Recently, I shared with you the news of the postponement of General Conference 2022 until May of 2024. There is significant disappointment across the Church with the news. For sure, there are implications of this delay, and the Council Bishops continues to consider the implications of this delay and how to lead in the coming two years until the General Conference will gather.
However, as I have reflected on this news, I have been reminded of the journey we have traveled together. Throughout our time together the conviction that has guided my leadership is this: nothing is sacred but the mission. In recent days, I have remembered the call God placed on my heart in 2012. God has been calling me to build bridges across the Nashville Episcopal Area and to be the bishop of all persons.
I am serving in my 10th year as your bishop. I remember well the joy and excitement Lynn and I had to become a part of the Nashville Episcopal Area and the promise of Greater Things about which Jesus spoke in John 14.
One of those greater things was the monumental task of uniting two conferences with histories, customs, memories, and relationships that were deep and vital. This work we have faithfully done and the TWK is now 70+ days old. We are learning a lot; our team is adapting constantly to the changing landscape of the conference and the UMC.
The Connectional Table has adopted four areas of focus for the work of the Annual Conference:
- Discover the work that God is doing to dismantle racism in TWK
- Discover what God is doing to increase resilience of spiritual leaders in TWK
- Create systems of response to Disasters that affect the TWK by setting up a Long Term Recovery organization and deepen our ability to respond quickly to disasters through church volunteer efforts
- Pay attention to the ways God is helping us be the Church in a new day
- Collaborate with leaders and discover the assets that are available to grow new communities of faith
- Bear witness to God’s work of renewing and becoming the Church in the world.
As we think about our life together, I am drawn to John’s gospel. In fact, if I look back over the last 10 years much of the teaching we have shared is drawn from the Gospel of John.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The overarching task of the Church today is rooted in the evangelistic process of knowing, growing, abiding in Jesus Christ (John 15:5)
This work is Initiated by the Movement of the Holy Spirit. It is through the movement of the Holy Spirit that we experience the Resurrected life which makes possible Reconciliation, Resilience, and Response.
Lay and clergy leaders all over the TWK conference are leading in ways that Christ is using to accomplish our mission.
Over the years as our two conferences worked to create the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, people revealed a strength and resilience and a willingness to create a new conference in a season filled with disruption. There have been multiple disruptions. And yet we practiced adaptive leadership, grounded in Christ, that led us through.
Two years ago, this week two things happened. One, my mother died and two, we shut down all our in-person worship services. It’s been a hard two years. The journey since that time has been filled with challenges, confusion, adaptability. Our Pastors have been amazing front-line workers pivoting to worship in creative formats.
As you know, as we were saying goodbye to the legacy conferences we did so in a virtual way.
We did not have the opportunity to adequately celebrate and give thanks for who we have been.
As we have created a new conference, we have grieved the losses that we have experienced.
We will, at the first session of the TWK annual conference, have a time of lament for the losses and for what we have been. Dr. Sharon Cox will lead us in this process of grieving.
We continue to lead adaptively as we experience multiple disruptions.
Regarding the announcement of the delay of General Conference, we have learned that some of our churches may want to leave the UMC. This will cause further disruption in our conference.
I want you to know this:
- my calling is to remain faithful to the United Methodist Church.
- I believe that it is possible be a United Methodist and be faithful to orthodox, traditional, and progressive beliefs.
- I am called to this work, and to a church that does amazing mission on behalf of God’s kingdom across this world. Even as I write these words, the United Methodist Church is on the ground in Ukraine and the United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to humanitarian need through the leadership of Bishop Eduard Khegay. When we consider the disruptions, those we are experiencing pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
Here’s what I know:
“The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.” – #BeUMC
- We embrace the fundamentals of the Wesleyan tradition and dedicate ourselves to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- We embrace a Church anchored in Scripture and a theology of grace.
- We embrace a Church that aspires to be a more just and inclusive force in the world.
- We embrace the connected power of 12 million souls united, working towards good in the world.
- We embrace a Church that has uplifted our own lives and the lives of our friends, family, and those we cherish.
- We embrace a Church built in loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action.
- We embrace a Church where everyone does not have to agree and where everyone is welcome.
I recognize that not every person and not every congregation will choose to remain a part of our family. If that is the case, we have a process in place. Our process affirmed by the Conference Board of Trustees as guided by the recent Judicial Council decisions has reaffirmed paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline as a clear and fair process for churches who wish to depart from the denomination.
Additionally, the Council of Bishops has asked for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council regarding whether an annual conference can leave and join another evangelical denomination.
Gil Rendle reminds us that this season of leadership must be quietly courageous: cultivating hope that becomes wise through experience and is undaunted by disappointment, naming anxiety that does not unnerve us but reveals to us new ways to look at new things in the future, knowing that we have simple blessings that will see us through — health, food, sleep, one another, the seasons of God’s creative hand. These practices draw us close to the foundation that is our faith in Christ.
Our work is to be bridge builders as we bear witness to the love of God in the world.
