I was honored to be a guest at the Project Transformation Celebration Dinners this week in both the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. The leaders, volunteers, and outstanding interns are making a wonderful and significant difference in the lives of many, many children and their families!
At the dinner in Nashville, I was particularly moved by the witness of one young man, Luke Lea, and wanted to share his comments with you (below). Please keep all of the Project Transformation interns in your prayers as they return to college this fall. We are so grateful for their contributions to our communities this year!
Good Evening, my name is Luke Lea. I have served with Project Transformation for three summers, most recently as a House Pastor this summer in Nashville. I am humbled by this opportunity to share how I have witnessed Transformation through God and His servants.
In May of 2014, I took the 20-minute drive down Granny White Pike from my hometown of Brentwood, Tennessee towards Belmont University– a place I would call home for every summer of my college career. Of course I did not know this at the time. Then, I was listening to a record by Alabama Shakes, entering the front gate shaking a little bit myself, I’m sure, wondering if my introverted, blunt, and opinionated self would thrive in this community setting.
As soon as I walked in the door that first day, they shouted my name with absurd hospitality. “LUKE LEA, EVERYBODY!” Oh my. I knew a little bit of what I was getting into but not much. If this internship was going to be anything like that first day, I was in for a fun, loud, tiring, and fulfilling summer. This diverse group of peers from all over the country with all sorts of backgrounds, beliefs, and interests were ready to take me into the family.
There are really no words that I can offer to you this evening that will do justice in sharing my experience serving with Project Transformation. The best way I can begin to explain it is through the image of a summertime swimming pool.
Interns are interested in a summer with PT for many reasons but I’ll be honest: for me, it wasn’t because I adored kids. I just didn’t. They ask for Band-Aids too much. They aren’t as fast as me at recess. They can’t discuss good theology with me. These are the premises I carried with me but I still wanted to get my feet wet with some applied ministry experience. A church member from my home church, Forest Hills United Methodist, suggested PT might be the very place for this. And my follow-up research confirmed it. As a life-long United Methodist, I had been to these waters before. I knew the stunning connectionism our church exhibits, plus I knew I would eat well – “Methodism 101: committees and casseroles.”
By the end of my first summer serving in East Nashville I was knee deep in something I wasn’t initially able to fully process yet but I knew I loved it.
My team of 8 interns was family so quickly to me.
The community constantly exemplified Christ and service to one another
I learned to love people different from me. 10 year olds. Those of different races. Volunteers. Theological contrarians. I loved it so much I dove in for a second summer.
And each year, I took back with me an abundance of joys and challenging moments, in hopes that it would compliment my Biblical and Theological Studies at Lee University. In classroom settings that echoed ideals of justice and loving thy neighbor, I was forced to sit with overarching questions that were way bigger than one or two summers. All of this was certainly starting to connect to my calling to see hurt in the world and do something about it.
This is not to say I was ever comfortable in water. Over the course my summers serving at the Tulip Street site in East Nashville, I was constantly challenged about what it meant to come from White Wealthy Williamson County but serve families from Casey homes, the largest complex of government housing in Nashville. What did it mean to work for a Faith-based Non-Profit organization that impacted lives through Christ but see churches decline, paralyzed by injustice? We only had 8 weeks with our kids and their families but poverty goes on much longer. It’s not like it stops when a kid goes up a reading level, right? I was drowning in all of my thoughts and doubts about what the church is and what it could be and sometimes even who I was as in relation to Christ.
That’s not an uncommon feeling for people our age by the way. PT allowed me to jump into the water and figure out how to survive in the deep end. I took in some water, and at times forced to hold my breath longer than I wanted. I discovered Church was there in the drowning.
And I was wrong about kids. Not saying I want to work with them, but I’ve changed those premises I initially had. I like to think that Jesus always had Band-Aids on him, that’s how I read the Scriptures now.
When I study theology now I can’t help but think relationships are the most important thing God wants us to know about him and each other. My proudest relationship started in my first summer and continues today. Malik might just be the complete opposite of me—I’m white guy from Williamson County who doesn’t like coloring. He is a young black child who is has already seen more challenges than I might ever see but steals your heart with his smile. Even more amazing than him is his single mom, Ms. Victoria, whom I find true community in.
