Friday, December 19, 2008

Man sleeping on tracks hit, killed

The following brief online article caught my eye, and then my heart while I ate lunch. And so I wrote in response...

An unidentified man was struck and killed by a train about 6:30 Thursday night near South Washington Street, according to Kylie Strange, a Greenville County deputy coroner. Strange said the train engineer saw a man sleeping on the tracks and tried to stop. However, the train ran over the man, she said. Strange said there is no reason at this point to suspect foul play. An autopsy will be performed today, she said. By Nan Lundeen, Greenville News Staff Writer, 19 December 2008

Those Who Sleep on Tracks

Christmas will still be the same without you.
But that’s something you probably knew all along.
It didn’t really matter where you were,
Or if you were, for us to sing our Silent Night.

But someone will remember, the conductor perhaps:
A sleeping body, the sighting, and particularly the impotence,
To stop the rolling steel of heedless freight cars -
Much less the growing egomania of heedless hearts.

Oblivious to the warning of the train’s blasting horn,
We’ll stumble in a stupor along the tracks of ease
Celebrating the Christ-child’s coming as always we’ve done;
Never realizing he was lying there beside you, to keep you warm.


Aldersgate Ribbon Cutting

Been meaning to put this post up all week - but here it is finally. This past Monday was a milestone in the development of our ministry for adults with developmental disabilities. We formally received the home in Columbia from the Home Builder's Association of Greater Columbia. There was a nice ceremony with the Home Builder's Assoc President, the Mayor and about 150 guests. Five of the six young women who will be living in the home were able to be present, and they definitely were excited. For the "ribbon cutting" each of the residents were given a present and the ribbons on the presents were "cut." Inside each was a monogramed pillow.It was a nice celebration, but the work continues. We are launching this home in the worst of times with all the budget cuts in the state medicaid funding and the challenging economic conditions everyone is facing. But that's when we most often are able to see God at work - in the worse of times. This home exists today because of many instances of grace making a way where none seemed possible. Hopefully by the end of January all the regulations will have been fulfilled for licensing and the residents can move in.

If you want ot know more about Aldersgate Special Needs Minsitry, then visit the web page by clicking here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Family Heirloom

This past weekend we were delighted to have my parents and sister come to stay with us. During the visit Dad said he had brought a gift to me from my cousin David. I took it out of the box and it obviously was an old Bible (1892) with the binding a bit worn, but the interior in very good condition.
My grandfather, the Rev. O.E. Taylor, had given the Bible to David and David had decided to pass it along to me. Opening the Bible to the center I realized it was an heirloom Bible, with my grandparents certificate of marriage, along with other pages of family records.
Items like this are meaningful only if it's your family, but when it is a family heirloom, it is priceless. They connect us to our past, rooting us and reminding us of who we are. This was a wonderful surprise and I am grateful to my cousin for entrusting me with it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Living Christmas Story

Once again the Trinity congregation has come together to present the Living Christmas Story. It is truly amazing all the different areas that have to be prepared - sets, costumes, casting, animals, meals, traffic and city coordination, advertising, CD production, and who knows what else - and then it all seems to come together on the day the TLC begins.

It wasn't really cold last night until the wind got up, but if we have similar weather for the next couple of nights, that will be just fine. Last night I played Herod, one of the few speaking parts. The scene is the wise men coming before Herod asking where they will find the newborn king. Their backs are to the traffic, but Herod can see when there's a gap in the line. The last half hour of the second shift the traffic was light, so it was a great time to leave the script and stump the wise men by asking things like, "Did your star tell you that Herod is the only king in Judea, and all pretenders will be killed?" or "What gift is that you have brought to King Herod?" Yea, it may be juvenile, but at the end of a cold couple of hours, it was fun.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Misquoting Jesus

I’ve always heard that if you’re going to write, then you have to read. Reading, I guess keeps the mind engaged in story, ideas and communication. Maybe one reason I didn’t make a blog post in November was that I wasn’t reading (outside of sermon preparation).

Anyway, since Thanksgiving I’ve wedged in three books, a couple of “religious” books and a novel. And one of them I’d like to recommend, especially if you’re a Bible history nerd like me.

Bart Ehrman, in his 2005 book, Misquoting Jesus, does a scholarly, yet easily readable job, of explaining why it’s beyond our ability to determine what the “original text” actually said. He doesn’t do it to undermine the faith, but as part of a scholarly discipline to search for the truth, even if the truth is disconcerting. In the process he shows that faith is sustained not by a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, but by a relationship with the living Christ.

Ehrman grew up in Biblical literalism. A “born-again” convert of Campus Life Youth for Christ, he graduated from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College –bastions of fundamentalism. His interest in textual criticism however took him to Princeton to study under one of the best in that area, Bruce Metzger. He understands both the desire for “the literal Word of God,” and the inconsistencies that show the Word is a human record of God’s revelations.

I especially liked the way he explains how the “written story” was passed along, first by untrained devoted followers making copies, and then by “professional” copiests. The number of textual variants resulting from unintentional, and intentional changes is overwhelming (estimated to be in the tens of thousands), but many of these are insignificant. Ehrman selects several major ones to cover in detail. It left me with a desire to know even more about the text, and a renewed appreciation of the work of the Spirit to make the text alive (inspired) in each generation.

Ehrman's book has been challenged by a host of conservative scholars who believe the Bible is the actual, literal Word of God. And I can see how his work can be used by those outside the faith to heap criticism on the Bible. But those of us who think of the Bible as a divinely inspired human record that contains or reveals the Word of God, his work helps us continue to search for the truth.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Playing with Your Food

Yesterday I was visiting a dear lady in the hospital. She’s been there awhile getting rehab after surgery, and told me she was feeling down. “I know God’s things for me to do,” she said, “I guess I’m just playing with my food and not eating.”

Leaving the hospital a friend called and said he hadn’t seen a blog post in awhile and was just checking in on me. I told him, “Just been busy. There have been a couple of things I’ve thought of writing. I guess I’m just playing with my food and not eating.”

Sunday, November 9, 2008

All Out Without Worry

The defensive back we named Player of the Week was asked “What made your night so successful?” He replied, “My teammates agreed before the game we would go all out, so I didn’t worry about the other positions.” Agreement, Commitment, Trust - they free you for your best.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love 4: Standards

It’s time for me to finish my series on the Conference Board of Ministry, and specifically the process of evaluating candidates for ordination. Most people know the United Methodist church still has a two-step process for becoming ordained. A candidate first applies for Provisional Membership in the Annual Conference as a Commissioned Minister. Then following two years of serving under full-time appointment, the completion of the Residency Program, and the completion of any remaining educational requirements, the person may apply for Ordination and Full Membership in the Annual Conference.

The words we use to define the different stages of evaluation are “Readiness” and “Effectiveness.” At the Provisional level we try to ascertain a candidate’s “readiness” for ministry. Does the person have the skills, the knowledge and character that says they are ready to assume the tasks of ministry? At that point proficiency is not necessary.

When the Provisional Member returns to the Board seeking ordination, we are looking for “effectiveness.” What has the candidate gained in the provisional period through the regular practices of ministry and through applying the knowledge of their education (in Bible study, theology and administration)? Does their work demonstrate they can effectively fulfill the responsibilities of their calling?

While “readiness” and “effectiveness” are nebulous terms, they do reveal that the standards are set higher for the second evaluation. Once a person is ordained and made a full member of the conference, he/she in a sense has tenure. Misbehavior or disobedience to our Discipline could result in charges (that may result in an involuntary leave or removal from ministry), but excluding that, the minister is guaranteed an appointment. There are annual continuing education requirements to keep up, but essentially the pastor operates as a free agent in determining how he/she works (or doesn’t work) with other pastors, how the day to day responsibilities of ministry are handled, and where the priorities will be set for their ministry and their growth.

So the evaluation for Ordination and Full Membership is the last chance the Board of Ministry has in determining whether we can entrust the church and its members to the leadership of the person before us. Those on the Board know we are all human and except for the grace of Christ in all our lives, we are inadequate to the challenges of ministry. We have, and will, make mistakes in our evaluations. We know we must make room for the Spirit to work in and through the process and yet we also know there are times when we do not yet see signs of “effectiveness” and must speak that truth in love.

