Why I’m Not Looking Forward to Annual Conference

Next week, members of the Kentucky Annual Conference will gather in Covington at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center for Annual Conference. The three-day event is typically a “family reunion,” where friends gather to reconnect, worship, and discern where God is leading our movement in the coming year.

I’m usually excited for this annual gathering. This year, however, I dread going to annual conference.

It has nothing to do with fighting Northern Kentucky traffic. It has nothing to do with my annual search for an affordable meal option. It even has nothing to do with the long lines for coffee during breaks.

It has everything to do with the current state of our denomination. We are in a state of infighting, which is not healthy for the long-term mission and vitality of the church. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Embrace of Jesus

On a bookshelf in my office is a new decorative piece that I received in Jerusalem. It is an olive wood carving of Jesus.

It is not the only such carving that I have in my office, but this one is different. When you look at it, the first thing you notice is Jesus embracing two children as he is sitting down. One child is cradled near his neck and likely a young toddler. The other is a young girl, perhaps no older than my own child, who is standing and brought in close to Jesus.

Of course, when you see the carving, your mind goes to the story in the Gospels when Jesus is confronted by his own disciples for welcoming children into his care. Children, in those days, were not to approach religious teachers until they reached a certain age, and a child approaching Jesus would have been unheard of and unacceptable. Jesus has other ideas, and says, “let the little children come to me.” (Matthew 19:14, NIV) Jesus is accepting and welcoming of children.

We know this. We celebrate it by singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Perhaps that might be all you think about if you looked at the carving. But beyond that, I’m drawn to Jesus’ arms when I look at it on the shelf.

His arms are embracing and welcoming, and they bring in those society has discarded as unwelcome. There is more to the carving, and perhaps more to Matthew 19:14, than just the idea of welcoming children to the church and making sure they are part of Sunday School, worship, and children’s activities.

I cannot help but think of how the same arms that lift up a toddler and a young child in a warm embrace, also bring in the least of these and the unwanted in our own time. Jesus’ words of welcome to the children are not limited to those who have yet to reach a certain age. It is also extended to the people who live upon society’s margins.

In Jesus’ time, you would be hard pressed to find just one group that lived on the margins. There were the poor who lived in the same communities Jesus traveled through, who barely had enough money to provide food for their families. There were the religious outcasts – women, Gentiles, and others – who were not allowed to worship with the entire community. There were people who were discounted simply for where they lived or what had occurred in their lives.

Each of these groups of people, Jesus routinely welcomed… to the consternation of both the religious elites and his own disciples. The embrace of Jesus is wide and welcoming to the very people society says “no” to including.

Our participation in the life of Christ calls us to have the same embracing attitude of society’s outcasts and undesirables as Jesus does. The embrace of Jesus calls us into society’s margins to share the love and hope of Christ to the least of these. It also calls us to go into places of power and privilege, to the communities that believe they have no need of the God of holy love, and to express the truth of God’s hope.

The call to live like Jesus is one that brings us into places we are not always comfortable with going. Our invitations of welcome and care, in the life of the church universal, are often limited to those we find acceptable and approachable. We are often more comfortable with reaching people who are “like us” and desire churches to be filled with only like-minded individuals. We do this to the detriment of true discipleship and the embrace of Jesus.

Living like Jesus takes us into areas where we might be uncomfortable and requires us to live with arms wide open. What often holds us back is our own fear of what may happen, our biases, and, ultimately, our own trepidation of truly living like Jesus. When we allow fear to consume us, our embrace is limited and our arms do not fling open as wide as we see Jesus’ arms do.

I cannot help but ponder how we might be called to reflect upon this as we approach Holy Week on Sunday. The message of Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot be just Good News for those who sit comfortably in the pews of the sanctuary. It must also be Good News for the poor, forgotten, and unwelcomed of society.

Perhaps as we go to the cross with Jesus, we need to contemplate how truly embracing the church, as a whole, can be towards those society does not accept. Perhaps we also need to contemplate our own contribution to those situations in our own limited welcome and embrace of others.

As we do, we need to consider the hope of the resurrection that announces God is doing something new in the world. Something new and amazing – not just for me. Something new and amazing – not just for you. Something new and amazing – not just for those who sit in the pews of the church. But truly, something new and amazing for the poor, the forgotten, the outcast, the shunned, and the unwelcome.

The hope of this season is that Jesus’ arms are flung wide open with love for everyone. We get to share that good news.

