This past month, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church met in Portland, Oregon. The General Conference is the gathering of delegates from United Methodist Conferences all over the world, and takes place once every four years. The primary purpose of the gathering is to vote on legislation that relates to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which contains the general rules and policies that guide the structure and behavior of all United Methodist Churches, ours included.
For the past several General Conferences, an increasing amount of energy has revolved around matters of human sexuality. Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has declared that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” leading to the stance that “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are not eligible to serve as pastors in United Methodist churches. Some years later, additional legislation was approved forbidding United Methodist pastors from performing same sex marriages or uniting ceremonies. As time has gone by, each General Conference has seen a progressively more determined attempt to overturn these anti-gay statements and policies, although up until now those efforts have not succeeded.
In the midst of this effort to move the UMC as a whole into a more inclusive directions, many United Methodist churches have sought to express their love for all of God’s children, including those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, by aligning themselves with an network of similarly minded UMCs called the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). The RMN seeks to help local UMCs in their efforts to be more welcoming to all people, as well as to leverage the collective power of churches and individual Methodist Christians to push for change in the UMC as a whole.
As your pastor, I am fully in agreement with the aims of the Reconciling movement. I also sense that a good percentage of our members believe in full inclusion of our gay and lesbian friends in the life of the church. At the same time, I am well aware that there are others who are either opposed or unsure how they feel about this matter. With all that in mind, I want to challenge our church to begin the process of determining whether we want to become a Reconciling congregation.
With that in mind, I will be asking our Administrative Council to authorize the creation of a Reconciling Committee, who would lead our church in the process of discernment. The creation of this committee does not mean that we are committing to become a Reconciling Congregation. It simply means that we will begin a process of determining whether that would be an appropriate step for us to take as a congregation.
If you have any questions or concerns about this step, I would love to hear from you, and I hope that irrespective of your feelings, you would be in prayer for our church as we explore what it means to offer Christ’s love to our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors.
In evergreen love,
There is a well-known poem that is often shared at funerals or on sympathy cards that begins with the words, “Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room.” With all due respect to those who find such sentiments comforting, I must confess they have never rung true for me, and even less so in the aftermath of the loss of my mother, who, as many of you know, passed away on April 14. While I believe in and take great comfort in the immortality of the soul, and while I believe that I will see my mother (and dad) again, in the here and now, I miss them, and will continue to do so. There are, of course, those fleeting moments when I can feel their presence. But in the day to day, they are absent. I cannot see them or hug them or help them up from their chair. They are not in the next room. They are, in a very real sense, gone somewhere else. And the fact that I believe that this “somewhere else” is a joyful, glorious place of healing, restoration, reunion, and light is a powerful source of hope and comfort. But in the meantime, I would give anything to be able to give my dad a call, or drive up to see my mother, or even have lunch with her at the nursing home where she lived the last three weeks of her life.
The first Sunday after mom’s death, I found on my office chair several bulletins, thoughtfully left for me by church members who had attended these churches while they were away. As it happened one of the bulletins contained a message from a pastor who had recently lost his father. His remarks contained some helpful words from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Gospel Medicine. The second sentence makes me wonder if she wasn’t reacting to the same poem I referred to. She writes,
“Sometimes I think absence is underrated. It is not nothing, after all. It is
something: a heightened awareness, a sharpened appetite, a finer perception.
When someone important to me is absent from me, I become clearer than ever
what that person means to me. Details that got lost in our togetherness are re-
called in our apartness, and their sudden clarity has the power to pry my heart
right open. I see the virtues I have overlooked, the opportunities I have missed.
The quirks that drove me crazy at close range become endearing at a distance…
If the relationship is strong and true, the absent one has a way of becoming present –
if not in body, then in mind and spirit.”
As time moves on, I suspect that Taylor’s insights about absence will become something I reach toward as I travel along my journey. My prayer is that, as Taylor suggests, her absence will become a means of reaching a “finer perception” of who and what my mother has meant and will continue to mean to my life.
And knowing that many of you are reading this have experienced the profound absence that comes with losing a loved one, may I invite you to join me, not in minimizing the power of a absence, but in embracing that absence as a means of more powerfully appreciate and love those who we see no more in this life, and in holding fast to the hope of eternal life, not only for our loved ones, but for ourselves as well.