What are some ways we evaluate effectiveness? First of all, does the candidate communicate well in written and verbal forms? That assessment of course includes the use of good grammar, inclusive language, and the proper use of references and quotes, but it also has to do with whether the average person can comprehend what you are saying. I have at times asked a candidate to explain a Wesleyan understanding of grace as if they are teaching a confirmation class. In other words, can the person make sense of the human predicament, and prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace to a twelve year old?

One thing we run into on the Theology and Doctrine Committee is formulaic responses. By that we mean the person includes all the right terms, but there is no personal engagement in the answer. In fact, I have noticed in the past few years a shift from expressing one’s considered theology to giving the right answers to the questions. If we were only looking for “right answers” we could just go to a multiple choice test.

For instance, the first question asks how the practice of ministry has affected the candidates understanding of God. We often get several statements on particular attributes of God, such as God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s faithfulness, God’s sovereignty, etc. However, if you speak of God’s sovereignty, then what role do you give to God’s passion (involvement in human free will)? If you emphasize God’s mercy, how do you reconcile that with God’s justice?

This question also calls for some kind of Trinitarian statement. But rarely now do answers reveal any Trinitarian struggle - and I’ve yet to meet a person (myself included) who has the mystery of the Trinity down pat. We each tend to emphasize the work of one of the persons of the Trinity more than the others in our practical theology. I want to know how the candidate assessed herself/himself in this and what it means for her/his ministry.

I guess overall, and to bring this long post and series to a close, the big underlying question is, “Do you have something to say, and where does your voice fall in the theological understandings we share?” Has your preparation and engagement in ministry produced a proclamation that reflects your journey? Can you “rightly explain the word of truth?” (2 Tim 2:15)

Can this candidate effectively proclaim, teach, and defend the gospel? “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Thanks be to God for the grace that makes possible our participation in God’s redemptive work. And thanks be to God for those who “study to show themselves approved” and offer themselves to the Church for the sake of Christ.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Landscape

Regardless of your political leanings, you cannot deny that yesterday the landscape of American changed. For one thing, for an African-American to be our President Elect says to me that while racism is still a problem in our country, it alone does not define who we are. The images change, the boundaries shift, and what was once impossible is now a fact. I am proud to live in a country where people can have their say, and through that collective power can make dreams become reality.

I was most impressed last night with the speeches of both men. John McCain was eloquent in his concession speech and exhibited the character of a statesman, one who puts service over self (and affiliation). The Associated Press has the text printed here.

President-elect Obama's speech was a powerful blend of story, recognition of supporters, and rallying call. Fellow Methoblogger David Camp has the text posted here. I understand Obama's primary speech-writer is 26 years old? Tens of thousands stood in Grant Park to listen closely to his words.

Last night was a reminder to me of the power of the spoken word. Yes, we live in an image age, but the spoken word can define people and situations, create new possibilities, and move people to respond. As one of those who weekly lives in the world of the proclaimed word, these excellent examples are inspiring. Now I pray that we will do as both candidates encouraged -rise above partisan bickering and work together to find solutions to our country's problems.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mr. Dan's Farewell

A year ago I tried to capture, through a blog post, a moment in worship that involved Mr. Dan. You can read it here. Mr. Dan died this past weekend and we will celebrate his life this morning in the Service of Death and Resurrection. I will miss him.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love 3: The Board’s Process of Evaluation

As I said in the last post in this series, there are so many variables in the process that it is impractical for a person to compare their experience with the Board to another’s. Of course, that’s done all the time with questions like, “How did she get through and I didn’t? She had me read her work and it was hardly different from mine!”

Here’s what happens. The candidates come to an orientation session in July where they are given instructions for their written work. The candidates report there is heavy emphasis on no plagiarism, so much so that they are afraid not to attribute every idea they write down. Secondly, a gap in good communication can occur when sometimes the persons doing the orientation are not the persons who chair the evaluation committees.

The written work is divided into four categories for four corresponding committees: Proclamation, Bible Study, Theology and Doctrine, and Call and Disciplined Life. All work has to be postmarked by a stated deadline. Then it is distributed to the committees.

The committees divide themselves into “reader teams” of two persons each, and each team then reads/evaluates the work of usually four to five candidates. The readers evaluate the work, then get together to discuss a shared assessment. After that one of the readers writes a response. In the past we would allow sub-standard parts of the work to be re-written, but that changed this year. Now we identify the parts that need improvement, and we specify issues that will probably need to be addressed in the interview with the committee. The overall written work is then graded acceptable or not acceptable.

Here’s an issue the Board will have to deal address with this “no-rewrite” policy. Do the written and interview parts of the evaluation stand alone, or are they complimentary? In other words, does a candidate have to be graded “acceptable” on both parts to get approved, or can excellent work done in one section compensate for sub-standard work in the other?

In the Theology and Doctrine committee we have always seen them as complimentary. A person may show us in the interview a good grasp of theological issues and how to handle them, a skill that did not reveal itself in the written work. And honestly, since the committee votes on approval or non-approval right after the interview section, a good showing in the interview carries more weight.

Other committees, such as Bible Study and Proclamation, might see the written and verbal portions as independent. Once the Bible Study and Sermon are written, they are done. I’m not sure how you would defend or explain your work to a degree that would move it up the acceptable scale.

Each committee divides into interview teams of four to five persons each. After interviewing the candidate, the interview team votes “approval” or “continuance” (which means they recommend the person be continued to the next time). Then representatives of the four committees meet with the Board leadership to assess an overall picture of the candidate’s work.

On our Board, if all four committees report approval, the Board votes, but it’s pretty automatically an “approved for ordination” outcome. If only one committee reports a “continuance,” then the Board usually allows the person to come back to that committee at its next meeting for a second chance. If two committees report continuance, then the Board’s practice has been to vote continuance of the person until the next year. The candidates are informed in person that day, and in writing within a couple of weeks.

If a specific problem in a candidate’s work is identified, the Board will ask one of its members to serve as a mentor to that candidate. When the candidates take advantage of having an assigned mentor, the results at the next Board meeting are usually very good.

So, an individual candidate will have eight to ten people reading their work. He or she will have four interviews before sixteen to twenty people. The assessments will be discussed by an additional four people and the whole Board of 40 persons will take a final vote. Simple enough? Next time I’ll write about some Standards that guide this work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Master Storyteller

The Rev. Dr. Reginald Mallett is presently conducting a series of services at our church. Rev. Mallett is a physician and a British Methodist minister who has made many trips to the US on preaching tours. This is his tenth visit to Trinity in the past twenty-two years. And he has said this is his last tour. Next August he will be back at Lake Junaluska for three weeks, and after that no more.

Listening to him preach in the Sunday services I was quickly reminded of his brilliant mind and his honed method of leading a congregation into the heart of his message. He regularly employs one preaching technique I have rarely seen elsewhere. It has to do with how he uses illustrations.

Like a great storyteller with just the right amount of details, Reg takes you down a path with a story, and then turns onto another path, which actually is the path he intended to take you on. What happens to the listener is that with the first story you think you know where it’s headed, but then with the change, you don’t know what to expect. Will there be another shift? Will you return to the original path/story? The technique hooks the listener into careful listening.

Most preachers just add in a story that they feel helps illustrate the point. Some fail to even make decent transitions or applications of the illustration. Mallett gets you there with a personal connection.

Last night’s sermon was based on Hebrews 1:3 “when Christ had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The gist of his message was the confidence we have that Christ has finished the work that was necessary for our salvation and what our response to that can be. He used an illustration about William Wilberforce, the British House of Lords member who became a great abolitionist. Wilberforce was dying when the Slave Abolition Act finally passed in 1833. A messenger dashed to his bedside to announce the good news and Wilberforce said, “It is finished, thanks be to God.”

That’s where we ended with that illustration, but it sure isn’t where we started. We began with a minister’s collection of books, various types for different studies, and Mallett’s collection of 23 volumes of Wesley’s letters. Then the path led for a short while on the subject of John Wesley’s prolific letter writing. The last letter Wesley wrote was to William Wilberforce. And there we turned onto the path of Wilberforce’s finished work.

Mallett didn’t include that Welsey died in 1791, only four years after Wilberforce became involved in the abolitionist movement. The actual relationship of Wesley and Wilberforce was not important. One simply took us to the other.