A Prayer for the Church in These Times
O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who art our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us, we beseech thee—for we are in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment. We need an anxiety about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things but does not unnerve us. As a people, we need to remember that our influence was greatest when our power was weakest. Most of all, we need to turn to thee, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be thou our sole strength in time of trouble. In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings—the simple ones: health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over, a nation which, despite all, has so much to offer so many.
And, grant us to count our more complicated blessings: our failures, which teach us so much more than success; our lack of money, which points to the only truly renewable resources, the resources of our spirit; our lack of health, yea, even the knowledge of death, for until we learn that life is limitation, we are surely as formless and as shallow as a stream without its banks.
Send us forth into a new week with a gladsome mind, free and joyful in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.
—William Sloan Coffin, Riverside Church
I invite you to join me in the work of building bridges across the rivers that bind us in the Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference.
Matthew 6.1-16, 16-21
In a sense, the 40-day Lenten journey upon which we embark today is a journey of spiritual preparation. This season is about death and resurrection, brokenness and redemption, endings, and beginnings.
It is a time to take stock, to reflect, to come clean before God. There is a remarkable prayer of confession in our hymnal that says: we confess, O Lord, that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
So, in the words of the prophet Joel appointed for today, “Return to the LORD, your God, with all your heart for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. “
Return to the Lord, praying as King David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
The Christian faith, of course, is not just a collection of ideas to be believed; it is a way of life to be practiced. Lent is a time when we commit to come clean before God.
And there is no sense pretending with God. God knows that you don’t have your act together. God knows the who we are. God knows the confused motives behind the seemingly innocent remark or gesture. God not only knows the real you, but God also loves you. Today our scripture teaches us to “Rend your hearts and not your garments” are both counseling us to pay more attention to the content of our hearts as we enter this season of preparation for Easter.
In the words of the prophet Joel, God is telling us, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.”
May this Lenten Journey guide your heart and your steps as you draw near to Christ.
Please receive this word from Bishop Christian Alsted
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
There is war in Europe; Russia has invaded Ukraine, which is a free independent democracy.
War and violence are evil and always entail considerable human costs. The Christian message points to the path of reconciliation and never to war and violence as a solution to conflicts.
In the face of this evil, we pray for a logic different from the one based on geopolitical competition. We pray for a change of hearts and minds of leaders; we pray for de-escalation and dialogue instead of violence and war.
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church say:
We deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations. From the beginning, the Christian conscience has struggled with the harsh realities of violence and war, for these evils clearly frustrate God’s loving purposes for humankind. We yearn for the day when there will be no more war and people will live together in peace and justice. —2016 Book of Discipline, Social Principles, ¶ 164
Our central conference consists of Nordic, Baltic, and Eurasian countries, including Russia and Ukraine. The Christian church is not nationalistic, and our relations with our brothers and sisters in other countries are not limited by nationality or culture. We have deep relations with Methodists in Ukraine and in Russia, and although we are influenced by our culture and the political realities, we must never allow this to hinder or break our unity in Christ.
We stand with the United Methodists in Ukraine in prayer for protection, reconciliation, and peace. We pray for pastors, leaders, and congregations in The United Methodist Church in Ukraine; may God grant that their witness of reconciliation and peace will bring strength and hope to the Ukrainian people.
We pray for Bishop Eduard Khegay, bishop of both Russia and Ukraine; may God give him the wisdom and grace that he needs in his ministry and leadership under these challenging circumstances.
In the Nordic and Baltic episcopal area, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all have borders with Russia; and in addition, Latvia and Lithuania have borders with Belarus. In the Baltic countries in particular, the invasion of Ukraine causes great concern.
The United Methodists in the Nordic countries stand with the Methodists in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in prayer for protection and peace. May the church’s testimony of reconciliation and peace in Christ offer hope and strength to the people in the Baltic countries.
In the coming week, we will enter the season of Lent, which, in the church, is a time for prayer and soul-searching. I call on all our congregations to intercede for the people of Ukraine and for the leaders in the world who have the power to bring an end to war. I call on all our congregations to pray and fast for reconciliation and peace in the world. May God, in his grace, open our eyes to the things that make for peace, may he protect us all from the escalation and spreading of war, and may we follow him on his path of truth and peace.
May Christ have mercy on us all
I give thanks to God for your ministry across the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, in every place, and in every community where God is at work through the United Methodist Church.
As you know, this is the season when the cabinet begins its annual appointive work. Already, district superintendents have been in consultation with pastors and congregations who are anticipating a pastoral change this year. Those changes will be announced in worship on Sunday, April 3, 2022.
This is my tenth appointive season as your bishop. The cabinet has learned much from you as we have done this important work. Congregations and pastors have taught us that in some cases, there is never a good time to make a pastoral change. Pastors have taught us that the needs of families often outweigh any other considerations. Families where both spouses have careers create challenges to the vow made to itinerate.
Next week we begin in earnest the appointive season. During February, March, and April, the Appointive Cabinet will meet to consider pastoral changes. Our district superintendents are consulting with pastors and congregations during this season to determine where we need to consider changes.
