Takeaways From UMC NEXT

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I had the privilege of attending the UMC Next event this past week, held at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. This was an event attended by over 600 people, at least 10 from each annual conference, to address what may be next for the UMC in the aftermath of the passage of the Traditionalist Plan. I won’t go into all of the details here since you can find more information at these links:

Planning New Directions for the Church, UM News

UM Insight: UM Next Vows to Resist Traditional Plan, Reform

What I want to share with you here, however, are my takeaways from this important time.

  1. The 4 Commitments are key to what this movement is about. This group came from many different geographical areas, held different opinions on the future of the church, came from all races, cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc…yet we all were able to affirm and uphold these core beliefs and commitments at the end of the day:
  • To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity.
  • To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
  • To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
  • To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals.

2. These conversations, conflicts, and issues are grounded in the sin of racism and other “isms” in the church. This was made clear to many of us from the beginning. This isn’t just about LGBTQIA+ inclusion. This has roots in the fact that racism and white supremacy still hold power within our institutions. Just look at our history! And look at us today!!!

One of the people sitting at my table was an African American pastor. He said on several occasions that this is all about who is at the table and how has the power. Sometimes he felt that this was really just the fight of 2 white men. He’s not wrong.

The UMC is still struggling with racism, sexism, discrimination in our systems, and we haven’t done much to address it. Therefore, much of what we are dealing with now is forcing us to come to grips with the fact that we have repenting to do and reparations to begin. Reconciliation and affirmation need to be at the top of the list before we can really move forward.

3. I learned about the importance of pronouns. On the first day, whenever someone would stand up to speak, they would introduce themselves using pronouns. “Hello, I’m Jane, and my pronouns are she, her, and hers.” I’m almost ashamed to admit that I had no clue as to what this meant or why it was important. It was explained to us that we should never assume someone’s gender identity- they are who they say they are, even though “cultural norms” may say or assume something different. We were all challenged to introduce ourselves this way from that point on.

It never occurred to me that in our world where labels can do so much harm, that the pronouns we use for ourselves and for others could be part of the problem or part of a solution. This was a challenging and important takeaway for me personally as we enter into this work of the church regarding full inclusion of all persons.

4. Even though we gathered as a group of self-proclaimed “centrists, progressives, moderates, etc.” we are deeply divided. We had three options presented to us:

Negotiate for Dissolution (dissolve the denomination and rebuild, working with the “other side” to divide assets, etc)

Leave and Affiliate Together (leave the denomination and start a new movement out of churches who no longer wish to be a part of the UMC)

Stay, Build Community, Resist, Reform (stay in the UMC as it is currently and work from within to make change happen)

We took votes to determine where the group was and to see if there is a clear path in mind. There wasn’t. After a few votes, Dissolution and Stay and Resist were the top 2. For example, 329 people voted to negotiate for dissolution, 242 voted to stay, resist, reform. It was close.

At the end of the day, the consensus (if you can call if that) was that both options are something to work toward, maybe having both of these as the same path in one way or another. The point is that there was no clear path that we could chose together. Just because we all came together for a cause doesn’t mean that we all agree on what needs to happen moving forward.

5. Some final thoughts:

I was reminded of the importance of community. The fact that we all came together to have hard conversations about the church, to hear powerful testimonies from a variety of perspectives and people, and to work toward an inclusive and just church spoke volumes to what the UMC is experiencing. It gave me hope– that even in the midst of what feels like death, there is resurrection. There is the glimpse of liberation. And we are not alone.

We stand at a crossroads. Now is the time to be faithful leaders who are bold enough to go forward.

So where do we go from here?

We continue to pray, to speak out, to build community, to be a part of a new movement where diversity, equity, renewal, and inclusion for all are top priority.

We share the 4 principles with others, we connect with people of different sexual orientations, gender identities, races, cultures.

We have courageous conversations and bring people alongside.

We meet people where they are, whether they agree theologically or not.

Above all, we love people.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this meeting. There is a lot of work to be done, but thanks be to God for doing a new thing among us.

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A Saturday Church (Reflections on General Conference)

As many of you know, I have just returned from the special General Conference session in St. Louis as a reserve/alternate delegate from Indiana. I was privileged to spend a full day on the floor as a voting delegate, and the rest of the time I sat with friends and colleagues as we watched the proceedings unfold. It was an emotional, exhausting, and heartbreaking time for many of us. Why?

