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:
Brothers and Sisters of The United Methodist Church,
Grace and peace to you in the compassionate name of our Lord Christ Jesus.
I write to you on behalf of our Council of Bishops to invite you to observe Global Migration Sunday on December 3, 2017. This is the first Sunday of the season of Advent, a time when we remember the coming birth of the Christ child who himself was a migrant.
From Asia and Europe to Africa and the Americas, the plight of more than 65 million men, women and children forced to leave their homes and migrate to places unknown calls all Christians to remember what God requires of us.
Wars, natural disasters, persecution, economic hardships and growing violence around the world are the major root causes of the unprecedented global migration we witness with grave concern today. As if these deadly forces were not enough, migrants also face myriad problems including hazardous travel, cultural barriers and the physical and emotional costs of arriving in strange lands where they are not always welcome and they often face persecution.
For most of these migrants, the decision to flee their homeland comes as a last resort effort to live. We are reminded of Joseph and Mary as they sought to save their lives and especially the life of the Christ child as they fled to Africa to escape the wrath of King Herod, who (threatened by the birth of Jesus) ordered the massacre of children (Matthew 2:13‑14).
As United Methodists, we believe that the prayers of God’s people can cause the outpouring of God’s mercy and justice. As your bishops, it is our fervent hope that on Global Migration Sunday on December 3, United Methodist congregations in all the places we serve around the world will join our voices to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering the journey of forced migration. In addition, as a people who pray and act upon those prayers, we ask that all our congregations gather an offering dedicated to the human suffering inflicted by forced migration. Offerings collected should be sent to the Migration Advance No. 3022144.
We are grateful for our general agencies who have prepared excellent resources for Global Migration Sunday in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish — including the prayer that we ask all pray on December 3rd.
Jesus said, “When you welcome the sojourner, you welcome me.” (Matthew 25:35)
Let us welcome our migrant brothers and sisters with compassionate care, pray for them without ceasing and give generously that they, too, may have life.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
President, Council of Bishops
I want to encourage you to take the opportunity this October to hear and interact with a great teacher of church history, Rev. Dr. Justo Gonzalez. He will be visiting the Nashville Episcopal Area on October 13 & 14.
In his sessions, Dr. Gonzalez will lay the groundwork for understanding how our past informs our future. He will share his insights surrounding the impact of the Protestant Reformation of 1517 for our life as the church of 2017.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s audacious act of calling on the church of his day to make much-needed changes, we may find ourselves reflecting on something quite similar for our own lives as well as the greater church.
We are called as the church to provide a way through the reality we are facing and to be an anchor in the storm for those who are lost and hurting. Our time with Dr. Gonzalez will provide learning to help us better understand the context Martin Luther faced as well as our own.
Dr. Gonzalez will share his teaching in English so everyone will feel welcomed into the conversation that has been going on for some time with our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. (Spanish translation is available upon request.)
Our hope is that this time of learning around the 16th century Reformation’s context and the potential for a new reformation may guide our prayers and planning. This will be a time to enliven passion around seeing the people in our own contexts, primarily our Hispanic and Latino neighbors, so we may work in cooperation with one another.
While this is a two-day event, the leadership team wants to accommodate schedules and make this available to as many people as possible. They now have added a single-day registration option to attend this event in Murfreesboro. More information and a registration link are available at tnumc.org/reformation2017.
I want to thank you for your generous and faithful response to your sisters and brothers affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma! I am thankful for the way God has worked through the disciples of the Nashville Episcopal Area to offer Christ to a hurting world.
Today we can celebrate your financial gifts to UMCOR that totaled over $87,000 during the past month from churches and individuals in our two conferences – and it is still coming in.
Our churches have connected directly through family members and sister churches in affected areas to assist them. Conference Emergency Response Teams quickly prepared to deploy as we waited for invitations and assignments from affected Annual Conferences.
And of course…we made cleaning bucket kits…THREE truckloads of buckets and other needed supplies. I invite you to watch the video below to see our volunteers in action!
I want to thank the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences for your continued prayers, your financial gifts, and your hands-on response to our neighbors in need.
Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
As we continue to have concern about our brothers and sisters in Christ who would be affected by decisions to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, I share with you a guest post from Morgan Stafford. As a part of his third year of divinity school at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Stafford is currently a full-time intern serving as a cross-cultural strategist for the Nashville Episcopal Area. Part of his responsibilities include working with lay and clergy leaders who continue to be marginalized based on their immigration status.