The chair of the P/SPRC will receive a letter from me which will be read in worship on April 3, 2022. This is when congregations will learn of their new pastors.
The P/SPRC Chair will not announce where the departing pastor is moving. This will be the responsibility of the pastor who is departing, and the pastor will choose how to share that information.
Later in April and May, the district superintendent will convene covenant meetings with the P/SPRC where the new pastor will be introduced to the committee.
The actual moving day for clergy is not yet determined. It’s likely that Sunday, June 26, will be the last Sunday of your current pastor’s appointment. The first Sunday for your new pastor will likely be July 10. This delayed start relieves a new pastor from beginning on the July 4 holiday weekend.
Please be in prayer for the cabinet. This is intense work. It is work that impacts congregations, pastors, and pastoral families. Each appointment is important to the disciple-making process in every community and United Methodist congregation within the bounds of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference.
We covet your prayers and thank you for your faithfulness. May God be with us all in this season.
Below you will find a statement released this week by the Central Conference College of Bishops regarding the proposed vaccinations of Central Conference Delegates.
There is deep concern about the inequity this idea presents for Africa, and these leaders in the Church were compelled to speak into this moment as we consider the potential delay of General Conference due to the Global Covid Pandemic.
We simply offer this to you as information to keep you abreast of all that is occurring in this liminal season leading up to a time when we can gather for General Conference.
It is expected that the Commission on General Conference will meet near the end of the month and will give direction to when General Conference will be held. It is worth noting that currently, only two bishops serve on the GC Commission with voice but not vote.
Statement from Central Conference bishops on vaccine offers
January 17, 2022
As Christians, we are called to serve all of God’s people without discriminating or choosing only those who agree with us theologically or politically. We are called to be of help to all those in need and not only those who would support our organization’s goals and desires.
That is why we are appalled by the action of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. The WCA has decided to raise funds to assist some United Methodists, mostly in Africa, with getting vaccinations for the sole purpose of making sure that those United Methodists who are delegates to the postponed General Conference would be able to travel to the United States.
While we understand that vaccines are not easily accessible to all people in many parts of the world, we are dismayed that the WCA would choose to help provide vaccines to only a few people and not the community as whole. If the WCA’s motives are pure, why not provide vaccines for the entire family of that delegate or the entire church or the community in which the delegate lives?
The world is in the midst of a global pandemic that so far has caused the death of more than 5.5 million people. Currently, the highly contagious Omicron variant has made many countries shut down again and reintroduce severe restrictions due to exponentially growing numbers of people infected. While the United States and Europe are struggling to increase the number of people fully vaccinated and encouraging a third and, in some places, even a fourth shot, countries in Africa are struggling to make vaccines available at all. In the Democratic Republic of Congo for example, less than half a million people out of a population of 80 million are vaccinated.
Furthermore, we know the virus is likely to continue to mutate as long as a significant amount of people are infected. This is why the Connectional Table has called the church to consider vaccine equity a missional priority of the church. The Council of Bishops supports this effort. As vaccine distribution is regulated and controlled by the government in each individual country, the efforts of The United Methodist Church are to focus on advocacy and education. This concerns our future – we are all affected, and we all know people who have been seriously ill or have died from Covid. Jesus called us to care for the least and making vaccines available across the globe and receiving vaccination when possible is a simple matter of obedience to Christ’s call and a tangible expression of love of neighbor, and far more important than our own internal struggles in the church. It is time that we wake up to this reality in God’s world.
Offering vaccines to General Conference delegates or covering the cost of delegates to travel to places where they can be vaccinated is not an expression of vaccine equity. Rather, it appears as an attempt to benefit those who have been given a special responsibility, and who the donor wishes to fulfill a certain purpose.
Furthermore, the official organizer of the General Conference is the Commission on General Conference, and when individual interest groups begin to offer benefits to delegates, they jeopardize the integrity of General Conference.
The unfortunate thing about the entire process by WCA is that it has all the marks of colonialism which our countries went through in some years ago. The tactics of divide-and-conquer have created chaos and division on the African continent and should not be allowed in our churches. One would have thought that our friends and partners in the WCA would have taken some modest time to consult with the church leaders in the Central Conferences so that we move together in how to implement such a cause. We people called United Methodists from the Central conferences promote unity and we treasure our connectional spirit but we deplore any form of colonialism.
Unfortunately, what we experience time and again is the brazen interference in the affairs of The United Methodist Church in Africa from our brothers and sisters in the WCA. If forming a new denomination means leaving a trail of destruction as we are now experiencing in Africa, we surely need to talk about it as friends and members of the family we call The United Methodist Church.
We, the undersigned bishops, have vastly different perspectives on the issues surrounding human sexuality. But with one accord, we stand together for the cohesion and unity of our beloved United Methodist Church. We will not be dissuaded from seeing one another as brothers and sisters in the church.
We live on different continents, in very different contexts. But together we carry out the task entrusted to us by our church, to be shepherds of the whole flock and to lead the church with honesty and integrity. We do not allow that trust in one another to be undermined.
