A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections
"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57
"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57
Sunday, April 29, 2012
What a wonderful celebration it was last Sunday when we launched our church’s bicentennial anniversary with the dedication of our church bell. I want to thank Brian Bingham and our Bicentennial Committee for making last Sunday such a special day.
The timing of our bell dedication was no accident. It was around this time in the spring of 1812 that we were officially organized as a Methodist Episcopal Church. The word, “church” isn’t the best word to use to describe our beginnings. It was actually a class of only ten people.
Now ten people might not sound like enough people to start a new church, but this was how Methodism would get its start in a new location. Methodism had come to America as a lay movement consisting of small classes within the Church of England.
The first official Methodist class was formed in New York City in 1766, forty-six years before our church’s first class meeting here in Lancaster. And the person who organized this first Methodist class meeting in New York was Barbara Heck which is why she is referred to as the mother of American Methodism. The Heck’s came to the New World from Ireland where they had become Methodists thanks to the preaching of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
When the Heck’s came to New York, they no longer had their Methodist group and so they became very lax in their faith. That is until one day when Barbara Heck walked into a room to find her friends who had also come over from Ireland, playing cards and gambling. Much to her dismay, one of the men who was gambling was Philip Embury who had served as a local Methodist preacher back in Ireland!
Barbara immediately shared some choice words with these backslidden Methodist “wanna bees” and then she grabbed their playing cards and tossed them into the fireplace. But she wasn’t finished. She then turned to Embury and told him that he should begin preaching and pastoring again or their blood would be on his hands.
Soon after this famous gambling incident, the first Methodist class meeting in America was formed, and from there, Methodist classes and small groups spread like wildfire along the East Coast. This was all because a Methodist woman from Ireland threw some gambling cards into a fireplace because she had remembered the Methodist emphasis on doing no harm.
And now you know why United Methodists have a unified voice against gambling, against the lottery, and why we don’t participate in raffles. It’s part of our belief that gambling does a society more harm than good.
As part of our bicentennial celebration, I thought it would be good for us to take some time to think about John Wesley’s “Three Simple Rules” which Methodists have sought to live by throughout our history. There is little doubt in my mind that when those ten Methodists gathered each week in different homes and in the two-roomed log cabin of Edward Teal here in the area that was then known as New Lancaster, that these Three Simple Rules were the main focus of their meetings.
Today, we’re going to look at the first simple rule, “Do No Harm.” Next Sunday, we’ll look at the second rule, “Do Good.” And on May 13th, we conclude with the third simple rule, “Stay in Love with God.”
What does it mean to do no harm? Well evidently, it means to not play card games that promote gambling!
The Apostle Paul lists a lot of things that are harmful. In his letter to the Galatians, he refers to self-indulgence, hurting each other, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy. Paul is saying that all of these things are harmful not only to others but to ourselves.
Since this is a year to focus on our Methodist history, one of the great Methodist preachers was Sam Jones who lived during the 1800’s. He came from a line of seven Methodist preachers in the family. Born in Alabama, the Jones’ family moved to Georgia when Sam was ten.
The hope was for Sam to attend college but that didn’t happen since he started to drink heavily. He thought that by getting married and settling down it would help him to stop drinking, but it didn’t. He kept on drinking his life away. Somehow, he became a lawyer but that ended quickly because of his drinking problem.
By 1872, he was stoking furnaces and driving freight wagons for a living. The death of his infant daughter sobered him for a time, before he fell off the wagon yet again. Then in 1872, Jones was called to his father’s deathbed where his father pleaded with him to quit drinking and Sam promised he would. A week later during a church service, he made his confession to God to turn away from all the harm he was causing himself and others and he became a Christian.
Sam then became a Methodist preacher in the North Georgia Conference. Before long, his talent for preaching had him leading revivals in large cities that often gathered over a thousand people. He later became known as the Billy Graham of his day. Sam was always preaching against sin and hypocricy. His message was simple. He would often say, “The best thing a person can do is to do right and the worst thing a person can do is to do wrong.”
His most famous sermon was entitled, “Quit Your Meanness.” In that sermon he said, “Just quit your meanness and follow along in the footsteps of Jesus.”
You know, there are different kinds of meanness. There’s a meanness that is deliberate and blatantly rude and disrespectful and there’s a meanness that is of a more subtle variety.
