act once in office. Tennesseans are fortunate to have U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will play a key role in shaping the broad changes planned by the Trump Administration and the new Congress.

Mary Moore, Get Covered TN Program Coordinator of Family and Children’s Services of Nashville, stressed the importance of citizens continuing to enroll for coverage on the healthcare marketplace. “People need the coverage and want the coverage. The day after the election was the largest sign-up day to date with over 100,000 citizens shopping on the marketplace and enrolling in plans.”

Gordon Bonnyman of the TN Justice Center noted that much of the Affordable Care Act is likely to be repealed early in 2017, and it is vitally important that it be replaced by reforms that will work for all Americans. He warned the attendees that all current health care programs, even Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid that covers over 1.3 million Tennesseans, face radical cuts and reforms. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has announced a desire to cut domestic spending and curtail federal health programs.

Tony Garr of the Tenn. Healthcare Campaign, explained that Medicaid, known in Tennessee as TennCare, is currently an entitlement. This means citizens who meet specific criteria for eligibility have a right to participate and their coverage is protected by federal law. The federal government appropriates two-thirds of the funding as necessary to cover costs, as opposed to a fixed cost. Tennessee pays the other one-third of the costs. Block grants have been proposed as an alternative to reduce the rising cost of healthcare, and to give states more power over the program, a proposal that Garr opposes.

Garr argued against block grants by presenting facts unknown to most constituents, such as the crucial role TennCare plays in covering over half of live births in Tennessee and more than half of nursing home care. Under a block grant, federal payments would be limited, leading to continuing cuts in the program as health care cost continue to rise, and as the population increases. Control of the program would be given to the Tennessee legislature, and it is unclear who would be covered under a block grant. Some 300,000 working Tennesseans who are in the health insurance “coverage gap” would likely remain uninsured.

Currently, about 60 percent of those on TennCare rolls are working. Proposed new work requirements could result in loss of coverage for the other 40 percent in the coverage gap including adult students, the disabled and those tending to disabled family members in their homes.

The Rev. Marie C. King, Chair of the TN United Methodist Conference Health and Welfare Committee, added her faith-based perspective. “I want to encourage church leadership to educate the community on the discussions currently taking place in healthcare reform. Tennesseans need to educate themselves on what is happening and we need to support our congregations on this important policy issue as the Founder of Methodism John Wesley taught us,” said King.

To learn more about enrolling on the healthcare marketplace, visit getcoveredtenn.org. To keep up with changes affecting our health care, and to learn how you can become involved as an advocate for our most vulnerable neighbors, contact the Tennessee Justice Center at tnjustice.org.


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

episcopallogoSisters and Brothers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expecting Greater Things,

Bishop William T. McAlilly

Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church

(Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky)


DACA: A Call to Action and Prayer

Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

As we continue to have concern about our brothers and sisters in Christ who would be affected by decisions to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, I share with you a guest post from Morgan Stafford.  As a part of his third year of divinity school at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Stafford is currently a full-time intern serving as a cross-cultural strategist for the Nashville Episcopal Area.  Part of his responsibilities include working with lay and clergy leaders who continue to be marginalized based on their immigration status.

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Morgan Stafford

 

Earlier this week, the announcement was made that the current presidential administration intends to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA. Created in 2012, DACA has provided temporary protection from deportation and legal work authorization for about 800,000 “DREAMers.”

DREAMers are young immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2007, are currently enrolled in or have graduated from high school, and have committed no criminal offenses. While these young people do not have citizenship, they have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, contributing to the well-being of our communities, schools, and churches. Without DACA, thousands of families will be negatively impacted, and this reality will directly impact us all.

During my ministry experiences across Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas, I have been blessed to be in relationship with many immigrant sisters and brothers. Among these individuals have been several DREAMers who are proud recipients of DACA. I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of DACA on the lives of these young people and their families:

  • A 16-year-old who could apply for a job and now pays taxes and works part-time to support his family.
  • A 17-year-old who could obtain a driver’s license and now drives to a better public high school outside of his neighborhood.
  • An 18-year-old who could apply for in-state tuition and scholarships and now attends one of the best public universities in his home state.
  • A 22-year-old who could use her gifts for ministry and now serves on staff at a local non-profit organization.
  • A 26-year-old who could answer her call to ministry and attend seminary and now serves on staff at a local United Methodist church.

We celebrate that over 100 young people in Tennessee have successfully received DACA thanks to Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist-affiliated organization which “provides affordable, high-quality immigration legal services to immigrants, educates the public and faith-based communities about issues related to immigration, and advocates for immigrant rights.” The Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church has supported this ministry from its beginnings.