I met Malik in 2014 during my first summer with PT. I took a special interest and investment in this “reading rockstar” who had trouble connecting with the rest of the group. As long as he had a crayon in hand though, I could chat with him and convince him to get active in Movements every now and again. He knew I was looking out for him. The rest was history. Six weeks into the summer, his mom Ms. Victoria approached me and asked if I would be willing to be a mentor to Malik after the summer. She went on to explain that she is concerned that Malik doesn’t have a lot of positive male influences in his life, and that she saw how we had connected during the summer. I don’t know how it happened — why she gave me the opportunity to fully love Malik as my brother, and my best friend. After that, whenever I came back from school on weekends and breaks, Malik and I would hang out. We would go shopping at Goodwill, feed the ducks at Shelby Park, and watch Vandy football games. Anchor down. I returned to be his team leader in 2015 and have seen him grow so much emotionally and behaviorally because he has given space to learn and grow at PT. At Family Fun Night last year, he told me I had to sit with him and his mom because we are family. I love him. This year, when I get to drop into our East Nashville site at East End, he’s usually there, flashing me his big smile — and that makes me smile. It’s not just him either. Close to 150 kids came through Tulip St. over my two years there — reading, eating, laughing, and telling me my hair is like a girl’s.
I still don’t swim very well. I know God is calling me to work in the church. Sometimes I know exactly what that means and sometimes I don’t. I knew this summer would help with that tremendously. For the past eight weeks, I have served as a House Pastor in Nashville and as they say 3rd time’s a charm. Leading bible study, planning worship and our daily devotions, cultivating relationships in our intentional Christian Community, and seeking God out among my peers are tasks that I think God has given me gifts for. I have really enjoyed evaluating my strengths and shortcomings as a leader and having incredible support from staff, interns, and my fellow house pastor in Nashville, Aleah Lodge. After these 8 weeks of programming, in what sometimes feels like treading water, tonight is a night that we take a giant breath of gratitude. Everyone in this room has a part in this summer; we keep each other afloat.
PT wows me in the sense that it is so reflective of what the church should look like. We are diverse in the standard categories, which is a good start: age, race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. Beyond that we have contributed diversely as volunteers, interns, meal-providers, financial supporters, readers, suppliers, experience, fresh ideas and how we see God transform. And, at the same time we are One, in that we are PT, we are the Body of Christ, and that together we see God transform.
For me, the deep end is what my PT story is about. It’s hard and scary and where people are drowning so isn’t that the way in which we should swim? I celebrate 3 years with PT tonight because that’s what this organization does – we swim to those places. I celebrate the Holy calling to serve children, as they are our future, and our best chance at restoring justice. I celebrate 36 inspiring and amazing interns, because our generation is already the church, and we are here to claim that (even if we don’t do their dishes well all the time)! I celebrate that the Kingdom of God is like a swimming pool. I owe so much to Project Transformation Tennessee. For 5 summers now, they have shouted people’s names in radical hospitality and love.
The mission of Project Transformation is to engage young adults in purposeful leadership and ministry, support underserved children and families, and connect churches to communities in need. For more information and to volunteer, please go to: http://projecttransformation.org/tennessee/
Below please read the report our Executive Director, Courtney Aldrich offered Sunday night at Barlett United Methodist Church as we celebrated the inaugural summer of Project Transformation Memphis. There were so many glory sightings as listened to the witnesses of our interns and leaders. Thanks be to God for all who made it possible! 184 children! Over 500 volunteers!
Good evening. When Project Transformation’s journey to Memphis began a few years ago as a whisper and a nudge from above, the only thing we really had to start with was the extravagant generosity of one transformational God. What a foundation to build on!
In 2014, after several Memphis Annual Conference leaders — who are here tonight — visited Project Transformation at work in Nashville, they couldn’t help but wonder if they were being calling to bring this model of ministry to their hometown. Could there someday be a Project Transformation in Memphis?
These leaders immediately recognized a holy convergence of need and opportunity.
They knew there was a need here for a ministry that would involve and engage college-age young adults in service, leadership development, and ministry exploration. They knew there were vulnerable neighborhoods in Memphis that already were being served, but far too many that weren’t. They knew there were willing churches who could partner with PT’s service model for providing free summer programs to underserved children. They knew there was a tremendous spirit of generosity and caring, just waiting to be tapped. But they also knew that without the transformational power of Jesus Christ, none of this would matter.
And so, we began to journey together—leaders from both Memphis and Project Transformation—praying, listening, discerning, asking a lot of questions, praying again, listening still more, and walking forward in faith, one day at a time. And today, almost three years after hearing those first whispers, we are here tonight, celebrating being on the cusp of completing our inaugural year of Project Transformation in Memphis. Just look around this room. This is what it looks like when a community says YES to God’s holy nudges. Praise be to God!
Tonight, we say “thank you.” Thank you in behalf of Project Transformation for all you have done, for all you are, for your prayers, your gifts, your service, and for taking part in this joyous celebration.