An example of blatant meanness is when people consciously seek to harm others through words or actions. Have you ever read the comments on newspaper blogs? Some of those very mean and nasty comments are by people who should know better. It’s sad that we live in a culture where we often choose to shout at each other rather than have civil conversations on politics, social issues, and theology.
A friend of mine who is in my monthly small group, has a son who’s in junior high at a school district in our county. At one of our small group meetings this past fall, he showed me a picture of his son following surgery that he had on his broken nose. He was the victim of a bully at school who beat him up in the boy’s locker room requiring him to have surgery.
Bullying isn’t confined to a boy’s locker room. It also happens in board rooms, in offices, behind people’s backs, and through social media. In addition to the blatant and conscious meanness that can cause so much harm, there’s also what I would call the more subtle type of meanness.
A couple of months ago, I read the revised edition of the popular book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Steven Covey. And in his book, he shares a personal example of how he participated in this more subtle type of meanness while on a New York subway one Sunday morning.
He writes, “People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all.
It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’
You can imagine how Steven Covey felt in that moment. In an instant, his heart was filled with sympathy and compassion and he said to the man, ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’”
This little story reminds us that even when we think we’re in the right that we need to remember to tread lightly with our words. Treading lightly means that we acknowledge the other person as a child of God. Treading lightly means that we seek to be humble because we probably don’t know the full story. Treading lightly means that we have the mind of Christ which includes compassion, patience, humility, and love.
Paul’s words to us from Galatians are reminding us to tread lightly, to stop the meanness, and to do no harm.
This past November, the news of the Penn State child abuse scandal was all over the news. For at least a week after the news broke out that the university failed to act upon information of child abuse by a former assistant football coach, it seemed like every media outlet covered this tragic story. As a Pennsylvania native, my heart has been sickened over this scandal for the child abuse victims as well as the way the investigation process by university officials was handled.
About a month before the news of the scandal broke out, I had attended a Penn State football game. They played Iowa that day. I don’t always pay attention to the words of the alma mater song when it’s played during the game, but for some reason, I did this time. I’d like us to hear the words of this song because they speak of our topic today of doing no harm. It was the final verse of this song that made me stop and think and keep in mind that this was a month before the child abuse scandal broke out. Let’s listen.
Two hundred years ago, the ten people who helped to begin First United Methodist Church met weekly to review three simple rules. Are you doing no harm? Are you doing good? And how are you staying in love with God?
Today’s simple rule is to help us be more like Christ. More loving, more caring, more gracious.
May no act of ours bring shame. Do no harm.
Three Simple Rules: Do No Harm
Pastor Robert McDowell
April 29, 2012
Our Methodist History of Doing No Harm
- Barbara Heck, 1766
- Opposition to Gambling
- John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules:
1) Do No Harm (April 29)
2) Do Good (May 6)
3) Stay in Love with God (May 13)
The Apostle Paul – Do No Harm
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21
The Story of Methodist Preacher, Sam Jones (19th Century)
“Quit your meanness.”
Types of Meanness
A University’s Alma Mater – Do No Harm
Thoughts/Action Steps for the Week
1. Retired United Methodist Bishop, Reuben Job has written a very small book called, Three Simple Rules, Abingdon Press, 2007. It’s a great resource to reflect on these important rules of our faith. You can purchase a copy at our book table in the parlor.
2. Invite Jesus to reveal areas of your life where this first simple rule, “Do No Harm” can help you to become more Christ-like and loving toward yourself and with others.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Sunday, May 6 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 9 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)
Sermon - "Three Simple Rules: Do Good"
Features - 5th Sunday of Easter; Holy Communion; & Holy Baptism (10:30 A.M.)
Scripture - I John 4:7-21 & John 15:1-8
Theme - John Wesley, the founder of Methodism encouraged the early Methodists to practice three simple rules which are doing no harm, doing good, & staying in love with God. Today, we focus on what it means to do good.
Friday, April 27, 2012
From the Daily Office West website, a wonderful webesite for daily devotional readings.
April 29 Sermon – “Three Simple Rules: Do No Harm”
- This is a scripture about how to use our freedom, which is the main purpose of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
- Verse 13 - Freedom is so that we can be loving and not selfish. When we have fights and squabbles, we are not free. We are enslaved to our old way of living.