We represent United Methodists on three continents with a variety of languages and cultures, styles of spirituality and convictions. We share a history which contains some dark and shameful aspects. But we are convinced that we can witness to God’s love more powerfully, beautifully, and invitingly if we continue to do so together. We do not allow others to pit us against each other.
Bishop Harald Rückert, Europe – president of the Central Conferences College of Bishops
Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Africa – president of the Africa College of Bishops
Bishop Rudy Juan, Asia – Philippines College of bishops
There are two times of year that I miss serving the local church most keenly. One, of course, is Holy Week and Easter. I miss the journey from Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter—the rhythms of the liturgy. We regularly need to hear the story that reminds us of our why. We need to be reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus as Paul reminds us in Romans 8.
The other season that captures my heart is Advent. I love the pageantry of preparation for the birth of the Christ Child. I remember well the sheer exhaustion of the week of Christmas. Multiple services on Christmas Eve. The desire to have just the right message for the occasion, knowing that there likely would be those in the congregation who were longing for something they could not even name.
I miss serving Holy Communion to children held in the arms by their parents or grandparents.
I miss looking in the eyes of those whose story had been sacredly shared in the holy space of my office at a moment when life hung in the balance as I served the sacrament.
I miss sharing the light of a candle that had been ignited by the Christ Candle.
In the first years of our marriage Lynn and I always made the long drive from Gainesville, Georgia to New Albany, MS, where her parents lived. Christmas Eve was a very special night with her family and it started with the Christmas Eve service at First United Methodist Church. Lavelle Woodrick was the Senior pastor. Every year, Lavelle would invite me to read the Christmas story, Luke 2, from the King James Version of the Bible. “In those days a decree went out…”
As a seminary student, not yet ordained, I was given the privilege of serving the sacrament of Holy Communion. I usually served the bread, Lavelle held the chalice, and together we shared the words, “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”
Then to share the light of Christ with a sanctuary packed with friends and family who had nurtured my faith and my call to ministry as we sang “Silent Night”. It was a holy time.
In my experience, on Christmas Eve, Maundy Thursday and Easter, the minister is on the receiving end of ministry, maybe more than at any other time of the Christian year.
We still come to New Albany, MS, for Christmas. We’ve been making this pilgrimage from one place or another now for 43 years. We’ve had the great fun of having all five of our grandchildren with us this week. Thomas, Micah, Iris, Bo and Mac. Lynn has employed her teaching skills of classroom management and had all five around the kitchen table doing Christmas crafts and singing Christmas carols. The voices of children singing carols is heavenly.
Today we will go to Oxford University United Methodist Church, where we will hear our granddaughter, Bo, sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” in the Angel Choir. Bo is four and she told us she was an angel since she sang in the angel choir. I do not dare dispute her claim.
We will be a part of the worshipping community and we will receive the bread and wine, served this night, by our son, Chris, who is Co-pastor at OUUMC. It will be a holy time.
This Advent season, I’ve reflected on the thought that Emmanuel means God with us. I’m wondering though, in light of what I’ve experienced over the years on this special night, Emmanuel means God embraces us with a love that will not let us go.
I am mindful of the grief our family has experienced during the Advent season since 2013, when my nephew Gale, was killed in the line of duty, to my father’s death two years ago, our family has longed for that embrace. We’ve longed for that embrace when we lost my mother at the onset of the pandemic, and most recently the loss of Lynn’s mother last April.
I am mindful, especially today, of those in our clergy family who will linger in the sanctuary a bit longer because for the first time they will come home without the embrace of a spouse.
I am mindful today, also, of those in our communities who will this Christmas be without a home because of the recent tornadoes that tore across our Kentucky and West Tennessee.
I am especially mindful that, if Christ is to be born in us this Christmas, we will need to reach with open arms to those in need. We will need to wrap our arms around our faith.
So, I invite you to be mindful that when we birth and cradle Christ in our own lives we will find our arms wrapping around others who need Christ birthed and cradled in their lives.
From our house to yours,
Bill and Lynn McAlilly
By Vicki Loflin Johnson (www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com)
In the midst of a stressful year with our fourth major weather event in 18 months, the Global Pandemic and the challenges that have constantly been before us, I asked my friend Vicki Loflin Johnson to give us some thoughts about coping with stress and becoming more resilient. Vicki has worked with a number of our people over the last several months through her coaching cohort, The Art of Wellbeing. I offer this post to you in the spirit of help for the common good.
When we are extremely stressed or overwhelmed, or in the midst of responding to a crisis, it is important that we also take some time for rest and recovery.
Here are some simple, quick ways to help you pause, breathe, and reset:
If you have 60 seconds:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in and out through your nose. Consciously relax your mouth, let your tongue rest. If helpful, imagine breathing out the tiredness/tension and breathing in energy/the Holy Spirit.
- Slowly nod your head up and down (yes). Then slowly turn your head from left to right (no). With your inhale face forward; with your exhale move up/down/left/right. If you are in your car, press the back of your head into the headrest while doing this.