We thank all who have made this banquet possible. To Bartlett First United Methodist Church for providing this space and meal … to Kristofer Roof for serving as our emcee … and to Marlon Bradford for our music.
We’ve already noted the story of “Corduroy” adorning each of your tables. At Project Transformation, we believe that everyone has a story to tell. And we seek to honor each and every story. There are the stories of our 184 children who have participated this summer in PT in Memphis, as well as the stories of their families. There are the stories of our more than 500 volunteers who served in Memphis this summer – each of whom brings their own personal stories to Project Transformation – and leaves with some new stories to tell. There are the stories of the two brave churches that serve as program sites for PT. And finally, there are the amazing stories of our young adult interns. So many stories! We hope many of you have gotten a chance to meet some of our interns and share meals with them and learn a little bit about their personal stories — how they are having an impact through PT, and how through PT that God is impacting them.
We thank the members of our Board of Directors and Memphis Launch Team for your commitment to our mission. If you serve on our board or Launch Team, please stand. Each of these people brings incredible talents to the leadership of Project Transformation – offering guidance, counsel and vision for our young nonprofit ministry. Thank you.
We want to express our deep gratitude to Bishop Bill McAlilly, Lynn McAlilly who serves on our board, and leaders of the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church for your support of the young lives of Project Transformation. We thank God for your willingness to introduce us to so many parts of our connectional church. You continue to offer your support in ways too numerous to list.
Tonight, we thank our two site churches: Centenary United Methodist Church and Longstreet United Methodist Church. These churches have graciously opened their doors and provided us with a space to connect with their neighborhoods. In so doing, they have strengthened their own presence in their communities – building new relationships and finding new ways to be in ministry.
We thank our 21 partner churches — without whom we could not exist here in Memphis. You provide us with volunteers, supplies and financial support and, together, we are transforming local communities.
We offer our thanks to the leaders of Christian Brothers University for welcoming our interns to live on your beautiful campuses. And our thanks to the community organizations that step forward with so many valuable resources … to our financial donors whose generosity and sacrifice have paid for everything from snacks for our kids to stipends for our interns … And may I ask: If you have ever served as a volunteer of any kind with PT, would you please stand and accept our applause?
We thank our inaugural class of Memphis interns—our pioneers who have given their hearts and souls to honoring God’s vision for this new ministry in West Tennessee. And supporting all of this are our gifted PT staff members, who inspire me daily with their passion and faithfulness. Keller Hawkins, Samantha Meadors. Sarah McCormick and Ali Sokolowski. Thank you all.
Finally and most importantly, we offer our praise and thanksgiving to God, who is the source of every good thing that we’re here to celebrate tonight. For every single thing that has occurred this summer at PT — whatever has been true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable — we give thanks to God.
We thank God for the relationships we’ve forged together this summer. For we know that the power of Project Transformation lies in relationships — in how God is using the sacred space between volunteers, children, young adults, and churches. It is in these relationships where barriers are broken down, and we fully live into the diverse and beautiful body that we were created to be. It is in these relationships that we are given a glimpse of who God is and who we are in God.
Lynn and I are delighted to be reassigned to the Nashville Area, the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. The week of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference has been rich and filled with many high moments of worship and celebration. While we had anticipated being reassigned to the Nashville Area and had hoped for this to come to fruition, like pastors of local churches, the potential of being sent to another ministry is always a possibility. So we did have, all week, a low level of anxiety that we might need to be gathering boxes!
When I spoke with the Southeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, I told them that during the first four years we have been laying the foundation upon which we can build. We are well positioned to lead toward helping congregations increase their capacity to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the coming four years I am committed to leading the Nashville Area of the United Methodist Church in ministry that is centered in our call to discover, connect, equip and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time. I ask you to join hands with Lynn and me to deepen our alignment to accomplish this mission across our two conferences.
We give thanks to God for the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences and look forward to what God will do in us and through us in the days to come.
Expecting Greater Things,
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement regarding the results of today’s Episcopal election at the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Western Jurisdiction has elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco to serve as a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson.” This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.
Our Book of Discipline has clearly delineated processes in place for resolving issues even as complex and unprecedented as this election.
The authority to elect bishops is constitutionally reserved to the jurisdictional and central conferences. Any elder in good standing is eligible for election as a bishop of the church. An elder under an unresolved complaint is still considered to be in good standing. Being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church, if indeed this is the case.
The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely. The Council does not have constitutional authority to intervene in the election or supervisory processes at either the annual conference, jurisdictional or central conference levels. And, we are careful to not jeopardize any clergy or lay person’s due process by ill-advised comments.