Well, like my father has said many times: when he listens to another preacher it makes him want to preach. He either wants to get up and do justice to the Word, or he’s inspired to want to try and do as well. Mallett, with his homiletic proficiency, inspires.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love 2: The Candidates

Those submitting work for ordination have been on a long journey in their call to ministry. By this time they have been through the Board for commissioning, been in relation with a District Committee on Ordained Ministry for several years, completed a Masters of Divinity degree (for Elder) or equivalent/professional certification (for Deacons), and have been in a continuing formation program while serving in an appointment. In our Conference the three year program (changing to two years beginning Jan 1, 2009) of continuing formation is called Residency.

Because of my work the Residency program I know each of these candidates personally. I have worshipped and prayed with them and shared with them in reflection sessions. I know some who are excellent pastors, and some who are still struggling to find their voice in ministry. I honestly want each one of them to succeed in responding to God’s call on their lives.

I have sensed the stress the candidates feel toward both the written evaluation and the oral examination coming up next month. They know that if they do not get approved, it means going through the whole process again next year. And usually, they are very self-conscious about how they measure up among their peer group. Further complicating the picture is the difficulty of explaining to local church members and family members the pressures and complexity of the process they are dealing with.

I have expressed over and over that there is no way for one person to compare their experience with the Board to another’s. There are simply too many variables. Their fate is affected by which readers their work is assigned to, who makes up the various sub-committees that interview them, and a host of other arbitrary decisions. Still, they are under the gun. Their “effectiveness” in ministry is being evaluated one last time before the Church sends them forth with its seal of approval.

One colleague suggests viewing the process as a dialogue for professional assessment. Learn through the evaluations what you need to address to become the best pastor you can be. Draw from the experience of those who do the evaluations. Don’t view it as a pass/fail trial, but as part of the ongoing journey of professional development.

My colleague’s perspective leads to a final comment. All of this work must be grounded in prayer, for you cannot be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit without prayer. I pray before assessing a paper that I may have insight into meaning of the words, and the abilities of the writer. Surely those who are writing have bathed their efforts in prayer as well. Perhaps what’s missing are the intentional prayer support groups that will uphold the candidates, and the Board of Ministry, during this important time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love 1: The Evaluation

One of the toughest jobs I have is serving on the Theology and Doctrine Committee of our Annual Conference’s Board of Ministry. It is our task to evaluate the theological readiness of the candidates seeking commissioning for ministry, or ordination. Right now my co-reader and I have evaluated five papers, twenty plus pages each, and are writing responses to their work. This post is the first of five. I will also write about the candidates, the process, the standards and some observations. Maybe these posts will help others seeking ordination, or help those not involved have a better understanding of what the process requires.

The theological questions the candidates have to respond to are the historic ones from our Book of Discipline and address for example, the nature of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the nature and mission of the church, the sacraments, the nature of grace, the way of salvation and the Wesleyan quadrilateral for determining doctrinal authority. There’s an allowance for a lot of personal variety in the responses, but there are also some core concepts that must be addressed. Overall we want to see if the candidate can handle the theological issues with understanding and integrity, and if she or he can demonstrate an ability to teach them and apply them to daily ministry.

We understand we have a responsibility to the Church, and to the churches these persons may serve, to gauge their readiness by high standards. We want some assurance that their teaching and preaching about the things of God will do good, and do no harm. We who must do the evaluation are not of one theological mind and neither should we be. We are not looking for uniformity of thought, but ability in theological reflection. We also know that a person’s submitted work is only one indication of a person’s abilities as a pastor. Here’s where Ephesians 4:15 gets tough. How do you speak the truth in love?

Some of the submitted papers are clearly excellent work. Some are immediately identified as being hastily thrown together with the content being unacceptable. But most are in that gray middle ground – some excellent answers along with some responses that totally miss the question. From our perspective, we feel the need to address the good of their work, as well as the inadequate parts of it. As difficult, and in this case, as subjective, as the truth may be, it still must be spoken.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Show Some Respect, How 'Bout It

So, this is not a sports blog obviously, but the news yesterday of Coach Tommy Bowden “stepping down” as the head coach of our Clemson Tigers was welcomed by me. Aside from the discussions of Bowden’s strengths and weaknesses as a head coach, it has looked all this season as though his heart was no longer in what he was doing. His pre-game statements set the stage for under-achievement, and post-game, win or lose, he seemed passive.

Apparently when confronted by Athletic Dir. Terry Don Phillips, he offered to resign (with his buyout in tack of course) and left with a positive, grateful statement about Clemson. I applaud his class act in his departure.

Now on to the public statement by quarterback, Cullen Harper, who stated, “He got what he deserved.” This should have been written off as an immature statement by a player who had just been benched, instead of being included in most of the sports columns. But glancing through some of the column comments, a lot of us have the same immaturity in making snap judgments about others.
Who knows what Coach Bowden deserves or doesn’t deserve? And who knows what QB Harper deserves or doesn’t deserve? Yea, head coaches (and professional athletes) are way-overpaid, so that sets them up for comments about whether they “deserve” their rewards or not. But when it comes to measuring up what happens to people, there’s a lot we don’t know and the best we can do is show respect to one another. In leaving, Coach Bowden showed respect to Clemson. We should to him, and move on.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tailgate Sunday 2008


Had a great day for our annual Tailgate Sunday. Maybe a little windy, but otherwise excellent weather. There's always a few of our older members who just don't care for the outside casual worship, but on the other hand, we always have several visitors. And as usual, there was plenty of food at all the tents.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Toxic Assets

I heard on the radio today that the Treasury Secretary, with his $700 billion dollar billfold, will now begin the job of buying off the toxic assets of the banks. What was that? “Toxic assets?” Is this just some more mumbo-jumbo? I guess it is easier for the President to look us in the camera and tell us the government is spending our children’s tax money to buy toxic assets, rather than telling us we’re actually getting “bad debts.”

Then it struck me. This economic crisis, like most crises, is causing more people to turn to their spiritual roots. You know how that is. No one wants the Church to be present in the public section - until everyone suddenly realizes they need God after all. But anyway, maybe Secretary Paulson and his minions see the spiritual significance of this time and plan to lead the way with an old fashioned spiritual soul-cleansing!

The Church has known for centuries the importance of fasting, self-denial, simple living, and contemplative prayer in order to make room for faith to grow. We even have prescribed seasons for such (Lent obviously, and Advent, surprisingly to most people) so that we are spiritually trimmed and ready for the big celebrations of Easter and Christmas. Those spiritual practices and seasons have been put in place to help us remove the toxic assets from our lives.

Maybe our toxic assets aren’t the exact same as those the banks have out for the yard sale right now, but we’ve got them. We have added behaviors, attitudes, guilts and “things” to our lives that are acting as poisons (toxins) to our soul survival.

We have picked up too many toxic thoughts. We bought the idea that being beautiful was an asset. But then Madison Avenue and Hollywood defined beauty as a starved and stark 18-year-old model with flawless skin, thus poisoning the self-image of girls and women all over the country. We added the concept that “more is better,” from “Biggie Burgers” to “Mega-whatever.” So now, even with “more than enough” of entertainment, food, techno-gadgets, and connections, most people don’t feel they are living a happy or satisfied life.

Yep, time for some soul-cleansing. Time to get rid of those toxic assets that are slowly killing us. But we'll really have to work our Congressional members to get them to pass another bail-out bill, cause the price of this one is going to dwarf the $700 billion current one. Oh, that's right, I forgot. The price has already been paid.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kids Take You at Your Word

Early this week I did the chapel for our Day School. I printed a "Lost Dog" poster and took it as my prop. I talked about how we go looking for a lost pet because we love it. I talked about Jesus' story of the shepherd looking for the lost sheep and how God loves us and goes looking for us.

Last night a mom of one of the three-year olds told me she was pleased to report that the children really listen in chapel (something I honestly wasn't sure actually was happening.) She took her kids to the fair and told them they had to stay close to her so they wouldn't get lost. The three-year old said, "It's OK mommy, Rev. Taylor said that if I get lost, God will come looking for me."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's Your Problem to Fix

Lunch with a friend brought me this story and the OK to share it. When the pastor arrived at the small church, the long, long time (controlling) treasurer immediately got upset with him and declared she was resigning. He said fine. He spoke to another lady in the church who agreed to take the job, then ran it through the Nominating Committee and she was elected.

