Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Different Kind of Eye

I learned through my own cousins that Cousin Willie was in town. At age 9, I was the youngest of the gaggle of Taylor kids that played in the yard after church. When church ended, there wasn’t the rush to get to a meal. While our parents visited with one another, we played chase, with the church sign being base. And we had our talk as well.

With large families of relatives living nearby, there were more cousins than I could keep up with. But Cousin Willie was one I hadn’t heard about before. Ronnie, Uncle Joe’s son, whispered the initial report to us. Now Uncle Joe, my dad’s brother, was the one who kept us many evenings on the porch wide-eyed with stories about people and strange events - like the woman who woke up from a coma after they’d laid her out for the funeral wake. Uncle Joe straddled the border between our secure domestic lives, and the strange, shady, and dangerous world beyond our parent’s control. So if Ronnie’s report had come from Uncle Joe, I was listening, and already believing.

I heard that Cousin Willie was a hobo. The son of my Great Aunt Ida, he’d run away as a teenager to live life riding the rails. The story was that he survived day to day, seeing the country from a boxcar. His hobo days came to an end however, when he got his foot tangled in a coupling one day, and in a battle with the train for his life, lost his foot. Then Ronnie leaned in to tell us in confidence, “And he’s got a glass eye. He lost his real eye in a knife fight.”

The next Saturday Uncle Joe was bringing Willie out to our little farm for a visit. From all I’d heard, I was somewhat fearful, but also fascinated. In my mind I saw a big, muscular, rough looking guy, with scars and maybe a tattoo, limping on his artificial leg, and staring you down with the “evil eye.” A nine-year-olds mind can be fairly creative.

What I actually saw that Saturday was a old, tall, gaunt man, with a gentle demeanor. He spoke softly and talked with my parents about people I didn’t know. He even talked religion, a familiar topic with my folks. I sat on the brick hearth across the room from him, staring at his eyes, and wondering when and how he took the glass one out to clean it. It would be years before I’d realize that I was the one with the faulty eyes, not Willie.

Cousin Willie didn’t turn out to be the fearful marauder I had imagined. He was just a man, a relative, who still needed family as much as any of us. And I was getting an early lesson on seeing people for who they are – beyond the gossip, behind the stereotypes, and beneath the masks. It’s a lesson I keep learning – we are each fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who calls us God’s own children – if we but have the eyes to see.

The stories of Jesus have this in common, he saw people not only for who they were, but also for who God intended them to be. He saw beyond their faults, behind their failures, and beneath their fears. He saw them with eyes of love, and that alone brought hope and transformation.

God, keep us from having “glassy” eyes. Eyes that appear to see, but that really comprehend nothing. God, give us your eyes to see your children in our world. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Authentic Gothic

Yesterday at church we had a great day of welcoming guests, receiving new members, and sharing a church meal. It was also the first time most had seen the changes in the chapel. Some of our long-time members have been upset over the plan to use chairs instead of pews. I understand their grief and in some cases, anger. But I had to chuckle yesterday after talking with one of our resident architects, who was part of the team that designed the facility back in the 1960's.

He said one lady complained to him that removing the pews destroyed the "gothic integrity" of our sanctuary and chapel. But he replied, "You know, gothic churches never had pews. They used chairs."

Ministry Study

Yesterday we had a delegation meeting for those elected from South Carolina to attend next year's General Conference. Part of our discussion was the final report from our church's General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. In my very first post I wrote about their initial report and potential changes they proposed to the way we order ministry. The gist of GBHEM's final report was the recommendation that GC appoint another study commission for the upcoming four years to continue the work!

Still, the direction they propose includes some major changes: moving ordination to an earlier point in the process of the ministry journey, and separating ordination from full membership in the covenant connection of ministers. Though they suggest four more years of discussion, I wouldn't be surprised to see petitions at this GC relating to these same proposals.

I do like the idea of streamlining our process as much as we can. I like the idea of changing the nomenclature of the "probationary" years to "Residency." And basically I think the idea to move ordination earlier, (which would drastically reduce the number of LP's by making them Elders in Provisional Membership), along with not giving Local Pastors the authority to administer sacraments (except under extreme conditions by the authority of the Bishop), is a good recommendation - I just don't see how it would work out. So maybe it does call for more study and discussion. I hope to hear how others think about this.

Friday, August 24, 2007

CoachNet 101

As part of our Conferences' emphasis on congregational development, I have been asked along with several others, to become certified as a Life Coach. Since the Conference is willing to pay for it, and it sounds like something I'd like (and definitely could become better at), I agreed.