However, we clearly understand the Church appropriately expects the Council to provide spiritual leadership and for bishops to uphold our consecration vows. In May, prior to General Conference, the Council again affirmed to keep the promises made at our consecrations, including, among others:
· Shepherding all persons committed to our care;
· Leading the church in mission, witness and service;
· Ordering the church including administering processes for handling complaints;
· Seeking unity in Christ, including the work the Council proposed to the General Conference in “An Offering for a Way Forward.”
There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. Others will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been. Still, others will likely see this election as disrupting or even rendering moot the purpose and work of the Commission currently being formed by the Council.
The Council continues to place our hope in Jesus Christ. Though conflicted and fragile, The United Methodist Church remains a strong witness to the transforming love of God and the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We affirm that our witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but how we act in our disagreements. We affirm that our unity is not defined by our uniformity, but by our compassionate and Spirit-led faithfulness to our covenant with God, Christ’s Church and one another.
As a Council, we continue to maintain that the proposal for a way forward and the formation of the Commission is the best path. An endless cycle of actions, reactions and counter-reactions is not a viable path and tears at the very fabric of our Connection. The current and incoming COB Executive Committees recently met by conference call to initiate the implementation of our Offering for a Way Forward and the formation of the Commission called for in the proposal. We will resume this work at our regularly scheduled meeting on July 19-20 following the Jurisdictional Conferences. A progress report will be released shortly after the meeting.
Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable. We are confident God is with us, especially in uncharted times and places. There is a future with hope. We invite your constant and ardent prayers for the witness and unity of The United Methodist Church. May God guide us as we seek to maintain unity in the bond of peace.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops
The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States: the Alaska Conference, the California-Nevada Conference, the California-Pacific Conference, the Desert Southwest Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference.
A Missional Initiative of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference
From The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops
The Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction recognize the unique strengths, characteristics, and challenges of our Episcopal Areas. As leaders of the Church in the SEJ, we see a timely opportunity to increase our strategic thinking and action with regard to our context in the Southeast. Further, it is our hope to continue to focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
In Article V Paragraph 27.1 of the constitution of the 2012 Book of Discipline, the jurisdictions are given responsibility to:
Promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary, and benevolent interests of the Church and to provide for interests and institutions within their boundaries.
To that end, the Bishops of the SEJ recommend the following:
Forming a Southeastern Jurisdictional Missional Initiative for the purpose of focusing on the following:
1.) new forms of church beyond the walls,
2.) children and poverty,
3.) unity and human sexuality,
4.) making disciples,
5.) racism and white privilege,
6.) structure, finance and the future church.
At the 2017 College of Bishops meeting in January, we will collaborate with the Conference Lay Leaders, the Committee on Episcopacy, and Directors of Connectional Ministries on this initiative. It is our hope that our collaboration will offer input to the commission being formed by the Council of Bishops. We also will connect this work to the Four Areas of Focus for the United Methodist Church.
We will assign a bishop and appropriate lay leaders to convene and guide the work of these five initiatives. We hope to then invite every delegate here this week to a gathering which will be held within the next eighteen months where recommendations will be received from the leadership of the Initiative. Expenses will be the responsibility of individual delegates. We encourage each conference to provide scholarships as needed.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops
A Pastoral Letter from the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops to the United Methodists in the Southeastern JurisdictionPosted: July 13, 2016
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We celebrate the way God is working through you and the churches you represent to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Your witness is making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities around the world.
We write this pastoral letter with hope in Jesus Christ. Yet our hearts are heavy as we recognize that as a result of our denominational conflicts we stand at a fragile place. Our Christian witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but by how we act in our disagreements.
Many in our church are working to change our Book of Discipline’s current position on human sexuality, believing that it is exclusive, unjust and based on a misinterpretation of Scripture. These actions are being done through processes our polity has in place for making such changes.
Many others in our denomination are working to maintain our Book of Discipline’s current position on human sexuality, believing that it is grace-filled, orthodox and biblically-based. These actions are also being done within the context of our church’s polity.
Still others in our denomination, including some Boards of Ordained Ministry and Annual Conferences, are acting in nonconformity to our church’s legislation about marriage and ordination standards. These actions are not within in the bounds of our church’s polity.
We, the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops, grieve over the deep divisions in our beloved United Methodist Church. We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change. We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive.
