Keeping the ‘Connection’ through serving

1.jpgIt wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that I came to fully understand and appreciate the true gift of our connectional church. In the early days of the first responders, the United Methodist Church was present. UMCOR –United Methodist Committee on Relief — was there. With the generosity of the people called Methodists across the world, the organization of UMCOR, and the hands and feet and hearts of volunteers, the Mississippi Gulf Coast scrapped its way back. The heart of recovery, the heart of UMCOR, is the people of the United Methodist Church. Early on, people asked, “Where is UMCOR?” My friend Ed Blakesly, the first Disaster Coordinator after Katrina said, “UMCOR is us.”

130,000 volunteers later, there have been 13,000 homes repaired and 130 new homes constructed…all by done by the men, women and students who came for the last 7 years. We came to say, “A storm is a terrible thing to waste.”

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Click the image for more info on the New Madrid Fault Line from the USGS

Tennessee and Kentucky are no strangers to natural disasters — namely in the form of tornadoes and floods. What we fail to think about is that West Tennessee and Western Kentucky sit on or near the New Madrid Fault. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that the next disaster could be a major earthquake.

In the 2003 tornado in West Tennessee, Christy Smith oversaw case management, construction and volunteers for that recovery in three counties.

Christy tells this story:

 “I stopped at a client’s house several months into the recovery and apologized that it had taken so long for us to get to her. (The storm was in May and this was probably August.) What she said changed my life, ‘That’s okay, Honey. I knew God would send someone!’ What? Me? I knew behind me was the invisible strength of God’s hand and people …praying, giving, organizing, training, preparing. She couldn’t see them…just me. So for her, I WAS the visible evidence that God cares about her. ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I finally stammered. ‘God sent me.’ I had never really thought of myself in ministry…until that moment. ‘”

Here’s the reality: When there is a disaster, someone…just like that woman…is EXPECTING God to send someone. That’s happening right now all over the country, but particularly in the sorrowing Northeast. When we don’t come, it’s not just survivors we disappoint, it’s the God we love and serve that we disappoint. Christy continues: “That takes me to my knees and makes me want others to have the opportunity to serve.”

There are many places and ways one can serve. I want to appeal to you to consider serving in Disaster Response–now in responding to Hurricane Sandy and in the future as we anticipate the next disaster that will hit Tennessee and/or Kentucky. And one will. An opportunity is just around the corner for you to engage in training. The SEJ Disaster Academy will be held February 18-21, 2013 at Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Atlanta, GA.

Register here: http://www.ngumc.org/registrations/register/222 Let’s send five people from every District in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences!

For more information contact Christy Smith (csmith@umcor.org) – but beware! Christy is relentless. Also, Bill Carr, Memphis Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, and Jason Brock, Missions Team Leader for the Tennessee Conference, can assist you.


Evangelism 101

Across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences we are continuously looking for opportunities for ministry and mission. In unlikely places we often discover a need that we did not know or worse, had known and turned our eyes away. One of the burdens and blessings of our area is that, on the edge of the Clarksville District, is Fort Campbell, which has seen more combat deployments in the past twelve years than any other post in the nation.

While most of the country can afford to look the other way, we in Middle Tennessee cannot. Deployments come regularly and are still coming. Some soldiers deploy multiple times, some as many as 7 of the last 12 years. Every district in the Tennessee Conference is affected because unprecedented numbers of National Guard units have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is much suffering—mostly silent. Most military families don’t speak up.  They have learned like their soldiers NOT to ask for help. They learn to “soldier up and move on.” And they feel isolated because so many of the rest of us are able to forget we are a nation still at war.

The problems:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Brain injuries with memory, balance and vision losses
  • Financial problems
  • High divorce rates
  • High rates of adjustment issues in children and teens
  • Depression and substance abuse

We now have children whose parents have been away from them every other year for the past twelve years, children who know about war, serious injury and death in ways their counterparts cannot even imagine. They, like their parents, feel isolated.