Earlier this week, the announcement was made that the current presidential administration intends to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA. Created in 2012, DACA has provided temporary protection from deportation and legal work authorization for about 800,000 “DREAMers.”
DREAMers are young immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2007, are currently enrolled in or have graduated from high school, and have committed no criminal offenses. While these young people do not have citizenship, they have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, contributing to the well-being of our communities, schools, and churches. Without DACA, thousands of families will be negatively impacted, and this reality will directly impact us all.
During my ministry experiences across Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas, I have been blessed to be in relationship with many immigrant sisters and brothers. Among these individuals have been several DREAMers who are proud recipients of DACA. I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of DACA on the lives of these young people and their families:
- A 16-year-old who could apply for a job and now pays taxes and works part-time to support his family.
- A 17-year-old who could obtain a driver’s license and now drives to a better public high school outside of his neighborhood.
- An 18-year-old who could apply for in-state tuition and scholarships and now attends one of the best public universities in his home state.
- A 22-year-old who could use her gifts for ministry and now serves on staff at a local non-profit organization.
- A 26-year-old who could answer her call to ministry and attend seminary and now serves on staff at a local United Methodist church.
We celebrate that over 100 young people in Tennessee have successfully received DACA thanks to Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist-affiliated organization which “provides affordable, high-quality immigration legal services to immigrants, educates the public and faith-based communities about issues related to immigration, and advocates for immigrant rights.” The Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church has supported this ministry from its beginnings.
In my new work with the Nashville Episcopal Area, I am blessed with the opportunity to visit and serve alongside lay and clergy leaders across the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Many of our churches have been enriched by the presence of young people from a beautifully diverse range of cultures, languages, and nations. In a divisive political climate in which immigrants continue to be marginalized and objectified, the United Methodist Church has a clear response found in our Social Principles:
“We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
Now is the time to practice what we preach!
I pray that our churches will continue to be or become places where young people are welcomed and affirmed regardless of their documentation and legal status.
I pray that our clergy will advocate for policies which protect families and empower young people to use their God-given gifts.
I pray that our laity and clergy will organize and demonstrate their support for DACA recipients in a clear and public way.
May we pray. May we act. May we stand for justice.
Cross-Cultural Strategist & Ministry Intern
Nashville Episcopal Area
The United Methodist Church
1908 Grand Ave.
Nashville, TN 37212
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences are working together to respond to the disaster affecting our sister conferences in Texas and Louisiana. Please continue to pray for all those whose lives continue to be impacted by this storm.
We ask for your help in the following ways:
- Please help us fill the truck! The Nashville Area plans to send an 18-wheeler filled with cleaning buckets to the UMCOR warehouse fulfilling needs for this disaster.
Within the next couple of days, drop off locations will be identified along the trucking route. Please bring buckets to those locations NO LATER than Noon on Monday, September 11.
- Give generously to UMCOR’s US Disaster Response Advance #901670. Also, please share this link with your friends and colleagues. Let them know that every dollar donated to this fund goes to US Disaster Response – none goes toward administrative costs.
We know some of you would like to offer hands-on help, but the affected areas are not yet ready to receive volunteers. There will be opportunities in the coming weeks for trained teams to go in, but UMCOR asks that we wait for an invitation to volunteer.
More information about response efforts is available on these conference Facebook pages: The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, Río Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church and Central Texas Conference.
Thank you for your prayers and support!
The events in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend took me back to my childhood in Mississippi where the history of racial violence is too well known. I remember waking up one morning as a high school student in New Albany, MS, to find a cross planted squarely in our front yard because my brother and I regularly gave David Fitzpatrick and R.C. Smith rides home from football practice. R.C. and David were black teammates on our football team. It was a shocking reminder that not everyone appreciated the act of grace we were offering.
My father was a pastor who stood for racial equality in the turbulent 60’s and worked for the merger of the Upper Mississippi Conference and the North Mississippi Conference at a time when it was incredibly unpopular. He modeled for me a style of leadership which was brave and prophetic. It was not always easy. I am grateful for the ways in which my parents taught me to do the right thing.
When I observe the hatred and violence and evil that is unleashed in our country today my heart grieves.