As a College of Bishops, we are fully committed to keeping the promises we made at our ordinations and consecrations, including:
- shepherding all persons committed to our care;
- leading our areas in mission, witness and service;
- ordering the church, including administering processes for handling complaints about violations of our Book of Discipline that occur within our episcopal areas;
- and seeking unity in Christ, including the work the General Conference requested the Council of Bishops do in relation to the Commission on Human Sexuality;
We invite you to join us in prayer as we strive to faithfully and compassionately fulfill our covenant with God, the church and one another. We also encourage you to stay the course in your covenant relationship with God, the United Methodist Church and each other.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops
Download PDF: SEJ College of Bishops Letter-2016
I shall never forget the phone call I received from my brother December 23, 2013. He said, “Gale has been shot.” Gale Stauffer, my nephew, my sister’s son, a police officer in Tupelo, MS, shot in the line of duty. For our family, his death forever altered our lives. For his children, Dixie and Skip, will live with the memory of their dad, his big smile, barrel chest, heart of gold. For Beth, her life spun into the realm of widow, single mother, sole provider.
For every life that is lost at the hands of a police officer, the grief of a family member is no different than the grief of our family. Someone loved, cared about, and was related to the person killed by a police officer.
Regardless of the complication, the deep seated, underlying truth is that the racial turbulence that is raging into a full blown storm, is deeply troubling. With the Psalmist, we cry, “how long, O Lord, how long?”
One of our pastor’s writes: Friends, this morning I’m hurting. I’m scared. I’m afraid that when my cute, six year old black son becomes a muscular black man some bad apple somewhere is going to profile him and do harm to this kid who is as sweet as they come.
I have no idea what it feels like to be a black man in this world. What I do know is that too many people are dying. Indeed, the call to us all, in light of terrorism, the mass killing at the Pulse bar in Orlando, there is no justification for taking a life.
Let’s face it, the world is full of people who are culturally profiling others who are different. Some of those who are culturally profiled daily, hourly, are black and Hispanic men.
The prophet Micah speaks: “And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Doing justice today is to speak the truth. And the truth is that we have a deep seated racial problem in our world. Tennessee and Kentucky are not immune to the trouble.
During the recent meeting of the Tennessee Annual Conference, our Commission on Religion and Race brought forth and we blessed “Vital Conversations” which give us an opportunity to increase our capacity to deepen our relationships with our sisters and brothers who are of a different race from us.
I am deeply hopeful that the team that is bringing this forth will give us the tools necessary to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. The world’s best hope is for good, Christian people to stand up and be healers of our nation. I know the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to be those who desire to bring healing and peace to our land.
Louise Short was a gift to the United Methodist Church. Her longevity allowed her to experience and walk alongside her husband, the late Bishop Roy Short, who served the Nashville Area from 1952 – 1964. She lived to be 110.
In one of my first visits with her after becoming the resident bishop of the Nashville Area, I was trying to find a place of common ground with Mrs. Short. I mentioned having met Harry Denman when I was a teenager.
Her face lit up like a lightbulb. She began to reminisce about the many ways their lives had intertwined and impacted the then Methodist Church.
Mrs. Short enjoyed her prominence as the oldest living Bishop’s wife. This often afforded her the opportunity to speak to groups many years after the death of her beloved husband.She had a clear voice and opinion, which she loved to express. She was never shy.
In 2012, the last General Conference Mrs. Short attended, she was invited to address the conference and said, “I’m a relic.”
She will be sorely missed by everyone who knew her.
A funeral service for Louise Short will be at 3 p.m. on next Wednesday, July 6, at West End United Methodist Church, 2200 West End Avenue in Nashville.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Please receive this pastoral word from Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops. It comes with my blessing and affirmation. I request that you share this with your people.
United Methodists across the world are horrified by the despicable act of terrorism in Orlando, Florida, that took the lives of 49 individuals and wounded 53 others.
We are in shock. We join those who grieve. We pray for the victims, their families, and the LGBTQ community targeted by this hateful attack. We stand against all forms of violence, committed anywhere in the world by anyone.
We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters who have condemned this heinous act. We pledge to work together to overcome evil with good, terrorism with peace, hatred with love, and inequity with justice.
We commend the Florida Annual Conference as they gather this week in Orlando. They, along with Bishop Ken Carter, are our connectional presence in the midst of this tragedy. We pray that God will work through them to be a source of Christ’s witness, reconciliation and healing to the brokenness of an entire community.
As the people called United Methodist, let us not lose heart, but redouble our commitment and efforts to fulfill God’s vision of the Beloved Community throughout the world. As we combat evil, let us not let evil fill our hearts. As we struggle to end violence, let us not let violence become our way of life. As we battle terrorism, let us not become terrorists in the process. As we seek to be vigilant, let us not let fear curtail our hospitality. As we pray for peace, let it begin within our own spirits.