The new treasurer became the target of the old treasurer. Nothing she could do was right. So finally, in frustration, she took the church books back to the old treasurer and quit. When the pastor heard, he was livid. He called the new treasurer and told her to retrieve the books and bring them to the church, the old treasurer had no authority to have them.

Sunday morning the new treasurer arrived with the books. The pastor called several leaders of the church into the office, took the books and locked them in the desk drawer. "Two treasurers have resigned," he said. "That means there won't be any checks written for bills or salaries, until you find a treasurer that all of you can support."

Within three days they had a treasurer.

Here's the beauty of that story. The pastor didn't "own" their dysfuntional structure. He was firm and clear in letting the leaders know it was their problem to fix. What he did was creative. There was some risk involved, but that risk was nothing compared to the quagmire he'd been in if he had tried to "keep everyone happy." May we all learn from his example.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zinged by a Centenarian

Yesterday afternoon I went to the nursing home to see my member who is over a 100 years old. I saw her on her 104th birthday a couple of months ago but had not visited with her since. I'd stopped by one afternoon maybe a month ago, but she was tired and I'm not sure she recognized me.

This time the little lady smiled as I walked in the door and called her name. As I said my name to her, she said, "Oh I know who you are, but I haven't seen you in awhile." So I sat and we visited. I read scripture and we prayed. Then she said in her slow, soft manner, "I like this place. They take good care of you. They bring good food here, more than you can eat. This is a good place. I like it. I like it better when you come by."

Zinged. True, she said it without any tone of manipulation. She was just stating what she was thinking. But that's what got me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't Mess With the Help

Recently I have talked with a minister and a church staff person (neither of them on my staff) who have been accosted right before the worship services. A member of the congregation pulled the person aside to complain, strongly. No questions for clarification, or suggestions, just raw ugliness expressed over the inconvenience the complainer had endured.

Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence in churches. It’s happened to members of my staff and to me, just not lately. And it is so wrong. What causes some church members to think that verbal abuse of a church staffer is acceptable preparation for worship? Inconceivable, but true. I don’t think that even a legitimate complaint should be voiced at worship time.

I have a rule for my staff members on this (which they don’t always invoke unfortunately). Whenever this happens they are to step away and say, “Stephen has a rule that all complaints are to be taken to his office. I am not supposed to listen to them.” I’ve found that most complainers are not going to go to the trouble of coming to me – it really wasn’t so important that it would be worth the extra effort. And, if they do come to me, they find that the complaint had better have substance; and they’ll have to listen to me talk about the big picture of what we’re about and how this concern fits (or doesn’t fit) in with that.

So, if you are a church member and you’re unhappy about something, make an appointment and talk to the staff member about it. If you can’t do that in a reasonable way, then pray and ask God to reveal what’s keeping you from being a decent person. Don’t mess with the hired help, especially on Sunday. In nearly every case they are just limited, mistake-prone humans trying to serve God while being overworked, under-appreciated and underpaid.

I know that a true “complainer” will never pay attention to a message like this. And while the Church has a lot more encouragers than discouragers, it only takes one or two rotten apples to make the whole bushel seem bad. So, if you ever witness such an interaction, I hereby authorize you to enter the fray and announce, “This is inappropriate, and I’m telling.” Better yet, help create such an environment of encouragement in your church that the chronic complainers will be the ones who feel uncomfortable.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Retro 70's

Leaving the hospital at the end of the day yesterday it felt like a 70's flashback as I drove home. Every gas station had long, some extremely long lines for gas. I suddenly wondered if there had been something abnormal on the news, like a terriorist attack again.

What was it? Storm panic. With Hurricane Ike headed into the refinery dense Texas gulf coast, I guess everyone expected a jump in prices, or gap in supply. I heard talk at the JV football game last night that gas prices today would be over $5.00. Customers were limited to 10 gallons of gas and some stations had already raised prices for basic unleaded by 50 cents a gallon. Apparently the panic was centered in Sumter, but did spread to Columbia by evening.

Ah, human nature. Maybe the churches should announce a potential shortage of grace.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The First 3 to 5 Minutes

"Visitors will decide in the first 3 to 5 minutes of visiting your church whether they will return."

1. Where did we pick up that bit of marketing savvy? Is it true? I've heard it several places and each time it's left me feeling doubtful. It definitely stresses the need to be warm and welcoming to new folks, and to have the place cleaned up with easy access to things (like parking, the nursery and restrooms). But has the church succumbed so completely to consumer marketing that we are entirely dependent on first impressions?

2. Many times my "first impression" of a person and place has been completely wrong. What I thought I would not like I ended up enjoying or realizing I needed. What happens if the congregation is well trained and excels at first impressions, but isn't authentic and transparent in sharing the love of God in its relationships?

3. How does the church help people transition from being "consumers shopping for a church" to being "seekers of Christ?" Is it by being warm and friendly in the first 3 to 5 minutes and feeling like the job is done?

4. What if we removed the 'open doors' tagline and required that new people be sponsored? Aside from the charge of exclusiveness, what would happen to church growth? I am a Rotarian. We don't have people just walk into our meetings; they are invited by a Rotarian. We take them to the Rotary meeting, introduce them to others, and bring them back several times before asking them to become part of our club. Rotarians balance first impressions with personal relationships.

5. Something tells me that if we truly care about other people connecting with love of Christ that is expressed in the body of Christ, the first 3 to 5 minutes will take care of themselves.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Survival Basics

During one of the convention speeches last week I started channel surfing and caught part of one of the survival programs I enjoy. I never remember the name of the guy, but he’s put out in some wilderness area and has to survive as he finds his way back to civilization. Yes, the program has to be rigged for video recording, but still I enjoy it, especially the problem solving skills used as he tries to provide for the basics of survival.

And what are those basics? Water, shelter, food and fire - that’s what I surmise, although a survivalist may add more or rearrange the list. What the program emphasizes is that if you don’t provide for the basics, the body becomes too taxed and soon the mind cannot reason correctly and you can’t respond adequately to threats.

A couple of times this week I have been with friends and church members who have gotten horrible news - information that has dropped them down right smack in the middle of a different kind of wilderness. Life cannot go on as it did, and emotionally, they are thrust into providing for the basics of survival.

And what are those basics? Well, again, here are my suggestions. What are the emotional needs that have to be attended to before reasoning begins to falter?

SECURITY. We need assurance that we and our loved ones are safe. We need a non-anxious presence that sends a beacon of calm through the fog. We need someone in whom we can trust.

ACCEPTANCE. We need assurance that we are accepted just as we are with all our brokenness, wounds, inadequacy, sin, inability, and imperfection. We need release from the fear of shame and rejection. We need someone to welcome and acknowledge us.

AFFECTION. We need to know that we are liked and that our presence is desired. We need evidence that attention will be given to our needs. We need know there is someone to care for us.

COMPASSION. We need to experience empathy from others and we need to be moved to empathy for others. Compassion acknowledges our interdependence in sadness, joy, anxiety, and laughter. We need someone with whom to share.

I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t list “love.” That word just means too many different things to people. And I feel confident that if you experience security, acceptance, affection and compassion, you’ve experienced love. What would you add to the list?

Stepping into a crisis moment as a pastor, I would love to “fix” things – make it all right for everyone. Impossible. But I can by my presence remind others of the one in whom we trust. I can demonstrate acceptance and affection. And I can give and receive compassion. With those emotional basics in place, reasoning will not become scrambled, and those in the wilderness can find their way back.

I wonder if we could gauge the effectiveness of congregations in a similar way?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Time for a haircut and I've got a decision to make. Do I keep the buzz cut or let it grow back out? Here's how I got in this situation. Right before our vacation I needed a haircut and was using my beard trimmer to just take a little off around the ears. We bald guys pay attention to what little hair we have.

Cynthia offered to use the trimmer and touch up the back of my head. Great. She took the spacer off the trimmer to clean it and when she put it back on she inadvertently set it to the lowest level - buzz cut. Then she made a swipe right up the back of my head, giving me a reverse Mohawk. Her frantic gasp is what told me something was wrong.

After trying to "patch it up," the girls finally just buzzed the rest of my head. It felt weird for several days, like I was back in the third grade. But it was also nice on vacation because I really didn't have to ever worry about combing my hair. Such a convenience does not go unnoticed with me.