There is no place in America in the 21st Century for White supremacists, Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. Bishop Mike McKee writes: “The carrying of the Nazi flag is evil. The flag is a symbol of an evil, failed state that brutally killed more than six million Jews and countless Romani people, homosexuals and others judged to be inferior. Those who sacrificed their lives in World War II defeated that evil. It is truly un-American to carry the flag for an evil dictatorship that our country defeated.”
When we baptize persons in the United Methodist Church, part of the vow we take comes in the form of a series of questions:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?
Every person I have ever baptized has answered “I do” when answering the baptismal covenant vow. It is instructive that at the very outset of our Christian walk, right at the beginning, we affirm that evil exists. We also affirm that the Church through the power of the Gospel is called to stand against such evil.
Now is the time, as United Methodists, to live our Baptismal Vows in the most visible way.
Much has been said in the media about the travesty of this tragic event. There is little I can offer that enlightens our tribe called United Methodist.
However, I do appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for the victims of this senseless and tragic event. Pray for the those harmed by the senseless attack on the protesters and their families. More than that, pray that we in this country will respond to violence with peace. Pray that we begin now, today, seeking a loving path toward peace and reconciliation among all people of our great country.
As a white male in a culture of privilege, I have no idea how it feels to be a black person experiencing hatred and violence that grips our land. I pray today that God will show me how I unknowingly contribute to racism and injustice. I invite you to do the same. Let the United Methodists of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences work toward a just and loving world so that those who live in fear and anxiety because of these evils will no longer be afraid.
Pastors, I call upon you to speak God’s truth into this moment of chaos and violence. Let it be said of the United Methodists in our communities that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
May we break the silence by joining our voices with the brave and prophetic who call out evil and injustice in our land.
Let us come together to find unity in the midst of diversity.
Let us offer Christ to those who are broken by this chaotic moment in time.
Let the peace of Christ dwell richly in you.
Grace and Deep Peace,
Bishop Bill McAlilly
In March, I was in Africa, in Zimbabwe, and I went to the Mutare Mission where hundreds of children and young people are receiving an education, and health care, and hope because the Methodist church has been doing mission work there since the late 1800’s. The site on which Africa University is planted, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is in existence because the people called Methodists believe that educating Africans on the continent was a vital mission of the church.
Were we to splinter or split, the work of Africa University, and the work of the Mutare Mission, among other places across the world, would be damaged. The matters of human sexuality and unity are presenting issues for a deeper conversation that surfaces in different ways of interpreting scripture and theological tradition.
Over the coming months and year or years, increasingly the Commission on the Way Forward will offer models to annual conferences through the residential bishops who are committed to leading and teaching in their own contexts and working with delegations to the special session of the 2019 General Conference.
Now, what does all that mean? It means that we have a group of about 30 people who are meeting every 6 weeks working on this on our behalf. It means that whatever is brought forward at the General Conference of 2019 will, then, have to be approved by that General Conference. In most cases, I believe the same delegates that were delegates in 2016 will be delegates in 2019, which means by and large it will be a group of the same people.
I also have to tell you that one of the churches in Mississippi who has departed, Getwell Road, was a church that I planted in 1986. I was the church planter, and my heart is absolutely broken over their decision to leave our family.
The day that I was born, my father was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. Like many of you, my blood runs through the veins of the United Methodist Church, and it’s a little bit like when people talk about your family; I can talk about them, but you better not. I get a little angry.
I want us to be careful. Literally, the word careful is to be full of care. The meaning of careful is to be full of care.
How do we care for each other in the midst of our differences?
My home church, First United Methodist Church of New Albany, Mississippi is the church Lynn grew up in and I was a part of as a teenager.
Among the children of the elders of that church, there are a number of homosexual people. I have no idea, should this church split, what would happen to that congregation. And I would guess that church after church after church in our family could bear witness to similar stories.
The question I raise within my own spirit is – if we had not adopted The Way Forward, can you imagine what we would be doing right now as a denomination? We would be splitting this church up with a rusty butcher knife, and it would not be a very pretty sight. I will go so far as to say I’m not terribly optimistic that we will find a solution that everybody is going to sing the doxology over.
And if that’s the case, then I pray that we will have enough wisdom to find our way through this and hold on to each other. Schism is the lowest fruit on the theological food chain, frankly, but I simply ask you to bear with us and be patient with us and help us be in conversation together as we work our way toward a future that God has not yet defined. I don’t know anybody that would have signed up for this, but this is where we are.
