One the highlights of my entire life has been attending the Annual Conference Session. For longer than I can remember, I have been attending. As a child, I have fond memories of attending the North Mississippi Annual Conference Session. In those days, we moved conference around the north half of the state and my preacher kid friends would be there and we grew close to one another until we were old enough to become youth delegates.
Attending every session throughout my high school career as a delegate taught me the inner workings of the conference. My Senior year in high school, I was the Conference Youth President and I remember well speaking to the conference with a packed room of lay and clergy delegates with youth lining the walls of the auditorium. It was a highlight of my life as a young person serving the United Methodist Church.
Today, the Memphis Conference will convene in Paducah and on June 13, the Tennessee Conference will convene in Brentwood. If you have been following our conference communications, you know that our theme this year is “See All the People.” We are fortunate to have Revered Dr. Junius Dotson as our keynote speaker. You will be richly blessed.
In addition, we will be considering a first vote to create a new conference bringing the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences together. The question that continues to emerge is this – What is the compelling WHY?
My compelling why is that I have learned over the last nearly six years that we have more creative minds working together for the sake of the kingdom and the mission of the Nashville Episcopal Area. For those who are still seeking understanding, consider the following:
- Your appointive cabinet has found across these years that our collaborative style of leadership creates better opportunities for leadership, lay and clergy.
- Continued alignment across the area allows for maximizing resources focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world might be changed. Our desire is to strengthen local churches to do this work well.
- Finally, we will create more innovation for disciple-making because there are more creative voices available to be at the table. We believe we do this best with all of our energy focused together toward the outcome of making disciples so that the world might be changed!
To be clear, the vote at this annual conference will simply be the first step in the process. You might call it a vote to become “engaged.” In 2019, a plan for a new conference will be presented for a second vote. Finally, it will not be until the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference meets in July of 2020 that a final approval will be sought. As you can see, we have many bridges to cross before we are one conference.
As your bishop, I believe that now is the time to take this step. We are better together. We will be stronger to face whatever winds may blow across the Nashville Episcopal Area in the future.
I urge you to think, not what is best for me, but what is best for the kingdom. If we can not join hand in hand with our neighbors across the river, how shall we ever go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ?
Yesterday, I had an amazing experience with our Memphis Conference youth and college aged students gathered for the Youth Annual Gathering. I was inspired by their faithfulness and desire to serve the church as lay and clergy. In the midst of a time that is uncertain, let us listen to the voices of our young people as they seek to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
We believe we do this best with all of our energy focused together toward the outcome of making disciples.
I look forward to seeing YOU as we are equipped to see all the people!
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
In the days to come, you will hear more and more about the future of the Nashville Episcopal Area, the Tennessee and Memphis conferences – that we dreamed together about the possibilities of a new annual conference. Remember, in the district visits we talked extensively about what a new conference might look like. We realized that our future is unfolding before us and that we need to be positioned for a future that God is going to show us in the days to come.
We believe that we’re better together.
Indeed, over the last six years, we’ve talked about the mission. That, in fact, nothing is sacred but the mission and our call is to serve Christ in the world, reaching those who have not yet come to know Christ. We believe that we are better together to reach that mission.
I’m reminded of the story of Lewis and Clark when they explored a passageway to the Pacific Ocean through the Rocky Mountains. They had followed waterways up to the point that they reached the Rockies, and then they discovered there was, in fact, no river to follow. They came across a young Native American woman named Sacagawea, 14 years old, a mother, and she led them through the passageways, off the map, to a new future.
We are in that season in the church where we have to realize that we’re leading now into a new era. Where is God calling us? What will the maps look like? How will we get there?
We believe that we’re better together. These two conferences converging, finding a new future.
You will find resources on the conference website, a toolkit for communication that will give you more details about what this conversation will begin to look like. When we come to the annual conference session we expect to receive a resolution that will allow us to vote on our future.
I encourage you to explore the information that will be available to you on the website and use that information to prepare yourself to become a part of a new future in the Nashville Episcopal Area. God bless you.