Today I started the process with a coaching session via phone and computer with my coach from Seattle. Part of the session was an introduction to the CoachNet website and so I thought, "Oh boy, here's the pitch to invest in their products." But I reserved judgment and I'm glad I did. The site does provide products, but a good part of it is set up as a tool for conversation and tracking the coaching process.

Reserving judgment, not jumping to conclusions, staying neutral during assessment - all that is an important part of coaching. And it's difficult to do on a consistent basis. I like to figure things, and people, out. Guess that's one reason I have a degree in psychology and it's probably part of a middle-child profile. But I suppose most of us rush to conclusions on limited information, and with the "answer" we essentially quit listening, or probing for more significant information. So much conflict, and prejudice, can be traced to this.

How can we know a person with just a few conversations? How can we remain open to the uniqueness of each individual, or situation? If this process can help me become better at this, it will be worth it. And there is a stream of grace in this as well.

How many times have I rushed to a conclusion about myself - I'm stupid or inadequate - and in effect shut off the process of growth? Holding off judging myself, as a failure or a success, simply means there's more living to be done. It isn't the score at halftime that ultimately counts.

And the grace is that the final assessment is done by a loving God, One who has called us "beloved children." The One who made us, knows our ways, and has gone to the extreme to forgive us, is the One who gives worth to this mixed bag of stuff I call me. I have to remember that when others label me good or bad, that they aren't God, and neither am I.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Chapel Talk

There's a lot of chapel talk in our church right now, and I don't mean prayer. Several of the long time members have become quite upset to see their beautiful chapel without the pews. And since the information about what the plans are for the chapel has been slow getting out, they've done what humans always do, fill in the blank spaces with their own assumptions.

So I've spent a lot of time over the past three days talking with "concerned" people. In the first place, I'm glad they're concerned. That means they are passionate about their church, even if we disagree on the particulars. But it is tiring, especially with all the work going into our big Welcome Sunday.

Overall, as I've explained the possibilities of use, clarified that we are changing the seating but not "doing away" with the chapel, and assured them that if none of this works out in several months, our architect has said the pew seating can be restored to its former glory, the folk have generally offered to be patient and see how it works out - even though they pointedly let me know they don't like the beauty of their chapel compromised.

Change is difficult and exhausting. It is surprising however, and encouraging to see the excitement on a lot of faces as we talk about the kinds of worship services we can hold in the chapel. Even if the pews eventually go back in, the controversy will have at least gotten people thinking about how and whether the chapel is being used, and hopefully considering how they could be using it for outreach. As long as people maintain respect for one another, conflict can keep us from getting stuck in our ways.

After a busy day of visiting and then a Family Night Supper that called for me to speak to a large group about the changes, I was ready to head home last night to my ice cream :)! But I had to meet with the choir about the music for this Sunday. They wanted me to hear the anthem I'd requested they prepare for this Sunday, The Majesty and Glory of Your Name. I sat in the sanctuary, and in listening to them sing, felt grace enveloping my heart. What a gift in the midst of stress!

Wow. I still don't understand how our choir of about 20 can sound like double that number. But what a joy to be lifted by the music from the pressure cooker, to peek at the glory of God. I do pray that whatever we do with the chapel, or anything else we have for that matter, that we can help others gain a similar glimpse of God's glory and grace.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Stress Relief

My wife, while having a slew of meetings to prepare for her Charge Conference (the annual business meeting of the church), keeps having car trouble. My daughter is preparing to start back to high school this week, while trying to make changes in her course schedule. And I am juggling several big projects while trying to keep up with the sick and other pastoral concerns. I just don't know how we'd get through it all without ice cream, the non-prescriptive stress antidote! :) Oh yes, prayer helps as well...!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Still Counting?

Robert Hutton, professor of Management Science at Stanford, writes business and management stuff for a living, and he keeps up a couple of decent blogs. In this week's entry on his personal blog, Work Matters, he writes about when numbers DON'T matter.

Hutton says there are three times when Qualitative data is more useful than quantative data:
1. When you don't know what to count.
2. When you can count it, but it doesn't "stick."
3. When what you count doesn't count.

Saying the numbers don't "stick" means you have all the data, but it doesn't mean anything to the people you're trying to instruct or convince. What's needed are experiences and stories. He has examples in his post. It's number 3 that really strikes home for the church.