In the peace of the Lord,
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
President, United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Also, here is a link to my statement at the beginning of the Tennessee Annual Conference last Sunday.
May God grant us healing and peace.
Serving Christ with You,
Bishop Bill McAlilly
With Paul, I write, “I give thanks for my every remembrance of you.” These last 23 days in Portland have reminded me again of the joy of the work of ministry among the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Already I am hearing wonderful reports of what God is doing on the Sunday after General Conference. Baptisms, professions of faith, celebrations of graduations, mission teams planning for ministry. Thank you for your faithfulness over the work to which God is calling us.
Many, many of you have followed General Conference day by day, vote by vote, via the internet. While the headlines captured much of the drama around the surface of the Conference, the real work occurred in legislative sessions led by lay and clergy men and women from across the world.
The faithfulness and tenacity of the delegates from the Nashville Area was inspiring to me. In addition to the delegates, there were those serving behind the scenes, doing whatever was needed to facilitate the work of General Conference. When the benediction was pronounced Friday, May 20, much had been accomplished. Below are some of the highlights.
For the sake of the Mission
To be clear, the General Conference chose to stand united for the sake of staying in mission. As a global church made up of people with differing viewpoints, we affirm a commitment to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. We had serious discussions about the global growth of the church and the state of the church in the U.S. and passed a $604 million dollar budget for 2017-2020 which includes $5 million for theological education in the Central Conferences. This a slight increase over the $603.1 million dollar budget approved at the 2012. We moved the debate about human sexuality to a process outside this general conference session to a time in the future which will allow us to engage in deeper discussion. It is also an increase over the $599 million budget proposed to the 2016 General Conference delegates, which would have been The United Methodist Church’s lowest in 16 years.
Offering a Way Forward:
We acknowledge that deep divisions exist in the church about human sexuality, but we believe there are options other than restructuring. We do not desire to split the church, and we seek unity for the sake of our mission and witness. For the first time, a General Conference appealed to the Council of Bishops to lead legislatively as well as spiritually, a responsibility that has been reserved for the body. Your bishops humbly accepted this challenge. The Council will lead a process to help the church move forward. This process has not yet been fully developed, but the Council will report to the church as we continue our conversations. If we discover it is necessary to have a special session of General Conference, the Council would be charged with the responsibility of making such a decision for the sake of the Church.
Because the General Conference requested leadership from the Council of Bishops to find a way forward, any changes in our positions on human sexuality were postponed. The Council will create a Commission to examine and possibly revise sections of church law regarding human sexuality. The Commission will include representation from every region of the UMC and from different perspectives. We will not be able to build trust unless these conversations are candid and do not carry incrimination. We are committed to a different kind of conversation that invites people to imagine where God wants the church to go.
No changes have been made to the Book of Discipline regarding our official positions on matters of human sexuality. The prohibitions outlined in church law still exist, but we have committed to explore options to help avoid further complaints, trials and harm while upholding the Discipline.
Additional conference highlights:
- A variety of worship experiences provided spiritual nourishment as well as an opportunity to unite with each other as a diverse, international body of Christ; while the Episcopal address, Laity address, and Young People’s address provided inspiration.
- We felt the Holy Spirit among us as we engaged in conversation and our work.
- As we near the end of our Imagine No Malaria campaign, we celebrated our success in raising $68.5 million in the fight against malaria, an effort that has served to help revitalize and engage churches in mission outreach.
- We continued in our Acts of Repentance with a presentation from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the Methodist involvement in the 1864 Sand Creek massacre.
- We shared in the consecration of deaconesses and home missioners and the commissioning of 29 missionaries.
- We acknowledged our heritage by observing a number of anniversaries: the 250th anniversary of John Street Church; the 200th anniversary of the death of Francis Asbury, the 150th anniversary of United Methodist Women, the 60th anniversary of the Methodist Church granting full clergy rights to women, the 40th anniversary of voting rights for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, the 30th anniversary of DISCIPLE Bible Study, and the 25th anniversary of Africa University.
- The Council of Bishops welcomed a new leadership team, with Bishop Bruce Ough assuming the presidency of the Council. New members of the Judicial Council were elected and for the first time, a member from outside the U.S. was elected president. Gary Graves was elected secretary of the General Conference.
- We celebrated our ecumenical partnerships as we move in to full Communion with the Uniting Church in Sweden and toward full Communion with the Moravian church.
- Defeated a proposal to remove “for the transformation of the world” from our mission statement.
- Approved a resolution calling on United Methodist agencies to raise awareness about the harm caused by sports teams that use mascots or symbols that disrespect Native Americans.