So, Cynthia says she likes it, it's less trouble, and I've found that at my age a chance to feel like a third-grader isn't bad either. Where's the trimmer?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Playing to the Audience

If I were to hire an associate pastor tomorrow, should I look for one to "shore up" the weak parts of my pastoral abilities, adminstrative skills, or theology so that I can appeal to parts of my congregation that might not be so pleased with me? Or, would that be pandering to my constituency?

This analogy is not the best, but maybe it illustrates why I have never understood the "veep-stakes," - how the selection of the "right" vice presidential candidate is so crucial.

Don't get me wrong, the selection is important - I want someone selected that gives the assurance to me that the VP can fulfill the most important job description of that job - take charge if needed with a minimal interruption of the goals of the administration. Also, the quality of the person chosen and the manner of the selection reveals a lot about how the presidential candidate will exercise leadership.

But, those things aside, the blatant catering to our supposed interests and concerns just irritates me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The August Report

OK, who stole August? While I was busy, someone sneaked in and took it. To those who check my blog occasionally, I apologize for the dreary picture of Solzhenitsyn greeting you there for nearly a month!

We did fit in a family vacation - another Taylor adventure for sure with the four of us finding our way around Puerto Rico for a week. Basically stayed in a lovely little beach town called Loquillo where the excitement of the day was playing a Scrabble-like game called Bananagram In other words we sat on the beach or sat in the shade and chilled for several days.

But it wasn't all fun and games. We had to explore a little, which meant hiking to the waterfalls in the rain forest there, and wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of old San Juan. Actually I think what the girls enjoyed was wandering in and out of all the shops.

Then it was back to the rush of things and the laptop has only been used for emails. That is, up until two days ago. That's when my high school senior (hey, how did that happen!) sat down and set me up a Facebook account. I now have social networking identity - I must be a virtually real person. Right now just figuring out the friend connections, so if you Facebook, don't expect a lot of postings from me. Besides, first got to get this blog rolling along again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Icon of Hope

The death this week of Alexander Solzhenitsyn brought to mind teenage memories. For me, he was an early icon of resistance and courage, of human will rising above circumstance. My only access to his world was through his book, the Gulag Archipelago, which described the harsh injustices of the Stalin-era labor camps and secret prisons that stretched across Russia like a string of "islands" (the archipelago).

As ponderous as the book was, I could not stop reading it. Why it captured my imagination so at that age I am not sure now. I sure that the "mystery" status of the Soviet Union in the 1970's was part of it. This was long before Reagan labeled Russia "the evil empire," but the threat of our nuclear enemy was very public - even in small town South Carolina. Plus the theme of resistance against oppressive structures, especially at personal risk, is one that just naturally fits with the teen mindset. The frequent struggle then is "What cause will I take up? or What significance will my life make?" Well, I really don't know whether others have those questions, but I do remember a feeling of standing in the doorway to the "world" and wondering which way to go, and, would I find a path.

While in the gulag (prison) Solzhenitsyn wrote portions of his book in his mind, and memorized what he "wrote," so that 1) written evidence would not be found, and 2) he would have it for later publication. That still amazes me, not simply for the mental ability it reveals, but more so for the hope, trust, yes even "faith" in the future it evidences. Why commit to such mental toil unless you truly believe that one day you will be free, and you will be heard?

Survival depends on the evidence of things unseen, a hope or faith that one day there will be a "reversal." Jesus brought such hope to the powerless of Palestine, the cast-offs of society who were forever on the receiving end of exploitation. His first sermon in Nazareth of fulfilling the "day of the Lord" was an announcement of reversals his hearers could not yet see. Some believed in hope, others refused it for fear of what they would lose.

In my teen years I had first-hand evidence of hope and of resistance to reversals. My father was sent as a superintendent of public schools to the small town we lived with the task of integrating the school system. We were not welcomed there, especially when the community leaders realized my dad believed in respect to everyone and fairness for all, regardless of one's race or status. Yet Dad succeeded in his task, I believe because he had such a strong personal faith - a conviction that "right" could and would prevail. Some day I may blog a story or two of that struggle, but for now it is enough to say that a single individual, possessed with a firm faith, can be the catalyst that transforms individuals, structures, and the world.

Farewell Solzhenitsyn, and thank you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Quite a discuss in class over whether a pastor should accept an honorarium for conducting a funeral. Everyone seemed to have no problem with accepting one for a wedding, but it was a split decision on funerals.

One said that we shouldn't and that it was prohibited by our rules. The subject isn't in the Book of Discipline. We have only two official guidelines. One is the following statement that appears in the rubrics (instructions) to the service of Death and Resurrection in the Book of Worship: "Traditionally pastors have not accepted an honorarium for this service when the deceased was a member of the church." The second is the statement in the guideline on Accountable Reinbursement Accounts: If the pastor receives an honorarium for a funeral, then the mileage incurred in doing the funeral should not be turned in as an expense.

So, if asked what you should be given for doing the service, you reply, "Nothing, it is part of my ministry." But what do you do if three weeks later a Thank you card arrives in the mail and inside is a check ot a gift card to a resturant in appreciation for your services? Or as happens in many rural settings, the family brings by farm products as a sign of their gratitude?

I realize some churches have this issue spelled out in their policies, but most churches don't have policies regarding funerals. So what's ethical and what is proper? I think the right way to handle it is do every funeral without any expectation of a gift. If asked what is to be given or paid, you reply as mentioned above, Nothing, it is part of my ministry. But if someone brings or sends a gift, you accept it graciously, and thank them. I have found that using such gifts to bless others is a great way of "paying it forward."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Change in Focus

I have been blessed over the past several years to have a significant part of my ministry to be focused on teaching and mentoring other pastors at the beginning of their ministries. I have cherished the relationships that have come out this and have grown in working with them. This focus has primarily come from teaching in the Course of Study at Emory during the summer and as Director of the Residency program for our Conference's Board of Ministry.

I am at Emory now, finishing up the second week of classes on Worship and the Sacraments, and have finally resolved that I will not return next summer. There is a change in the scheduling in the works which would mean I would be teaching earlier in the summer. Rather than change some things on my calendar I will take this opportunity to let someone else enjoy what I've been doing. After five years though, the letting go is not easy.

Furthermore, I have made plans to work with a colleague this year in leading the Residency program, with the plans of turning it all over to her at the end of the year. It is time for fresh leadership for that program and I need to step out of the way.

Wish I could say what it is brewing inside me that tells me these are right actions. In spite of the wavering feelings about letting go, I believe God will bring my interests into a new focus. (Sometimes when you are trying to focus a camera, things get fuzzy before they become clear.)Hopefully, many of the friendships made on this journey will continue to bless me even as changes in my involvements occur. There now, it's on my blog - it must be real.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

So this is Home

Haven't posted in a while. Have thought of things to write, but being on the road and with other stuff to do, just didn't get around to it. Have been at Emory, teaching at the Course of Study again. Great class. We're having a lot of laughs as we look at Worship and the Sacraments.

Got home last night and today moved the last stuff from the old parsonage, mainly plants and outdoor stuff. That's it. It was a good place to live and many things about it, especially the neighborhood, I will miss. So I guess this new place is home, for the time being. I started to write, "being a Methodist minister" it's only temporary, but truth is, it's temporary simply because I'm human.

The good news it that in this depressed housing market we have a buyer for the old parsonage. I was afraid it might stay on the market for months, like many other homes in the old historic district. But someone else will make it their home on August 1st. Would love to go back and see if they can figure a different way to arrange the furniture in that den.

Preached a couple of times this past week in the Cannon Chapel. For one of the services I wrote a "Prayer for our Bodies." The different stanzas were read by different persons throughout the congregation. I'm posting in on my Checked Baggage blog in case anyone is interested - you can link to it here.

Another week of lectures and grading papers ahead and then finally the special events and conferences are over for this year. We do have a week of vacation coming up early August - one I am definitely looking forward to. We planned it out of the country (Puerto Rico) so we can just sit on the beach, read, play Scrabble, sleep, and do nothing for a whole week, without any way to come back for a funeral or whatever!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

There Is An Election

We heard those historic words with the report of the ballot at the beginning of our Conference session this morning. The Rev. Paul Leland of North Carolina was elected and we have an excellent new bishop for the church.