Memphis Conference website (scroll down to “Business Items” under “Delegate Business Materials”)
I had intended to write a follow-up blog to my post yesterday regarding the Council of Bishops report on the Commission on the Way Forward. Due to the release yesterday of the report of the Annual Conferences voting on Constitutional Amendments, I will postpone that blog post until later in the week to speak into a very critical matter in the life of the United Methodist Church.
Carol Napier is a mother of two daughters. Steve, her husband, was in my first youth group when I was a student at Millsaps College. They are lifelong United Methodists. I had the privilege of performing their wedding ceremony. Currently, Steve is a Deacon in the North Georgia Conference and Carol is a lawyer with a government agency in Georgia.
Carol was one of those who offered the resolution to General Conference 2016 calling for language that both men and women are made in the image of God and that we as a church seek to eliminate any discrimination against women and girls. That we would fail to affirm and support our siblings in Christ based on their gender in this day and age is hard for me to fathom.
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences in the Nashville Episcopal Area have been faithful in establishing the “Mama Lynn Center” in Kindu, East Congo to minister to women who are battered and abused by the ravages of war. They have been raped and beaten and are now viewed as scarred women. Your gifts and offerings make it possible to restore their dignity and give hope to help them find a way to provide for their families.
As a father of a daughter and a grandfather of two granddaughters, a brother to a sister, I need help to understand why we fail in the 21st century to affirm and embrace as a denomination, all women and girls.
It further saddens me that we continue to have congregations across the area who are unwilling to receive a woman to serve as their Senior Pastor.
I feel it is important for me to share my disappointment that two of the amendments did not receive the necessary 2/3 aggregate vote of all the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church (click here for statistics on the vote). Both are related to the rights of girls, women, and other groups deserving of full access for a meaningful life. Each amendment worked to provide a richer tapestry of community.
I am deeply saddened that in the Memphis Conference, the vote on amendment 2 fell short of reaching a 2/3 vote with 64.45% in favor. Additionally, in the Tennessee Conference, the vote for amendment 1 was 65.55% just a bit less than needed to achieve a 2/3 majority. It’s puzzling to me that amendment 1 passed in the Memphis Conference and amendment 2 passed in the Tennessee Conference. What this tells me is that we have work to do related to equality.
I stand in support of the statement from the women bishops of the United Methodist Church which included a renewed commitment to ensure that all people, no matter their gender or other qualities, are treated with respect, compassion and grace.
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences are blessed with many outstanding women in leadership, both lay and clergy. We have a long history of many strong United Methodist Women units. In addition, women are currently serving or have served in the roles of Director of Connectional Ministry, Council on Finance and Administration Chair, Board of Ministry Chair, Conference Lay Leader, District Superintendent, Missionary, Large Church Senior Pastor, Chancellor, Assistant to the Bishop, Music Director/Minister, Executive Director of Connected Non-Profit, Youth Minister, General Conference and Jurisdictional Delegate, Certified Lay Minister, Deaconess, Chaplain, Staff Parish Chair, Trustees Chair, Campus Minister, Camping Ministry Director, and the list could go on.
The Council of Bishops has also offered a response saying, “we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church.” You may read the full statement here.
As I think about the effect this vote is having on the women of the Nashville Episcopal Area as well as the entire United Methodist Church, I grieve. I grieve for the women who faithfully serve, lay and clergy, and how this must make them feel. Apparently, we have a long way to go.
I will again quote from Ephesians 4:1-6:
Paul writes, I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
I beg you to join me in Paul’s call to lead such a life that all persons will know the value of being created in the image of God and all are given a meaningful life – regardless of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.
As I have returned from the meeting of the Council of Bishops (COB), I want to thank you for your thoughtfulness, prayers, and concern. Your many expressions of connection were powerful to me and I give thanks to God for all.
In this blog post, I’d like to offer my perspective and hopefully some helpful information. You may also wish to read the statement released by the Council of Bishops. It is available here: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/united-methodist-bishops-recommend-a-way-forward
First of all, this was the most prayerful, painful, and honest Council of Bishops meeting I have attended since November of 2012. If you followed the COB on social media, perhaps you saw pictures of bishops on their knees praying.