- Try taking a “lion’s breath.” Inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale with your mouth wide open and tongue sticking out. Exhale as long as possible. Repeat 3-4 times.
- Take off your shoes and socks. Curl and uncurl your toes. Squeeze your hands into a fist and then open them wide. Open your mouth as wide as possible while inhaling, then purse your lips and blow out hard. Repeat these steps 3-4 times.
- Stop what you are doing long enough to look at something beautiful—a piece of art, a plant, nature outside your window, a treasured decorative item in your home or office. Let an object of beauty evoke a moment of awe and wonder in you.
- Stroke your cat or your dog. Hug a friend, your child, or your spouse.
- Drink 8 ounces of water.
If you have 5 minutes:
- Practice “ratio breathing.” Inhale to a slow count of 3 or 4. Exhale twice as long to a count of 6 or 8. This breathing technique has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Gaze out a window and let your eyes be soft. Ask yourself a question and listen: “What am I feeling right now?” If you feel up to it, you can also ask, “Oh God, what are you inviting me to do next?”
- Play with your dog. Do something silly with a child.
- Lie down on a carpet, rug, or yoga mat and pull your knees into your chest (do not cross your ankles). Hold onto your knees or shins and pull your knees as close to your chest as is comfortable. Let your low back completely flatten to the floor. If your chin juts toward the ceiling uncomfortably, place a folded blanket or low pillow under your head. Close your eyes and breathe.
- Watch a funny video that makes you laugh. Save those cute little animal or baby videos for just such a break as this! Laughing restores us!
- Look at your list or think through all the things you think you have to do and ask: “What is one thing I can say no to?”
If you have 10 minutes:
- Walk in silence. You can set your timer for five minutes for one direction and then turn around, but try not to look at your phone. If you feel like it, skip, dance, or wiggle while you are walking.
- Make a gratitude list. Write down even most the obvious things you are thankful for until you run out of ideas. Or list the people who have done something nice for you that day. An ideal time to practice a gratitude journal is at bedtime.
- Take a “hot beverage” break. If you are planning to have a cup of coffee or tea, try your best not to multi-task while you are drinking it. Try not to look at your phone. Just relax and enjoy the drink.
- Practice allowing your feelings rather than trying to control them. Notice what you’re feeling and name it without judgement. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, etc. A wise leader once said she would set a timer when she needed what she called a “pity party.” She would allow herself a certain amount of time to experience her painful or negative feelings; but interestingly, once she allowed them, they sometimes lessened or dissipated altogether by the time the timer went off.
- Stretch your body before getting into bed at night. Start by clasping your hands in front of you and then flipping them outward. As you inhale, raise your interlaced hands above your head as far as you are able. Exhale and lean to the right. Inhale, return to the center. Then exhale, and lean to the left. Again inhale and return to the center. Next, get down on the floor and do any gentle stretches you know. Set a timer. You will be surprised how fast 10 minute goes by.
If you have 15 minutes:
- Practice a longer version of lying on your back with your knees pulled into your chest.
- Write like a psalmist. Get a blank piece of paper and write whatever comes to your mind for 15 minutes. You can start out by lamenting or complaining. Don’t worry! You can throw it away when you are finished. Be sure to allow 60 seconds at the end for praise and thanksgiving.
- Set a timer and move slowly around your kitchen, office, closet, or living space—sorting, ordering, picking up, throwing things away. Rather than think of this as cleaning or organizing, just piddle and see what happens in 15 minutes. Take a minute to observe how ordering one small part of your life affects your emotions.
- Block 15 minutes a day for fully connecting with your closest relationships. This is important even in good times but especially in times of crisis. For those you live with, be sure to put down your devices and look them in the eyes. For those who are away, use FaceTime or videoconference to connect if possible. Prioritize calling a friend who can listen to you as well as expect you to listen.
- If you need to connect with loved ones or others who deplete your energy, visualize putting on your spiritual armor before calling. Ask for protection so that you will not “take to heart” whatever comments might normally trigger reactive feelings. Your spiritual armor can be light and porous so that you will be able to listen and respond but not be wounded.
Choose one or two of these ideas to try and then observe what affect they have on you. Use this list to generate your own ideas! Ideally, you might choose several of these very short rest and recovery practices each day.
For more support and encouragement in challenging times, consider joining one of the January group coaching cohorts of The Art of WellBeing by visiting: http://www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com.
No doubt you have seen video footage of the destruction the recent tornadoes have visited upon the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference as well as the Kentucky and Arkansas Conferences and beyond. This was a multi-state event with tornadoes touching down in six states. For our part, we have major damage in western Kentucky, and in west and middle Tennessee. We have had 30 tornadoes touch down in our area in 2021. This does not include the flooding event that hit Waverly and the surrounding area early this year.
We must come to grips with the fact that it is not a matter of if, but when, the next storm will hit. We must be prepared, and we must think about how to respond quickly. As soon as a storm hits, our phones start lighting up with questions of how we can help.