The South Carolina delegation met at the break and Tim McClendon offered a gracious, beautiful thank you to the delegation members for their support of his nomination. Indeed, that has been one of the good results of this process. Our delegation worked together well, and we have not always done that. If circumstances allow, Tim will have an excellent oppportunity for election in four years. I am proud of the way he presented himself, and represented our Conference.

The rest of our Conference will be somewhat anti-climatic. At least we are here where we can enjoy some of the beauty of the Lake. And fortunately there's a wireless network so we can keep up with what's happening in the other Jurisdictions.

Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference

The SEJ officially opened yesterday morning with Holy Communion. Then there were organizational actions and then a long service of prayers, silence and discernment. Finally we took the first ballot right before lunch. Before the day ended we'd heard back from 5 ballots and took a sixth before adjourning for the night.

The front runner for the one episcopal slot is Paul Leland of North Carolina. South Carolina's nominee, Tim McClendon, has been in second place on each ballot. Now the ones receiving only a few votes are starting to bow out. That could mean big shifts in votes, or it could bring an election pretty quickly.

We spent Tuesday hearing from all the nominees and having time for the delegations to individually interview them. But once the Conference and voting begins it is just up to how individuals choose to vote, or move their vote. Several people ask me, "How is such and such a conference delegation voting?" or "Who is that conference supporting?" No one knows the answer to such questions. Even if noted leaders of delegations say they want to support a particular person, each delegate has their own private vote.

There's been some questions raised by one of The Methoblog bloggers about the amount of politics involved and especially the use of web sites for nominees. Actually, I think we have a good balance of getting information about candidates out, but also entering a covenant that self-restricts our political maneuverings. We could always use more information about the nominees, but what our process provides can help a delegate discern leadership, if the delegate is willing to put the time in to pay attention and read the information provided.

We also have to deal with a thorny issue with the reorganization plan for the SEJ Adminstration and ministries. The idea is for each agency to become self-supporting. That may be fine for those agencies that can generate income (such as the Lake Assembly), but I wonder what will happen to the great Youth Ministry of the SEJ, or the Native American ministry SEJANAM, for example?

Even if we elect a bishop today, the Conference will continue through Saturday's Consecration Service. That's OK, I brought work and reading to catch up on, and this is a beautiful place.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lake Junaluska

As we drove into Lake Junaluska, NC late last night I couldn't remember when I was here last. It seems as though its been a couple of years. My summer commitment to teach at Emory COS keeps me from taking advantage of the SC Laity Convocation and Minister's Week or other good offerings up here. I didn't realize how much I'd missed being here.

Early this morning I walked down to the cross overlooking the lake and distant mountains. (We're staying on the hill at Lambuth Inn.) It was peaceful, though from my perspective there is a sense of expectation. Most of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference delegates will be arriving today. We have opportunity to hear the six nominees for bishop this afternoon, and then the Conference, and voting, starts tomorrow morning.

My daughter Kelsey was trying to explain to a friend where she was headed for the week. She said, "It's a hidden valley in the mountains of North Carolina, with a pretty lake, a couple of hotels, a bunch of retired Methodist pastors, an 11 PM noise curfew, and nothing else around." Teenages do have a different view of things.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Brain is Non-functioning

Sometime last week during the move, my brain ceased to function. I realize that many of my "friends" will immediately respond, "So, how could you tell?" But actually I'm not talking about the one encased in my skull. No, it's more important than that. My brain is my PDA, a Tungsten E2.

My congregation has learned that I depend on the PDA to be my memory. When someone gives me a date for something I've even had them say to me, "Let me see you write it into your PDA, so I'll know you won't forget it."

It took missing during the move and last Friday I located it in my car beside the passenger seat. It wouldn't turn on. I figured it needed charging and so went on a charger hunt. That found, it charged for two days, and still nothing. I did the reset, still nothing. I kicked the tires, still nothing. Charged it again, just in case - nada. I threw it against the wall, still nothing.

And of course, I had not backed it up on my computer in about four months! This one is less than a year old and if I can find the papers on the purchase, maybe it still has a warranty. I love all the technology - when it works! On top of this, the keys on my cellphone have become contrary. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't (too much text messaging has worn them out, my daughter says). So, I'm wondering, is all this a sign from God that I should finally give in and get a crackberry?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Passover in 3D

I am doing a summer sermon series on atonement theories, but, of course, I'm not calling it that. I set it up with the question, "How does the death of Christ bring us salvation?" and am using texts from the Hebrew Bible as motifs relating to various explanations.

Today the text I used was Exodus 12, the story of the 10th plague, the Passover. This was the basis for the "ransom theory," Christ paying the price to set us free from our bondage and slavery to sin. I could easily tell the story of Exodus 12 because it was ingrained in me when I was a child of only five years old.

The details of the occasion are fuzzy, but I know that I was sick for several days, as was my older brother. He had to stay home from school. I think we had the measles, but what we had was not as important as what happened.

My mother kept two sick boys entertained by making us recreate the story of the Exodus. We unfolded the sofa bed and there with plastic army men, we established Pharaoh's army and the Hebrew people. We made our way through the plagues, often using sound effects for the things we didn't have: flies, locusts, thunder and hail, etc.

There on the sofa mattress world, the Hebrew people finally escaped the brown blanket of Egypt, but were hemmed in by the blue blanket of the Red Sea. Amazingly, that blanket parted and the Hebrews crossed over on dry mattress to the wilderness.

I don't remember all that we did to create the story, but cotton balls substituted for the cloud of God's presence leading the Hebrews by day, and I do remember striking matches to represent the fiery presence by night. And for scholars who have wondered for years exactly what manna was, I can tell you - manna is crumbled saltine crackers!

These are pleasant memories from a period of sickness a long time ago. They tell the story of a mom who was loving and caring for her boys while wanting to teach them what she values most, God's Word. I just glad she didn't have a Veggie Tale video to make us watch back then. I probably wouldn't have remembered that at all.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Were You Been Taylor?

I am too tired to do any more packing or work tonight. I realize I haven't posted in a while. So, this is just a mindless update. The movers come early Tuesday morning, and Cynthia leaves tomorrow for a three day meeting at Emory. She has such timing! But she's gotten most of the kitchen stuff done, and yes, a lot of other stuff (that's in case she reads this).

We pack differently. She goes through the items, discards what we haven't used in a while and makes a pile for give-away. I just pile stuff in boxes and haul it over to the new house. I'll have to sort through my stuff as I unpack it. She's a lot smarter than me, but of course that isn't anything new.

The new house the church bought is beautiful and it is going to make a very nice parsonage. Tuesday is also when they recarpet my office at the church. So, most all of my office stuff is sitting in the back of the chapel or out in the hall. I just keep reminding myself that soon we will get settled again.

Went to a nice church dinner at Cynthia's new church today. Met a lot of her members. It seems they are a congregation that likes to have fun together, which is probably a lethal combination with Cynthia's sense of humor.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at our last Conference delegation meeting, preparing for the upcoming Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. That will take place in a couple of weeks at Lake Junaluska. The big issue is the election of a new bishop. We feel Tim McClendon has an excellent chance of being elected, but who knows how the voting will go until the first ballot results are announced. As a politician once told me, "Not everyone who says they voted for you actually did so." Tim would be a great bishop if elected and I hope others see in him the qualities that led us to nominate him.

In the midst of all this craziness of life, little kindnesses are such energy boosters. I came in tonight and dear member had dropped off sandwiches for us to eat while packing, and another had made my favorite pecan biscotti to munch on. Blessed? Why yes, yes I am.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tired of Green

I finally took some time last night and caught up on blog reading. Seems a lot of other bloggers are busy as well, either with moving or trips or whatever, and so the posts are sporadic. The exception of course is my brother Tom at Random Connections, who keeps way too much going on.

I added three new links to my blog list. Balance, by fellow UM pastor Steve Patterson, is a beautifully done blog that I enjoy checking in on. Steve's blog is just in a whole other class. Ray Reavis is a computer guru and great guy who's dealing with this whole ministry thing. And Syd Smith at Sunny Words 4 Shady People is a wonderful friend, who knows all things music, nearly always has an interesting opinion on things, and has decided to try blogging. I hope he'll stick with it and find his rhythm.