Second, I want to lift up a core value of the COB as we do this work: convicted humility. (I Corinthians 12-14) I simply want to invite you into a prayerful posture of humility as you reflect both on my words and on the report of the Council of Bishops.
It is no secret that the COB holds a wide range of positions regarding human sexuality. Each member also operates out of sincerely held beliefs. Just as many of you hold differing views, bishops also are convinced of the moral views they espouse and seek to be faithful to what they see as the truth that God calls the church to uphold. While it is true that even the views of bishops on this matter are distinctly different, we see our differences as a strength and pray they will not divide us.
We also recognize and affirm that as United Methodists we hold in common many more fundamental theological commitments—commitments which bind us together despite our real differences. These also have implications for how we understand and express our disagreements and what we do about them.
Therefore, we seek to advocate a stance we have termed convicted humility. This is an attitude which combines honesty about the differing convictions which divide us, with humility about the way in which each of our views may stand in need of correction.
It also involves humble repentance for all the ways in which we have spoken and acted as those seeking to win a fight, rather than those called to discern the shape of faithfulness together. In another post, I will lift up our shared values that seek wisdom and holiness in our life together.
Third, at the heart of the work we have carried out has been the mission, vision, and scope of the task assigned to the Commission on the Way forward:
- Design a way for being in the church that maximizes the presence of the United Methodist witness in as many places as possible.
- Allow for as much contextual differentiation as possible.
- Create as much unity as possible.
With the above stated, the COB expressed clear support for the One Church Model. The Commission on the Way Forward advanced this model because it allows contextualization across a global church. It will allow local churches to adapt to their mission fields. It gives a spiritual home within our denomination to the LGBTQ community. And yet it also builds protections for the conscience of those who cannot perform same-gender marriages or ordain LGBTQ persons.
We also agreed that all three plans considered by the Commission and the bishops would be shared as a part of the report to General Conference. Along with this will be a historical narrative in order to provide a transparent look at the journey of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.
Although not recommended by the COB, the Council did the feel the values of the Traditionalist Plan and The Connectional Conference Plan are present in the spiritual lives of United Methodists and therefore should be included in the report to General Conference. Tomorrow a brief outline of the three plans will be posted here on the blog as well.
It is clear that not everyone will agree with the recommendation of the COB. What must be remembered at this juncture is this: The COB’s discernment process was to honor the General Conference’s request for the Council to help the church find a way forward. With that being said, the General Conference is the body who will determine the future of our denomination. The General Conference is the legislative branch of our UMC. The desire of the Council of Bishops is to strategically help the General Conference do its work. We believe we have done that.
I call on all United Methodists across the Nashville Episcopal Area to read Ephesians 4 from The Message. This will be the text for the Service Ordering Ministry at Annual Conference in June.
To Be Mature
4 1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
7But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.
On the Sunday after the special session of General Conference in February 2019, every United Methodist Church in the Nashville Episcopal Area will worship the risen Christ. Youth groups will gather, children will sing. Food pantries will be stocked. Mission teams will make plans to be in mission across the world. In many churches, there will be professions of faith and baptisms.
Let us travel the same road, in the same direction, together, focused on the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world may be changed.
As a boy, we would camp along the Tennessee River at a place we called “Sycamore Cove.” I used to sit on the banks of the river there between Pickwick Dam and JP Coleman State Park. I would watch the water glide by. It made its way downstream, gained speed and momentum, and disappeared out of sight. Around the bend the waters converged, becoming one.
This is where I fell in love with The River. Sometimes calm and sacred. Sometimes swift and turbulent. It is also where I learned to respect it after once being stranded in a storm.
The Bible is full of rivers. There is the Nile where Moses was adopted. There is the Jordan where Jesus was baptized. And there is The River of Life about which John of Patmos speaks in Revelation 22.
Water. River Water. Baptism.
A river runs through us. I’m told that the Tennessee River is a dividing line in this world I’ve come to inhabit. I hear folks speak of the “other side of the river,” and they mean the other Annual Conference, not theirs. But there is a song that has been sung on both sides of the river for longer than we can remember, “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Today, the river is calling me to it again – this time, with you.
Thank you for spending time with me in our 18 conversations across both conferences to discuss how we may partner in our growth and, indeed, in our future disciple-making.
