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A Peculiar Pentecost

What an interesting few days it has been. I missed the first reports of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. I often try to stay away from e-mails, social media and news on Fridays. It is my day off, and doing something other sitting in front of the computer is what I usually do. I planted flowers, weeded the vegetable garden and generally attempted to not sit in front of a screen.

By the middle of the day I had checked in, saw the news and was dumbfounded. Again, I thought. Again? I turned away from the computer. I posted nothing, I had nothing else to comment on top of all the other comments.  Later that night I“` saw a twitter post from the Reverend Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. On Thursday night they hosted a high school graduation and there was a shooting in their parking lot. Good grief!

On Saturday morning I was up before dawn. The rest of the world was up for a royal wedding. I had no intention of watching, but my alarm goes off every morning at 5:45. Our local NPR station plays BBC Radio until 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays and 8:00 a.m. on Sundays. Well, of course it was all about the wedding. Right about 6:00 Andrew said to me, well should we get up and watch. We are awake. So we did.

Of course, the Royal wedding was everything it was expected to be. The dress and the bride were beautiful, the music heavenly, the liturgy properly dignified. This wedding though, was a brilliant mix of old world and new world, of African American Church and Anglican liturgy, of sacred and dignified moments and powerful and amazing preaching.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of American, the Most Reverend Michael Curry preached a moving, poignant, and powerful sermon on love. The full text of his sermon and a link to the video can be found here.

One can can criticize the scale of the wedding, or the shallowness of those who watched and are caught up in the romance of a mixed race woman from the United States marrying a British prince. I suppose one could even criticize the Bishop’s sermon as too long (fourteen minutes).

Me? I was captivated by Bishop Curry’s sermon. As I watched, it appeared his style made some uncomfortable, I have heard him preach in person, and it was toned down some without being fake. He truly preached consistent to his style, his ethics and his beliefs. I have to believe that was exactly what Meghan Markle wanted, along with a gospel choir. This spanned the ocean and the cultures of African American and British Caucasian.

This American Episcopal Bishop, an ancestor of slaves, preached love. Radical love. Powerful love. Life changing, world transforming love. Afterwards, what did people talk about? Love. God’s love for the whole world. In that sense, what is more “pentecostal” than that? People in different countries, with different faith expressions and understanding, in different languages talking about God and God’s love.

I mentioned all of that today in my sermon for Pentecost Sunday. We celebrated and honored our scholarship recipients and graduates. I quoted Bishop Curry and noted that Pentecost long ago took place in a world that was uncertain and violent. Yet God’s Spirit came with fire and wind to forever change lives and transform the world. You can watch the service here.

I am going to spend this week pondering that Pentecost Power and how God’s Spirit might make that love and grace real in my heart and spirit. May you experience that same Spirit as well.

 

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Sent as Witnesses

We hit the final Sunday of Easter after a very interesting week, in the United Methodist denomination as a whole and as a local church. I addressed the failure of two constitutional amendments in two separate blogs Not Stopping me! And Not Stopping me! Part II  The news of Mead’s Corner, our coffee shop closing was icing on the cake.

So we come to the last Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday AND Mother’s Day. It can be a challenge to figure out how to fit it all in as a worshipping community. For me, the importance was to give voice to the challenge and command of Jesus that we are witnesses and to acknowledge that it is not always easy. Stuff happens, but fortunately God is there in the midst.

You can find the entire worship service here. The Chancel Choir was amazing with their anthem Who Will Be a Witness and Chris Kliewer sang It is Well with My Soul. And it is well with my soul! I am sure that what seems to be a movement to deny equality is but a bump in the road in the whole scheme of things. I remind myself that things change ever so slowly and everytime it seems that the move for justice has stopped, it is just a roadblock that must be dismantled or gone around. In the words of Julian of Norwich, “All will be well and all manner of things will be well.”

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Not Stopping Me! Part II

On Wednesday evening, I wrote Not Stopping me! out of fatigue and sadness and grief. I wondered the next day whether or not I should have written or shared what I did. I felt vulnerable and not only weary, but a bit angry as well.

I need to be clear that I do not feel like the United Methodist Church has as a whole treated me badly. I have been amazingly upheld in my ministry and my gifts. Some folk, men and women talk of “bad appointments.” I have never had one. I have had some churches and communities where I have learned some hard lessons, dealt with difficult decisions personally and with the churches I have served. Bad appointments? Not at all, I have loved every church and community I served since 1982. The Kansas  West and now Great Plains conference has been extremely good to me. I have broken a couple of glass ceilings by being the first woman senior pastor.

There have always been people in each place that were “against” or “opposed” to women preachers. I was once called a “petticoat preacher” which made me smile. I have joked over the years I never went anywhere they actually “wanted me” as a woman. And that is true. I supposed I should have been offended, but perhaps I am too arrogant or certain enough of my calling and ability to not be hurt or stopped by comments or defensive positions that do not mean anything to me. I always figured it was about the people who said such things or held such positions, not me.

