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.