You’ll see in the report that the financial implications, benefits, and clergy interests are top-of-mind topics, which are appropriate for a convergence such as the one we are proposing.
Together, we can become stronger, much like the rivers that converge around and through Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky. The Tennessee. The Cumberland. The Ohio. The Duck. And others. Flowing into the Mighty Mississippi. My hope is that we will work together with open hearts and open minds as we navigate these waters.
Shall we gather at the River?
Map Source: Robert Szucs, Hungarian cartographer, GrasshopperGeography (Etsy)
On a warm, sunny Palm Sunday morning in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, our team gathered with the leadership of St. James United Methodist Church some 700 meters from the sanctuary. With palm fronds in hand and joy in our hearts, we began a processional with children, women, and men singing Hosanna! Hosanna!
When we arrived at the Church, we were met with another group processing from the opposite direction. The expressive joy was contagious as we processed into the sanctuary, still singing, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!
Later, among our group, someone asked, “What is the most memorable Palm Sunday you ever experienced?” I thought long and hard. I finally decided it was when our children, Chris and Laura were children. Laura was finally old enough to be a part of the processional and, with the other children of our congregation, paraded in the sanctuary just as these African children had on this Palm Sunday.
As I preached from Mark 11, I recalled the sequence of events leading up and following the triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem. It is worth noting that this is only time scripture records Jesus riding anywhere. From Nazareth through the Galilee and on through Jericho to Jerusalem never once did Jesus ride. Some 90 miles, he walked that journey up to Jerusalem, the city on a hill.
This week we leave Palm Sunday, journey through Holy Thursday, the Garden of Gethsemane, arrest, trial, the crucifixion, the tomb being sealed, and then on Easter— empty. The 40-day journey to the cross is coming to a close.
40 days of walking in The Way.
In 1779, John Wesley published The Methodist Hymnal. In the preface to the hymnal, Wesley wrote, “these hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but carefully arranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians.” Essentially, Wesley arranged his hymn-book as a spiritual biography of sorts for such a person.
In the best sense of the word, Lent is that journey toward being a real Christian.
While, some might mock the notion of a real Christian or debate what constitutes a real Christian, scripture is clear. “By their fruits shall they be known.”
It is my prayer that you join me is seeking to deepen my walk in The Way.
May the Christ be real to you in these Holy Days.
by Sarah McCormick, Director of Leadership Development
Project Transformation Tennessee
Young adults are listening to the needs in their communities and moving to action. And they’ve been doing it for decades. They were active in the Civil Rights movement, they are active in immigration reform, and they are speaking loudly now about school shootings. They have much to say and we are listening.
They often don’t wait for the rest of us to catch up, they just act. They don’t wait for a committee’s approval, a Bishop’s blessing, or a community’s support. They are filled with excitement and eagerness to see issues solved – and they’re willing to get their hands and feet dirty to be part of the solution.
Project Transformation has engaged more than 200 young adults in hands-on ministry over the past 6 years in the Tennessee and Memphis conferences. These young adults are helping to open spaces for churches to connect with their neighbors, spaces for multi-generational relationships to form, and spaces for ministry to thrive. They are leading us into new relationships and new forms of ministry.
In our conferences and in the larger United Methodist Church connection, clergy are aging, the future of our church’s structure is unknown, and churches are struggling to engage young people in authentic community. It is important to name and lament these things. And then we must move from lamentation to hope, and from hope to action.
Our young adults will lead well, as long as we continue to provide spaces to learn from and with them. The church is meant to be a place where we discover who we are, in relationship with God and each other. The Church is also a place where we can encourage and name gifts in each other, in order to change the world. That’s what vocation is – discovering our most authentic selves while listening for God’s invitation to make our greatest contribution to the world. Our churches – our conferences – are fertile ground in which we are raising up young leaders, while helping them to be firmly grounded in faith and community.
This summer will be no different at Project Transformation. Once again, we will have an open invitation to engage with 92 young adults who are seeking conversation about life and vocation. We will learn from these emerging young leaders as they pour out their hearts and invest their time and talents into our churches. It’s our task to journey alongside them, encouraging them to show us how God is at work. It’s also our task to listen to them and name gifts in them that will further enable them to discern who God is calling them to be in the world. These mutual relationships empower us to encounter God and each other in new ways, and lead us into new ways of being the church.