In my new work with the Nashville Episcopal Area, I am blessed with the opportunity to visit and serve alongside lay and clergy leaders across the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Many of our churches have been enriched by the presence of young people from a beautifully diverse range of cultures, languages, and nations. In a divisive political climate in which immigrants continue to be marginalized and objectified, the United Methodist Church has a clear response found in our Social Principles:

“We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”

Now is the time to practice what we preach!

I pray that our churches will continue to be or become places where young people are welcomed and affirmed regardless of their documentation and legal status.

I pray that our clergy will advocate for policies which protect families and empower young people to use their God-given gifts.

I pray that our laity and clergy will organize and demonstrate their support for DACA recipients in a clear and public way.

May we pray. May we act. May we stand for justice.

Morgan Stafford
Cross-Cultural Strategist & Ministry Intern
Nashville Episcopal Area
The United Methodist Church
1908 Grand Ave.
Nashville, TN 37212
morgan.stafford@tnumc.com


Nashville Area Response: Tropical Storm/Hurricane Harvey

The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences are working together to respond to the disaster affecting our sister conferences in Texas and Louisiana. Please continue to pray for all those whose lives continue to be impacted by this storm.

We ask for your help in the following ways:

  • Please help us fill the truck! The Nashville Area plans to send an 18-wheeler filled with cleaning buckets to the UMCOR warehouse fulfilling needs for this disaster.

Start purchasing items now to prepare Cleaning Buckets. Carefully follow the instructions provided by UMCOR. Please only donate those items requested.

Within the next couple of days, drop off locations will be identified along the trucking route. Please bring buckets to those locations NO LATER than Noon on Monday, September 11.

  • Give generously to UMCOR’s US Disaster Response Advance #901670. Also, please share this link with your friends and colleagues. Let them know that every dollar donated to this fund goes to US Disaster Response – none goes toward administrative costs.

We know some of you would like to offer hands-on help, but the affected areas are not yet ready to receive volunteers. There will be opportunities in the coming weeks for trained teams to go in, but UMCOR asks that we wait for an invitation to volunteer.

More information about response efforts is available on these conference Facebook pages: The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist ChurchLouisiana Conference of The United Methodist ChurchRío Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church and Central Texas Conference.

Thank you for your prayers and support!


Thoughts on Our Way Forward 

Below is the text from comments I made at both the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences.

In March, I was in Africa, in Zimbabwe, and I went to the Mutare Mission where hundreds of children and young people are receiving an education, and health care, and hope because the Methodist church has been doing mission work there since the late 1800’s. The site on which Africa University is planted, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is in existence because the people called Methodists believe that educating Africans on the continent was a vital mission of the church.

Were we to splinter or split, the work of Africa University, and the work of the Mutare Mission, among other places across the world, would be damaged. The matters of human sexuality and unity are presenting issues for a deeper conversation that surfaces in different ways of interpreting scripture and theological tradition.

Over the coming months and year or years, increasingly the Commission on the Way Forward will offer models to annual conferences through the residential bishops who are committed to leading and teaching in their own contexts and working with delegations to the special session of the 2019 General Conference.

Now, what does all that mean? It means that we have a group of about 30 people who are meeting every 6 weeks working on this on our behalf. It means that whatever is brought forward at the General Conference of 2019 will, then, have to be approved by that General Conference. In most cases, I believe the same delegates that were delegates in 2016 will be delegates in 2019, which means by and large it will be a group of the same people.

I also have to tell you that one of the churches in Mississippi who has departed, Getwell Road, was a church that I planted in 1986. I was the church planter, and my heart is absolutely broken over their decision to leave our family.

The day that I was born, my father was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. Like many of you, my blood runs through the veins of the United Methodist Church, and it’s a little bit like when people talk about your family; I can talk about them, but you better not. I get a little angry.

I want us to be careful. Literally, the word careful is to be full of care. The meaning of careful is to be full of care.

How do we care for each other in the midst of our differences?

My home church, First United Methodist Church of New Albany, Mississippi is the church Lynn grew up in and I was a part of as a teenager.

Among the children of the elders of that church, there are a number of homosexual people. I have no idea, should this church split, what would happen to that congregation. And I would guess that church after church after church in our family could bear witness to similar stories.

The question I raise within my own spirit is – if we had not adopted The Way Forward, can you imagine what we would be doing right now as a denomination? We would be splitting this church up with a rusty butcher knife, and it would not be a very pretty sight. I will go so far as to say I’m not terribly optimistic that we will find a solution that everybody is going to sing the doxology over.