It is also true what I wrote a few days ago. I have always been aware that what I do or don’t do matters. Men can fail and no one ever says don’t send another man. If a woman makes a mistake or crashes and burns, it is often said “please don’t send us another woman.” I am sure that is not said as often as it was when I started ministry, but, there is still that sense that what I do matters for all the women who will follow me. And I say that from a position of privilege as an anglo woman, I can not imagine how difficult it must be for women of color.

In an interesting twist on the two constitutional amendments that failed to gather the necessary 2/3’s majority to be ratified, it appears that amendment one was sent out with incorrect wording. You can read the story here.  So now, all the Annual Conferences will have to revote on Amendment 1, and those who have already met will vote next time they meet.

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up! It doesn’t take away the pain of that first vote. Several people have asked in one way or the other, why stay? Why should I stay if my beloved United Methodist Church can’t uphold the equality of women as human beings?

I suppose I am too stubborn to stop. I don’t want to go away. Methodist theology speaks of grace in such a deep way for me. I have used humor for a long time to deal with the push back against equality and inclusivity. More so, I have believed that grace will ultimately lead everyone home, even those who would restrict access to that grace.

Yesterday on twitter Leonard Sweet posted (and I reposted) “Every person you meet is hurting deep inside from something. Go gentle into this good day.” How I needed that word. The church I serve had made a very difficult decision to close our coffee shop at the end of July. Mead’s started ten years ago at time when Downtown Wichita was just in the beginning of revitalization. Mead’s was part of that, and with that meant the lease increase became unsustainable. Some want to blame the owners, but I don’t. The truth is Mead’s was part of what made downtown much more valuable and lucrative and desirable. There is nothing wrong with that. I suppose we could “blame” ourselves. I don’t blame anybody, but it was one more thing to make the week difficult emotionally and spiritually for me.

Grace is gentle, loving and tender with so many who are hurting deep inside. Those who were deeply wounded by the non-ratification of two constitutional amendments in the United Methodist Church. Grace is gentle, loving and tender to those who are haunted by past sexual abuse and violence, by those who continue to feel the door shut to the church because of their sexual orientation. Grace is gentle, loving and tender to the outcast, the lost, the lonely and those who live in fear.

Why don’t I leave? I believe in grace. I believe in Love. I believe in God who was made real in the ministry, love, teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. No vote can take that away from me or anyone. So my quote for today comes from Linda Clark: “What keeps the Christian going, cheek to jowl with the stuff of everyday existence, is the knowledge of God written on his or her heart.”

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Not stopping me!

On my Monday, May 7, the United Methodist Council of Bishops announced the results of the voting on five constitutional amendments that had come out of the 2016 General Conference. The reason it takes so long for these things to be reported is that each annual conference all over the world has to vote in their own annual conference. Those votes are sealed and then go to the Council of Bishops to tally and then report out the results of whether they were passed or not.

This information might not be worthy in many ways of a blog post for any one who is NOT United Methodist, however, the two amendments that were not ratified world wide had to do with gender equality. You can read more about those votes here and here. I am grateful for the many expressions of dismay of how these amendments did not pass from the Council of Bishops and the pastoral letter from the Female Bishops I felt a need to respond myself to this controversy.

Let’s just say I am tired. I am not spending any more energy, time or passion trying to convince anyone that I am equal, called, equipped, graced or able to be a pastor, a preacher, or a minister. I don’t need any constitutional amendments to verify, to acknowledge, or to affirm me as a full and equal human being, beloved of God. I just don’t waste time on any one who would argue biblically that men and women are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1: 26-27)

Having said that, I am not unaware that there are places in this world where women are not considered fully human, where they are second class citizens and not offered equal rights and opportunities. What really stunned me in all of this, are the annual conferences in the United States that did not have the votes to support these amendments.

I have read much of the analysis from both the right and left. Both sides speak of the uncertainty around the words gender and marital status. The uncertainty that gender might not mean male and female and marital status would include gay and lesbians drove many people to vote no. Fear seems to have driven the votes for no. There can be no “loopholes” no “opening” for people who are different or who might look for a place, a community of faith where love and grace abounds for all.

I admit, I may be judgy. I will own it. Like I said earlier, I am tired. I have been a pastor since 1982. Some of my reflections on my journey are included here and here  and a bit of history on the church here. I really try to be graceful and understanding of people who disagree with me theologically and socially. I get that we do not all agree. I just don’t want to fight about it anymore.