- Voted to withdraw United Methodist membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
- Approved a new cloud-based hymnal.
- Approved a petition to create a new provisional conference in Southeast Asia and Mongolia.
- Created a new formula for the Central Conference theological education fund, allowing all Central Conference apportionment funding in excess of $750,000 to go to the education fund.
- Favored a recommendation of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to add five bishops after General Conference 2020.
- Allowed the General Conference to set provisions in regard to bishops’ accountability and alter the complaint process against bishops.
- Created two new special Sundays: Women’s Ministry Sunday and Volunteers in Mission Awareness Sunday. One Great Hour of Sharing will now be known as UMCOR Sunday.
- Defeated an effort to remove the constitutional ban to end guaranteed appointments.
- Passed a $604 million budget.
On a Personal Note:
As many of you know, part of the task of presiding over the debate regarding the Bishops’ Response: “A Way Forward” to lead the church through the institutional quagmire around human sexuality fell to me on Wednesday afternoon. Tensions were high and many things were articulated that were very disturbing. I was falsely accused by two delegates of manipulating the voting process. Whenever and wherever a bishop presides, it is done so with impartiality and without bias. I take that responsibility seriously as do my colleague bishops. By the grace of God and the prayers of many, many people, I was able to lead the conference through the remainder of that session. I am humbled by the love and grace extended to me by so many across the denomination.
In just a few weeks, the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences will gather to celebrate the mission and ministry across the Nashville Area. Our theme is: “Offering Christ to A Hurting World One Neighborhood at a Time.” It promises to be a time of renewal and celebration. I invite your prayers for all who will be leading.
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,
As we head into General Conference next week in Portland, I want to share with you a campaign that the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction have joined together to produce.
It focuses on stories that connect people and proclaim that #WeAreMore when united through Jesus Christ. In the video below, my friend Bishop McKee introduces the campaign.
This is such an important message for all United Methodists right now. We are more.
We are more than the meetings and speeches and potentially divisive issues that our delegations will face during General Conference. We are more.
Bishop Schnase explains the #WeAreMore campaign in this way:
“People seem to be anxiously bracing themselves as we draw near to General Conference. Some hope for change, others fear division, and most feel uncertain about what may happen,” said Bishop Robert Schnase of Missouri. “Instead, we wanted to inspire people to remember that discipleship in Jesus Christ is more than buildings and structures, more than those in worship, more than the United Methodist Church, even more than the issues that divide us. Regardless of what happens at General Conference, United Methodists will continue to be called by God to ministries that transform lives, that offer hope to an anguished world, that relieve suffering, and that offer God’s grace to everyone. Sharing stories of how God uses ordinary people and works through ordinary congregations each and every day reminds us not to forget the kingdom work needed in the days following General Conference.”
Please visit the WeAreMore.faith website often. It will be updated with new stories as this campaign grows beyond the South Central Jurisdiction.
We hope to add our own stories to theirs and to see this go global.
We are more!
By Ken Carter, Resident Bishop
Florida Area, United Methodist Church
- We are created in the image of a God who is communal and Trinitarian. Our lifelong journey of sanctification is the recreation of that image, which is love, in each of us. This process happens in community and not in isolation. Social holiness, we are learning, is not so much a synonym for social justice as it is the context by which we undertake this journey: we walk together, not alone. For this reason Methodists are a conferencing and a confessional people, if we understand that we cannot have one without the other. There is no truth without unity, or grace without truth, or unity without grace. We sort out our convictions about all of this in relationships with each other. We cannot work out our own salvation unless others are watching over us in love. Through conferencing we clarify what to believe, what to teach and what to do—and at our peril we have neglected the first two of these concerns. Through conferencing we are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters and their churches and contexts.
- At our best, Methodists are shaped by an ecosystem of conferences. Our well-being rests in the health and vitality of each of these distinct forms of community. These are the class meetings, the charge conference, the annual conference and the general conference. In his definitive book The Methodist Conference in America, Russ Richey describes the character and purpose of the conferences: Charge Conferences were about revival; Annual Conferences were about fraternity, and General Conferences shaped our polity. These historic descriptions might be seen in the present time as spirituality, community and governance.
- In reframing the purposes of these conferences for our own time, we might say that Charge Conferences are where the adaptive work happens; Annual Conferences are about the alignment of leadership (clergy and laity) with missionary strategy, and General Conferences are about direction, legislation and governance. I am convinced that one of our challenges, as we approach Portland and the 2016 General Conference, is that we have confused the reasons for these gathering. Many charge conferences have lost their spiritual purpose, and have become attempts to construct polity with an increasingly small (and anxious) leadership base. Many annual conferences are dominated by polity and legislative direction, even as the strength of Methodism in a regional area weakens. And each General Conference has a decreasing level of trust and expectation.