Because the church that we keep hoping will open its doors just a little wider has decided to still keep them shut to some. If not actually shutting doors, at least sending the message that not all are really welcome…or they may be welcome…but just to a certain extent. The General Conference voted to pass the “Traditionalist Plan.” This plan not only re-affirms the UMC’s stance on “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and disallows same-sex weddings and open LGBTQI clergy, but also adds more restrictions on top of the already existing rules.

Another interesting note is that we have spent millions of dollars on special commissions, conversations, this meeting, etc after asking our Bishops to lead us. They recommended the One Church Plan, which would have allowed clergy and local congregations to choose in which direction they would go regarding LGBTQ clergy, weddings, ordination, etc. We asked, as a denomination, for our bishops to lead us. Yet we did not listen. But I digress…

I should add that currently, 60% of the Traditionalist plan is “unconstitutional” under our church law, which means that the plan that actually passed may end up looking a lot different than it is now. There is still a lot of unknown in all of this.

The plan, however, seeks stricter accountability for clergy who violate the existing rules, and, in my understanding, seeks to ask anyone and any church who doesn’t hold these beliefs to exit the denomination. There is prediction of a mass exodus to come of moderate to progressive churches. Our young people will leave. Clergy will be fed up. Those looking for a church home and an experience of Christ who are LGBTQ will turn away.

Under this plan, clergy and bishops could be asked to leave if they do not adhere to a particular way of thinking and practicing ministry. Open hearts, open minds, open doors? Take those signs down. It’s long overdue.

In Nadia Bolz-Weber’s wonderful new book, Shameless, she speaks of the shame that the church has placed upon people around sexuality in general, and how we must begin to change the narrative for church to be a place where people uphold one another and affirm one another for who we are, sexually or otherwise.

She says, “So often, rather than being the place where people can be unburdened by this heaviness (of shame), the church chooses to be a place where even more weight is piled on.”

This is basically what the UMC has decided to do. We have piled on the rules, the shame, and the harm of others who just happen to be of a different sexual orientation. We have become so obsessed with church law and our narrow interpretation of the Bible, that we have become the Pharisees. We have again nailed Jesus to the cross.

The way I see it, the UMC is currently a Saturday church. What do I mean by this? We are in the tomb. This decision of the General Conference and the way things went down, the harmful words that were said, the ways in which we dealt with sensitive topics and HUMAN BEINGS..well, that was Friday…the day of crucifixion. Now, many of us feel in the dark, awaiting the light of resurrection. We are a Saturday church. Where and how will Resurrection come? That is the question I am wrestling with as a clergy person, as a woman, as a mother to a young child, as a friend who has many wonderful LGBTQ persons in my life. What kind of church do I want my son to grow up in? Not a church that closes its doors, but a church where there is room for everyone to serve, love who they love, and lead, no matter who they are.

At this point, my hope is in the reminder that the body of General Conference and the decisions that are made are not the same as the local church. As one delegate said from the floor, “Thank God that this is not the place where disciples are made.” And she is right. On Sunday, I will stand in the pulpit and give a word to my congregation. We still have work to do, things to learn, people to serve. Church goes on, disciples are made, we continue to love people.

There is a lingering question in the back of my mind, however: Is there still a place for me here? In the UMC?

My fear is that the stain of the latest decisions of the General Conference will continue to equate the cross and flame with hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic Christianity. This is not the Jesus I know. This is not the church I want.

So now I wait in the darkness for some light. I’m not sure when it will come. But I know that it will. Sunday can’t be too far from now…

In the meantime, I want to say that no matter where I end up serving as a pastor, that I will never stop fighting for full inclusion of LGBTQI persons, and will be a welcoming and affirming pastor to all, including those who will disagree with me theologically or practically. No church law or flawed institution negates the fact that Jesus SEES each and every person created in the image of God, and so should the church. It’s time to do away with the shaming, the condemning, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense.

No matter where I end up, whatever church I serve, I want you to know that you are a child of God. You are equipped to lead, serve, and BE you as you are- no matter who you love or how you identify yourself. Don’t let anyone or any institution tell you otherwise.

And one more thing for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters: I AM SORRY. I’m sorry for the harm that the church as caused you. I’m sorry that we have let you down. I’m sorry that it just never seems to be enough. I hold fast to the idea of resurrection. And I hope you do, too. Love to all as we sit in the darkness of Saturday together.