How Are We the Church

This past Sunday we continued our sermon series “I Believe” by looking at the phrase “I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of Saints.” We made the bold profession that we are the church. We are God’s mission in the earth to share the glory of the Lord. How amazing it is to be part of what God is doing in the world to share hope and love!

So, how are we being the church here at Ogden?

It is easy to focus on what is not – attendance, offering, discipleship, etc. – but I believe we build on what is

, so we may be the church that God is calling us to be in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton. I want you to know how proud I am to be your pastor and walk with you, because you inspire me in how you desire to be the church.472017_436765336365086_256924354_o

See, I believe Ogden is a church that seeks to support ministries and mission. Yesterday, our Finance Team made the decision to support our college ministries, camps, missions, and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) through our voluntary apportionments throughout the year. A couple of years ago, support for our camps, college ministries, and mission groups were cut along with apportionment requests. It was asked that local churches build partnerships with these groups to strengthen their ministries.

We as United Methodists believe we are in connection with one another, which means that we are all in this together. We do not exist on our own. We are part of a larger connection of churches and ministries throughout Kentucky and around the world. A Wesley Foundation, for instance, at Western Kentucky or Eastern Kentucky is your college ministry, because they are part of our shared life together. As it has been said before we are one church just in 800 locations throughout Kentucky. We are in this together.

It is because of your generous giving that we are able to be a church that builds partnerships and connections with our colleges, camps, and mission organizations.

I believe Ogden is a church, also, that cares for our youth and children. One of my joys has been watching our youth and children grow in their love of God. Through our Kids 4 Christ and youth ministries, I’ve seen our youth come together and share life with each other. I’ve seen our children ask questions about faith that our deep and holy. I’m thankful for Lisa Shaffer and our volunteers who make these ministries possible. We often believe our children are the future but let me say this … they are our present.

Finally, I believe Ogden is a church that loves each other. I see your love for one another in conversations after worship, throughout the week, and in your concern for people who are going through difficult life moments. The church is a fellowship of connection and concern – a family – and I appreciate your love for each other.

This is a great congregation. You are great people.

Now, let me say this … there is work still to be done. Work to build deeper partnerships with our connectional ministries. Work to help inspire people. Work to share the love of God with others.

What would it look like for Ogden to not just give money and send students to Loucon, but to volunteer and help as needed? What would it look like for you to come along side our youth and children to help them grow in their faith and love of God? What would it look like for you to share the love of God with people who believe the church is not for them?

As we said and sung Sunday, we are the church so let us be the church. Let us continue to be the church that God calls us to be. Let us be the church that makes disciples and finds new ways to reach new people.

I know we can, because I already see it here at Ogden and I can only imagine what God will continue to do in us moving forward.

Celebrating God’s Blessings at Ogden Memorial From 2017

Recently, some of our church leaders and I have worked to put together our end of the year reports. The end of the year report is a snapshot of our ministry and work together for the previous year. It is one way we tell the story of the ministry God is enabling us to do in Princeton and throughout our area.

I’m appreciative of Betty Veal and Lisa Shaffer for their tireless work in helping to organize our information. They are both great blessings to our work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton.

There is much to celebrate as we think back on 2017 and the work God entrusted us with as a church.

One point of celebration comes in increases to our average worship (101 in average worship attendance in 2017) and Sunday School attendance (39 average attendance). This is the first time both our worship and Sunday School numbers had increased in several years. Thank you for your dedication to worship and Sunday School. These are important aspects of how we love God and grow together as a congregation.

As a congregation, we have set a goal to seek further increases in our worship attendance in 2018 by 3 percent. We can reach this goal as we make being in worship a priority for our families, and also as we reach out and invite people we know are not attending worship to join us.

There are other places to celebrate in 2017 as it relates to our outreach into our community. I am thankful for ministries like Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, and others that help share the love of Christ with our community. We interacted with approximately 445 people in 2017 through community outreach events. That number includes Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, Service of Hope, and our Fall Festival.

These ministries help us share the love of Christ in meaningful ways. Our goal is to increase our outreach efforts in 2018 to reach people where they are in our community. One such way will be our Day of Caring on Saturday, April 28, when we will go out into our community to perform community service projects. You will hear more about this great event in the coming weeks.

Finally, I want to celebrate with you how you partner with ministries across Kentucky and around the world to share the love of Christ. As a congregation, we gave more than $26,000 to United Methodist ministries. This includes the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Home, Camp Loucon, the Western Kentucky Wesley Foundation, Red Bird Mission, and the Thailand Methodist Mission. We also donated approximately $7,000 to help support local ministries, such as at Brightlife Farms and the Hope and Cope Center.