Do you know of a young adult who is discerning a call to ministry and service? Call them today. Share with them the opportunity to serve with Project Transformation this summer. Applications are due March 1. More information can be found at www.pttennessee.org
In memory of Oscar Romero (1917–1980)
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
From Xavarian Missionaries:
Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, in El Salvador, was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived. He had always been close to his people, preached a prophetic gospel, denouncing the injustice in his country and supporting the development of popular and mass organizations. He became the voice of the Salvadoran people when all other channels of expression had been crushed by the repression.
This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included it in a reflection titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.
This has been a dark day at Marshall County High School in Marshall County, Kentucky. As the news has poured forth from the fatal school shooting. PRAYERS are being offered constantly for the many who have been affected by this morning’s MASS SHOOTING. The school is located Benton, Ky, in the Purchase District of the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church. The Purchase District includes eight counties in western Kentucky.
This evening, I am thankful for the faithful response of United Methodists in Benton who offer the peace and presence of Christ to their neighbors. I join with the pastoral leadership of the Purchase District in inviting your prayers for all those whose lives have been disrupted today by this tragic event. With the Psalmist, we claim, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
STATEMENT FROM DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT
Rev. Dr. Rob Martin, superintendent of the Purchase District, offered these words today:
Pastors in the Purchase District and specifically the Marshall County cluster (of churches) welcome the prayers of our brother and sister United Methodists across the Memphis Conference and the world.
This tragedy has struck close to home as several United Methodists are among the students and staff of Marshall County High School. In response to this tragedy, prayer vigils were (and are) being held in congregations close to the school, including Calvert City United Methodist Church, which held a vigil at 11 a.m. following the tragedy.
We offer our condolences to the families of the victims, prayers of healing for those who were injured, and also, a prayer for the perpetrator of this tragic event and his family. We don’t have any answers as to why this tragedy happened, but we do trust in God’s mercy and grace to guide us through this dark valley and to comfort us in the midst of this storm.
Below are two prayers shared by Purchase District United Methodist clergy via social media during the day:
How long must we endure these news reports?
Why do guns make it to concerts, movies, political rallies, churches, and schools?
When will our children be safe?
This world seems so full of violence, death, and division and today it is here in our radius, our backyard.
Hear the cries today of our friends and neighbors impacted by yet another shooting in a place of learning.
Make Your presence known.
In the midst of pain give hope. Remind us you are a God of life and restoration.
Help us to be a community guided by grace, love, and compassion that overcomes evil, violence, and suffering. Amen.
~Rev. Nancy Johnston Varden, pastor, Fulton First United Methodist Church, Fulton, KY
we come before you, once again,
after another shooting.
We are sad, God.
So we ask you
to receive into your loving care
the souls of the persons killed,
to care for those who were wounded
or hurt in any way,
to console the family members or friends
of those who died or were wounded,
and to strengthen the hands
of the emergency responders,
the medical professionals, and the caregivers.
We pray for the shooter too,
as we must as Christians.
All this makes us inexpressibly sad, God.
But we know that the sadness we feel
is your sadness.
It is the same sadness your Son expressed
when he wept over the death
of his friend Lazarus.
We are tired, God.
We are tired of this issue being glossed over,
and of the narrative
that gun violence can’t be reduced.
But we know that the tiredness we feel
is your tiredness.
It’s the same tiredness Jesus felt
after his own struggles against injustice.
We are angry, God.
Angry at our seeming powerlessness
to prevent this,
angry that these shootings happen at all.
But we know that this anger is your anger.
It’s the same anger Jesus felt
when he overturned tables in the Temple,
furious anyone would be taken advantage of
in any way.
Help us see in these emotions
your own desire for change.
Help us see in these feelings
your moving us to act.
Help us see in these reactions
your pushing us to do something.
For Jesus did not stand by
while people were being hurt;
he plunged into their lives.
So help us to answer the question:
How can we help?
We are sad over the loss of life,
tired of excuses for loss of life,
and angry that we are paralyzed by loss of life.