And if that’s the case, then I pray that we will have enough wisdom to find our way through this and hold on to each other. Schism is the lowest fruit on the theological food chain, frankly, but I simply ask you to bear with us and be patient with us and help us be in conversation together as we work our way toward a future that God has not yet defined. I don’t know anybody that would have signed up for this, but this is where we are.

I give thanks to God for the persons we are commissioning, the ones we are ordaining, those who are saying yes to this denomination. They want to give their life to this church and serve faithfully. Let’s remember that they see hope that maybe some of us don’t see. If you look back over the history of Christianity over the last 2,000 years, there have been a few bumps in the road, right? It has not all been smooth sailing, but somehow, out of that, God has still prevailed.

God is still on the throne. God is still the God of the resurrection. God is still the God of the future, not just the God of the past.

God is still calling us into that future, and I’m going to be trusting that God is going to show us the way.

Now God is not going to give us all the answers from here to the end of the road, so don’t expect that, but you can expect that God will give us enough light for our next step.

When the appointive Cabinet gets together every spring, I think, “How in the world are we going to make these appointments?” But, somehow, out of the mystery of God and the combined wisdom of that group of people, God shows us a way through. I trust that God.

I’m going to do my best to be faithful to you and faithful to God and this church, and I ask you to join me in that faithfulness. I will be faithful to the vows of my ordination as an Elder and my consecration as Bishop. If you have a problem and you feel like you need to talk about it, call your District Superintendent. If your District Superintendent can’t help you, then we’ll help you. I trust our Cabinet. They’re good people. I ask you to be faithful to what God is calling us to do.

Sunday night’s state of the church address probably disappointed some people because they thought I was going to talk about our denomination and not our mission. That was not an accident because

I don’t want this conversation to become our mission.

Our mission is to serve God and neighbor. To go into the world, to offer Christ to those who are hurting, one neighborhood at a time. I’ve been beating this drum for five years. I’m not going to stop beating it. We’re going to do the same thing we’ve been doing. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep pushing out. We’re going to keep pushing forward. We’re trying to transform congregations who transform people’s lives through the power of Jesus Christ who is a resurrecting God.

I believe in that God and that’s the God I’m going to bear witness to and I invite you not to be consumed by the negative press that the Church is going to receive in the coming years. And you’re going to get it from every direction.

My experience of the church is that there are some folk over here and some folk over here, but most Methodists are somewhere in the middle. Some of us are right of center and some of us are left of center, but most of us are centered in Christ.

My little 3 point sermon would be something like this: rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love.

Rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love.  And if we live out of that triumvirate, and if we keep God’s mission at the forefront of our lives, other conversations will not distract us quite so much.

You know in 1 Peter: 5, there’s a line in there that says ‘beware of the evil one who prowls around like a roaring lion and seeking to devour you.”

Maybe you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, and Screwtape says “don’t ever let them see the church with its banners waving.” There are forces in the world that do not want us to be seen with our banners waving.

But friends, there is some amazing, amazing transformational work that is taking place in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences on behalf of the people called Methodists who are giving their heart, mind, and soul to people in need, and we’re not going to stop doing that no matter what happens way up here, right?

I showed you a picture of myself when I played football at two different periods of my life. I’m not sure some of you got it. My college coach used to always say,

“Always leave it on the field.” Now, what does that mean? You’re going to give it your “all” day in, day out.

We were having dinner with some friends the other night and Lynn was talking about when she was in her master’s program and we moved in the middle of her doing her master’s to a little house that had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina, and she was working herself pretty hard, and I said, “Well, you don’t have to get an “A” in everything.” She said, “I don’t know how to try to get a B!” That’s what it means to leave it on the field.

I’m going to be faithful. I want you to be faithful. I can’t make you be. But I can invite you to be. I can invite you to follow Jesus into the world and reach out to those who are hungry and those who are broken. As I said last night, God uses flawed people because he doesn’t have enough of the other kind.

And brothers and sisters, we have no room to point our fingers at anyone. We would be much better off to get on our knees and pray, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner, than to point our finger and say thank God I’m not like that terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad person over there.

As I’ve said to the clergy, Jacob walked with a limp and he was better off with his limp than he was without it. Yes, we limp as a church. Yes, we’re broken. Yes, we’re imperfect and yes, we’ve got to figure this out, but we’re going to do it and let’s stay together as we do it, and let’s love each other.

As I read the gospel, the central ethic of the gospel is love. It’s love.