I keep thinking I'll get around to changing my site, updating it with a new picture and header. I'm starting to get tired of the green format. Maybe I'll go with sunshine yellow, which is the color my daughter chose for her new bedroom! August 1 is the first anniversary of this site, so maybe by then I can figure out how to make format changes and put together something new and "refreshing."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

When life is a mess, and more.

With all that's going on right now - a busy time with our Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry, construction at the church, our Capital Campaign wrapping up, and preparing a new parsonage for moving in and the present one for selling - I walked into my office this morning to find the carpet saturated with oily water! A pipe had not been properly capped off during the replacement of the HVAC plumbing.

Not only that, when the line blew, the water shot up the wall and sprayed all over notebooks and files I had set on a small table to organize by projects. This included a historic album the Archives Committee had brought me to look at! Nothing to do but to call for help, move the furniture into the hall, start wiping up the mess, and send for a water vacuum. Our new secretary said she was impressed that she didn't hear any expletives during all this!

I had thought my church office would be my "sanctuary" of stability during all this moving business. So much for my plans! Today I'll try to sort the essentials into a working cubby until the Trustees get the walls washed down and the carpet replaced. I guess you really can't organize disaster. When life is a mess, you live through it.

Speaking of things in upheaval, this is moving day for pastors in our conference. My prayers today are for these pastors and the churches involved. That group includes my wife, but thankfully, not me. Yet when I got in last night from a late meeting her somber mood reminded me of the difficulty of saying goodby to people you love and with whom you have shared life and ministry. It is tough, and you don't have time to catch your breath, much less grieve. The next day there's a new congregation waiting to greet you.

Next year our Conference moving date will move to the last Wednesday of the month of June, further extending the "lame duck" period. Wish there was a way we could designate the week just before moving as "off duty" for those involved in a move. We could use our Retired Pastors and Lay Speakers to fill the pulpit that last Sunday and handle pastoral emergencies and visits during that week. Better yet, it wouldn't count as vacation.

Moving pastors could use the week as they choose, packing, family time, leisure activities, or whatever would help them make the transition from one flock to another. Perhaps some of the time could be spent in prayer and reflection on the ministry coming to an end, and assessing how to take the lessons learned into the new setting. Time perhaps for cleaning up some of the mess, before living into another one?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Passing the Baton

Had supper with a friend who is changing jobs, a good thing for him. In our conversation we talked about the things he'd accomplished and the things he wished he'd accomplished, and I shared the same with him. Then he said something that maybe isn't new, but still was so appropriate to his situation, and, I thought, to the many ministers who are moving to new appointments this time of year.

He said that when he worked in Child Protective Services the analogy they frequently used was the "passing of the baton." When the baton (the child, the job, the congregation, whatever) comes to you, you run the race the best you can. Then you focus on making a good transfer to the next person and you let go of it. That baton is no longer yours to carry and if you try to hold on to it, the next person will get no where with it.

I pray that there won't be any dropped batons in the transfers made this summer. May those moving trust God as they let go. Besides, another "baton" will quickly be coming your way.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dare To Change The World

We have been at the SC Annual Conference this week and the theme for the Conference is Dare To Change The World. Yesterday was our Day of Service and the delegates dispursed throughout the Florence area to do mission projects.

I gave blood, then helped some with the sorting and distribution of the school supplies and hygiene kits. There were a lot of supplies collected by the churches and sent to the Conference this year. The first picture is of some of the supplies before sorting. The second picture is of Bishop Taylor visiting with a lady while volunteers worked on cleaning her yard.

It has been a quiet Conference for me. Good to see friends. The ordination service is always special, and the preaching has been very good. Here on the last day a lot of business will be conducted, but hopefully it will all run smoothly. Then it's home to packing for a lot of ministers.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

An 80 Percenter way of life

Not long ago I came across a quote by Yvon Chouinard that I think resonates well with those of us who have perfectionistic tendencies, you know, that persistent urge to keep pressing on until it's "just right." It's the 80 Percent Rule (hat tip to Thommy Browne at Artifacts)

“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself
passionately into a sport or activity until I reach an 80 percent proficiency
level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that
doesn’t appeal to me.”

I think the 80 percent rule has a lot of application in ministry. The various skill groups demanded of a pastor require proficiency but because there are so many, it hinders mastery. And we just have to accept the fact that doing the job well calls for being an 80 Percenter.

And it isn't just skills, it also applies to particular projects and expectations. In a day when we have created appetities for "the best" (the best graphics and media, the best sound on our ipods and boise headphones, the best bodies, teeth, and hair, the best in education, and the best in what the church can offer, etc. etc.) is there still a place for the "good enough?"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why the Media Didn't Show

The other day the local paper ran a feature article about my daughter and I attending General Conference. In commenting about it, several people (good Methodists, and some other good Christians) have complained that they didn't see anything about the Conference in the news. Ususally, they said, the state paper has an article, but this time nothing.

In a recent post Larry Hollon, Gen. Sec. of United Meth. Communications, might have the answer. His entire post gives good cause for thinking about the quality of news we receive on a regular basis.

The bipolar template of conflict that is applied to many stories from politics to religion and much in-between, creates its own filter and outcome. I believe it manufactures the news in a way that is detrimental to those who are covered.
In this instance the fact that a 13-million member religious community pledged to join a global partnership to end a killer disease (malaria) and raise $100 million to contribute to the effort was not news. In the scheme of things a protracted disagreement over human sexuality, a disagreement that is now more than a decade old, was still “newsworthy” because it involved conflict.

It’s tiresome. Journalism has fallen into a predictable track and when it heads down this particular track it’s increasingly irrelevant. There is nothing new to say about the debate over sexuality, at least nothing new has been said that I’ve heard. So making conflict the rationale for covering an event of this magnitude and ignoring the wide range of concerns of this number of people seems remarkably out of touch.

Overall, Hollon said that with the incompetence of the way mainstream media covers religion, he wasn't disappointed they didn't show up in Fort Worth.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Polka Dots It Will Be

This afternoon I spoke with one of my elderly members who had surgery today to amputate part of her leg. She's suffered for months with pain and has been in and out of the hospital with circulation problems. Now with the source of the problem removed, her health should improve.

She looked at me as I seated myself beside her bed and said, "Stephen, I've made a critical decision."

"Yes ma'am," I replied, using the manners my momma taught me, and wondering what other critical decision she'd had to make after deciding to have the surgery. "What have you decided?"

"I've decided I want polka-dots on my peg-leg."

Then polka-dots it will be!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Getting Ready to Move

Several of my friends (on line and in real life), as well as my wife, are expected to move to new appointments this year. Since I don’t have to move, I’m in the perfect position to give unsolicited advice on leaving an appointment. The only problem here is that someone will direct me to my own words when my moving day appears. Even so, I can’t resist.

There is often unacknowledged temptation to be the super-pastor, hard at work up to the minute the moving van pulls off. Totally Unrealistic, and Inappropriate! Once the announcement is out that you are moving, you’ve basically “left” in the minds of the people. That’s normal, and healthy, as they begin to disengage from your leadership. That disengagement prepares them to more readily engage the new leadership when she/he arrives. So don’t disrupt it. You might dislike the teasing of being a “lame-duck” pastor, but realize that the lame-duck status is necessary and right. Accept the new status as a mandate to giving time to cleaning out files and books and “stuff,” and giving good attention to your own family members. That said, here are my three simple rules for moving from an appointment.

1. Let go what you’ve left undone.
This is often the hardest thing to do. We all have things in our ministry that we didn't really get to, or only partially got done. There are people we still feel the need to visit or counsel. Leave all of these as they presently are – undone, and definitely do not propose or start anything new! Your work is finished there, except for a few acts of closure and celebration. Trust God to care for those who need caring for and to carry the church through the transition. Let go of it. Your ministry in this place, as all ministry, will be incomplete. Draw a line in the sand and give your attention to a good transition.

2. Say goodbye with gratitude, but without promises.
Every pastor has a few people they tend to grow closer to than the rest of the congregation. Maybe you’ve been through difficult times with them, or you just “connected” as friends. Make a short list of these and make a way to say goodbye. Let there be gratitude for the journey shared, but avoid any promises that suggest you can continue to be a pastor to them. Tell the ones you leave that their new relationship to you as “friend” will not be the same as the one they’ve had to you as their “pastor friend.” Whoever your successor is, speak positively of him/her, and encourage the people to make the new pastor feel welcomed and loved as they have done so for you. And don’t overlook staff members in this process.