In God’s Evergreen Love,
P.S. On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers, notes, and kind words during our time of loss.
During this month, we will once again have the opportunity to join in the in-credible journey that we know as Holy Week. And what a week it is! As we walk along this journey with Jesus, we will experience all the highs and lows that hu-man emotions can afford—sorrow, fear, anger, grief, hope, incredulity, all ending up with the outburst of joy we know as Easter.
Let me remind you that our Easter joy will only be as full and real as the other emotions we allow ourselves to feel as the events of Holy Week unfold. Only if we allow ourselves to experience the strange mixture of celebration and sorrow on Palm Sunday, the fear and foreboding of Maundy Thursday, and the profound grief and sorrow of Good Friday will we truly experience the hope and hilarity of Easter. The contrast of the lowest lows to the highest highs that are part of the Holy Week and Easter experiences must be allowed to come out in all its vast va-riety for there to be authentic Easter joy. Otherwise it rings somewhat hollow.
That is why I hope that all of our members and friends will do everything they can to be present for all of the Holy Week services being offered this year, or, barring that, that each of us will do everything we can to observe the events of Holy Week on their own.
Holy Week begins this year on Palm Sunday, March 20. A schedule of services can be found elsewhere in this issue of the Traveler. I hope you will take note of the dates and times of these opportunities to participate in the powerful story of Holy Week.
Grace and peace,
I suspect that most of us are aware of the numerous addiction recovery programs such as
Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous that have done so much to move countless people into recovery from their addictions. We are privileged to be the host of one AA group that has met for a number of years in our Fireside Room on Sunday nights. And I am quite certain that there are any number of folks who are connected to our church who are in active recovery and are involved in AA or some other similar program.
You may be less familiar with the spiritual grounding of these programs, and if so, you need to understand that, in fact, all of the “Anonymous” programs are based on what are known as “the 12 steps,” and that these 12 steps are in many ways completely compatible with our Christian faith and practice. In fact, even though I have never had to battle addiction in my own life, I have found the 12 steps of AA to be great resources for my own spiritual journey. In other words, I and others have found that these 12 steps are helpful not just for people who are recovering from addiction, but for many other people as well.
That is why I am going to be offering a sermon series based on the 12 steps of AA during the month of April. I am calling this series, “12 Steps for Everybody.” My hope in this series is to provide folks with the resources that have literally saved the lives of millions of people, with suggestions for how to understand the 12 steps from a Christian perspective, and how to apply their principles, practices, and insights into all of our lives, even if we don’t battle with addiction and substance misuse.
I want to ask you to do two things: first, I hope that you will attend worship during April in order to share in this series, and that you will be open to hearing how the 12 steps of AA can be a resource in your life; and second, I would ask you to invite any folks you know who are in recovery and who are not active in a church already so that they, too, can see how the 12 steps and our Christian faith can work hand in hand in their lives.
See you in church!
In evergreen love,
P.S. For more information about the 12 Steps of AA, visit
By the time you receive this edition of The Traveler, the Advent season will have already begun. Even so, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about our Advent worship theme, which I am calling “Touched By an Angel.” And no, this does not mean that we will be watching reruns of the old television show of the same name during church. It does mean, however, that we will be noticing the fact that angels pop up all over the place in the biblical Christmas story. Each Sunday during Advent, we will be looking at one of these angelic visitations, each of which helps move the story along as we move closer and closer to the birth of Jesus.
We’ll be learning more about these visitations during worship, but for now, it seems important to point out that the role the angels play in the Christmas story is to help folks like Mary and Joseph get ready to play their part in getting ready to welcome Jesus into their lives and into the world. And that is the role that Advent plays in our lives. Advent is not the celebration of Jesus’ birth—that doesn’t happen just yet. Ad-vent involves getting ready to celebrate, to prepare our hearts in the same way we prepare our homes.
Worship is one of the best ways to get ready for Christ-mas. There’s a lot going on in this season, I know. But wouldn’t it be a shame to miss an opportunity to be reminded of the real reason for the season, and to join others in getting ready to welcome the Christ child into our midst? And who knows, maybe as we sing one of the beautiful hymns or carols associated with the season, or hear the inspiring stories of faithful people saying yes to their role in God’s plan to save the world, you, too, might be touched by an angel.
Grace and peace,