Tornadoes, unlike hurricanes, are random. In a hurricane, you have days to prepare and the option to think about evacuation. A tornado comes quickly, and one has a matter of minutes to decide where to seek cover. Evacuation is often not an option. One house is leveled, and the house next door is spared. One community is leveled and the next is not touched.
Across the Nashville Episcopal Area, we have numerous places that were damaged by the storms of Friday night and early Saturday morning. While Mayfield, Kentucky is getting the media attention (I’ve never seen so many camera crews in one place in my entire life as when I was there on Sunday) many of our communities have been overlooked. These include Cayce, Clear Springs, and Benton in Kentucky and Dresden, Samburg, and Kingston Springs in Tennessee. And each day, we hear about more.
If we are not careful, in a few weeks, another news story will capture the hearts and minds of America and our needs will be forgotten for the next storm. Even now, Waverly, Tennessee, has only begun to make sense of the flooding that occurred earlier this year, and now attention will be drawn to other places.
The truth is, The United Methodist Church is committed to long-term recovery through our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). We are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave in any disaster that visits our communities. Every donated dollar given to disaster response goes directly toward the survivors, and no dollars are expended to fund the organization. To be clear, UMCOR is us. It is the good people of The United Methodist Church responding to the needs that arise in the aftermath of any disaster. UMCOR leverages its relationships with other agencies who have the skills we do not have and together we forge a future. This is what we have done. This is what we are doing now.
I am proud of the way in which our pastors are leading in the midst of this challenging season. I am proud of the Methodists who are showing up with resources and skills to begin the recovery process.
To be clear there are some simple things to remember.
#1. The first phase of any disaster is search and rescue. This is a time when those credentialed and skilled are tasked with the awesome responsibility to discover where people are and what lives have been lost.
#2. The second phase is clean-up and debris removal. This phase lasts from one week to several weeks depending on the damage done. (Individuals needing property clean-up assistance can call a Crisis Cleanup Helpline at 800-451-1954.)
#3. The third phase is long-term recovery which can often take 2 or more years to complete.
On this blog are resources for you to access for responding.
First of all, pray. Pray for the survivors, pray for all the communities affected. Pray for pastors who are standing in the gap, especially those whose congregants’ homes and businesses were destroyed. Pray for the servant ministers who come to our aid. Pray for our future in Christ.
Second, give. Give your contributions to the long-term recovery efforts. Here is the online giving link and the mailing addresses for you to send checks directly to this effort (please note Disaster Response in the memo line):
Checks made out to the Tennessee Conference – PO Box 440132, Nashville, TN 37244
Checks made out to the Memphis Conference – PO Box 10667, Jackson, TN 38308
Third, plan. Plan how your congregation can engage in the long-term recovery effort. Is it to send a work team? Is it to provide support for other teams? Please let us know by completing the Volunteer Form when is posted on our disaster response webpage. Trained Emergency Response Teams will be the first to respond. But, in a few weeks, it will be safe for other groups to help, and we will contact you.
Fourth, prepare your church with a disaster response plan. Should a disaster hit your community, how will you contact your membership? If a storm were to emerge in the midst of worship, where would you direct people? We have learned through this storm that had persons been in a fellowship hall underneath the sanctuary, there would have been a great loss of life. Think carefully about this.
Fifth, how can you offer spiritual and emotional care to persons displaced by this storm?
It is my observation that the people called Methodists do not shy away from challenges but rather they step into them. I look forward to seeing how God will empower our people to offer Christ to a hurting world as we engage in the long-term recovery from the most recent storm.
Your prayers and support are appreciated.
My heart is filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for our very successful completion of organizing the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference of The United Methodist Church last Saturday. This good work was brought to completion by many, many people over a ten-year period of time. One of the sometimes forgotten players in this story is Bishop Ben Chamness who served as interim Bishop 2011-2012. Under Bishop Chamness’ leadership, the Memphis and Tennessee Conference Cabinets began meeting together and in that season a few cross-conference appointments were made. When I arrived in September of 2012 we considered how to continue this journey.
While the cabinets continued to meet and work together, we laid down the conversation of a new conference until we could gain clarity over our mission and vision, and values which we did. Our mission and vision have not changed as we continue to “offer Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.” This has not changed as we seek to find opportunities to strengthen local congregations. Over time, we continued to collaborate and discover ways to create new relationships and opportunities for growing together.
I am including the video of last Saturday’s message, “What Shall We Now Do?”I encourage you to share it with your congregations as we seek to remember our Why.
In this Advent Season, may our hearts be filled with joy as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.
I give thanks that God has allowed me to walk this journey with you.
A few days ago, the religion writer for The Tennessean approached our team about writing a story about our new conference. We believed in the good faith of the writer to offer a story to the readers that reflected the good and faithful work of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. We were asked many things and offered several positive expressions of this work over the last nine years. Much of what we offered was not included in the article.
