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Some Reflections on the the Great Plains Annual Conference

For United Methodists, Annual Conference rolls around every year. It is “non-negotiable” if you are clergy you are required to show up. If you are a lay member, it is expected you show up, but not required. Annual Conference in the best of all worlds part revival, part business session and part family reunion. I both love it and dislike it (the loathe and hate words being too strong.)

I’m an extrovert, so having a chance to catch up with folks I only see once a year it wonderful and exciting. Mostly I enjoy the worship if done well, some of the business and the visiting. I do dislike, no I actually loathe the horrible chairs that are uncomfortable and actually are a pain in the “back” and backside!

Four years ago, three annual conferences (Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West) became one conference. I won’t go into the myriad of reasons, but suddenly finding venues large enough to hold that many clergy and laity became more difficult. No longer can we have chairs around tables, which makes it easier to do the work of the conference, now we are in long rows with uncomfortable chairs hooked together. We juggle our laptops or tablets or workbooks on our laps and heaven help anyone who needs to get to a microphone quickly or let alone the bathroom!

The sessions planning committee works hard in those large arenas to make the stage worshipfull and beautiful for our various services. There is nothing easy about trying to get that many people together and have all the various functions go smoothly. I miss the smaller conferences partly because of the ease of knowing most everyone and for the ability to make space more intimate. I, also, was one who voted for the one conference, because I had served a three point charge and I am well aware of the toll on the leader trying to do three of everything. That is not good use of resources, not of time, not of finances and certainly not of human beings.

This year’s conference was our new bishop, Ruben Saenz, Jr.’s first with us. I have been a pastor a long time, but had few bishops. Bishop Scott Jones was my bishop for twelve years, Bishop Fritz Mutti was my bishop for twelve years before that, Bishop Ken Hicks was my bishop for eights years before that and I begin my ministry under the leadership of Bishop Ben Oliphint. Each bishop brings their unique and unrepeatable spirit and their gifts to the area in which they serve. 

Bishop Saenz led with humor, humility, honesty and  a good deal of laughter. He noted again and again that the United Methodist Church is in a time of discernment, and honestly a time of difficulty. There is much about the future that is uncertain, but what is certain, Bishop Saenz stated again and again, is that “Jesus is the foundation and it will be alright.” 

When things got tense, or there were strong feelings running deep, Bishop Saenz’s would stop and lead us in prayer. To some that might some manipulative or shallow, but for me it never felt that way. The times of prayers felt genuine and deep. The prayers were not directed to one viewpoint or another, just that we might discern God’s path for us and to love one another.

Anyone can go to the conference website to see the pictures and videos and updates. My take away said are pretty basic, we are in changing times. Pastor’s and lay leaders need ot be discerning where God is leading using Jesus’ prayer, “not will by thine” and “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The people of God need each other. 

Personally, I am delighted to return as senior pastor at First UMC, downtown Wichita and to begin work with my new associate Rebecca Goltry Mohr. As part of the Transition into Ministry program, I am honored that First will be a teaching/mentoring congregation and that I have the honor to be a mentoring senior pastor. 

During the opening worship service, we were given small silk flowers to remember those members of the annual conference, both lay and clergy who had died in the prior year. During holy communion we were invited to drop those flowers into a bowl in honor and rememberance. Then someone created this with those flowers:


Stunningly beautiful, during ordination we were reminded we are surround by such a great cloud of witnesses. We were commissioning and ordaining our new leaders and being blessed and reminded to continue to run the race set before us. Pastor Rebecca’s was commissioned as a provisional elder during that service.


The theme for this years conference is a good one: Know God, Proclaim Christ, Serve Others, Seek Justice. May it be so. 

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Pentecost Thoughts, Part 2

Pentecost is one of my “favorite” church holidays or feasts that really is not a holiday. There are no chocolates, or special paper dinnerware, or cards or presents or anything else that usually lets everyone know it is holiday time! Perhaps it is because it is always fifty days after Easter and the date changes. Perhaps it’s because there is no way to commercialize this church event.