So turn our sadness into compassion,
our tiredness into advocacy,
our paralysis into freedom to act.
And help us to be compassionate,
to advocate, and to act
as did your Son.
This we pray in his name.
~By Rev. Jason W. Jones, pastor, Lone Oak United Methodist Church, Paducah, KY (adapted from Fr. James Martin)
Because a number of you have commented on the recent blog about Don Johnson and your own grief in this Advent season, I asked Jorge Acevedo if I might share the service held last Sunday night at Grace Church. I offer this to all those walking through the valley of the shadow of darkness and grief in this Advent and Christmas season. It also is a model that many congregations in the Nashville Episcopal Area might consider in the future.
I learned early this morning that a saint died. His name is Don Johnson. Most likely, very few of you who are reading these words have ever heard of Don. I met Don in 1986, when I was planting a congregation just south of Memphis, TN, on Getwell Road. Through the wonderful twists and turns of the Holy Spirit, I had been the pastor of Don’s sister-in-law, Doris, the previous two years in a small the Mississippi Delta town.
When we were gathering folks to be a part of this new congregation, Doris suggested to Don and her sister Billie that they should consider coming to the new church. They listened to her advice and were at the first service on September 11, 1986. Since that day, Don missed only five Sundays. Three of those were when he was out of town, following his grandson’s baseball team. Two of those Sundays, he found a church where he could worship while he traveled. The other two misses were because his health didn’t allow him to attend.
Don showed up every Sunday morning at 7:15 and did not leave until 12:15. He greeted every person who came. Made sure the coffee was made. Picked up trash in the parking lot. Weeded the flower beds. Moved chairs. If Don had had a nickel for every chair he moved over the last 31 years he would be a wealthy man. Every Monday night Don would gather with a handful of other members of the church and take the visitor cards from Sunday and go to pay a visit to those who had worshiped on Sunday. I wish I knew how many visits he had made over the last 31 years. When we were building the first building back in 1988, a group of clergy, led by my father, a master electrician, gathered in the cold of winter to wire the building. Don took vacation days to come to work with us every day until the job was completed.
You get the picture.
Today, by the grace of God, I was in the Memphis area when I heard the news and went by to visit Billie, Don’s soulmate and wife of 60+ years.
It was like I was back in 1988. We picked up where we left off.
Don and Billie were married at the ripe old age of 18. Billie rocked our daughter Laura in the nursery from the time she was born until she was ready to graduate to the 3 year-old Sunday School Class. Don and Billie loved our children like they were their own.
I give thanks to God for the life of Don Johnson. He gave the last 31 years of his life to a place that connected him to the love and mercy of God. He was faithful, in many ways more than any person I have ever known. We could learn a lesson or two from Don. As Billie told me today, “I never heard Don say an unkind or critical word about anyone.” That is the man I knew. I’m proud I had the privilege of knowing Don Johnson. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be more like him.
His death in these days before Christmas reminds me of all those who have walked the valley of the shadow of death in Advent and Christmas. I am mindful of my sister, Deb, and my niece, Caroline, as they continue to grieve the loss of my nephew, Gale, who died on December 23, 2013 serving in the line of duty as a police officer. I am mindful of Beth, Dixie and Skip, Gale’s wife and children. Grief is hard any time it visits us. It is especially difficult during the high and holy seasons of the Christian year. My friend Jorge Acevedo held a service last Sunday night called “Blue Christmas,” a service of healing for those walking this lonely, grief-stricken season of Advent and Christmas. Those of us who remain in the land of the living would do well to pause and offer prayers for Billie and others who walk this lonesome valley.
Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30
May God grant a measure of peace to those walking with a limp through Christmas season.
Well done, Don Johnson, thy good and faithful servant.
Over the last 12 months, a dream is coming to fruition because of your faithful generosity! As you know, we embarked on a bold challenge to aid women in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo to build the Mama Lynn Center to bring hope and healing to survivors of sexual violence. Our initial goal was to raise $350,000. We now are within reach of our initial goal! If we can receive about $80,000, we can complete this much needed facility.