In Christ,
Jill

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Same God on Both Sides

What is a Border? (this appeared as my monthly newsletter article to my congregation)

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Friendship Park border fence, Tijuana

 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ –Matthew 25:34-40

 Several years ago, I spent a week at the border in Tijuana, Mexico with a group of pastors. We stayed at a place that housed men who had been deported from the United States. We heard their stories, prayed with them, and took the time to try to understand the complexities of immigration, asylum, and answering the question: What is a border?

To be honest, this was one of the times in my life that I was the most uncomfortable. As a young woman, I was certainly out of my comfort zone to be staying in such a place, not knowing Spanish, and surrounded by men who were experiencing trauma. But there was beauty, sadness, and education in this experience. One of the young men we got to know had a tragic story as he encountered “the Beast.”

“The Beast” is a freight train that runs from southern Mexico to the US/Mexican border.  Out of desperation for a better life, hundreds of people brave bandits, extreme heat and hunger, and cling to the wagons of “the Beast,” sometimes traveling up to 700 miles on the tops of the train cars or clinging to metal bars inches from the roaring wheels. Along the way, forces of evil assault and attack those most vulnerable. Brutal gang rapes, murders, and robberies are common. (Special thanks to Tracy and her blog which shares more of this story)

Our new friend was one such a victim of these unimaginable experiences. Having come all the way from Guatemala, he was now trying to find his family and he wasn’t sure where he would go next or how he would get there. After all, he had an additional challenge. “The Beast” had taken the bottom part of his leg. He was robbed and pushed, resulting in the loss of his leg the first time he rode. The second time he rode, his prosthetic leg, for which he worked over a year to pay for, was ripped from his body as he was beaten in his sleep. As we listened to his story and so many others, it became clear that something is very wrong with our systems, our treatment of human beings, and our lack of compassion.

Yes, there were men there who had committed a crime and had been deported, but they were in the minority. The rest of the men had been separated from their families, some having been working and established in the US for over 20 years, and now did not know when they would see them again. Some were simply trying to regroup and find work in Tijuana while they recovered from the trauma of escaping unfathomable circumstances in their home countries which caused them to flee.

I share this experience because we are experiencing not an “immigration crisis” in our country, but a human rights crisis. Those who come here seeking asylum from these situations are fleeing from ways of life that we cannot even imagine. Can you imagine having to make the decision to leave everything behind because your very life depended on it? Risking your future, the possibility of being separated from your family, and the unknown road ahead, just to be met with the kind of policies being enforced by this administration?

Separating families is wrong.

Forcing children into detainment centers is wrong.

Not knowing when or how these children will be in the arms of their parents again is unacceptable.

The way we are treating other human beings is wrong.

Listen to their stories. Hear their needs. Have compassion.

The United Methodist Church has a long-held stance on welcoming the stranger and migrant in our midst. In fact, at the Indiana Annual Conference last month, we unanimously approved a resolution entitled, “Welcoming the Migrant in Our Midst.” It states that

“The United Methodist Church affirms the worth, dignity, and inherent value and rights of all persons regardless of their nationality or legal status. Yet we have neighbors, co-workers, friends who have been separated from their loved ones or are living in fear of their families being torn apart through our broken immigration system. We call upon our political leaders and policymakers to assure our laws affirm the worth, dignity, inherent values and rights of immigrants and refugees. As the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, as followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to work to eliminate racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants from all parts of the world as well as those who have lived and worked among us for some time and that we express our opposition to any policy that breaks apart families.”

Our Social Principles state that, as United Methodists,

“We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”

I ask you, as your pastor, to consider this: No person is “illegal.” People are people. As people of faith, we are called to welcome the stranger among us. What would Jesus do?

What is a border? Maybe it’s not as black and white as we think.

In Christ,

Pastor Jill

 

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10 Years…10 Learnings

commissioning

The night of my commissioning, June 2008

10 Years…10 Learnings

This June, 2018, will mark 10 years of licensed/ordained ministry for me. This photo was taken the night I was commissioned as a provisional elder (received my credentials) in 2008. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already! It seems like not long ago I was kneeling before the bishop and taking my ordination vows. I have been pondering lately about my time so far in ministry and the things I have learned. So here it is…10 things I have learned in 10 years of ministry.