When the church gets caught up in numbers: how many baptized, the percentage of growth by professions of faith, average worship attendance, etc., we need to remember that the numbers don't say all we need to know. In fact, they may be misleading.

We are people of a Story, in a Story, and sharing the grand Story of God's love. And as best I can recall the only number that really mattered to Jesus was the number one. And most of his stories are about one - the one who needs the cup of cold water, or the one lying in the ditch on the Jericho road, or the one of ten healed lepers who returned with gratitude, or the one taken in adultry who needed One to offer grace, or the one lost sheep he'd leave everything to search for.

When the counting confuses, misleads, intimidates, puffs us up or depresses us, stick to One. One Story transforms the world.

A First for Eighty

Tonight we went to a birthday party for a special man. Tom was eighty this week and his family and friends gathered for grilled chicken quarters, all the fixin's, and birthday cake. Tom is a retired dairy farmer and comes to my early Tuesday Bible study - every week that his health allows.

The food was delicious. Meeting and greeting was just fine. But what was great was watching Tom enjoy it all. You see, this was the first birthday party he's ever had. The oldest of four kids in a farm family, they just didn't have parties when he was a boy. And as an adult he's always been unassuming, seeing about others rather than himself.

So it was definitely time just to celebrate Tom. He got some fun presents and in his pure enjoyment we all got to feel like kids again. Guess that was his present to us. Happy Birthday Tom!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Growth by Numbers 2

After that long post on growth I thought of an illustration I've used teaching. I served a suburban church that grew steadily. However, in its early years as a re-located congregation, growth was difficult. The mostly elderly congregation in a first building had very little to offer in terms of programs, etc. Added to that was the fact that the church was surrounded by well-established large churches of various denominations.

Then some new families with children visited, and they returned. They got involved and began to bring other new families from their sub-divisions. From that growth programs developed and more growth occurred. But what connected these first families to the church? The surrogate grandmothers.

One mom said, "My husband's company moved us several states from our families. We tried the new little church and immediately a sweet woman took our boys. She took interest in them, brought them home-made cookies, and had them over to her house. She became their South Carolina grandma."
With nothing really to offer in terms of promotions or programs, the church grew because the grandma's gave what they had, their love - in this case expressed as genuine care and interest in others. Guess you could say, they grew the old-fashioned way....

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Growing by the Numbers

I wonder if people still paint by the numbers. You've seen those kits you buy with a picture outlined and the sections numbered to correspond to little containers of paint. They are for sale because we like difficult things made simple for us.

So, I'm going to make it simple to understand growth in a church, class, youth group, etc. It's as simple as 1, 2, or 3. It's growth by promotions, programs, or people. (See I even got them to all start with the same letter!)

1. Promotions. You can attract people with a big event, or something out of the ordinary. Churches have unique rallies (like a biker rally) or a special speaker (like a Christian athelete or celebrity). Youth groups are always looking to create events that are off the edge, something that will get the kids talking and will bring other youth to check it out.

Promotionalism infiltrates standard church events. Vacation Bible Schools, once a summer enrichment for the church's children, are now promoted as attraction events, with grand themes and characters, videos and logos. Worship (called "seeker services") is now designed for this in some churches. And preachers have adopted it. I just heard of a mega-church pastor in the upstate who preached a sermon on repentance while lying in a casket. I'm sure that got people talking about it to their friends. And it has the preacher working to come up with a fresh act.

One of the difficulites of promotion growth is that you have to keep doing something new and different to get noticed. Once churches were unique for having coffee during worship, but no more. Used to be you could stand out if you had a wild-game supper event. Now even the wild is common.

2. Programs. This is the most common method of growth in the church today. Create a quality program that meets the needs of people. This could be a Bible study program, a life situation program (such as parenting, divorce recovery or marriage enrichment), a 12-step program, children's ministry, music, missions, or whatever.

This method is reinforced by denominational supply stores and para-church organizations that package programs and sell products. In fact we now have the term "needs-oriented evangelism," which basically instructs churches to determine the needs of people in their community and offer programs that address those needs.

This approach fits in nicely with the consumer orientation of our culture. People can, and do, shop around the churches for the programs that best suit their needs. Program growth works, but to what are the people connected - the program? the church? or Christ?

3. People. Surprise, surprise, growth also occurs person to person. When a friend or someone you respect introduces you to someone who is influential in their life, you usually take note. This method takes longer: longer for the individual to become a disciple and longer for the numbers to begin to add up. Smith Barney Brokerage Firm once had an ad where they said, "We make money the old fashioned way, we earn it." This is the old-fashioned way the church has grown (seems to me even Jesus used it).