The Mama Lynn Center (named for my spouse, Lynn) is the inspiration of the East Congo United Methodist Church. The Center will help women emerge from the shadows and find healing after brutal assaults. It will be a visible witness to the community and all those who know of it. In this Advent season, the Gospel message rings true: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Even in construction, survivors are recognizing that the church cares about them. Three women – Rosalie, Georgette, and Bibiche – came forward to share their stories publicly last July when the mission team from Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences were there. They heard of what the church is doing, and decided to join in a workshop on stigma. A short film was premiered at the workshop, to which one survivor responded, “Society needs me, and I am useful to society.”
As we honor the birth of Christ – the Light of the world – let us remember the Mama Lynn Center in our giving. Darkness can be driven out. May we let His Light shine brightly.
Send checks to:
Memphis Conference, 24 Corporate Blvd., Jackson, TN 38305
Tennessee Conference, 304 S. Perimeter Park Drive, Nashville, TN 37211
Please note on check: Congo Women Arise
Donate online at: Congo Women Arise.
United Methodist Church bishops are calling on members of the denomination to engage in respectful conversations amidst growing conflict over political, religious and justice issues in many places in our world.
November 10, 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,
Ephesians 4:1-2 admonishes us “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
All of us are witnesses to increased animosity and growing conflict over political, religious and justice issues in many places in our world in word and deed. We believe this serves to threaten our safety and security. In antagonistic discussions about our faithful witness in the world, we may encounter verbal abuse, disruptive behavior, harassing emails, letters and phone messages, and confrontations.
As Bishops of your United Methodist Church, we serve a Church which is diverse in its theological understanding of Scripture and Christ’s call in our lives. Conflict and differing opinions, a natural part of the human and faith experience, come in a variety of forms. We are called to address our differences with authenticity and respectful conversations which enrich our understanding of God and of one another.
In recent months, we have experienced these negative behaviors escalating into more aggressive, and violent expressions of hate, prejudice, and anger directed against others. We are hearing of and observing angry words now escalating to actions that are resulting in fear, anxiety, loss of security, and even physical harm. These actions are repugnant to us as your bishops.
We renew our covenant to one another to lead as a council and in our respective residential areas in ways that reflect our commitment to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. We renew this covenant within the Council of Bishops to engage in holy conversation and Christ-like behavior especially when we do not agree with one another. We call upon all United Methodists, even in the midst of disagreement and uncertainty about our future as a church, to do the same, and to love each other as Christ loved us (John 12:34).
In Christ’s shalom,
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
The Council of Bishops
The Nashville Episcopal Area is being challenged by the planned gathering of white supremacist and associated hate groups in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017. I implore all of our clergy to share the following statement with their churches on Sunday, October 22, 2017:
Dear United Methodist Family,
The same hate groups that devastated the Charlottesville, Virginia community just a few weeks ago are now targeting our Tennessee Conference by planning to gather in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017 to spread the vitriolic evil of racism. As United Methodists, we must remember and recommit ourselves to the ideals of our United Methodist social witness.
Within our Social Principles we understand racism as sin and contrary to the fundamental recognition that “our primary identity is as children of God.” “Racism … plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself.” I call on all of us to renew our personal and collective commitment to stand against racism and the violence born from it.
Some have inquired as to our possible response to the racist protests being planned. We are encouraging people to work within the interfaith partnerships already formed. The Shelbyville First United Methodist Church and the Shelbyville Church of the Nazarene will be sponsoring a prayer vigil on Friday, October 27, 2017 at Noon.
The Rutherford County Interfaith Council and the City of Murfreesboro encourage individuals to consult the #Murfreesboroloves Facebook community. Individuals who seek to publicly counter-protest in the Shelbyville area should consult the Shelbyville Times Gazette for information on where to legally gather. For more information, please feel free to call the Stones River District Superintendent, Rev. Max Mayo, at (615) 893-5886.
I call upon all United Methodists to join in praying for our communities as well as discovering creative ways to live our baptismal vow to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Also, I invite you to read and reflect on Reverend Paul Purdue’s sermon: Blessed are the peacemakers – Being mistaken for the Children of God preached Sunday, October 8, 2017 in the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas. You find a link to this message below: