Tag Archives: Great Plains Annual Conference

Vacation for the Soul: Confession

We continue in our sermon series, “Vacation for the Soul.”

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The last couple of weeks have been incredibly full. Last week, I was grateful to assist in worship and listen to Leslie Coates preach. Leslie is a talented preacher and I am always blessed to hear him deliver the word. That week had been filled with the Great Plains Annual Conference. Even though it was in Wichita, I think I am more tired than if I had traveled to a different city.

This last week was spent catching up, presiding at a funeral, (with two more funerals in our church). Too many meetings and honestly, trying to stay away from social media and the news. The reports of children being separated from their parents who crossed the border looking for safety was more than my heart could take.

Instead of filling my social media posts with pictures or articles or memes (which I do not believe changes one persons mind or makes a difference) I have been uncharacteristically quiet. I would not want my silence in public places to be seen as approval. It is not. I feel like I have no voice to change policies that paint refugees fleeing from horrible violence as criminal, as other, as less than human. I still do not have any words to give voice to my grief and pain over this unjust and inhuman policy. By the end of the week, a bit had changed as now children won’t be taken from their parents, but it is still unclear what that will do to the over 2000 children that are in facilities across this country.

Today in worship I spoke of confession as that spiritual/prayer practice that helps deepen our relationship with God. It reminds me, it reminds us all that God is God and that our traditional prayer of confession says it all:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can find the full worship service here.

Here is my confession: I confess I feel powerless in the midst of the storm of hate and bigotry I see in so many places. I confess I feel voiceless in all the loud clamoring and shouting between the opposite points of view. I confess I do not know how to affect real change in local, state and national governmental policies. I confess I feel like a very small boat in a very big sea filled with giant waves and gale force winds. I confess that it is sometimes easier for me to just do what is in front of me rather than do what needs to be done for justice, for righteousness and for the kingdom of God that is promised in Christ.

Tish Harrison Warren in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary writes: “Repantence is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ.” So I confess and repent and know that is part and parcel of a life in Jesus.

When I was growing up there were two women I read everything I could get my hands on in the library. One was Harriet Tubman and the other was Sojourner Truth. I was in awe of their strength, their willingness to do whatever it took to work against the institution of slavery and later for full rights for women.

Sojourner Truth, particularly had a “way with words.” She worked long and hard for the abolition of slavery. Often she was heckled as an illiterate African American woman. None of this stopped her. In fact, as one story goes, a proslavery Northerner asked her what did she think she would accomplish being a black woman calling for the end of slavery. He said something like, “I don’t care any more of your talk, than I do for the bite of a flea.” “Perhaps not,” she replied, “but the good Lord willing I will keep you scratching.”

So, I guess, I keep writing. I keep speaking. I have not the presence or perhaps even the same amount of strength and faith of Sojourner Truth. I have the same God. I have the same Christ who is still calling me to confess and to do what I can do to work for what is good, what is right and what is just.

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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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