There doesn't seem to be a lot of emphasis on the people to people method. We'd rather the promotions and programs do the work without having to get involved personally. Person to person growth demands more of the Christian, you have to be real in your own faith and you have to extend yourself to others. The people (or relationship) method was illumined by missionary/evangelist D.T.Niles years ago when he said, "Evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread."

4. There really isn't a fourth, just checking to see if you were paying attention. But I do have a closing comment, or two. I'm not denouncing promotions or programs. I make use of them as well. I just think we depend on them too much as the answer for our calling to share the good news of forgiveness and redemption in Christ. And smaller churches that have trouble creating or sustaining programs, begin to think they can't grow. They can't compete with larger churches in promotions and programs. Then their self esteem suffers because they are told they have nothing to offer.

Finally, maybe this is stretching it, but my simplistic three have a parallel in the world of sales. Stores attract and sell by 1) door-buster events, 2) quality products, and 3) a reputation built up by word-of-mouth. I would like to know, for the church, which method has the most lasting effect.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Chapel Update

The pews are out! The marble floors have to be refinished. Then 1) we need to install a decent sound system, 2) we need a projection system, 3) needs some additional spot and indirect lighting, and 4) the chairs have to be ordered. Who would of thunk it?
Now we can alleviate some of the space-crunch occurring in our church. How will the chapel be used? First of all we have flexibility now to do different types of informal worship. It can be set up for use by a class, for seminars, for fellowship, and as a place for families to receive friends before or after a funeral. Add a video camera in the main sanctuary and it becomes a place for overflow crowds. It's still a chapel, so the uses won't extend to anything or everything, but there are a lot of church functions that will fit in there nicely.

Calming the savage beast

Re-read my headboard and it says this site is also about music. What a laugh! If you want real music, check my brother Tom's site. I love and enjoy all types of music, but don't have the attention span to become proficient at playing instruments, or even to learn artist's names, or lyrics.

Actually, I have a habit of making up my own lyrics as I sing. A friend a few years ago sang beside me as she helped lead worship. Afterwards Leah told my wife I have lyracosis, a progressive disease indicated by the inability to sing the actual lyrics of a song. Maybe this should be added to the list of symptoms for attention deficit disorder.

It's really simple. I get distracted as the song goes on, and since I've always loved to rhyme things, I just chose something that will rhyme to finish out the phrase and usually it makes sense with the rest of the words. (However, at the church I'm serving now we're on the radio and I've noticed the sound guys turn off my mike during the songs! - and this is not the time or place to talk about how the Praise Band hid the tamborine from me!)

Still I love to have music playing, and love to sing. One of the things I enjoyed with my stay at Iona was the worship music there. The song by John Bell, Take, O Take Me as I Am, has become a favorite. I've taught it everywhere this summer, Salkehatchie, Course of Study, and to my congregation. It's just a good little "centering" song.

Music calms the savage beast. Well, it sure helps me. Just yesterday, as the temps here rose above 100 degrees for the 4th day, the religious radio station I was listening to started playing Christmas music. It was great. I wasn't ready to put on a sweater, but I think I did feel cooler, and actually stayed focused a little longer.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


An article this morning in The State newspaper brought back an encounter from Scotland earlier this summer. The article is about the taunting that redheads receive in England. The discrimination against "gingers" is apparently strong, and some are documented at the web site Red and Proud.

While in Edinburgh I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens one morning, enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and took pictures. As I was leaving and waiting for the bus, I struck up a conversation with Jill. I asked to take a picture of her and she readily obliged.

After the photo I said that I loved her red hair, that both my girls have red in their hair and I love it. She seemed surprised at my comment and said Thank you. Then after a pause she added, "I don't know why people have to say ugly, mean things to people. There's no cause for it, and it hurts." It took me a moment to figure out what Jill was talking about - taunting she'd gotten for her red hair, perhaps as a young girl.

Somewhat stunned by her disclosure, I said something lame like, "I agree with you." Then the bus arrived and I had to quickly say goodby. I rode away wondering about the wounds people carry around, wounds of the heart from both tauntings and careless comments.

As a boy I learned the well-known ditty, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But we know words do hurt. And mean words striking a tender heart leave lasting pain. May God forgive me for the mean words I've thoughlessly hurled at others. And may I learn to speak words that heal. Bless you, Jill, and all the wonderful "gingers."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Yesterday was a day for reconnections. It began with my men's bible study starting back after a month's break. We have coffee, discuss the next passage as we work our way through a book of the Bible (we're in John's Gospel now), and close with prayer. We call ourselves M.A.D.Men meaning, Making-A-Difference Men, and meaning, you have to be a bit daffy to be up at 6 AM to study the Bible.

We have about 15 regulars who have a "don't hold back" attitude when it comes to questioning the text and trying to figure out what it means in our lives. These brothers in the journey renew me weekly.

Then at lunch re-connected with my Rotary Club. These men and women come from all across our community. It's a good club that does a lot of service in the community, but eating lunch with varied friends is perhaps the best part of it for me.

Finally, last night I went to have late coffee (!) with an old friend who once was in ministry as a colleague. After some years of a different path, he feels the need to reconnect, and I'm glad for it.

I used to test off the scale as an introvert, which most people don't believe since they see me enjoying being around people so much. I do still need my private quiet time for recharging, but I realize now that connecting with folks is just as important to me. Of course, I'm no where near like my wife and two girls. They keep up with friends from all over the world and from different times in their lives. Wish I'd done a better job of that through the years.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Grace in Suicide

Sad news hit our community with a 24 year old, talented young man taking his own life. Though he was artistically gifted and an excellent student, the family had dealt with a history of his mental struggles. The parents and siblings gave a beautiful witness of their faith in the way they have publicly handled their great loss.

It made me think of others who have had their worldview shattered by the suicide death of a loved one. You look for anything to restore a sense of meaning to your world, anything to explain it, even when you know there is nothing that will explain, and even if there was, you'd still be left with the senseless loss.

In church one Sunday, years ago, I spoke about grace in suicide, after such a death there. A couple of people afterwards asked if I'd written down my words. I had not, and still have not. But I'll try to put my ideas down now, even though it's probably nothing new to most people.

I simply said that sometimes families feel needless shame because of the suicide death of someone they love. They are ashamed of a death they cannot easily explain. And they sometimes feel judgment, especially from the church.

The old argument goes: Killing is wrong. It is a mortal sin. And thus if the last act of the person is to kill him or herself, even if he/she is a Christian, how can the person then know the saving grace of God.

But isn't the God who is revealed in Christ a God who meets us at our point of need? Didn't he come to be with us in order to do what we can not do: save us from the eternal consequences of our sinfulness? When in hopeless resignation a person ends his or her life, the God I know from the Bible would be weeping in sad pain for the person, instead of lashing out in judgment.

Besides, if a person dies from a sickness, even if the sickness is caused by their own actions (like lung cancer from smoking, let's say), we don't wonder if they are condemned. People who deal with depression or mental illness just have a different kind of sickness. But it's just as real, just as painful, and just as possible to result in death. Those who attempt suicide may believe they just can't handle the agony any longer, or that they no longer need to be such a burden to their family or friends.

The grace of God is always extended to us, even in suicide, for nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. And just like a loving parent, God probably gives special attention to God's weaker children. God surely notes those who struggle in quiet desperation.

Are any of us that much different from the toddler who does not know her sinfulness or need? And yet God gives all that is necessary for such a one to be claimed by God. It is true, we all depend on the free gift of grace, even in the presence of suicide. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Special Needs Ministry

While in Atlanta my wife and I went to a special exhibit at the Michael C. Carlos Museum on the Emory campus. There were several Jewish and Christian artifacts from the Holy Land. Since we have been to Israel a few times, we really didn't see anything new, but the exhibit was well done.

What we did see that caught my eye was a projection of various artistic renditions of the Last Supper. One that touched me was done in 1998 by Raouf Mamedov, a film director from Moscow. He used several models with Downs Syndrome to replicate Leonardo Da Vinci's famous "Last Supper." The full scene is made up of five separate photographs.

I don't know Mamedov's reason for using such models, but it spoke to me about how we include (or usually ignore) people with special needs in matters of faith. So many churches have a family with a special needs member, but rarely do churches know how to offer support or how to adapt services and facilities to offer inclusion.

I serve on a Board of Trustees for our Conference's Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry. We have been working for over four years to begin building residential facilities for adults with special needs. I never knew there could be so many barriers, so much red-tape, or so many people who would rather ignore the need.

We finally got our first home underway this week in Columbia, SC. But after months of getting all the right permits, a neighbor filled a complaint, and the Zoning Board issued a stop order on our building permit! The Home Builders Association of Columbia is generously donating the materials and construction of the home, we've gained great community support, and now this!