I’m going to be about loving God and loving the people God loves, and that includes all of us. All the time.

 


The Whole Earth is God’s Creation

“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.

 

MNI WICONI
(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
Dakotas-Minnesota Area
The United Methodist Church

 

Links:

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


Transformation through God and His servants

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!

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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/


Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God

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.

It’s complicated.

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?”  

It’s emotional.

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?”

It’s time.

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.


Discernment: A sermon by Dr. Davis Chappell


We’re beginning a new series this morning on Discernment.

 According to 1 Cor 12, Discernment is a spiritual gift. Listed there with wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues & interpretation of tongues – is the discernment of spirits.

  In their book Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church, Danny Morris & Charles Olsen define the word:

  • to separate or distinguish
  • to find the authentic & valuable, & recognize the counterfeit
  • to see the heart of the matter with spiritual eyes;
  • to see beneath the surface, through illusions w/in human systems, and beyond the immediate & transient;

 

In our fast-paced, high-tech, rapidly shifting culture, discernment is one of the most needed and neglected gifts.  The best definition of discernment is from St. Ignatius of Loyola: “the interpretation of the motions of the soul.”

Cassian, the 4th century Egyptian monastic said: “The monk who discerns is kept from veering to the left in carelessness and sin, sluggishness of spirit, and pretext of control; and is kept from veering to the right in stupid presumption and excessive fervor beyond constraint.”

Acts 15 is a watershed moment in the life of the Early church. There was a conflict brewing in the body that warranted prayerful discernment. Let me give you some context. In the first 14 chs of Acts, the church had been growing like gangbusters. Jesus had said before his ascension in Acts 1:8: “When you receive the Holy Spirit you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the utter ends of the earth.” And sure enough, it was happening!

The movement was growing not only in number, but in diversity.

  Samaritans were responding. An Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized by Philip. A Roman Soldier was converted through the preaching of Peter. The church, which began as a Jewish renewal movement, was now gorwing beyond her ethnic roots.

In particular, the Church in Antioch of Syria was flourishing. They were baptizing people left and right.

After Stephen was martyred, many believers migrated to Syria from Judea and planted a church. They had a missionary spirit. The membership was mostly Gentile. Incidently, this was the first place where people were called “Christian,” which means ‘little Christ.” (Like the term ‘Methodist’ it was not a term or endearment, but of ridicule).

And this is where the problem comes to a head. 15:1 begins: “Then certain individuals came to Antioch from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Jerusalem was home office for the movement. The Vatican. The Methodist Center. Note how Luke refers to them: Certain individuals.” In other words, they are unauthorized, unsanctioned. They don’t represent the whole. And yet, they feign to speak for the Church.

Who were they? v4 says they were part of the Pharisee party. Zealous for the Law. Jewish legalists.  They were not opposed to the Gentile mission. But they were convinced that these converts must come under the umbrella of the Jewish church; in other words, they must not only submit to baptism in the name of Jesus, but also to circumcision and the law in the name of Moses.

Speaking for the Church, they declared: “You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised.” In other words, “You can’t be a Christian unless you first become a Jew.” “If you don’t accept the Law, God will not accept you!”

A careful reading of the text reveals the crux of the problem.  In v1, Luke calls circumcision a custom. In v5, the Pharisees call circumcision a law. Therein lies the rub. Which is it, a custom? Or a law? There’s a big difference between a law and a custom!

  A custom is a tradition, a ritual, a cultural norm. A law is an imperative, a universal, non-negotiable. I’ve noticed sometimes in the Church, we make customs into law.  When I was a boy, there were some in my church who said women could’t wear make-up, or jewelry. There were some who told our youth we couldn’t wear jeans, or play cards, or dance. The Baptists said we could dance, but we couldn’t enjoy it!?

John Wesley had a wise rule of thumb: “In essentials – unity, in non-essentials – liberty; in all things – charity.” But what do you do, when non-essentials are made into essentials? That’s what these individuals were doing!  It’s a theological problem that if unchecked – will sabotage the nature of salvation, as well as the future mission!

One of the books I read on my study break is called The Pastor Theologian. The premise of the book states that “the church has become somewhat theologically anemic.” And furthermore, “some of our seminaries have become ecclesially anemic!”

Its scary, but true! When this happens the church will eventually become missionally anemic!  If what these Pharisees are saying is true, then Grace is not enough for salvation! You’ve got to add to it! What they’re advocating is: Grace + Law = Salvation. Jesus + Moses = Salvation. This is in opposition to what Paul had been teaching in Antioch, and would teach later in Ephesus. Eph 2:8-9 specifies our theology: “It is by grace that you have been saved, thru’ faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” In other words, Grace + Nothing = Salvation! Jesus + Nothing = Everything!