3. Don’t assume the transition will be good, make it good.
Get your sermons and worship notes for the first six weeks already lined up. You know you will have to write introductory articles for either a bulletin or newsletter. Go ahead and prepare them. And keep a couple of your decent funeral messages on hand. Free yourself from tasks you can expect so you can focus on settling in, and on putting your energies into meeting the new people.
Leave behind “descriptive” (as opposed to “advisory”) notes about things your successor will need to know, as well as an up-dated membership list, a list of shut-in’s and current critical care needs, positive words about people, job descriptions, the name of a trustworthy car mechanic, a list of your favorite restaurants, and, a written prayer for God’s blessing on her/his ministry. And finally, God’s already way out ahead of you and you’re already playing catch-up, so don’t go back.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dancing with God

A visitor at one of our worship services this morning blew me away with her comments about the sermon. I had just I preached about dancing with God. The sermon used the metaphor of dance to describe the relationship God desires with us. Part of my emphasis was to provide a balance to the popular “purpose-driven” attitude toward life. I said, “God doesn’t need us to achieve anything with all our purposeful behavior, but God did create us for relationship. One way to look at it is to say, God wants to dance the divine dance of creation, life, love, and joy with us.”

My closing illustration was one borrowed from Max Lucado, who tells of a man who bought a book about dancing so he could impress his wife. He worked on the steps and then invited her into the room to see what he’d learned. She watched as he held the book, reading aloud each instruction, and mimicking them with his movements. When he finished, she just looked at him. Instead of affirming him she said, “You’re missing something critical.”

She took the book from him, put some music on, took his hands in hers, and encouraged him to sway to the music with her. Soon they began to move about the room together, not counting steps, but dancing. I encouraged the congregation to begin to sway to the rhythm of God’s Spirit, who transforms our own labored lives into a movement of love.

The visitor spoke to me with a beautiful British accent and told me she loved the sermon. “My husband was a professional dancer,” she said. “I didn’t dance, but he insisted on teaching me. But, I would only dance with him. When he was sick, he would still look at me and say, ‘Dance with me.’ So I would help him into his wheelchair and I’d take his hands and we would dance around the room.” She paused, and finished, “Thank you, that was a most wonderful sermon.”

As strange as it may seem, there is a time to learn your sermon was meant for the stranger passing through, and a time to find healing in remembrance - there is a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Too Many Houses

I don't own a home, but right now I have too many houses on my hands. The Trinity Trustees, after a review of the parsonage earlier this year, decided it was time to buy a newer one. After a special Charge Conference last night, things are moving ahead on the purchase of a beautiful home in a new subdivision.

That means we need to get this home ready for sale, but that's not as simple as it would have been a few weeks ago. Since my wife is changing appointments this year, we have been moving some personal things out of the parsonage at her church so that they can repaint the place and put in new carpeting. The things we moved out we just brought to this parsonage. Now they have to go somewhere else so the Realtors can come in and take photos for the listing. Oh boy.

On top of this, I have two homes to deal with through the Aldersgate Ministry, our ministry for adults with developmental disabilities. One home, in Orangeburg, is completed. So we are working on getting the furniture in and hiring a management group so the four men selected for that home can move in. The other home, in Columbia, is still under construction, and I just learned the contractors put the wrong kind of sprinkler system in it. It has to have a commercial system in the home, so I've got to get that straightened out. This will probably put a 4 to 6 week delay in our plans to open that home, to the dismay of the six women residents greatly anticipating the day they can move in.

It's all nearly enough to drive me crazy, but how can I complain? The church is making sure they have a wonderful home for their minister, we are nearing our ministry goals of providing semi-independent living for adults with developmental disabilities, and my wife no longer has to worry with a parsonage that she only used as a church office. In addition I am aware that so many in our world are homeless.

In the midst of this I recall (with romantic idealism) that when a scribe wanted to follow Jesus, Jesus turned him back saying, "The birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head." (Mt 8) Yes, it is a different world, and it will all get resolved in a couple of months, but right now its just odd to have too many houses on my hands.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Interesting Thing Happened on the Way to Communion

This past Sunday we celebrated Holy Communion at Trinity. It is usually the first Sunday of the month, but since I was away then, it was moved to Mother's Day. However, Sunday morning I was sick. Didn't know exactly what had hit me, but it felt like a flu or something. I went on to church and at the early service asked my Dir Christian Education, Johannah, to assist with communion. I told her I would do the eucharistic prayer, but that she would handle the elements, and would then help distribute them with the other servers.

When it came time in the service for Communion, we both went to the Table. She stood behind it where I usually do, and I stood to the side. Right as we started and I motioned for her to unwrap the bread and fill the chalice, a clap of thunder resonated over the sanctuary. Needless to say, it had been raining here all morning, but that was the one and only instance of thunder we heard.

Johannah looked at me and asked, "I'm not going to get struck with lightening, am I?" I took a step away from her and said, "I don't think so."

Anyway, the service finished without incident, and at the second service I had our retired minister celebrate the communion. But what timing...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

All together in one place

When the Day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. What does that tell us? It tells us that they weren't scattered about, each doing their own thing.

Peter didn't have his group of followers, as opposed to Matthew having his. Thomas hadn't started Doubters Anonymous, and James and John hadn't yet created the five simple steps to sitting at the right hand of Jesus. They were all together, in one place, and the spirit of God moved upon them.

We are so caught up in the culture of American individualism that we have a difficult time grasping the significance of how the day of Pentecost began. Before there was a rushing sound, before there were tongues of fire and languages, and before Peter's powerful sermon was given and converts were made, the people were together, in one place, in one prayer.

We have a harder time being present to one another than being present to God - but can we truly be present to God if we are not present to one another?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Holy Living

Reading in my devotional guide this morning I came across these words from I, Francis by Carlo Carretto, words that I thought provide a good transition from the heavy blogging and business of General Conference to the living of faith in our places with fellow disciples.
You have more wealth than before, and you talk more of poverty. You are middle class and you play "poor Church." You talk more of community, and you live more isolated, more divorced, from one another.

Now would you care to know why I am not inclined to give you a "tough talking-to?" Because you are the tough ones, not I. All one has to do is to listen to you when you gather together. It is a terrible thing, how hard, unyielding, and radical you are.

What a pity that this harness, this radicalism, is always directed against others, and never against youselves. One would say that your great passion is to convert others! And I, Francis, tell you, aim at your own conversions. You will see that you understand things better.

My brother and sisters,
be holy, and the world will appear to you as holy.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

GC Prognostications Revisited

A couple of days before leaving for GC, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post predicting the outcome on several GC issues. So I thought I'd look back at my Prognostications and see how I did.

Global church and Regionalism
Right on this one, it passed, and what it holds for us we'll have to see. Score 1.

Judicial Council Elections
As predicted Boyette and Daffin did not get re-elected, but was wrong in thinking the Renew coalition would muster the votes for more conservative seats. Score 1/2 point.

Ministry Study
A) Full Deacons did get sacramental priviledge, when needed for a specific ministry location and approved by the Bishop. Score 1.
B) Local Pastors' sacramental priviledges were not limited. Score 0.
C) No changes in ordination (at least not at this GC). Score 1.
D) Residency changed from 3 years to 2 years. Score 1.
E) Voting rights for LP's after Course of Study and two years - exactly. Score 1
F) Guaranteed appointments changed by giving the bishop more options, including suspension and involuntary leave of absence, for those not demonstrating continuing effectiveness. Score 1/2
G) and yes, there is another Study commission on ministry. Score 1.

Mission Statement
We added the phrase for the transformation of the world as predicted. At least we left the Jesus Christ in, as in making disciples of Jesus Christ (!) Score 1/2

I'll give myself a 1/4 point. The projected $642 million budget remained at that level, even though we added several million in non-budgeted expense. GC Finance and Administration made the agencies absorb the increases.

We did pass more resolutions, but none about Grandma's Chicken Soup. 1/4 point.

The worship WAS great. By the third day someone stole the cushion out of my chair and replaced it with a piece of concrete that looked exactly like the cushion, so the seats WERE uncomfortable. The food was tolerable, the friends were great, and yes, we blogged this GC!

Nine points out of a possible twelve! 75% - if only I'd done that well with my March madness basketball bracket!