Posted: April 12, 2017 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Recently, Lynn and I were privileged to travel to the Holy Land with our good Methodist people from across the Nashville Area. You will remember three years ago my trip was cut short by an untimely fall near Jericho which landed me in the hospital. So, it was good to get to go back and experience the entirety of the “land of the Bible.”
It was a marvelous experience and my heart was full as I walked from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, on down to the Holy City. What’s more, walking the Via Dolorosa and stopping at the stations of the cross brought home again the agony of Holy Week.
I often reflect during Holy Week how we see the humanity and divinity of Jesus comingled in the events between Palm Sunday and Easter. Fredrick Buechner in his work, The Faces of Jesus, writes:
“WHAT YOU ARE GOING to do,” Jesus says, “do quickly.” What Judas is going to do, he does in a garden, but though he goes about it as quickly as he can, there is a little time to wait before he gets there. It is night, and they are all tired. Jesus tells them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” and then asks the disciples to stay and watch for him while he goes off to pray. One thinks of the stirring and noble way others have met their deaths—the equanimity of Socrates as he raised the hemlock to his lips, the exaltation of Joan as they bound her to the stake, Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Jesus sounds like none of them. Maybe it is because it is to the ones who are most fully alive that death comes most unbearably. His prayer is, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt,” this tormented muddle of a prayer which Luke says made him sweat until it “became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” He went back to find some solace in the company of his friends then, but he found them all asleep when he got there. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he said, and you feel that it was to himself that he was saying it as well as to them.
I’ve often thought about what it must have been like for Jesus to want to hang out with his closest friends only to discover they could not remain awake long enough to be present to him.
If you have ever tried to remain present when the pain or suffering or grief is as thick as molasses in January, you begin to understand why the disciples could not bear up under the weight of the moment. It’s just the way God has wired us—to protect us from trauma that is often too deep for words.
How many times in a weak moment have we muttered the words, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I acknowledge I often feel weak in the face of innocent suffering. I often feel as if I do not have the proper words when I walk into a hospital room and the diagnosis is difficult. I have always found comfort in the words of Henri Nouen when he spoke of the ministry of presence in his book, The Wounded Healer. Generations of clergy of been helped with that word. There’s nothing worse in such moments than to say the wrong thing.
I felt powerless and helpless this week as I read about the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt that was attacked on Palm Sunday. I felt helpless in the face of the chemical attack on innocent civilians in Syria. I felt helpless when I read this morning that there are at least four places in the world where hunger is so devastating that children are dying daily. And even as they are dying, there are still more dying from war. It’s one of the most helpless feelings I have had in a long, long time.
This week a colleague asked me to read a blog post he was considering by asking me if it was too dark. I said, “No. After all, it’s Holy Week.”
Holy Week. A time when, all too often, tragedy and suffering are visited on our world.
Good Friday. A time when we remember the suffering and death of Jesus.
The paradox is that the darkest day in history we call “good.” And yet we have the audacity to believe that we could have Easter without Good Friday.
Without Good Friday, there would be no empty tomb. Without Good Friday, the disciples would simply have returned home to the work they knew so well. Without Good Friday, we would be without the possibility of new life. Without Good Friday, without Easter morning, we would be devoid of the faith that believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
There are times these days when I think about the future of the United Methodist Church that my faith wavers. But then, somewhere in the midst of God’s great grace, there springs forth out of the barren soil of winter a crocus. Someone will reach down and offer a cup of cold water to parched lips. A miracle will appear out of nowhere. Grace will fall fresh on the world. A college student will say yes to the call of Christ on her life to pursue ordained ministry. God will make a way where I cannot see a way.
Late this afternoon one of our pastors called to tell me about a conversation he had with one of his confirmands. A twelve-year-old young girl, sat across from her pastor and said, “I think God may want me to be a minister.” As he told me the story, chill bumps formed on my forearms as I marveled at the way God continues to move in the hearts and minds of our young. All because a pastor took the time to listen to the heart of this twelve year old. She’s not thinking about the future of the denomination. She’s thinking about how she can serve God. Would that our eyes be that focused-on Jesus! The witness of this pastor dispelled for a moment, all my fear and anxiety. In that moment, I heard Jesus whisper in my ear, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Since moving to Nashville, I’ve been introduced to musical artists that I had not previously known. One of those is Mike Farris. He has a great song, “Mercy Now.” At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all need? We need a little mercy now. It is my prayer for you this week, that you will pause and reflect on what you need to leave at the cross so that on Easter you might rise and sing with all the saints in glory, the resurrection song…a song that will bring mercy to you, even in the darkest of nights.
Posted: February 15, 2017 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
A prayer as the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences lead the UMC in prayer this week:
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, grant to your Church great wisdom for the task that is set before us.
We pray for those who have been set apart for the task of guiding the Church toward a Way Forward, seeking in the midst of great division, a place to stand which allows the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ to be made known in the world.
Grant also that each of us, in this journey fraught with difficulty and challenge, might seek your face. Give patience, wisdom and courage to the members of the Commission, that their work would bring glory and honor to your name. Remind us that the wisdom in all of us that is greater than the wisdom in any one us. Free us from the arrogance to believe that any one of us has all the truth but that by your great grace, together, your truth might be made known to the world through the witness of this challenging and dangerous work. We make this prayer in the strong name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Please join the prayer vigil as we continue our prayers throughout this week and including Saturday.
Posted: February 2, 2017 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Over the last few days there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the executive order banning refugees from seven countries. Within this context, many of our fellow churches are requesting ways they can offer sanctuary to immigrants within our communities.
I know this issue is complex, and I believe we, as the church, and as United Methodists, must pay close attention to how we respond in these days. I encourage churches and clergy who wish to offer sanctuary to contact our District Superintendents for guidance and resources.
Currently, the United Methodist Immigration Task Force (UMITF) is working across our connection to support Sanctuary Cities that are opposing the construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The UMITF also is supporting the Bridge Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that would allow young persons who are eligible for temporary relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to stay in the U.S.
As we move through the coming days, please pray deeply for God’s guidance. Moreover, may we gain courage in knowing God does indeed call us to speak out for justice, especially for the poor in our midst.
In times like these, let us remember the mission of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.
To be sure, we are living in a hurting world, but I am certain that hundreds of passionate congregants across our two conferences will share the love of Christ to those who are overcome by confusion and fear.
Posted: January 9, 2017 Filed under: Bishop's Blog, Memphis Conference, Tennessee Conference | Tags: Sent to Serve God and Neighbor
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I greet you in this New Year with great joy and great hope for a grand and glorious new beginning for our life together, as United Methodists.
Across the last four years, we have focused on offering Christ to a hurting world as our primary mission, as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ in every place. Our dream, our hope, our possibility is to help congregations increase their capacity and capability of making disciples.
We have come to know that we are living in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. A world not unlike the world in which Jesus was born. A world where there is chaos and there’s confusion. There’s uncertainty.
We only have to look at our recent political elections to see that there is a great divide in this country still. How will we unite around a common mission? The church can be a vital witness to this world in this season.
As we near Annual Conference 2017, we will be thinking together about our theme: Sent into the world to love God and neighbor. Last year we talked about our neighborhoods. This year, we want to focus very specifically on those in our midst who are hurting, those who are lost, those who are alone. Those who are in need of the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
How can we, as the United Methodist Church in this region, be a voice of hope, a place of peace, a place of love for people who are broken? That’s our call.
One of the ways in which I find hope is in music. I think about all the songs that I’ve heard over the years that have changed my attitude and my spirit when I have listened to the words.
One of those songs is a song called “Go Light Your World.” It encourages the listener to go into the world and light up the world with hope and promise and possibility, in those places of need.
I think we need a song right now. We need a song that will challenge us to see the possibilities. See the hope. See the promise. And be those beacons of light in the world.
Let us be the light of Christ, sent into the world to offer love, love of God and love of neighbor. It’s our call. It’s our promise. It’s our hope.
Join me, will you, as we seek to be God’s people in this place, for this time?
I hope so. But more than that, I pray so.
Posted: December 16, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Posted: November 29, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Across the Southeast in recent days, weeks, and months disasters have visited our people. From flooding in South Carolina and North Carolina, our friends and neighbors have been displaced.
Now, in East Tennessee and North Carolina, forest fires are raging and threatening homes, churches and communities.
Let us remember and reach out in tangible ways to bring our support. In this Advent Season, may we be proactive in the following ways:
First, as always, pray. Prayers for all those affected are needed. Pray for all of those who are responding, emergency personnel, all those affected, survivors, tourist, business owners, those having to evacuate, everyone! Please also be in prayer for the Holston Conference of the UMC as they respond to their hurting neighbors.
Second, Financial Donations: Holston Conference will also accept financial donations with checks made to “Holston Conference” and “Holston Wildfire #864” on the memo line.
Mail to: Holston Conference, P.O. Box 850, Alcoa, TN 37701. Online giving is also possible at Holston.org/wildfires.
Below is the link that has been sent to their churches so they know what churches are safe.
GATLINBURG FIRE: UNITED METHODISTS CHECK FOR DAMAGED CHURCHES, EXPLAIN HOW TO HELP
By Annette Spence
Photo above: Fire comes within two miles of Wears Valley United Methodist Church on Monday night. Photo at top of page: Donations to help firefighters begin to arrive at the Alcoa Conference Center.
ALCOA, Tenn. (Nov. 29, 2016) – Holston Conference leaders are asking United Methodists to be prepared but patient while waiting for information about how best to help victims of a wildfire that reportedly destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses since last night in Gatlinburg and other parts of Sevier County, Tenn.
Holston leaders are also checking on churches, parsonages and members in the tourist region now turned disaster area and have released a list of properties that are currently safe and undamaged.
“Our emergency person is in touch with TEMA. They’re not allowing anyone into Gatlinburg so we don’t know yet what the needs are,” said the Rev. Charles Maynard, superintendent of 64 churches in the Maryville District, including those in the wildfire area.
Maynard said he has communicated with pastors of these churches and the related parsonages, all of which are safe:
First Pigeon Forge UMC
Burnett Memorial UMC
Walden’s Creek UMC
Union Grove UMC
Pleasant Hill UMC (Sevierville)
Wears Valley UMC
Cedar Bluff UMC (Sevierville)
First Sevierville UMC
Murphy’s Chapel UMC
In Loudon County, where another fire is burning, Bethel United Methodist Church is safe, despite inaccurate reports on social media, Maynard said. Another fire is burning in Monroe County. After initial concerns, Maynard learned later today that First Tellico Plains UMC and Ironsburg UMC are currently safe.
The Rev. Mike Sluder, Holston director of connectional ministries, said information will be forthcoming on immediate needs and long-term relief for fire victims in Sevier County and other areas.
Earlier today, the Alcoa Conference Center (217 S. Rankin Road, Alcoa, Tenn.) announced that it would accept donations of these items to provide aid to firefighters. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.:
“If you are not near the Alcoa Conference Center, consult your local Red Cross for immediate needs,” Sluder said. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has contacted Holston’s disaster-relief director and has offered financial aid, Sluder said.
Holston Conference will also accept financial donations with checks made to “Holston Conference” and “Holston Wildfire #864” on the memo line. Mail to: Holston Conference, P.O. Box 850, Alcoa, TN 37701. Online giving is also possible at Holston.org/wildfires.
“Right now we are not sure of all the needs,” Sluder said. “As we transition into long-term recovery I am sure some of the funds will be available to help supply work teams with needed relief supplies.”
Maynard said he will provide more information about other church properties and church members’ homes soon.
On Monday night, The Connexion housed 35 evacuees from the Sevier County area, most from the Ministerio del Espiritu Santo congregation, said the Rev. Susana Lopez. She said The Connexion will remain open tonight for residents in need of shelter.
We are stronger together when we can respond faithfully to tragedy in our communities and congregations.
Posted: November 17, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Nashville Episcopal Area clergy and laity are continuing their efforts in the fight for affordable healthcare in Tennessee. The report below outlines what they will be facing in the years ahead and how you can get involved. Please pray for those who fall in the coverage gap as well as those advocating for them.
United Methodists at a coalition meeting of those advocating for affordable healthcare for all.
A coalition of community members from various nonprofit, public policy, and faith-based groups throughout the state gathered at the Tenn. Primary Care Association on Monday, Nov. 14, to discuss the future of healthcare in Tennessee, specifically the challenges ahead for TennCare, the Affordable Care Act and closing the coverage gap.
The Rev. Merrilee Wineinger, Coordinator of Faith that Heals Ministry at TN United Methodist Conference, was an active partner at the healthcare coalition meeting. Alongside Wineinger, representatives from the Tennessee Justice Center, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Tennessee Health Care Campaign, Nashville CARES, Mental Health America, National Healthcare for the Homeless, and fifty others were in attendance to discuss the future of Tennessee’s healthcare.
“There are currently lots of unknowns in the healthcare world over the next few years, making it even more important for the non-profits to join forces, share knowledge, and educate our constituents,” said Katie Alexander, Field Director for the TN Justice Center. “I am honored and humbled to be a part of so many compassionate individuals who want to come together to create a united front to ensure the most vulnerable in the state are not left behind.”
The current healthcare atmosphere is on shaky ground after Donald Trump’s election, running on promises to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act once in office. Tennesseans are fortunate to have U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will play a key role in shaping the broad changes planned by the Trump Administration and the new Congress.
Mary Moore, Get Covered TN Program Coordinator of Family and Children’s Services of Nashville, stressed the importance of citizens continuing to enroll for coverage on the healthcare marketplace. “People need the coverage and want the coverage. The day after the election was the largest sign-up day to date with over 100,000 citizens shopping on the marketplace and enrolling in plans.”
Gordon Bonnyman of the TN Justice Center noted that much of the Affordable Care Act is likely to be repealed early in 2017, and it is vitally important that it be replaced by reforms that will work for all Americans. He warned the attendees that all current health care programs, even Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid that covers over 1.3 million Tennesseans, face radical cuts and reforms. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has announced a desire to cut domestic spending and curtail federal health programs.
Tony Garr of the Tenn. Healthcare Campaign, explained that Medicaid, known in Tennessee as TennCare, is currently an entitlement. This means citizens who meet specific criteria for eligibility have a right to participate and their coverage is protected by federal law. The federal government appropriates two-thirds of the funding as necessary to cover costs, as opposed to a fixed cost. Tennessee pays the other one-third of the costs. Block grants have been proposed as an alternative to reduce the rising cost of healthcare, and to give states more power over the program, a proposal that Garr opposes.
Garr argued against block grants by presenting facts unknown to most constituents, such as the crucial role TennCare plays in covering over half of live births in Tennessee and more than half of nursing home care. Under a block grant, federal payments would be limited, leading to continuing cuts in the program as health care cost continue to rise, and as the population increases. Control of the program would be given to the Tennessee legislature, and it is unclear who would be covered under a block grant. Some 300,000 working Tennesseans who are in the health insurance “coverage gap” would likely remain uninsured.
Currently, about 60 percent of those on TennCare rolls are working. Proposed new work requirements could result in loss of coverage for the other 40 percent in the coverage gap including adult students, the disabled and those tending to disabled family members in their homes.
The Rev. Marie C. King, Chair of the TN United Methodist Conference Health and Welfare Committee, added her faith-based perspective. “I want to encourage church leadership to educate the community on the discussions currently taking place in healthcare reform. Tennesseans need to educate themselves on what is happening and we need to support our congregations on this important policy issue as the Founder of Methodism John Wesley taught us,” said King.
To learn more about enrolling on the healthcare marketplace, visit getcoveredtenn.org. To keep up with changes affecting our health care, and to learn how you can become involved as an advocate for our most vulnerable neighbors, contact the Tennessee Justice Center at tnjustice.org.
Posted: November 7, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Bishop Ken Carter wrote this prayer in 2008 on the occasion of the Presidential Election. Bishop Carter offers it again for this election. I share it with you for your reflection.
Creator of us all:
you are the source of every blessing,
the judge of every nation
and the hope of earth and heaven:
We pray to you on the eve of this important and historic election.
We call to mind the best that is within us:
That we live under God,
that we are indivisible,
that liberty and justice extend to all.
We acknowledge the sin that runs through our history as a nation:
The displacement of native peoples, racial injustice,
economic inequity, regional separation.
And yet we profess a deep and abiding gratitude
for the goodness of ordinary people who have made sacrifices,
who have sought opportunities,
who have journeyed to this land as immigrants
strengthening its promise in successive generations,
who have found freedom on these shores,
and defended this freedom at tremendous cost.
Be with us in the days that are near.
Remind us that your ways are not our ways,
that your power and might transcend
the plans of every nation,
that you are not mocked.
Let those who follow your Son Jesus Christ be a peaceable people
in the midst of division.
Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us,
break down the walls of political partisanship,
and make us one.
Give us wisdom to walk in your ways,
courage to speak in your name,
and humility to trust in your providence.
Bishop Ken Carter
Posted: October 19, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Early Response Team at work after the Southeast was hit by Hurricane Matthew. (photo: SC Conference)
Hurricane Matthew was a very powerful and deadly Category 5 Hurricane that left a wake of destruction in its path. As reports and assessments continue to come in, we ask you to be in prayer for all of those who are affected. We ask prayers for those who have lost so much and for those responding to their hurting neighbors. May we be reminded that God is always with us in these long days ahead.
“Thank you to everyone who has already reached out to us on how to respond to those affected by Hurricane Matthew. At this time the only request is for trained Early Response Teams (ERT’s) to assist in the South Carolina, South Georgia and Virginia Conferences,” said Angela Overstreet, UMVIM/SEJ* Disaster Chair. “We will communicate other needs as soon as it is available to us.”
The Tennessee conference has two Early Response teams already deployed to South Carolina and Angela is working with trained ERT’s for additional deployments. As a reminder, do not self deploy. A strength of our connection is that we can cooperate and respond based on need.
As needs are communicated to us, our Disaster Response Coordinators, Robert Craig in Memphis Conference and Angela Overstreet in Tennessee Conference, will let you know specifically what kinds of supplies or kits are needed by our UMCOR warehouses, at this time there is NOT a need.
Here are two ways we can support our Brothers and Sisters who are hurting in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew:
- Pray. Our friends and partners across the Caribbean, and up the Eastern Seaboard need our genuine prayers in the days, months, and years to come.
- Donate. UMCOR has Advance numbers set up for both international and domestic disaster response.
To donate to the international effort, please click here.
To donate to the domestic effort, please click here.
*UMVIM/SEJ: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission/Southeast Jurisdiction
Posted: October 12, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Over and over as we travel to churches across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences, I hear about churches, large and small, that are reaching out to their communities by forming partnerships with their local schools. Earlier this fall, I received an email from Dr. Linda Gilbert, Director of Schools in Murfreesboro and a fellow United Methodist, who shared with me the wonderful way in which St. Mark’s UMC is partnering with Reeves-Rogers Elementary School to enable student success.
Rev. Martha Touchton, Minister Of Education at St. Mark’s, shared the following with me about the things they are doing. My hope is that other churches in our conferences reach out in their own neighborhoods in similar ways.
The cornerstone of our school partnership is the Mentor Program for children, which brings joy and encouragement to all who participate. Mentor coordinator Mary Jane Henry states, “We have been overwhelmed at the response and commitment to this ministry! This year we have thirty-seven mentors, including three from other churches, who give one hour each week to mentoring a child. It really is awesome to see how this mission has been received by our church family and how generously members have supported it with their time, money, encouragement, and prayers.”
Mentors make a difference in the lives of Reeves Rogers children. According to mentor Ann Scales, mentors may help students with a particular academic skill or simply serve as “a buddy, an encourager, a good listener, and a friend.” Margie Jennings, another coordinator in this ministry, beams as she says, “All the children want a mentor. Getting extra help is suddenly a good thing! St. Mark’s is changing the attitudes and perspectives of these students. We believe in them and they know that!”
“Next to my many years of teaching, mentoring is the most rewarding experience I have ever had!” Retired teacher Cindy Flippin
Another significant aspect of our partnership is offering support to those employed at the school. This fall, we are launching a new ministry that connects every teacher, administrator and support staff person with an adult Sunday school class for encouragement, prayers, and hands-on help with specials events and projects. We also sponsor a “Back to School” luncheon, provide food for parent/teacher conferences and Professional Learning Community days, give creative holiday gifts, and provide workers for the school’s book fair. We are always seeking new ways to shower each adult worker with the love of Christ!
There are many other practical ways St. Mark’s goes about building this partner relationship:
- St. Mark’s Wednesday Night Together fall kick-off event. “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” was held at Reeves Rogers in August. More than 200 church members shared fellowship with Reeves Rogers teachers as we toured the school building and learned about our neighborhood school and our shared community.
- Last Advent, St. Mark’s filled more than 150 gift bags for K-2 children. We plan to increase that number to 250 this year, and our prayer is that in the near future we can provide a gift bag for every child in the school.
- St. Mark’s provides material assistance to families through collections for food boxes, clothing, and school supplies
- Teachers and school families are invited to St. Mark’s Backpack Blessings Sunday and Vacation Bible School
- “Todo Galope,” (Total Gallop) an afterschool homework help site for Hispanic children and their parents, meets at St. Mark’s on Thursdays, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
- St. Mark’s UMMen have scheduled a work day at Reeves Rogers to help spread mulch
Our biggest plan yet? On October 30th, St. Mark’s UMC and Reeves Rogers PTO will sponsor a combined Fall Festival at Reeves Rogers. Since the school’s opening three years ago, it has not been able to afford a Fall Festival on its own. More than 1000 persons are expected! We are excited about the opportunities this event will provide for our communities to grow toward one another.
Bishop McAlilly’s theme for our 2016 Annual Conference in June was “Offering Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.” Reeves Rogers is St. Mark’s neighborhood. It is a place where we can welcome and love children in Jesus’ name, a place where we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and a place where we can be Christ. From a Deacon’s perspective, this partnership provides endless opportunities to connect the ministry of the church with the needs of the world. I give thanks for all those who give of their time and resources to deepen and expand this relationship and make these special events happen between school and church, and I pray God’s continued blessing upon St. Mark’s as we seek to be Christ in our neighborhood.
Martha Touchton, St. Mark’s UMC
St. Mark’s is changing lives, along with so many of our churches across the Nashville area that are participating in Church & School Partnerships. Not only are these community servants helping children academically, but they are touching hearts, lifting social and emotional needs, and giving hope where there was none previously.
Dr. Gilbert closed her email with these words, “Proud to be a United Methodist.” I, too, am proud to be a part of a Church with a history of a heart for education.
Thank you St. Mark’s! And thank you to our many, many other United Methodist churches that are choosing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in local schools…providing miracles for children…putting faith into practice…yielding fruit.
If you would like ideas about ways in which your church can partner with a school, please visit PartnerToday.org.
Posted: October 6, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
As is the case in any organization, a church’s ability to develop, articulate, and implement its core values is critical to fulfilling its mission, vision and purpose. One dictionary defines a core value as a “principle that guides the organization’s internal conduct and its relationship with the external world.”
A church that effectively develops, articulates, and appropriates its core values can remain clear on what it believes about itself, and focused on what God calls it to be and do.
Core values essentially speak to:
- Identity. Who we believe we are.
- Theology. How who we believe we are fits with God’s vision for us.
- Action. How we will act on what we believe about ourselves.
As a church plans to engage in ministry, its core values are a key mechanism for keeping the church focused and on track.
As part of a strategic planning process several years ago, Epworth United Methodist Chapel in Baltimore spent a considerable amount of time in discernment, clarifying its core values in light of its history, present realities, and hope for the future. Epworth Chapel’s strategic plan states that: “As a church, our values stand at the core of all that we are, all that we do, and all that we seek to become as the people of God.” The seven core values Epworth Chapel named are:
- Prayer. Public, private, and communal prayer is central to all that we do.
- Excellence. We strive to offer God and one another our best in all that we do.
- Hospitality. Everyone we encounter should receive radical hospitality, a friendly and open welcome, and all persons are to be treated as full participants in the body of Christ.
- Justice. We are committed to a vision of society where every individual has equal access to the resources, opportunities, benefits, and protections that society offers, and where every individual is treated with dignity and fairness.
- Family-focused. We affirm and support the building of strong families as we model what it means to be the family of God.
- Nurturing. We are committed to supporting and encouraging each other, and providing opportunities for all persons to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Diversity. We believe that there is strength in welcoming and accepting persons of all ages, genders, races, abilities, orientations, identities, and nationalities — all God’s people — into the church family.
Core values can serve three critical purposes for a church. In a planning process, they provide a reflective mechanism for the development of church-wide goals and objectives. They can be used to judge whether a new ministry opportunity fits the church’s values. And they help individual church members live out their lives as Christ-followers.
Epworth Chapel has implemented our mission and vision statements with careful consideration to our core values. And, we give prayerful and careful consideration to new opportunities for church and community engagement that align with our core values. For instance, Epworth Chapel has developed an ongoing partnership with one of the elementary schools in its community. As this ministry opportunity fit our core values, the church embraced and implemented it.
A church that effectively develops, articulates, and appropriates its core values can remain clear on what it believes about itself, and focused on what God calls it to be and do.
This article is reprinted by permission from Leading Ideas, a free e-newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at churchleadership.com.
Posted: September 29, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
If your church communications are not working well, the advice in this article might help!
Ryan Holck, an expert on church communication, says that leaders tend to throw so much information at their congregants that nothing sticks. There’s also a tendency to use insider language while never addressing what people really want to know: “What’s in it for me?” He shares some simple fixes for these common communication challenges.
We’ve got great ministry ideas, and we’re working hard to connect people, but something isn’t working. We assume the issue is the event or a lack of interest by the congregation. More often than not, the issue is actually a communication challenge. There are simple fixes to these communication challenges.
1. We Say Too Much
Congregations have limited bandwidth. We spend all week thinking about our ministry plans, but they haven’t. When we throw everything at them at once, nothing sticks. A typical listener can only take in so much information before they shut down and stop listening.
If your church is struggling with communication, don’t worry. Do this one simple thing: Say less, with greater clarity, in ways that connect with people.
The solution is to be intentional about what we share. Pick the top three to four things in the life of your church and share about them well. This is best done with a calendar so you aren’t caught off guard as events approach.
A good rule is that a ministry opportunity needs to relate to 50 percent of those in attendance for you to share about it in worship. If it doesn’t, you should find ways to share with just the people who need to hear it. For example, you would announce an upcoming women’s retreat, since it relates to 50 percent or more of Sunday morning attenders, but not a men’s woodworking class, which could be shared with interested people in other ways.
2. We Only Talk to Insiders
I recently found a “secret menu” for In-N-Out Burger, a California-based fast food chain. The menu includes creative ways to take their basic ingredients (burger, fries, and drinks) and switch them up. I’ve been going to In-N-Out for more than 20 years and had no idea that I can get grilled onions on my burger and my wife can have a Lemon-Up — a combination of lemonade and 7-Up. Why didn’t we know? Because they haven’t printed the information on the menu board. The menu is so simple; you have to know what to ask for or they will serve it like they always have.
Unfortunately, we treat our church guests much the same. We assume they understand the context of our church, and they do not. We announce events in ways insiders understand but guests don’t. For example, “Join us for Bible Study on Wednesday in the MPR.” Guests need to know more.
The solution is to answer the questions guests would be asking. Who is this event for? What time is it occurring? What is the full name of the location? Where would I find this room? Can my kids come too? So for example: Life can be confusing! Join our adult Bible study as we talk through practical ways to gain wisdom and understanding. Wednesdays, 7 pm, Main Office Lobby. Child-care is available by reservation.
3. We Share Details with No Heart
The power of the Gospel is its ability to connect people to God. These are people who want something more from the life they are living and don’t want to waste time on trivial things. Our guests come to church each week, and we fill them in on all the “exciting ways to get involved.” But they don’t connect.
Why? Because they approach every opportunity, subconsciously or not, with a mental question: “What’s in it for me?” They want to know what makes this opportunity something worth considering, and boring announcements with event details aren’t enough. People are hungry for the solutions God offers. It’s our responsibility to show them.
The solution is to highlight the benefit of attending and participating. Go beyond the details and present examples of life change in your ministry. Look at previous attenders, congregation members, and your community. Share the way God has used the ministry in the past and the difference it can make for those in similar situations.
One Simple Rule
If your church is struggling with these church communication mistakes, don’t worry. There is hope. You can reverse the trend by doing one thing:
Say Less + With Greater Clarity + In Ways That Connect With People
Do this consistently, and you will see growth in your congregation. Neglect it, and you will struggle to connect and retain new people.
This article is adapted from “3 Top Church Communication Mistakes and How to Fix Them” on the Church Tech Today website, June 3, 2016, and used by permission.
This article is reprinted by permission from Leading Ideas, a free e-newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at churchleadership.com.
Posted: September 16, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
“Ultimately, environmental justice and creation care require that we embrace the power God has given us to protect and care for the planet. This is precisely why this is a matter of the soul.”
– Bishop Bruce R. Ough
As you probably know, United Methodists have supported the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Today, if you have read or listened to the news, you know that there is a state of emergency in our own jurisdiction due to a leaking gasoline pipeline.
This is an issue we all need to give our attention.
I am in full agreement with the statement about this released last week by the UMC Council of Bishop’s president, Bishop Bruce R. Ough. It is reprinted below. Other links are provided as well. Please become knowledgeable about this issue and how we can help.
(Lakota for “Water is Life”)
The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are leading a growing protest against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline designed to carry a half-million barrels of oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.
Protests against the pipeline have been ongoing since a prayer vigil began in April. They intensified on August 10, when construction was scheduled to begin on the pipeline’s crossing of the Missouri River under Lake Oahe, just a half-mile north of the reservation’s boundary. The protests have since grown to over 1,000 supporters from more than 80 other Native American tribes, several faith communities, Hollywood celebrities, as well as organizations such as the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.
With the support and assistance of the San Francisco-based environmental law firm Earthjustice, the Standing Rock Tribe filed a federal lawsuit objecting to a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers on July 25 to cross the Missouri River. This has resulted in a temporary halt to the construction of the Missouri River crossing portion of the pipeline. The protesters continue their non-violent vigil, waiting for a federal judge to rule by September 9 on the tribe’s injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Standing Rock tribe believes the construction and operation of the pipeline threatens its environmental and economic well-being and would damage or destroy sites that have great historical, religious, and cultural significance to the tribe. The tribe’s lawsuit contends that the pipeline violates the National Historic Preservation Act and the Clean Water Act, among other laws.
Their protest is informed by the memory of broken treaties and disingenuous promises. Their protest reflects that water and ancestral grounds are sacred to the Lakota and Dakota peoples and cannot be owned or controlled or desecrated by themselves or others. Their protest is on behalf of all who rely on the Missouri waters for drinking, irrigation, and recreation all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Their protest invokes the alteration of the sacred Missouri and the displacement of many native families when the river was dammed, creating Lake Oahe. Ultimately, this is a protest about the stewardship of God’s creation and justice for the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. Ultimately, this is a spiritual battle.
This is a very difficult and complex issue for our country, and for me personally. I grew up in the oil fields of northwest North Dakota. My father earned his living and supported our family working for an oil exploration company. My grandparents homesteaded on land less than 20 miles west of Watford City, the epicenter of the Bakken oil fields. I have farmed and cared for that land and its precious water resources. I attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs school during my junior high years. After college, I spent two years living and working on the Standing Rock Reservation. I was living there during the American Indian Movement’s protest at Wounded Knee. I grew to love the Lakota and Dakota people, their spirituality, and their deep respect for God’s creation and creatures. I have a unique history and perspective on the current conflict.
We came to this impasse—with Energy Transfer Partners (pipeline construction company) and law enforcement on one side and Standing Rock tribal members and supporters on the other—in large part because of the reckless, greedy, and largely unregulated exploitation of the Bakken formation before environmental and human consequences could be determined and appropriate infrastructure built. One of the saddest ironies of the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is that pipelines are necessary to capture and utilize the millions of cubic feet of natural gas (a by-product of seeking the more lucrative oil) that are flared every day in the Bakken. This is one of the primary sources of atmosphere pollution and climate change on the planet today.
The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles offer helpful guidance on the issue of energy resource utilization: “The whole earth is God’s good creation and as such has inherent value. We are aware that the current utilization of energy resources threatens this creation at its very foundation. As members of The United Methodist Church we are committed to approach creation, energy production, and especially creation’s resources in a responsible, careful, and economic way” (2012 Book of Discipline, p. 106).
Ultimately, environmental justice and creation care require that we embrace the power God has given us to protect and care for the planet. This is precisely why this is a matter of the soul. The creation story in Genesis teaches us that God, the Creator of a universe so large we cannot imagine it, created us— human beings—in God’s image and blessed us with power. We have the power to destroy the life of all living things. We have the power to clone living creatures. We have the power to start wars or make peace. We have the power to lay down our lives for the sake of others. We have the power to harness the energy of atoms, sun, wind, and fossil fuels. We have the power to use so much energy that we pollute the rest of creation—land and water. We have the power to hoard the resources God has given us to steward. We have the power to deny others their identity, disregard their voice, destroy their culture, even enslave them. We also have the power to honor all created in God’s image and protect their rights and heritage. We have the power “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” And, we have the power to submit, as Jesus did, in loving obedience to the God who created us.
I stand with my Lakota and Dakota brothers and sisters because I believe the central question of the creation story is at the heart of their lament and their protest: What will we do with the blessing of power God has given us? This is a particularly poignant God-question for those of us who have the power of privilege in our country and the world. I urge all Dakotas United Methodists to wrestle with this question so central to our faith and witness.