“Churchy” people often call it the birthday of the Church and that is true to an extent.  It was the day the Spirit was given in a new way to those who were waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of an Advocate, a Counselor, a Comforter, God’s very real Presence in their lives. The author of Luke/Acts describes this event in Acts 2.

Every year I want to do something fun, crazy and memorable. Some years, I get something done, this year, I didn’t. I don’t want to trivialize Pentecost and yet, for my faith journey and I believe for the life of the church Pentecost is important. This year there were no cupcakes or balloons, but there was a pair of red shoes

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I wrote a blog post in response to another blog stating why I thought the church and particularly the United Methodist Church needed Pentecost. I think that we are not perfect, but I am grateful that God has a Spirit that makes all things possible.

Debra Dean Murphy at Ekklesia Project: “In truth, Pentecost is not the complete reversal of Babel. We still can’t understand each other; we routinely miscommunicate; we gather and we gripe, betraying the unity Christ has called us to as his Body. But the good news of the Acts 2 story, the good news of all our gathering “together in one place,” is not that the Church has a mission, but that God’s mission has a Church.”

My sermon yesterday pointed to that understanding. Pentecost is not about individuals, it is about God and God’s love and grace as a community. I continue to believe that God is at work and will work and will challenge the community of faith to stand strong in the face of evil, of bigotry, of hatred. I believe we still need Pentecost, but more importantly we need the fresh wind of God’s Spirit.

You can watch yesterday’s worship service at First UMC through our Sunday streams link. It was a morning filled with joy: a baptism, a mission team commissioning and Holy Communion. Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit!

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For the Love of Jesus, Not on my watch

A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie La La LandI always have good intentions seeing a movie IN the theatre, but more often than not, I watch it at home. I am a sucker for a good musical. I realize that life is not one dance number or musical number after another, but I enjoy dance and music and a few moments that are not filled with snarkiness.

La La Land received great reviews and numerous awards. In some ways it was like every other musical and in others it was full of surprises. I was caught how in the twenty first century a film musical could be made filled with both the old and new.

In fact, I was so caught by one scene, that I had planned on blogging about it prior to my post on the Judicial Council decision. I knew this post could wait, because in some ways, it also is about the church, where we are and where we might go together.

In the movie, Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club. She has already told him “I should probably tell you I hate jazz.” To which he replies: “What do you mean you don’t like jazz?” She says, “It means that when I listen to it I don’t like it.” The link to the scene lets you see the whole dialogue including what happens at the jazz club.

There, Sebastian says, “I think when people say they don’t like jazz they don’t have context, they don’t know where it comes from…..people spoke five different languages, they couldn’t talk to each other, the only way they could communicate was with jazz.” Mia had a very different understanding of jazz, her life, her experience was that it was relaxing and good for parties but didn’t have the depth or the history or the tradition. Sebastian responds: “You have to see it to understand it….Everyone is composing, rearranging and writing AND playing the melody. Jazz is conflict and compromise, it’s always new, every night it is new and it very exciting…..and it’s dying. The world said let it die, ….not on my watch.”

Those words shocked me into a realization about how I feel about the church. Insert church for jazz and that is how I understand and experience the community of faith. When I think about Pentecost, people spoke in different languages, but it was the gift of the Spirit that allowed them to communicate, that Spirit that Jesus’ promised. The early church was in conflict and it comprised and it continued to compose, rearrange, write AND play the melody of the story of faith. Unfortunately the other history of the church is to try to set things in stone and forget the amazing movement of the Spirit to lead the people in new ways. We sometimes quit composing, rearranging and playing the melody and then our conflict becomes so cemented that we can’t compromise.

Many look at the church and just say “I don’t like it, I hate it.” With good reason people feel that way, they have been hurt and abused and have no need to continue experiencing that. Some people feel the church is out of touch, is boring and might be okay for “background music” at an event, as a value to toss about or proclaim somehow they are part of a “church” so they can check off something on a list, but it has nothing to do with what I think “real” church is about.