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul referred to these individuals as Judaizers. And later as trouble-makers! v2 says, “Paul & Barnabas had no small dissension & debate with them.” That’s an understatement! Feathers were flying! The stuff hit the fan!

So watch what happens. It’s a clinic in conflict resolution. The Church in Antioch doesn’t go rogue. They don’t split the body. They don’t start a new denomination. They respect the apostolic community. They’d have never heard the Gospel if it hadn’t been for the Jerusalem Church. So what do they do? They send a delegation to go up to Jerusalem and discuss the issue.

When they arrive, v4 says they are welcomed by the apostles & elders.” See the mutual respect? The mother church doesn’t say, “Here comes trouble!” “Katy bar the door!” They say, “C’mon in!” And they call to order the 1st General Conference. Turns out, they’re Methodists!

Well, where do you think Mr. Wesley got the idea for holy conferencing? He got it here, in Acts 15! It’s part of our DNA.  We do it up right! Charge Conference, District Conference, Annual Conference, Jurisdictional Conference. General Conference.

Wesley believed, as do we, that Holy conferencing is a means of grace, through which the Holy Spirit works in and through the body to discern the heart of God. We got it from Ac 15.  The Jerusalem Church didn’t say, “Let Antioch do their thing. And we’ll do our thing!” They didn’t say, “It’s a free country, let each one do as they please!” In fact, Paul would later say in Gal 5:13, “Don’t use your freedom do indulge yourself, but use your freedom in humility and love to serve one another.”

They didn’t dodge the conflict, or sweep it under the rug! I love what GK Chesterton once said: “I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean.”  And that’s what the Church did! v6 says: “The apostles & elders met together for holy conversation & prayer.”

They heard all sides. They spent a lot of time listening! And after much debate, Peter shared his experience of how Cornelius, a Roman centurion, had been changed by the grace of Christ. It wasn’t grace + anything. Just grace! Cornelius, a man who had lived by the sword, who still had blood on his hands, was baptized & received the HS.

But Cornelius wasn’t the only one converted, Peter had a conversion experience that day as well. He testifies that in that experience, he realized that God makes no distinction between Jew & Gentile.  Next up, Paul & Barnabas shared their witness of what God was doing on the mission field. And v12 says the whole assembly kept Silent.

“Silence is argument carried out by other means.” What’s happening through the silence? Discernment! We need more than talking points. We need silent points!  And then Luke says: James took the mic. Not James the apostle, the brother of John, 1 of the sons of thunder. Sons of thunder don’t facilitate such conferences very well! Not James, the son of Alphaeus, 1 of the 12, known as James the Less. Boy, there’s an inferiority complex waiting to happen!  

This is James, the brother of Jesus. He wasn’t even a believer, until after the resurrection. I Cor 15:7 says, “James saw Jesus in Risen glory.” And his brother became his Lord. And now, he’s the leader!

After hearing the experience of the missionaries, notice what he does: He connects the apostolic experience with Scripture.  “What Simeon has said (note, he calls Peter by his Hebrew name. Smart man! The source of the problem is the Hebraic Jews, so he wisely refers to Peter by his Hebrew name) about God’s grace to the Gentiles agrees with the prophet Amos: ‘I will rebuild the dwelling of David which has fallen, so that ALL my people may seek the Lord, even the Gentiles, over whom my name has been called.” He tests their experience with Scripture. He validates experience through sacred canon! And notice, Amos says nothing about circumcision!

James then speaks for the whole Church: “We will not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God.” Grace is enough!  He would put it in writing & send it with emissaries to Antioch. He would say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us not to impose this burden on you.” (There’s a key point here. When the Church gathers, it is not for the purpose of ascertaining what the majority thinks. It is for the purpose of ascertaining what the Holy Spirit thinks, and how the Spirit is leading. Its called discernment!)

And notice, they never took a vote. They didn’t ask for a show of hands. No secret ballot. Through holy conferencing they discerned God’s direction. By missional experience & Scripture (also tradition and reason) they found consensus. In fact, it was unanimous! v22 says, “they had the consent of the whole church.”  There’s 1 other caveat included in this text, that is often left out. James adds a PS in the letter. You see it in vss19-21, “We will not trouble you anymore about this matter, but it would be well for you to abstain from eating food offered to idols, avoid sexual immorality & unkosher food. For from the earliest times, Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, with his words being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” What’s that mean?

Is it a new administrative law? No! Its a pastoral word to these Gentile converts. These abstentions are right out of the holiness code in Lev 17-18. (Remember the Gospel movement is not only a hospitality movement, it’s a holiness movement!) These actions are offensive to Jews. He’s saying something very important here, that in our joyous freedom, we miss!

Just as the Pharisees are not to Judaize repentant Gentiles, Gentiles are not to Gentilize repentant Jews! You know what James is doing? He’s preserving the unity of the body!  In the Jerusalem Conference, the HS scores a double victory! An either/or becomes a both/and! There’s a victory of truth in confirming the Gospel of Grace, and a victory of love in preserving the fellowship, by sensitive concession to conscientious scruples.

Martin Luther said it like this: ”We are to be strong in faith, but soft in love.”  John Newton, the former slave trader, who wrote a marvelous hymn about his conversion, said: “You must be a reed in non-essentials, and an iron pillar in essentials.”

How do we know the difference, between essential and non-essential? Discernment. A gift of the Holy Spirit. Given to the church through holy conferencing!

Let me give you an example. Three weeks ago, in a little town outside London, a group of children were having an Easter egg hunt in a field. Two men who had committed a crime came running thru’ the field past the children. A moment later, police in their helicopters flew overhead, searching for these felons. These quick-thinking children, with the help of the adults, got down on the ground, in formation, and together, formed a human arrow, that pointed the authorities above in the direction of these men. Within a few moments, the suspects were apprehended.

It’s a picture of discernment. That’s what happened in Jerusalem. The children of God came together, and by their connection to Christ and each other, they pointed the way to the One who brings about mercy & justice, in whom we find our salvation. And the mission kept going! Its still going! Through you and me!

God help the Church to be an arrow, that points beyond individuals, to the One who is justice and mercy, grace and truth, that through our witness, others would be apprehended by the One has has come, is come, and will come again!

In the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Dr. Davis Chappell is the Sr. Pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church in the Tennessee Conference. 


Flint water crisis calls for prayer and financial support

flint water

My episcopal colleague, Bishop Deborah Kiesey of the Michigan Area, this week shared with me information about the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan that she described as “difficult and disturbing.”

While many are now focused on how Flint’s drinking water was contaminated with lead, Bishop Kiesey has reminded me what the United Methodist Church is about in the midst of this terrible water crisis.

She reports that churches and districts in her area have come together to provide water, filters and case management. She reports that United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is being consulted for grant assistance.

This is encouraging, but, as Bishop Kiesey says, “It’s hard to see where the end might be” for the people of Flint.

“The long-term effects of lead poisoning will be felt for generations,” said Kiesey. “Add to this the underlying, complex issues of racism and poverty that have brought about this crisis in the first place.”

The people of Flint need two things from us, the United Methodists of the Nashville Episcopal Area (Memphis and Tennessee Conferences):

  • Our prayers NOW and for many years to come…
  • Our financial support, not just to purchase and deliver water, but to help pay for things like water filters and medical care, especially for children who have been affected.

If you or your church or small group would like to make a financial gift to help the people of Flint, here are two ways you may do that through the Detroit Conference of The United Methodist Church:

  • Online: http://bit.ly/FlintRelief
  • Mail: Detroit Conference Treasurer’s Office, 1309 N. Ballenger Hwy, Suite 1, Flint, MI 48504. On the memo line, write “#0918 Crossroads District Water Response”

Your Servant in Christ,

Bishop Bill McAlilly


Candlelight Prayer Vigil Sunday, December 13, 5:30-6:30pm

Sunday night, December 13 at 5:30 p.m., on the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol, there will be a prayerful candlelight vigil to call attention to the need for our communities to support Insure TN. The prayers are focused on uniting our hearts with our sisters and brothers who are in the healthcare coverage gap. It is our hope and prayer that the state of Tennessee will vote affirmatively for Insure TN and implement it quickly.

We will also have opportunities for individuals to create luminaries in honor of those in the healthcare coverage gap created by Tennessee’s failure to implement Insure TN and for those who have paid for this failure with their very lives. The luminaries created on this night will be incorporated into a display of luminaries created across the state on this same day, and these will be placed on the TN Capitol grounds in January to remind returning legislators of their commitment to the people of Tennessee.

The public is invited and all who support this plan are encouraged to attend.

Vigils will be held in various locations across TN on this same evening, so if you are unable to attend the vigil at this location, please reach out for information about a vigil to be held near you.