  • You can’t please everyone: I’m a people pleaser by nature. So it’s been a challenge for me to live into the reality that not everyone will be happy with me all the time. And, for me to be ok with the reality that it’s not my job to please everyone. Instead, my job is to love, come alongside, pray, gently challenge, and allow people to feel what they need to feel.
  • Collaborate: Ministry is about collaboration. The United Methodist Church has a long standing tradition of being driven by lay people, not the pastor. So when new ministry ideas arise, it is important to collaborate. Sometimes we all feel that if we just took care of something by ourselves, it would be done “right” or it would just get done. Ministry is about playing well with others and listening to all ideas.
  • Take time away: As a pastor, I wear many hats. If I don’t take time to take them off, my well runs dry. I take my day off every week. I take vacation. I take time to learn, pray, grow, and be in fellowship with friends and family. It makes me a better pastor and leader.
  • Be flexible: “They don’t teach you that in seminary!” is a phrase I say often. I have learned over the years that being a pastor isn’t just one thing and there isn’t a set of “duties” I have to complete each day. My husband will tell you that as far as personalities go, I used to be an “A+” who needed to have everything in order and know what I was doing and when/why.

Now, I find myself more at a B or B- personality. I have learned to be flexible and to expect the unexpected. Being a pastor is many things, and means taking on roles I never thought that I would. As a pastor, I have led worship, meetings, and taught classes. I have prayed over the sick and dying. I have baptized babies and married couples.

I have also plunged toilets, been a part of a dance group, walked in a parade, vacuumed up glitter from the carpet after youth group, picked up dead mice, changed church signs in sub-zero temperatures, and prayed to rid a home of “evil spirits.” Each day is different. Each day is an opportunity to stretch myself in a new way.

  • The church is messy but beautiful: Fresh out of seminary, I was ready to take on the world as a pastor and had a view of the church that was perhaps too idealistic. I have learned over the years that church is a MESSY place. It is messy because it is made up of human beings, with our imperfections, our tendencies to gossip, be petty, or be afraid of change. The church is also a BEAUTIFUL place because it is the Body of Christ. At church we come together, experience God in worship, pray, and love one another. In the messiness, there is beauty. After all, that’s why we celebrate the Incarnation.
  • There is power in the sacraments: Baptism and Communion never get old or lose their meaning for me. And being called to preside over the sacraments of our church is a privilege I do not take lightly. Whenever I have seasons in ministry where I am frustrated or question my call, the sacraments draw me back to why I do what I do.
  • Preaching is a profound privilege not to be taken lightly: a mentor of mine always says that “Pastors have the power of the pulpit and of convening people together. Don’t ever underestimate that.” I realize that each week I have the opportunity to listen to what God is saying to me (and to you!) through the scriptures and how that message is relevant to our world and faith today. And then my task is to share that with you. Over the years of ministry, preaching is something that has really taken shape for me and has become a key component of what I do. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I am still learning.
  • The world is my parish: When I walk out the church doors each week, I am still a pastor. That is why I connect with people in our community, other pastors, and our neighborhoods. Jesus himself taught mostly from the fields and on the road. He met people where they were. The best pastors are those who look beyond their own congregations to meet people where they are- I have learned not to limit myself and my role.
  • Love your people: I once had a District Superintendent, who after our annual meeting, after hearing about everything going on in my ministry setting, would say, “Do your people know that you love them? Do they really know?” Well, do you??
  • Pray often: sometimes I don’t feel that I pray enough. It gets too busy. I forget. I don’t know how to pray for a certain situation. I find excuses. As a pastor, I must pray for the church, for the people, for the hurting places in the world, and for my colleagues who are on this road with me. Without it, I’m not sure where we would be!

There are many things I am still learning, and my goal is to never stop learning. My hope is that you will continue to learn with me and grow alongside me. We are better together.

“Pastors assist people in ‘giving birth’ to a new or deepened relationship with God. We are not the center of the action, or even key players in the drama. We perform our role in a variety of ways, for instance, by teaching, leading worship, and visiting the sick. We tell the Christian story, coach and encourage, listen and pray. What unites all of these roles and activities is that each provides an opportunity to encounter God.” -Martin Copenhaver, This Odd and Wondrous Calling

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Why I Spent a Morning with Guns

Why would I, an anti-gun pastor and mom, choose to spend a Saturday morning learning about guns, and even shooting a few herself? Read on!