Whatever the outcome of the court’s ruling, this may be the moment God is giving us all to come together, not as antagonists in bondage to our traumatic past, but as mutually empowered advocates for the common good and the sacredness of the waters and all of life. This may be the moment God has given us to use our power to define a just and life-giving future.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
The United Methodist Church
Tennessee Conference to Send Hygiene Supplies to Standing Rock Tribe
United Methodists stand with Standing Rock
Standing with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protest is sacred mission, Oklahoma religious leaders say
Posted: September 6, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.
“Discovering God’s Future for Your Church” Conference and Live Stream
Saturday, November 5, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
What next faithful step is God calling your church to take? It is vital to know God’s direction — or vision — for your congregation.
At Discovering God’s Future for your Church, you will learn how to discern this vision — a step-by-step process for considering the strengths, challenges, and people that God has given you both in your church and in your community. This process can reveal what God is calling your congregation to be and to do.
You will learn that whether God’s vision for your church is large or small, it has to be right for your congregation — right at this time, right in your context. And you will learn how to make this vision come alive in your church to be faithful and fruitful to God’s will.
Attendees may participate in person at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, or via live stream from their own computer or mobile device across the globe. Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is ecumenical and designed for both laity and clergy.
Your Church’s Future and the Clarity of Vision
How to Discern a Vision
Living the Vision
The Power of Vision
Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is distinguished professor of church leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and director of the Lewis Center.
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church
is a turn-key tool kit to help you implement in your church the process of discerning and living God’s vision. The resource includes video segments, discussion exercises, planning tools, and much more to guide a congregational visioning process. The tool kit will be available on DVD/CD and download in early December. Preorder through November 5 and save.
- Live stream registration:
$50 $40 for one person; $75 $60 for groups of two or more people
- In-person conference registration:
$50 $40 per person
- Current Wesley Theological Seminary students may register free for the in-person conference.
Posted: August 15, 2016 Filed under: Bishop's Blog
Our friends in Louisiana need our prayers and our help. They are in a state of emergency due to massive flooding. Some areas have received more than 25 inches of rain since Friday and the flooding continues. So far, 6 people have died and 20,000 have had to be rescued. Over 10,000 people are in temporary shelters.
We also know that there is ongoing flooding in Mississippi. Within the United Methodist connection, we currently are responding to 150 disasters in 38 states. We lift all those affected in our prayers.
In the midst of a disaster, we wonder what we can best do from afar. Our initial response is to want to be there, in person, to help. This often is not best for those who live there and are in the middle of a crisis. The recovery in Louisiana and Mississippi will be long and we will have future opportunities to send teams to be onsite.
Until that time, below are recommendations for immediate assistance that our conference Disaster Response Coordinators, Angela Overstreet, in the Tennessee Conference, and Rev. Robert Craig, in the Memphis Conference, have forwarded to me.
Thank you for your prayers and your help. May God have mercy on those affected by this devastating flood.
How You Can Help
Prepare and Send the Following Items (as indicated)
(Videos with assembly instructions: http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Relief-Supplies/Relief-Supply-Kits/)
- Rakes – yard rakes (No leaf rakes)
- Box Fans
- Garden Sprayers – 2 gallon only
- Flat Bill Shovels
- 25 foot Extension Cords
In the Tennessee Conference, bring these items to:
TNUMC Conference Office, 302 S. Perimeter Park Drive, Nashville, TN 37211
Phone: 615-329-1177 (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. M-F)
Contact: Angela Overstreet, firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-695-2765
Please check the Tennessee Conference website for updates in the coming weeks.
In the Memphis Conference, bring these items to:
Memphis Conference Office, 24 Corporate Blvd, Jackson, TN 38305
Contact: Robert Craig, email@example.com, 731-583-9970, Ext 101
Please also check the Memphis Conference website for district drop off locations and deadlines to be posted as soon as confirmed.
Pray for Louisiana
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, resident bishop of the Louisiana Conference and guest speaker at the Memphis Conference service of ordination in June, asks that we continue to pray:
Pray for those still trapped by rising waters…
Pray for those yet to be affected…
Pray for the first responders who have left their own flood ravaged homes to rescue others…
Pray for the children who have difficult questions with difficult answers…
Pray for our government officials; may they get the rest they need…
Pray for our churches; may they respond with the grace of Jesus Christ.
Send Funds for Supplies
Financial Donations may be sent directly to:
Louisiana Conference of the UMC, 527 North Blvd, Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Please indicate that funds are for: August floods 2016.
You also may give to disaster relief online through UMCOR.
Please DO NOT send other items and DO NOT deploy volunteers to that area.
Currently, there is no space to store non-requested items and certainly nowhere to house volunteers! The Louisiana Conference Disaster Response Coordinator will do an assessment of needs and will communicate to us when our Early Response Teams can come to Louisiana to assist. IMPORTANT: They will only accept properly trained volunteers AND our teams must be invited by the Louisiana Conference before being deployed.
You can be prepared to respond by encouraging volunteers to participate in UMCOR approved disaster response training. Registrations are now being accepted for Tennessee Conference Early Response Team Training in September at Cedar Crest Camp. Also, Recertification for those already trained will be offered on that Saturday. Click here for more information.