I give thanks to God for the persons we are commissioning, the ones we are ordaining, those who are saying yes to this denomination. They want to give their life to this church and serve faithfully. Let’s remember that they see hope that maybe some of us don’t see. If you look back over the history of Christianity over the last 2,000 years, there have been a few bumps in the road, right? It has not all been smooth sailing, but somehow, out of that, God has still prevailed.
God is still on the throne. God is still the God of the resurrection. God is still the God of the future, not just the God of the past.
God is still calling us into that future, and I’m going to be trusting that God is going to show us the way.
Now God is not going to give us all the answers from here to the end of the road, so don’t expect that, but you can expect that God will give us enough light for our next step.
When the appointive Cabinet gets together every spring, I think, “How in the world are we going to make these appointments?” But, somehow, out of the mystery of God and the combined wisdom of that group of people, God shows us a way through. I trust that God.
I’m going to do my best to be faithful to you and faithful to God and this church, and I ask you to join me in that faithfulness. I will be faithful to the vows of my ordination as an Elder and my consecration as Bishop. If you have a problem and you feel like you need to talk about it, call your District Superintendent. If your District Superintendent can’t help you, then we’ll help you. I trust our Cabinet. They’re good people. I ask you to be faithful to what God is calling us to do.
Sunday night’s state of the church address probably disappointed some people because they thought I was going to talk about our denomination and not our mission. That was not an accident because
I don’t want this conversation to become our mission.
Our mission is to serve God and neighbor. To go into the world, to offer Christ to those who are hurting, one neighborhood at a time. I’ve been beating this drum for five years. I’m not going to stop beating it. We’re going to do the same thing we’ve been doing. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep pushing out. We’re going to keep pushing forward. We’re trying to transform congregations who transform people’s lives through the power of Jesus Christ who is a resurrecting God.
I believe in that God and that’s the God I’m going to bear witness to and I invite you not to be consumed by the negative press that the Church is going to receive in the coming years. And you’re going to get it from every direction.
My experience of the church is that there are some folk over here and some folk over here, but most Methodists are somewhere in the middle. Some of us are right of center and some of us are left of center, but most of us are centered in Christ.
My little 3 point sermon would be something like this: rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love.
Rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love. And if we live out of that triumvirate, and if we keep God’s mission at the forefront of our lives, other conversations will not distract us quite so much.
You know in 1 Peter: 5, there’s a line in there that says ‘beware of the evil one who prowls around like a roaring lion and seeking to devour you.”
Maybe you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, and Screwtape says “don’t ever let them see the church with its banners waving.” There are forces in the world that do not want us to be seen with our banners waving.
But friends, there is some amazing, amazing transformational work that is taking place in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences on behalf of the people called Methodists who are giving their heart, mind, and soul to people in need, and we’re not going to stop doing that no matter what happens way up here, right?
I showed you a picture of myself when I played football at two different periods of my life. I’m not sure some of you got it. My college coach used to always say,
“Always leave it on the field.” Now, what does that mean? You’re going to give it your “all” day in, day out.
We were having dinner with some friends the other night and Lynn was talking about when she was in her master’s program and we moved in the middle of her doing her master’s to a little house that had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina, and she was working herself pretty hard, and I said, “Well, you don’t have to get an “A” in everything.” She said, “I don’t know how to try to get a B!” That’s what it means to leave it on the field.
I’m going to be faithful. I want you to be faithful. I can’t make you be. But I can invite you to be. I can invite you to follow Jesus into the world and reach out to those who are hungry and those who are broken. As I said last night, God uses flawed people because he doesn’t have enough of the other kind.
And brothers and sisters, we have no room to point our fingers at anyone. We would be much better off to get on our knees and pray, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner, than to point our finger and say thank God I’m not like that terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad person over there.
As I’ve said to the clergy, Jacob walked with a limp and he was better off with his limp than he was without it. Yes, we limp as a church. Yes, we’re broken. Yes, we’re imperfect and yes, we’ve got to figure this out, but we’re going to do it and let’s stay together as we do it, and let’s love each other.
As I read the gospel, the central ethic of the gospel is love. It’s love.
I’m going to be about loving God and loving the people God loves, and that includes all of us. All the time.