Governor Haslam introduced Insure Tennessee a year ago, and our legislators will have another opportunity this year to vote on it. Insure Tennessee would help 280,000 of our neighbors who are living without healthcare coverage.

We know them as people who are working one, two and sometimes three jobs. They cry out for help, yet too often their pleas are left unheard. Insure Tennessee is vital for our rural communities, whose hospitals are closing or at risk of closing.

When a community’s only hospital closes, the results are devastating. Patients cannot get care. Hospital staff members lose their jobs, not just nurses and doctors, but also cafeteria workers, housekeepers, custodians, parking attendants, security guards, and the nursing assistants who empty our bedpans. Small businesses that relied on their community hospital can no longer meet their expenses. More jobs are lost and businesses close.

Sunday night, we will share our love for our uninsured friends, neighbors and family members. In the end, until everyone has access to affordable basic health care coverage, we are all in the coverage gap.

More information visit:

https://www.tnjustice.org/gap

https://www.tnjustice.org/how-to-engage-leaders

Candlelight Vigils are also being held in Murfreesboro, Chattanooga & Memphis
Click here for a complete listing of all the Vigils happening throughout the state.


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

wesley john

JOHN WESLEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Bishop’s Letter on Immigration

episcopallogoGreetings,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ’s Love,

Bishop William McAlilly
Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church

 


The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state:

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


The Ferguson Decision and Our Jesus-Centered Response

ferguson1-519x388

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

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

The Ferguson Decision and Our Jesus-Centered Response

By Rev. Richard Smith

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

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

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

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

Stories from the Congo #2

Sunday, August 17
Celebrating a new home

Sunday's Celebration

Sunday’s Celebration

Excitement filled the air as we worshipped and assembled to dedicate the new episcopal residence for Bishop Unda as well as two office buildings. Over 1000 people attended the gathering in Kindu including many government dignitaries. As we shared life together, a number of different choirs sang great music, and many introductions and celebrations took place. I cast our vision in the Nashville Area of “Expecting Greater Things” and presented Bishop Unda one of the special stoles made by the Tennessee Conference for my first annual conference with them. Bishop Peggy Johnson, who speaks sign language with the deaf, was overjoyed when she discovered members of the Church speaking in sign language. It was powerful to see that sign language did not need translation; the language is universal. Complete with ribbon cutting and blessing, Bishop Unda’s home will be very comfortable and adequate for his needs. It is located about 150 yards from the conference offices and situated on the expansive, church owned property where several buildings destroyed during the 15-year war, have been rebuilt through the partnership of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences along with the General Board of Global Ministries.

Monday, August 18
Combatting Malaria

Passing out Bed Nets in Kindu

Bednets in Kindu

We visited a health clinic, located a short distance from the Episcopal residence, where parents can bring their children under age 5 to be treated for malaria and receive bed nets at the same time. The number of patients at the facility overwhelmed us. On that particular morning, the clinic had already seen 26 patients before noon. Some patients were much sicker than others. Many were on IV drips, much like of M*A*S*H* unit rather than a medical clinic. The unforgettable image of those patients makes me realize the importance of our efforts to raise $1,000,000 for Imagine No Malaria. Not only are we equipping them with bed nets that will protect 3-4 people each night, we are also providing, along with the government, essential medicine to combat this killer disease. It was gratifying to know that we are making a difference in a profound way.

Tuesday, August 19
Happy Anniversary to Lynn!
Seeing the Connection

After returning to Lubumbashi, we visited our HIV hospital provided by UMCOR. While there, we spoke with doctors and nurses and saw firsthand, the incredible witness of the United Methodist connection through the Global Aids fund and its provision of much needed health care. Because of this assistance from The United Methodist Church as well as support from other partners, the clinic can offer free health care and medicines. Seeing UNICEF boxes of medicines in the clinic’s warehouse reminded me of the many times I collected money for UNICEF as a teenager. Wednesday, August 20 Experiencing the Connection The night before we were to depart, I realized my passport was missing. I searched high and low and retraced my steps. Our hosts, dear United Methodist sisters and brothers, assisted me in my search by calling the places we had visited. With no success, I resorted to what others do when losing a passport in a foreign country; I called the American Embassy in Kinshasa. As I figured out next steps, I discovered that a member of our group, Evette Richards, National President of the United Methodist Women, had a friend whose sister is the wife of the American Ambassador in Kinshasa. Through that connection, Evette obtained the contact information for the Ambassador’s wife. Before 8:00 a.m. the next day, Evette communicated my dilemma to the Ambassador’s wife and the wheels were put in motion to secure a new passport.