Like jazz, many do not know the full history or tradition of the church, not all of which is nice or lovely. Some of our past is downright ugly and hateful. I am always amazed that God uses fragile and flawed human beings to bring a reign of justice, of righteousness, of equality and of peace. Grace abounds, not because the church always plays the “right notes” but because God is God and through Jesus challenges us to love. Jesus was constantly playing the melody, and composing and rearranging and writing. His jazz interpretation caused him a great deal of trouble and eventually his creativity was threatening enough to get him arrested, tried and executed. Again, his rearranging and composing meant he played a new melody that we call resurrection.

I believe the church is called into being a new creation, always new, “every night” and every day called into newness of life and love. Jesus leads the way, not being set into stone, but being made a new creation. The melody is “God’s love and grace” and each generation must re-write, re-arrange and compose so that others might know and experience that love and grace.

This is not an easy task. There are many that would claim this can not be done. We must either tell the “old old story” the way it has always been told, or we walk away and give up. That may be extreme, but I don’t tend to believe it is either/or. I do not believe I am alone in believing that the gospel, the good news of God’s love as experienced in Christ Jesus is dead, or irrelevant. I believe it is every changing and ever new for each generation. The church is challenged to not ONLY play the melody, but to rearrange, to re write and to compose new songs. The church is conflicted and it is in the composing that we can find compromises that lead us into new life.

In the words of the movie, “the world says let it die….not on my watch.” I am not willing to let the grace and love of God be stuck in old ways, in ways that do not connect with a new generation. The United Methodist Church may be in some ways dying, but I am not willing to let it die. For the love of Jesus, not on my watch, not while I have life and breath and faith that in Christ I am made new and the story, the melody is new every day and every night. For all the dreamers, I am committed to the love, the grace and the melody that Christ is creating for all people.

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Third Sunday of Easter

I have told myself off and on that I would post every Monday on my blog. Over the years, it has been sporadic at best. When I began at First nine months ago, I thought, wow, I could just post the link to our worship service each week. I have done that once or twice!

So, today, I attempt again to post my worship video link on Monday. I love the season of Easter. Fifty days to celebrate and ponder that moment, that experience that event is so much fun. Yet, the truth is that mostly once that first Sunday is done, the baskets are put up, we gobble up too much chocolate and go back to the mundane. Or at least I tend to.

I got asked yesterday, “Why are there 50 days in Easter? It was brought up in our Sunday School class and everything else is 40: 40 days and nights in the ark, 40 years wandering in the wilderness, 40 days of Jesus’ temptation, 40 days of Lent.” I said, “Well, it’s actually 40 plus 10. Forty days from the first Easter morning that Jesus walked and talked and shared with his disciples. On the 40th day he ascended into heaven and then there were 10 days that the disciples waited until the day of Pentecost.” Those who know me, know I love this stuff! There are reasons behind the traditions of the church that get lost in the need to have something new and interesting. The traditions of the church were used as teaching tools for the faith, ways in which each person could learn and deepen and grow.

I like to say, “isn’t it interested that we go all in for the forty days of Lent, but after one day of Easter, we are over it.” Perhaps, it is that our world is far more like Good Friday than Easter. That being said, I do, enjoy the celebration of Easter. This year I am doing a sermon series on “Life Lessons From the Games we Play.” Yesterday’s game was Apples to Apples, which my family loves! I didn’t say it well yesterday (in the preaching moment, sometimes things get dropped!), but what I wanted to really point out is, if the green card in the game said “believer” what red cards would be played? Would they include everyone? Women, Men, Old, Young, Straight, Gay, black, white? I continue to pray our community of faith would include all!

Here’s the link to the worship service yesterday:  Life Lessons: If this, then that

 

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Horror and Violence part nth degree

How long? How long will our newsfeeds be filled with horror, terror and senseless violence? Whether it is focused on one individual, or dozens or hundreds…how long?