Each of these places is worthy of celebration. I’m looking forward to where God will lead us as a congregation in 2018. I believe Ogden Memorial is ready for a mighty and impactful year in our work of making disciples. It will happen as we build upon the foundation that is here and seek to continue to make disciples and share the love of God together.

Are We Willing to Take a New Direction?

For Christmas vacation, my family and I traveled to West Virginia. Though we have been to the Mountain State hundreds of times to see family and reconnect with my home we decided to take a different route. We took a route that was less familiar, but offered more places to stop (which is an advantage when traveling with a 4-year old).

We didn’t know the route as well as our normal road, but we were confident we knew where we were going. We had family members who had talked about the route and its advantages. We stayed on major highways and interstates. If all that failed us, we had our trusty guide of an in-car navigational system on our phone to keep us going in the right direction.

All of that made taking a different route a simple trip back home to visit family.

What if none of that was available?

Would we still be willing to take a new route to get to the destination? What if we didn’t have family members who had traveled the road before? Would we still take the new road? What if there were no major interstates or highways to make the drive simpler? Would we still take the new road? What if we didn’t have an in-car navigational system?

Would we still take the new road? Continue reading

Walking into an Unknown Future

Recently, the Commission on a Way Forward, a 32-member team tasked with discerning the future of the United Methodist Church, released its initial proposal aimed at resolving questions within the church regarding homosexuality. This team has worked since the middle of 2016 on a plan, which will need approval by a called General Conference in February 2019.472017_436765336365086_256924354_o

According to the United Methodist News Service, the options on the table include:

  1. Keep the Book of Discipline language regarding homosexuality, and place an emphasis upon accountability.
  2. Remove language regarding homosexuality from the Book of Discipline in order to allow for contextualized ministry. The plan would also protect those who would not be comfortable with ordaining or marrying LGBTQ individuals.
  3. Would provide a unified set of doctrine, services, and Council of Bishops, while also paving a way for different groups within the church to have its own values, accountability, and mission.

As is often the case, when receive new information on something that is unknown we want to know more. What does this mean for Ogden Memorial? What does this mean for the Kentucky Annual Conference? What does this mean for the church as a whole?

Many of those questions we cannot answer, at least not yet.

That becomes the struggle of living into the unknown. We want to have all the answers before we take a bold step into an unknown future. The same is true for us, as a local church, as we discern where God is leading us within a changing culture and ministry context. We want to know what will happen, when it will happy, and how it will happen.

I get it, because I am just like that. Sometimes I am more like the Israelites walking with Moses than I care to admit. I want to be like the disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. More often than not I ask questions, want all the information, and hesitate to act before I am confident I know what is going to happen and when, just as the Israelites questioned Moses’ leadership continually, in part, because they weren’t sure what would happen next.

Faith, however, is the willingness to see the unseen and trust that God is at work, even when we do not have all the answers. No matter what happens within the United Methodist Church, there are some constants that will not change.

We will love Jesus.

We will love our neighbors.

We will make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world here in Princeton.

So, even though we don’t have all the answers we know where God is calling us to go and who to be: love the Lord, love our neighbors, and make disciples. That is our greatest purpose as we walk into a new future.

The Apostles: Where Are You Looking?

We continue, today, our journey through the Books of Acts by picking up right where we left off last week. To refresh your memory, we looked at how Jesus called the Apostles, the group who had followed him throughout his earthly ministry, to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. We even said there are times when we need to wait on God as we go out to share the message with others.

We pick up the story still as the Apostles and Jesus are still in Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus is giving his final instructions, but he is preparing to leave them soon. This Sunday, which we affectionately call Mother’s Day, is, this year, also the day we celebrate as Ascension Sunday. It focuses on an event 40 days after Easter when Jesus ascended to heaven to return to his place at the right hand of God the Father. This day anticipates the celebration of Pentecost, which is next Sunday, when we will celebrate the church’s birthday when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles.

For now, we are on the mountaintop receiving these last words from Jesus. He tells them that they will receive power from God and that they would be the witnesses of God’s love to all people. And then he ascends into the clouds.

After this moment, the Apostles cannot help but to stare into the sky looking at the clouds. Maybe they are thinking to themselves that the cloud is a sign of both the heavenly realm and God’s presence. But, most likely, the Apostles are staring into the clouds waiting for Jesus to return. Continue reading