The Future of the UMC
There were some questions about the future of the United Methodist Church in light of the Protocol for Separation with Grace. To be clear, the Protocol is legislation that is being proposed to be considered when the General Conference is held. You will recall that the 2020 General Conference was postponed due to Covid-19. Currently, it is scheduled for September of 2022. If it is safe to travel worldwide and if we can gather for the important work of the United Methodist Church, the Protocol Legislation will be considered along with hundreds of other petitions and resolutions that shape our Church.
We are not sure where the reporter found the information he initially included in the story. It was not from those of us who were interviewed.
The implication of the writer of The Tennessean was that the potential divide of the denomination was already approved and action was waiting to occur. Unfortunately, this new writer is unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church and inaccuracies were reported.
The reporter has since made corrections to his online version of the article that more accurately reflects the truth.
In the age of social media, several opinions are expressed about the future of our beloved Church. When General Conference meets, whether it is 2022 or after, only ideas that have been offered properly will be considered. It is premature to speculate what the outcomes of General Conference will be.
To be clear: no denominational decisions have been made by the general Church or by our future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference (TWK). If you have heard otherwise, the information is incorrect.
Our New Conference
The article paints a picture that reflects more about the editorial perspective of the newspaper than about the reality of how our new conference has been formed.
Likewise, this article seems to want to produce a story about a church in distress. That is not what is happening in our conference – our churches are evidence of this. In 2012, when I was assigned to the Nashville Episcopal Area, the rationale for my assignment was my history in Mississippi of being a part of two Annual Conferences that had formed a new conference. I understood that one of my responsibilities was to lead the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to form a new Conference. This we have done with a steady pace over 9 years. On December 4 we will hold the organizational meeting that is the next step as we officially become the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference.
One of our commitments, which we have intentionally led over the last 9 years is to allow congregations to retain more of their tithes and offerings at the local church rather than hold apportionments at the previous rate. The fact is that the apportionments across the two legacy conferences have been reduced by 40%. Our goal has always been to strengthen our local churches. The reduction of apportionments has been one of the strategies.
Another strategy is that our new leadership structure redefines the roles for conference-employed staff. In recent years, our conference staff has become smaller and more decentralized. Our strategic direction and conference ministry are now in the hands of volunteer leaders with staff there to support them.
Here is what is true: God has provided us with abundance – strong, connected churches with spiritually gifted leadership. God has equipped us with a nimble, hopeful vision for the future.
In Christ Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope, rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ as we seek to serve in love. We have not wavered from that foundation.
Over the last 9 years, many people – more than 500 lay and clergy members from both legacy conferences – have worked diligently to create this path to our new conference. These teams collaborated and created our new leadership and funding models for the new TWK conference. Because so many faithful disciples of Christ provided input and have been a part of the journey, we are stepping into a new era with strength.
Our new funding model that we chose together at the annual conferences is simple. Local churches will begin working toward giving a simple tithe as a connectional commitment to the ministries of the conference. Choosing to gradually reduce the commitment over the next several years reflects the new focus of keeping financial resources in the local faith community.
Finally, our strategic decision to create a new conference is rooted in our response to follow God’s call so that we can share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. At no time was the vision of a new conference rooted out of financial necessity. Certainly, we are looking for efficiencies, which we have found.
Our Call Moving Forward
Our call has been to follow God’s leading to create a new vessel for us to share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. It is in that connection that we will find strength. In the midst of the stress of Covid 19, we have found strength together.
This has not been an easy time for any of us.
Here’s what I know:
I know that God is still at work.
I know that God has work ahead for us to do.
I know that God is going to raise up something powerful out of this moment.
I invite you to join me on a journey of paying attention to God’s call on our lives so that we are able to nimbly respond to that which God invites us to be and do.
May the peace of Christ be with all of you,
Since March of 2020, our Episcopal Area has witnessed one crisis after another, most of them weather-related.
- March tornado
- Covid pandemic concerns
- May winds causing Middle Tennessee power outage
- Christmas bombing in Nashville
- March floods
Now August flooding. Our hearts are heavy this week as our neighbors in Waverly, New Johnsonville, McEwen, and Hickman County begin the long arduous task of recovering from last weekend’s flash flooding event.
Three days into the search and rescue efforts there remain many people unaccounted for. The recovery will be slow. It will be long. It will require resilience from the survivors who will not have all the resources necessary to rebuild. Unlike a tornado that hits one neighborhood and spares another, a flood overwhelms entire communities.
Robert Craig, the Disaster Response Coordinator for our Episcopal Area is already working with agencies that respond best. The primary coordination of volunteers in a disaster like this is done through the state VOAD – Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This is a non-profit association of over 60 organizations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), who engage in every aspect of recovery.
When disaster strikes, the United Methodist Church always responds. It is one of the hallmarks of our Connection. The strength of United Methodists through UMCOR is quality training and formation for long-term recovery as well as disaster case management. We give thanks that already, UMCOR is responding with an initial disaster response grant that the conference can utilize to get support where it is most needed. Also, supplies are already in transit from the UMCOR Warehouse in Decatur and from the Holston Conference.