While others worked on the securing the passport, we tried to determine if there was a flight out of Lubumbashi, and received misinformation about it. In the midst of the conflicting information, we experienced a moment of grace, as we learned Vano Kiboko, one of our hosts and United Methodist brothers, had connections with the airline in the Congo. Vano secured for me the last seat on the plane that departed at 7:00 p.m. Flying to Kinshasa Thursday night was critical because the Embassy closed Friday at noon. If I did not make this flight, I couldn’t obtain a new passport on Friday and would be stranded in a Kinshasa until Monday. By this time, I realized I would not arrive home to be present for Bishop Robert Schnase’s presentation on his book, Seven Levers.

Throughout this experience, Bettye Kiboko, the wife of one of our pastors in Iowa, acted as my interpreter. While Bettye helped me report my passport missing to the police and secure a temporary one to fly within the country, the Conference Communications Coordinator worked diligently to obtain my new documentation and ensure our other team members caught their flight.

Over and over again, I was reminded that I was secure, as the good people called Methodists on the other side of the world cared for me because we were one in Christ through our bond as United Methodist sisters and brothers. This journey has been one of the most powerful examples of the United Methodist connection I have experienced.

I am indebted to Bishop Ntembo’s staff for assisting me and to Vano Kiboko for arranging drivers to take me wherever I needed to go, covering our hotel bill, and organizing transportation for from the tarmac in Kinshasa to my hotel. I’m also deeply indebted to Bettye Kiboko for guiding my steps and urging the people securing my temporary passport and flight to persevere.

Today is testimony to God’s amazing grace. I have never been so proud to wear my purple episcopal clergy shirt and collar, as they are helpful in finding a good way to get safe passage on an African Airline. It will be a shame if The United Methodist Church cannot find a way to remain united. The linkages we enjoy will be lost and we will never regain them. We are a Church that sends missionaries from everywhere to everywhere. Because 100 years ago United Methodist missionaries came to the Congo, I was secure in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.

And…we are globally connected because I was able to stay connected to Lynn through the amazing wonder of technology.

Most of all, I had the sense in these days that angels were watching over me. When Vano took me to my hotel in Kinshasa Thursday night, we entered the room, and he said, “Before I leave, we pray.” And we did.

Our prayer reminded me of John Wesley’s definition of a Methodist long ago. He said, “by Methodists I mean, a people who profess to having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”

Vano and I

Vano and I

Vano, a lay person dedicated to the church, a man who lost his wife 9 years ago, and a person who is committed to sharing the gospel, at every point, lived out this definition of John Wesley. As he spoke of his desire to offer his life in service to Jesus Christ, I realized how he is a living testament to 1 John 4:21: “And this commandment I give you, if you love God, you will also love your brother.”

Listening To God

Coming to the Congo, my prayer was for God to show me what I needed to know. My prayer has been answered. God has shown me:

  1. We stand on someone else’s shoulders. Missionaries, who came to Africa 100 years ago, came without fear and served in love. Today, we won’t travel without security. Do I have as much faith as they had?
  2. Our American view of Africa is distorted. While it is true that poverty is rampant in many places, there are places like Lubumbashi, where The United Methodist Church is building up the body with wise stewardship and strategic church planting. Vano’s church is trying to put a roof on their building. In last Sunday’s offering, they raised $150,000 in cash and pledges toward the $250,000 they need for the roof. The roof will not be constructed until all the cash is in hand. As more churches are constructed, they are placed in the centers of communities to serve the greatest number of people and to partner with existing community leaders.
  3. In spite of great obstacles, the passion for serving Christ moves beyond personal comfort. The District Superintendents do not have any means of transportation except a bicycle. They do not have parsonages and their salaries are meager.
  4. Without the United Methodist connection, many, many more people would die from malaria and from HIV. The United Methodist Church is providing healthcare and education, the keys tools for evangelization in Africa. Pastors in the villages know who are sick and visit them. In this way, the pastor brings people into the life of the congregation and thus salvation. This personal way of bringing the gospel to people is making Church in Africa grow. It reminds me of what John Wesley taught us long ago but what we in the United States have forgotten.
  5. Finally, I have learned again, we have a great Church! In spite of our differences and in spite of our challenges, God has brought us this far by faith.
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Brothers in Christ in Africa

I will return soon and invite you to continue in the challenge to support Imagine No Malaria. We will continue to discover ways for the Nashville Area to support the East Congo Area of The United Methodist Church.

Asante Sana! Thank you for blessing our efforts in this place.