On my very first Sunday at my current congregation last summer, someone approached me just a few minutes before I got up to lead worship, to let me know that he had put a “glock” in my office. Misunderstanding him at first, I finally realized what he had said. Someone had left a gun on the trunk of their car, and seeing it as a potential hazard, someone else brought it into the church and placed it for “safe-keeping” in MY office.

Fear was my initial response because 1) my toddler and mom were playing in my office and 2) I am terrified of guns and think they should be nowhere near a church building, let alone inside.  One of our members, who happens to be our media/tech guy, was standing next to me when this came to my attention, and as we were running down the hall, he said to me, “I’m an NRA gun safety instructor. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” And he did.

The end of the story was that one of our members had meant to place his gun in the trunk of the car, but forgot. Soon after this whole incident, it was back into the hands of the owner. I don’t think I need to know anything else about what happened to it after that.

But this got me thinking about several things.

One, of course, is that in the wake of mass shootings, gun violence in our communities, and global attention on the United States for our “addiction to guns” and the “gun problem,” I realized that my perspective is very one-sided.

Two, is that I am terrified of guns and know nothing about them. What kinds are out there, what do people use them for, why do people feel they need to own one (or several), and how to use one?

Three, I am in a season of my life where I feel the need to “step out of my box” and attempt to truly understand people with perspectives different than my own. Maybe this stems from my frustration with the divides over homosexuality in the United Methodist Church and how I struggle with those who disagree with my position. I try to hold fast to love for the other person first and foremost. But I confess that I sometimes I become angry, resentful, and bitter- not just with individuals, but with a denomination/institution that just can’t seem to get it together and go in a direction that I think we should go.

I confess that my personality is such that I have a really hard time accepting that my position could be wrong. I don’t think that it is, but someone else (many someones!) does. And that person is just as worthy to hold their opinion and position as I am. That is sometimes a hard and humbling realization, don’t you think?

I realized that it was the same way with me and gun control/gun rights. I have people in my congregation who own guns and feel strongly about their right to own them, and this is a topic that is widely discussed amongst my colleagues, friends, and in the national spotlight all the time. We hear about it the most, unfortunately, in the midst of a tragic situation.

So in the interest of expanding myself as a pastor and a person, I thought, what better way to immerse myself than to spend a day learning about guns and even shooting one?

And I could think of no better person than our tech guy at church- the one who saved me from myself that first morning at my new congregation, remember? His name is Alan, and I have very high respect for this man. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do this with anyone else! So, thank you, Alan, for your time and patience with me.

Corey came along for education and “moral support.” We spent the first part of our morning learning about different kinds of rifles, pistols, and firearms. We got to see and hold a variety of (unloaded) firearms, including the AR-15. We learned about gun safety, how guns work, and what to expect at a shooting range. I asked questions on legislation and different opinions on who can purchase guns, how, and why. And then we were off to the firing range to see some of the them in action.

I lasted about 25 minutes in the range. I never would have imagined I would be in a place like it. I recalled a time last year when I listened to a podcast sermon where a pastor visited a gun range and interviewed a person who worked there. 5 minutes into this portion of the sermon, I had to turn it off. The sounds of guns going off repeatedly was just too much for me. So it took me a good 5 minutes of standing in there (with ear protection) to not jump every time a gun went off.

Then it was my turn to shoot. The first 2 guns I shot were lighter and easier to shoot. One time I shot off one of the clips that hold the target. Corey about doubled over in laughter at that one. Good to know, however, that “it happens all the time…” especially with newbies such as myself 🙂

The 3rd one I shot was very powerful. In fact, I can still recall the feeling of shooting it even now as I’m typing. I’m a small person, and shooting that gun seemed like it sent a shockwave through my entire body. Some might say that they enjoy the powerful sensation of shooting a gun like that. I did not. I found it scary and disturbing. But at least I know now what it actually feels like. Ironically, the last gun I shot was the only time I got 3 holes onto the target paper! I’m not sure what that says about me!

I’m grateful for the experience. I’m grateful that I could take the time to learn about such a hot button topic in a safe, educated, and even loving manner. I’m thankful that I have trustworthy and respectful people to bounce ideas off of, to answer my questions, and to help me understand.

My positions have not changed- I feel strongly that we should have stricter gun laws and legislation, screening, and rules in place that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. I am one who believes that it is a gun problem AND a people problem. It is not just one or the other. But I feel that I have been changed by this experience in several ways, and that yet another wall has been broken down for me. At the end of the day, it’s good to remember it’s about people and their stories, and connecting on a personal level- trying to understand, taking time to educate yourself on what all is out there, and at the end of the day, loving one another, whether we agree with a position on something or not.