- In our tradition each of the three conferences assumed a more primary experience: the class meetings of the early Methodists. Here we embody and teach the core activities—the practice of becoming disciples of Jesus and making disciples of Jesus; these practices do not happen in any of the conferences. Here we reflect on our journeys in relation to questions of faithfulness and fruitfulness. In our tradition discipling happens in small groups that include support and accountability, and that, in time, build trust—in each other, and ultimately in God.
- I am convinced that our ecosystem of conferences, our way of being Methodist Christians together, is fragile and even endangered. The anxiety about division and schism in our church speaks to this reality. When I am asked about the upcoming General Conference, I often hear two underlying questions—what will the church say about human sexuality and will the church stay together? And so we gather in that place within our ecosystem where the trust level is most fragile—the General Conference—to do work that assumes an intimacy, a dignity and a trust level that is simply not present.
- Strengthening our ecosystem of conferences, our way of being Christian together, requires a renewed attention to the basic experience of social holiness. In small groups we confess our sins, acknowledge our need, and claim our gifts. In circles of trust we disciple each other and mature as disciples. In these contexts we can teach and learn about subjects of extraordinary complexity, precisely because we know and are known. In covenant relationships we more fully reflect the nature of God, whose nature and name is love.
- My sense is that we have lost our way in the United Methodist Church by abandoning the stewardship of our ecosystem of conferences. Of course conferencing is not an end in itself, but the means by which we grow in grace and move toward the mission together. Were we attend to this birthright gift, again, we would ask a very different set of questions: In the Charge Conference, “who is my neighbor?” as a way of integrating spirituality and mission; in the Annual Conference, “and are we yet alive?”, as a way of integrating connection with regional influence; and in the General, “what is the relationship between law and grace?, as a means of remaining in covenant as one church. More fundamentally, the urgency is to attend to conferencing at the most basic, local and personal level, and here the questions are simple and severe: “How is it with my soul?” and “How am I bearing fruit?”
Shared with permission from Bishop Carter
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.
Over the last four days, the Nashville Area cabinets have met to consider pastoral appointments for the 2016-2017 conference year. This work is more art than science and at best is imperfect. As many of us know, this time of year creates anxiety, even if congregations or pastors do not anticipate moves. Remaining non-anxious is a challenge even for your bishop and district superintendents! That said, we believe we have been faithful to this task.
Friday, April 8, District Superintendents will be contacting pastors and Pastor Parish Relations Committee Chairs to inform them of changes. On Sunday, April 10 Pastor Parish Relations Committee Chairs will inform congregations of the new appointment, with some exceptions which will be announced on April 17. The appointment to which a pastor will be moving will be shared by the the pastor, not the PPRC chair.
In the coming weeks, the District Superintendents will bring the newly appointed pastor to the new congregation for a Covenant meeting with the PPR Committee. The purpose of the Covenant meeting is an introductory meeting giving the committee and the newly appointed pastor/family to see the church and visit the parsonage (if there is one) and speak about hopes and dreams for this new beginning. This is NOT an interview to decide if this appointment will work or not.
There will be Transition Seminars for PPRC Committees and Pastors who are moving on the following Dates:
Memphis Conference: May 1 Medina United Methodist Church
Tennessee Conference: April 24 Murfreesboro First United Methodist Church
Each of these events will begin at 3:00p.m. and conclude by 6:00p.m.
It is my hope that all moving pastors and receiving churches will make a concerted effort to be present. This will enhance the transition for each congregation.
Over the last few days we have prayed by name for every pastor and every congregation in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Our lives are enriched by our mutual sharing of this life. With the Apostle Paul, “I give thanks to God for my every remembrance of you.”
In the Tennessee Conference, the delegation invites you to Prayer Services in four locations. You will have opportunities to pray with and for our delegation members and the issues they will address at General Conference. These prayer services will be offered in at 11 a.m. TODAY, Friday, April 1, at these churches:
You can join the 24-hour vigil in the Memphis Conference in support of General Conference. Where ever you are, please take a few moments at some point during the day to offer prayer for General Conference and for our delegates who are preparing for this important meeting. Issues they will deliberate can be reviewed on the General Conference webpage.
The delegations want to hear from you – and I want to hear from you – what are your hopes and prayers for General Conference and the future of the United Methodist Church?
Thank you for your participation and prayers.