This theme has resonated with me the last few years. It never, ever seems to go away. Whether it was the shooting of Doctor George Tiller in 2009 when I blogged June 1 or Congresswomen Gabrielle Gifford, which I reblogged the post on January 9, 2011. Or when I posted about the senseless death of Tanya Tandoc just over a year ago, or when I posted about the violence in Paris, Beirut and other places for Advent 2015, it never seems to end.

I never posted, but preached a sermon on the tragedy at Sandy Hook, in December 2012. Words seem inadequate in the face of such evil and such horror and terror. Last night in Orlando, Florida, a gunman opened fire in the Pulse Club.  Fifty, FIFTY people died and fifty three were injured. The headlines noted it was a “gay” club and as I write this, the gunman had allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS. President Obama has stated it was an act of terror and a hate crime.

I am tired of hearing that more guns will prevent this, or that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” People do kill people with guns and bombs and knives and other weapons. I gunman with 2 guns wreaked this havoc. I will probably never understand why registration, background checks and limiting semi automatic weapons is a problem. I am not in any way saying that guns should be illegal, I just do not understand why having limits on those kind of guns is a problem, or why have permits or requiring training is somehow an issue of individual rights.

There are regulations that limit all our freedoms, that is how we live in a free society. The constitution and bill of rights were never meant for chaos and anarchy. There are limits to freedom of speech (you can’t yell fire in a theatre, for example) or religion (last I checked human sacrifice is not protected). Sensible restrictions make “sense.” I know it won’t solve all problems or that people, particularly those bent on violence won’t get around them, but it might make it harder.

On top of my great grief and sadness is an attack on my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Right now, the belittling and angry rhetoric is heart breaking to me. My own denomination almost split and came to literal blows over full inclusion. My own denomination chose not to pass a resolution on bullying because it was too controversial. I mean who defines bullying anyway?

As a pastor, I understand deep theological and philosophical differences. I can actually acknowledge and appreciate views different from my own. My deep sadness has to do with the language used to condemn others, particularly those who are bullied often from the time they are young. Often, we as the church, heap more blame and judgement upon those most vulnerable.

So fifty are dead, fifty three wounded, most part of the LGBTQ community. How will we as the church respond? Will we withhold our compassion and our outrage because the issues around sexuality are so “controversial?” When Sandy Hook happened, our moral outrage was muted and we spoke with compassion, but did not one thing to change a country where children can murdered at school. In my heart, we lost our moral compass when the deaths of children were not enough for us to look collectively at our romance with gun violence.

So how many more mass shootings of vulnerable people will it take? How many more deaths? For my own confession, I have found myself not as moved as I used to be, because almost every week we have another shooting. They all get blurred into the general news. It takes fifty for me to pay attention again. I know this post is written to quickly to allow for logical thought and progression yet, Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer. Help me be a voice for change, for love, for understanding and for the path of peace.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Eve

Yesterday I wrote about that it had been one year since my mother’s memorial service. Last year on this day my brother’s and I spend all day cooking and baking and enjoying preparing a Thanksgiving feast. Today, I prepared a much smaller feast to be shared tomorrow with my husband and his mother.

First, my husband and I will participate in a 5K run/walk for Grace Med. This ministry offers health care to the underserved in the Wichita area. They are a ministry of the United Methodist Church. Four years ago they began the “Say Grace” race.

There is much I have for which I am grateful. Yesterday, I was thankful for the memories of my mother and the celebration of her life. I was also thankful for a day bookmarked by a gorgeous sunrise and sunset. I don’t often see both but yesterday morning at the downtown YMCA, this was what I saw as we walked in preparation of tomorrow’s race:

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The end of the day’s picture did not turn out quite so lovely, but the view as I left the church was just as stunning.

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On this night I am thankful for the ability to walk 5K to help the medically underserved in the greater Wichita area; a plan to “skype” with grandchildren; to cook for my mother-in-law and husband; some days at home to enjoy with my husband and to begin to decorate for the upcoming Christmas holiday. I am deeply grateful for family and friends, a roof over my head, and faith to make each day a gift. On this Thanksgiving eve, I am graced to serve.

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