Our districts are currently identifying collection points if your church wants to contribute specific requested items that will include cleaning buckets and hygiene kits. Details will be available later this week at twkumc.org/disaster-response.
When our trained Emergency Response Teams are invited in, we will be ready to deploy. Until then, there really is not a great deal that untrained volunteers can do right now. Unsolicited volunteers cause an additional burden on communities that are already overwhelmed in the rescue phase. As the county leaders communicate the time for larger relief efforts to begin, the UMC and many other partners will offer our human resources.
The TWK Conference and UMCOR will be working with the Tennessee State VOAD to coordinate our efforts in responding to the storm. We will be working with Inspiritus (formerly Lutheran Services of Tennessee), to follow their lead in cleanup efforts and coordination.
As we are learning, several hundred homes have been flooded. There will be needs to feed and shelter those who have been displaced. The VOAD will be coordinating these efforts. Robert Craig will alert us daily with the ways we can respond once the timeframe for relief has been determined.
This effort is developing and ongoing. Watch for updates on TWKUMC social media and at twkumc.org about how and when you can help.
When Early Response Teams are welcomed into the impacted areas, Clifton Tackett, TWK Conference ERT Coordinator, will coordinate their deployment. If you are an UMCOR trained Early Response Team member and have not heard from Clifton, please reach out to him directly (email@example.com). All other volunteers should wait until it is possible to deploy untrained volunteers.
Monetary donations are the best way to quickly help the Conference respond and assist those in need.
- Donations made to UMCOR should be directed to Advance 901670 for US Disasters. Please signify TN Flood to help direct the money to the Conference.
- Checks can be made out and mailed to the Tennessee Conference (with Disaster Response in the memo line) at PO Box 440132, Nashville, TN 37244
Your prayers and your financial gifts are deeply appreciated.
As United Methodists, we are people committed to John Wesley’s first rule of doing no harm.
We thought we were moving beyond the pandemic. News reports tell us that we are not.
The risk of novel or breakthrough infection from the Delta variant of Covid-19 gives us all reason to evaluate our practices of safety and prevention, both vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.
When the TWKUMC Covid-19 Task Force was assembled and first met, one thing that the team agreed to acknowledge was the fluidity of this pandemic. They affirmed the phrase “when we know better, we do better.”
Based on the CDC’s most recent best practices encouraging all people to mask when together indoors, we again offer the guidelines developed and distributed by the TWKUMC Conference in 2020 as current best practices to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
I recommend that your churches follow these guidelines at this time.
We know this is not where we expected to be, however we are led by Wesley’s rule to do what is needed to keep our neighbor and ourselves safe.
Over the past 18 months, we have proven we can adapt quickly to ensure our ministries continue safely. Along with masking and social distancing, we know vaccination is the most valuable tool available to combat this pandemic.
The vaccines approved by the FDA for expanded use in this country are both safe and effective against severe illness and death from Covid-19. Currently, vaccination is approved for persons 12-years of age and older.
Vaccines are available, at no charge, at most pharmacies and health departments, often without an appointment. Globally, 4.21 billion vaccines have been given, with 347 million of those vaccinations given in the United States. If your congregation members have questions about receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, please encourage them to have an open conversation with their healthcare provider.
We must all do our part to mitigate the spread of this new variant.
Peace be with you all in this season. Together we can stop this deadly disease.
Forward Tennessee supports coalitions promoting policies that make Tennessee a fairer, healthier, more equitable state. Tomorrow afternoon through their Protect my Care initiative they will host a virtual event where pastors and doctors answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Their invitation follows:
Since March 2020, we have learned that even while physically apart, we are stronger and more effective at keeping each other safe when we work together as a community to combat COVID-19. For over a year, doctors from across the state have spoken out to call for a response based on science and data and keeps us all protected.
Now that effective and safe vaccines are widely available across the state for everyone 12 and older, Protect my Care is hosting a COVID-19 Vaccine Roundtable with both doctors and pastors to address your vaccine related questions and vaccine hesitancy.
I will be joined by:
Dr. Diana Sepehri-Harvey, DO, MPH. Family Medicine, Masters in Public Health, Franklin
Dr. Sara Cross, MD. Associate Professor of Medicine/Infectious Disease, University of TN College of Medicine, Memphis
Rev. Dr. Lillian Lammers, Associate Pastor of First Congregational Church of Memphis
Rev. Ian Cullen, Palliative Care Staff Chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Hope to see you Thursday!
Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, MD, MPH
Internal Medicine/Primary Care, Masters in Public Health, Nashville
Today we continue the conversations between Dr. Cynthia Davis and me as we think about spiritual and emotional care. We have a team that is working on a plan to deepen the resources offered through Spiritual Direction, Coaching and Counseling.
It is our hope that by Annual Conference we will be able to offer specific opportunities to support your journey.
Spanish subtitles are available under the “CC” tab on the right side of the play bar. Los subtítulos en español están disponibles en la pestaña “CC” en el lado derecho de la barra de reproducción.