Just like Raouf Mamedov showed in his photograph, persons with special needs do indeed have a place at the Lord's table. I wonder when we will make sure they have a place in our hearts, our churches, and our communities.
(You can view more of Mamedov's work at the Aidan Gallery website. www.aidan-gallery.ru )

Shifting Gears

The first rule for change in a church is COMMUNICATE. Before making the change always ask, "Who needs to know about this?" Simply following that advice can save a pastor from a lot of grief.

Well, I haven't followed that advice and I don't know what will be waiting for me when I return from two weeks away teaching. For a couple of years I have talked about possible uses for our beautiful, but rarely used chapel. We did put in some prie dieu's (prayer kneelers), hung a picture of Jesus and also a crucifix (for focusing in prayer), but still it is hardly used. I've mentioned alternative worship services, a gathering place for Fellowship Sundays that would be near the main sanctuary, or even a great space for small group programs. The Trustees were listening apparently.

Having to remove the pews to have the marble floors cleaned and coated, they decided to put the pews in storage and open up the space! All this has been happening while I've been away this week. Change is not easy for folks, especially when they aren't prepared for it, but we'll see how it goes.

Got to shift gears from teaching to parish work, and am looking forward to it. Always good to have a change of pace, but I'm a pastor at heart, and I look forward to getting back to my folks - even those who are probably afraid we're turning the chapel into a coffee bar!

My high-schooler is flying in from two weeks in Brazil tonight. She's been on a Conference trip that establishes ties between Brazillian youth and our youth. Can't wait to hear what she's learned. Maybe she brought us some Brazillian coffee, for the coffee bar of course!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hello Blog World!

O.K. I'm only the 100 billionth through the turnstile, but finally I overcame my hesitancy and have a place to have a say in web-world. Now the learning curve is WHAT to say. I expect it to be some journaling, some observations, some resourcing, and hopefully, some laughs. Anyway, here goes....

This first post is done as I begin to wrap up a two-week teaching stint at the Course of Study School at Emory U. The Course of Study is a program of the United Methodist Church for pastors, who because of entering the ministry at an older age, and other circumstances, choose not to become credentialed by attaining a seminary degree. They take four courses a summer over five summers to receive the basic certificate. And then there is the Advanced COS, for those who want to move to ordination. All Local Pastors in the United Methodist Church are required to complete COS.

I have been teaching courses on Evangelism and on Worship and the Sacraments for the past three years. Each year I grumble about leaving my church and packing up to go to Atlanta for the two weeks. Then I get here and meet the students, and start interacting with them in the teaching process, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to be a part of it. The people factor makes all the difference. But isn't that true about most things?

These are full-time local pastors from across the southeast. A couple of them in my classes are on the staffs of larger churches, but most LPs serve small and rural churches. I get inspired as I see their dedication to the ministry. They want to make a difference, even though they are appointed to places where little opportunity exists to try creative things or to motivate the church to outreach.

Right now there is a lot of anxiety among the LPs. There are proposals for the upcoming General Conference that may remove sacramental rights from the LPs, thus only leaving only the ordained Elders (a classification on ministry) with the right to perform the sacraments (baptism and holy communion). General Conference is the representative body that meets every four years to decide the rules of the United Methodist Church. Since I will be a delegate to the Gen. Conf. 2008, and serving on the legislative committee that deals with ministry matters, I have been having some group conversations about these issues.

Basically, as I understand it, the idea to limit the sacraments to the ordained Elders is proposed because our giving the LPs the ability to offer the sacraments in their place of appointment conflicts with our ecumenical efforts. Other denominations, with which we try to share ministry, have trouble with the way we allow non-ordained persons to have sacramental rights. That's even though we say the LP's rights is simple an extension of the Elder who oversees them (usually the District Superintendent).

Well here's my opinion. The Methodist movement has always adapted its form of ministry to the mission. Our founder, John Wesley, did this as he appointed Class Leaders and Lay Preachers. In 1748, while the Church of England continued to refuse to ordain ministers for the Methodist revival, Wesley began ordaining ministers so that the Methodists would not have to go without the sacraments. Our current formation of the orders of ministry allows us to serve the people and I for one, would be hard pressed to see a reason to change that.

The General Conference next April will be interesting. I hope to have more conversations along the way as we prepare to deal with a lot of issues. But for now, I give thanks for the Local Pastors and the way they serve Christ and the church.