Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pictures from NCJ Conference 2012

Picture by Sherry Parker
The opening plenary session of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. 

At the opening worship of NCJ 2012, the reading of scripture included these giant puppets. Heads up First UMC of Brighton. I think we need to get some giant puppets. 

North Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church

NCJ Conference 2012 is currently meeting in Akron, Ohio. I am a delegate representing the Detroit Annual Conference. The North Central Jurisdiction is made up of UM Conferences in these states: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. Delegates from those conferences meet every four years.

The main responsibility of the Jurisdictional Conference is to elect Bishops and assign bishops in the jurisdiction. in addition, the Jurisdiction funds ministries within the jurisdiction and provides a connection for the conferences.

This year, there will be no bishops elected in the North Central Jurisdiction. one bishop is retiring (Linda Lee) and two conferences are joining together as one area (Dakotas and Minnesota). I will admit that I have had a hard time working up enthusiasm for attending this meeting. But after an afternoon of great worship and interesting reports, I am coming around. This evening we listened to an open forum on the future of the UM church with leaders from around the jurisdiction. Thought provoking!

That's the intro. I'll send a few more thoughts from Akron.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Theology of Place

While at the Wild Goose Festival (wildgoosefestival.com), I sat in on Mike King's talk on "Theology of Place". King's basic point was "stay where you are". He said that he is blessed to have grown up in Kansas City and lived there all his life. His extended family live within a 15 mile radius. King and his wife have taken pilgrimages all over the world, but they return to the place, Kansas City, that they have committed to.

Even though King suggested that planting oneself in a physical place is important because God chose a specific place for the incarnation of Jesus Christ, I was skeptical. A lot of his presentation sounded like a love ode to Kansas City.

However, King's suggestion that committing to a place as a spiritual practice, continues to have me thinking. He pointed out that place comes before space. It is human to connect to place and to embrace it. If we devalue place, treating where we live as unimportant, we devalue life.

What does this mean for United Methodist clergy who are itinerate and lay people who move for career reasons? King would suggest that even if we know we are going to move, we can commit to the place we are in as if we would leave there forever. We can connect to the community, authentically and with energy.

During the Q & A of his talk, I asked whether the church could be a place or a part of pilgrimage. And how could spiritual leaders encourage a commitment to place. He didn't really answer my question.

When the presentation over, a woman sitting near me leaned over and said, "He didn't answer your question, did he?" When I agreed, she said, "I have a story."

Mary told me that she had lived with her husband in a home in Pennsylvania for 30 years. They'd raised their children there. But Mary had never seen it as her permanent home. She had her dream house in mind and assumed that someday they would find it and move. Then, about five years ago, they decided to hand build a Scandinavian masonry stove for their home. The stove is built into the foundation. In northern Europe these stoves are used for generations.

When the stove was complete, Mary realized that she and her husband would not be leaving. It would be her home for the rest of her life. She found herself changing the way she looked at the house. She started planting more perennials than annuals. She paid attention to the repair and decor of her home. She settled and felt more comfortable.

And then something interesting happened. People started asking to come and visit her garden and to sit with her on the patio. Her connection to the community grew and she opened her house in hospitality like never before. The transformation happened because her perspective of place changed.

What would happen if itinerant clergy and others made itinerant by their vocations, decided to have the perspective of commitment to place? Could a decision to live fully connected to a particular community change openness, acts of hospitality, compassion for neighbor?

I am willing to try.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Goes with the Territory

This Sunday, in the greeting line after worship, a woman said to me, "You're losing weight," and poked me in the stomach with her index finger. A bit stunned, I think I replied, "Thank you."

I've been professionally speaking to groups of people for 32 years. I'm used to the physical scrutiny that comes with that. As a high school teacher I received comments about baggy nylons, worn shoes, the length of my hair and the color of my clothes (I learned from a group of girls that I had a "blueberry dress" and a "bubblegum dress").

One would think that as a pastor, comments on my appearance would be less direct. Surprisingly, that's not the case. I have been told that my suit is too big, my skirt needs to be altered, and my alb is not very flattering. I have had comments on the color and style of my clothes, shoes and glasses. If I have any type of scrape or bruise that is visible, I am sure to be quizzed by parishioners.

Because I am a woman of a "certain age", other women will tell me after a worship service if I have had a hot flash (as if I didn't know).

I have had people straighten my collar, tug on my stole, fix my scarf, pat my hair in place, and pick cat hair and lint off me. But Sunday was the first time that someone poked me in the stomach. Actually, I thought that was reserved for pregnant women.

I like to protect my personal space (ask the staff at First United Methodist for more of my opinion on that!), and I'm surprised that a few days after the finger poke that I have not been able to work up sufficient indignation.

I know that being an effective pastor to a community of faith means being authentically open. I am blessed to share my joys and what breaks my heart with my church family. I know that my frank approach opens doors to meaningful conversation and rich pastoral care relationships. Another consequence of openness is an assumed intimacy, accompanied by the unexpected personal comment, complement, and finger poke. I have come to accept the surprising comments and actions of parishioners as a sign of connection.

My regret this week is that the parishioner did not get the "losing weight" part right.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Faith Meets Nationalism

This is a letter that I included on the front cover of the July 1 worship bulletin at First UMC of Brighton:

As we approach an important national holiday, celebrating the independence of our nation, we face the question of how our faith is connected to our national pride and responsibilities as citizens.

Many people talk about “separation of church and state,” but I have found that the separation that people truly want is separation from ideologies that don’t match their own. This makes the struggle to live together as a diverse people difficult and even polarizing.

I do not believe as disciples of Christ that we can be separated from our faith in any realm of life. We cannot step through any door, be it a private home or public institution, and not be influenced by our faith. This means that when we consider the deeds of our nation, the leadership of our elected officials and the use of our taxes, we must ask hard questions about how we care for all God’s creation and humanity. We will certainly have different opinions on how the work is to be accomplished and by whom, but at the core, our faith can inform us.

The First Amendment was not created to limit the use of our faith in forming our decisions; it was created to protect our right to be informed by faith. We can be thankful for the greatness of our nation, penitent for its failures and determined to help in the challenges that face our nation.

Central to this day is giving thanks for God, who by grace offers us a blessed way to act in the world.