In this world of one-sided media and our personal “echo chambers,” we all need immersion experiences that remind us to get out of our boxes, break down our walls, and spend some time out there in the real world.

I wonder what wall I can begin to chip away at next.

 

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Happy 50th, United Methodist Church!

(This is the May newsletter article for my congregation- I thought it might be of interest to share here, too!)

Happy 50th, United Methodist Church!!

Do you know or remember that the United Methodist Church was officially formed on April 23, 1968 with the unification of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, along with the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction, a segregated group of African American congregations?

We celebrate this important milestone in our denomination and the ministries and mission we share in common in the name of Jesus Christ, both here in the United States and around the world.  Now, more than ever, we need to live into our mission statement: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Beginning on August 5, and running for 8 weeks, I will be doing a sermon series called, “This We Believe: United Methodist 101,” which will cover basic United Methodist doctrines and will celebrate our heritage, where we are now, and where we are going.  This will be a good time to refresh your knowledge of our theology, or perhaps hear it for the very first time. I’m personally looking forward to digging into this series with you as a reminder of why we are United Methodists and what makes us unique!

In the midst of our denominational divisions and the unknown future ahead, I confess to you that I am weary and that I get frustrated by the state of things. And since I am on the Indiana delegation going to the special called session of General Conference in 2019, I am constantly bombarded with the divisive and “hot button” items on the agenda.

But I also know that the church, the United Methodist Church in particular, is where my relationship with Jesus Christ really began and continues to evolve and grow.  The United Methodist Church is where I felt a call into ordained ministry, and where I have since grown as a pastor and a disciple. It is where my mentors, colleagues, and dearest friends help me and shape me into who I am and who I will be. It is here, in this denomination, where my heart resides in the biblical foundations and the doctrines of John Wesley that still speak into our journeys today.

Recently, I asked a dear colleague of mine how he is not overly frustrated by the divisions and brokenness in our churches and denominations as a whole right now. He simply said, “It is frustrating. But, find the bright spots.” For me, the bright spots come in moments of fellowship with each of you, through the music of our worship, through the art and challenge of writing a sermon, through teaching moments where we wrestle together, through times where I see the Spirit alive and moving in our midst. Sometimes, we just need a reminder to open our eyes and our hearts enough to see the bright spots. What are they for you?

Happy 50th, UMC. Will you join me in prayer for the next 50?

50 Reasons to Celebrate the UMC

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“So, How Long You Been Outta High School?”

I’ve tried to be nice about it.  I’ve tried using it as a teaching moment.  I’ve tried to ignore it.  I’ve tried to ask a different question.  But after meeting someone (usually an older adult) and they learn I am a pastor, I hear all too often,

“So, how long since you’ve been outta high school?!”  or the similar, “You look like you’re 16!”  “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a pastor?”

Setting all snark aside, and with all due respect, I want to say this to people of older generations: Please, please, PLEASE stop asking questions like this to young professional women.  Just stop.  I realize that the person might be trying to be funny or may think it’s a compliment, or to connect with us, but please.  Stop and think about it.  Would you have said the same thing to a young male professional?

Young professional women are tired of feeling like we have to prove ourselves fit for ministry or our work by answering or responding to questions like this.  We are tired of having to verify our age, credentials, or education just so you can feel empowered by asking such a question.  Questions like this are disrespectful, hurtful, sexist, and are bridge burners instead of bridge builders.

After enjoying a conversation recently with an older gentleman whom I had just met, this question came.  He knew I was a pastor.  He knew I was sitting with some of the members of my congregation.  Yet he asked it anyway.  I immediately put a wall up.

Instead of asking this question or something similar to a young woman, why not ask about her ministry, her work as a pastor, her reasons for responding to God’s call upon her life?  If you’re so curious about her age, why not ask about where she went to school, or why, at a young age, did she go into ministry when there are a lot of pastors who do not go into ministry until later in life as second career? Or sometimes, it’s best just to say nothing at all.

As a young clergy woman, I want to build relationships with people of all ages and to be on this journey with them.  But when the older generation just cannot help themselves and makes comments like this, it makes it very hard.  The UMC has been ordaining women for 60 years, and I have a wonderful circle of young women clergy colleagues who are building the kingdom and the church, and we want to come alongside you.  So please, ask a different question.

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