We are STILL deploying to Afghanistan and if the war there does end as planned next year, then the real problems will begin because many soldiers and their families will finally have to face the issues they have avoided during the hectic deploy-return-train-redeploy cycles of the past twelve years.

1.jpegLast November, SAFE: Soldiers And Families Embraced (formerly Lazarus Project) sponsored a gathering of ministers in the Clarksville area. Present were more than 150 lay ministers and clergy from churches of all denominations. However, woefully absent was a United Methodist presence. In fact, only two United Methodist clergy were present.

We look every day for opportunities to share the Gospel. Right before our very eyes, we have men and women who are longing to connect with Christ and the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, men and women who have already shown a desire to sacrifice and be in mission, who struggle with guilt, grief and the need to share stories they fear no one will want to hear. Nothing could energize our United Methodist Men more than connecting older veterans with younger veterans. All that is required is that we listen to what they have to tell us about war and peace.

If you are wondering how to engage with our veterans and their families, contact Rev. Jodi McCullah at Jodi@thesafenetwork.org or visit www.umc.org/military. Please do not wait for another opportunity. The time is now.

* This blog was a collaborative effort between Bishop McAlilly and Rev. Jodi McCullah.

MORE RESOURCES:
> View official press release
> SAFE informational packet (.PDF)
> U.S. Census: A Snapshot of Our Nation’s Veteran’s (.PDF)
> SAFE Executive statement (.PDF)


The ‘FACTS’ are in

Over the last three months both the Memphis Conference and the Tennessee Conference have been working with the Financial Advisory Consulting Team (FACT) from the General Board of Finance and Administration and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. This is a process that started under Bishop Ben Chamness and one which was continued when I arrived. As a result, we now have quantifiable data with regard to our trends over the last decade or so. The reports are comprehensive and in many ways daunting to consider.

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TN Conference representatives meeting with FACT Team at West End UMC on Dec. 11 (click image to read the TN UMC FACT report on TNUMC.org)

A summary of the reports is on the respective websites for each conference (Memphis | Tennessee). In the TN Conference there is no clearly stated vision; in the Memphis Conference there is no clearly stated mission. A common denominator in both conferences is a lack of trust. The themes of missional, pastoral and congregational excellence emerge in each conference and a desire to clearly articulate a vision around these is evident. There is sufficient data to rattle even the most optimistic of us to the core. Most of all, it is clear that the adaptive challenge before us is that we cannot continue doing business as usual. We must continue to see the Nashville Area as a mission field and unite, articulate, and execute a clear plan for mission and evangelism.

Perhaps the most significant recommendation was to suspend the Uniting Committee work, which was begun in February 2012. What was recommended was that we vigorously pursue alignment across the Nashville Episcopal Area. Each conference convened the members of the Uniting Team following the FACT Team meeting and each group voted unanimously to suspend their work and affirmed the formation of a Strategic Mapping Team for the Nashville Area as well as a Strategic Mapping Team for both the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences.

The Area Team will meet beginning in mid-January with Gil Rendle, Leadership Consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation, who will guide our work (The Bishop’s Blog introduced Gil Rendle in the Nov. 6 blog post “Keeping Hope and Closing the Gap”). We will meet for two days in January and two days in February. I have asked each FACT Team participant to submit the names of two clergy and two laity who might be considered for leading the strategy work.

It is my hope that at the Annual Conference Session we will receive a report from the Strategy Teams for consideration.

In the meantime, your thoughts are important to us. Feel free to respond in writing to the FACT Report and make suggestions that will improve our life together. An email address has been established for both Conferences and should be utilized for members to send in their questions, comments, and concerns regarding the FACT Report: NASMT@nashareaumc.org.

This day, I give thanks for your faithfulness the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May the Peace of Christ be with you always.

Bishop Bill

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The Bishop addresses the Memphis Conference representatives at the Dec. 12 FACT meeting (click image to read Memphis’ FACT report on Memphis-UMC.net)