As a young clergywoman I spent so much time trying to prove myself. I wanted people to know I could do the work, I was qualified, I was trained, and I could do anything as good any of the guys. I worked harder, longer hours to show the “church” at large and the congregations I served they would not be disappointed that a “woman” had been appointed. I am absolutely certain my relationships suffered and my children did not have as much of me as that might have. I wasn’t a failure as a mother, I served smaller churches which allowed me to be far more flexible than a larger church might have been. Still, there were nights and events and time that I was called away in order to prove myself.

I am not willing to do that any more. I am more affected emotionally by this vote than I thought I would be. I didn’t write earlier because there was ministry to be done: a funeral, sermons to write, worship to plan, meetings to ponder and consider what it means to be the church in this time and place. I can not believe that in 2018 equality for women is even a question, let alone would we debate whether or not a person could be a member of the United Methodist Church based on their marital status or their ability or disability.

Here is what I know is true. I will not allow the failure of these constitutional amendments to define me, as a pastor, as a women, as beloved daughter of God. I am who I am, deeply called to proclaim the love and grace of God for all people, in all places. I will not be silenced or patronized nor will I pretend to be less than I am. My friend Brian Sutton created this lovely graphic

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And I will.

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Witnesses to Christ in the Ordinary

It’s been an interesting weekend. I have had a wonderful dinner with friends, I was supposed to go to Camp Horizon to help the family mission team on their work weekend. Instead, I was meeting with a family for a funeral on Tuesday. This woman died unexpectedly, but her memory will be a blessing.

We are almost at the end of the Easter season, and in worship we honored the United Methodist Women (something my annual conference has done for several decades on the first Sunday in May) and celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion in all the services.

I am always fascinated by Luke’s story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. This story of disappointments and grief, balanced by faith and new hope touches my spirit every time I read it. Today’s worship service can be found here.

I am going to be diligent this week to look for the risen Christ in the ordinary moments of my life. May I be a witness to the love and grace Christ offers all.

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Life Changing Witness

Today in worship, we picked up in the book of Acts where we left off last week. Last week we read the end of chapter 8 and engaged with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Chapter 9 is well known as the first story in Acts about the conversion of Saul (who we know later as the Apostle Paul.)

This well known story is often used as both an example and an excuse as to who we are as a people that follow Christ. The road to Damascus and the blinding light that stops Saul in his tracks is an experience not every has personally. I have occasionally heard people say about their choosing faith in Christ, “well I didn’t have anything nearly as dramatic as a Damascus Road conversion,” as if Saul’s experience is more real or true than others.

I think I could preach several weeks on the ninth chapter of Acts. I didn’t mention it today, but it has been on my mind whether or not anyone would really want an experience like Saul’s or to a lesser degree like Ananias. Both men were confronted with their own exclusivity, their own stubbornness to be able to look past their own opinions and see others as beloved children of God. Who really wants Jesus to say “oh, by the way, you have been wrong and pig-headed. You need to stop what you are doing and go a different direction, with an open heart, an open mind and an open spirit.” If I were to tell the truth, that’s not on my bucket list….(that doesn’t mean I don’t need it anyway, I can be as stubborn as anyone.)

Today I focused on Saul and Ananias’ willingness to change their minds and to be wrong in what they have believed in the past. Certainly in our culture, changing one’s mind, doing a 180 degree change in attitude, belief and spirit is not usually applauded. That is unfortunate.

Saul’s change of mind and heart and spirit opened up the community of faith to those outside the Jewish tradition. Saul’s willingness to be open to all people was a game changer. I still feel like we need more of that willingness to be open and inclusive in the community of faith and certainly in our world.

This Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church will begin meeting tomorrow and one of their agenda items is to listen to the report from the Commission on the Way Forward and to make a final recommendation to the Special Session of The General Conference in 2019. That recommendation will be shared in July once it has been translated into the many languages needed to share with our world wide church. I am praying for our Bishops and for our Church in this time of anxiety and uncertainty.

You can find today’s worship service here. I am praying that God might change my heart, my mind and my spirit that I might witness in a way that offers love and grace to all.

 

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Easter: Unexpected Witness

The Easter sermon series is based on Jesus’ statement that the disciples are called to witness to the resurrection. For fifty days in worship we say “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, indeed!” This statement of faith is often made real in what we say and how we live.

This Sunday’s scripture from Acts 8 had one of the believers, Philip encounter an Ethiopian Eunuch. There was far more information than could possibly be shared in one sermon. This story is amazing, beautiful and stunning. People of faith lives were being changed and they were transforming communities in so many ways.

Sometimes it is not easy to realize that a changed life is different than changed understanding. One can intellectually grasp and give a nod to a particular faith stance or understanding without it necessarily changing a life or lifestyle. Jesus’ resurrection invites us to be changed, heart, mind and spirit. That changed life, then becomes a witness and participates in the transformation of the world

Sunday’s sermon and service can be found here.  Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!

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