- Verse 16 - What’s the alternative to the old way of living? Allow the Spirit of God to direct your life.
- Focus on the list of selfish things (verses 19-21). Where do we see these things at work and in our own lives?
- Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The word, “good” means “beautiful” meaning that Jesus’ invitation to be their shepherd is compelling and attractive for people to follow him. Jesus’ love by being willing to die for the sheep draws us toward Jesus.
- This passage is similar to a political debate. Jesus is pointing out why he is the true Good Shepherd and the others are not.
- Verse 11 - The true shepherd is willing to die for the sheep!
- Who are the sheep? Jesus has in mind, the people of Israel but also everyone. It was through Israel that God would bring salvation to the world.
- Verse 18 – A hint of the resurrection.
- In talking about being the Good Shepherd, Jesus is probably thinking of Ezekiel 34. It talks about God being the true shepherd of Israel. But he also speaks of the Messiah being the shepherd of Israel. Through Jesus, we see that it is both since Jesus and God are one.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.
Maybe it is true,
we are all like snowflakes,
some just more flaky then others.
When I was in graduate school,
I had the first time experience
of living in a campus house.
It was a large Victorian home
that was available each year to 10 college students.
Because the monthly rent was so affordable,
there was great demand to live in it.
In my third year of school,
I was fortunate enough
to gain residence.
One of the purposes for the house
was to have students of varying
diversities live together
and become acquainted with
those different from themselves.
My housemates came from a variety of regions
around the country and even the world.
We represented a variety of academic studies
as well as ethnic backgrounds.
At the beginning of the year,
we decided to have Friday evening pizza socials
as a means to spend time together.
Since the ten of us had differing schedules and majors,
we rarely saw each other on the large campus.
This was our way of intentionally building community.
After one month, we agreed that it was working.
Except for Bonnie.
Bonnie seemed to be a bit of a loner.
She would leave the house early in the morning
and come home late in the evening.
She always seemed to be in a hurry
even though none of us ever knew where she was going.
When most of us had retired for the evening,
her return home was usually announced by the slamming of the front door
and the heavy pounding of her footsteps up the stairway.
Bonnie rarely talked to anyone unless
someone could stop her long enough to ask a question.
She never came to the pizza socials despite numerous invitations.
In fact, none of us ever shared a meal with her.
While the other nine of us began to build friendships,
Bonnie remained an enigma.
A few months later,
we began to receive regular phone calls from out-of-state banks
requesting that Bonnie return the calls.
Since this was the pre-cell phone age,
there was only one phone in the house for everyone to use.
Despite the numerous messages that we left for Bonnie,
calls were never returned.
Over Christmas break,
most of us departed for various locations to spend the holiday.
For the first time in 4 months,
Bonnie approached me and asked a question.
She needed a ride to the bus terminal
and asked if I would take her.
The 20 minute drive would be my chance, I thought,
to have a conversation with her.
It ended up being a one-sided conversation.
Bonnie simply didn't want me, or any of us
to know anything about herself.
Upon arrival at the terminal,
the car door slammed shut
without a "Thank you" or even a "Merry Christmas".
It was at that moment,
that I decided that I didn't like Bonnie.
In the next months not much changed
except that Bonnie returned from Christmas break
now committed to losing weight through a diet..........
a popcorn diet.
So now her late evening arrival
was announced by the slamming of the front door,
the footsteps pounding on the staircase
and the whirling of the hot air popper.
One afternoon as I was watching a football game
with one of my housemates
Bonnie came home.
It was one of the rare times
that she returned home midday.
What happened then was even more rare.
She stopped and looked at the television set for a few minutes
and then said,
"If you imagined that the lines on the football field
were like the lines of a musical staff,
and the players were musical notes,
I wonder what kind of melody it would be
if you read them where they fell."
My housemate and I just looked at each other.
Bonnie had just taken two things that I enjoy,
music and football,
and turned them into crazy talk.
With that comment,
she didn't wait for a response.
(I'm not sure what response there could have been)
She marched to the kitchen
where the whirl of the hot air popper began.
The end of the school year
marked the end of my time at graduate school.
We had our final pizza social as a time to say goodbye
and recall all the good times we had during the year.
We decided to end our time
by closing in a circle and praying for each other.
Just as we started to pray,
you guessed it....
Front door slammed,
heavy footsteps straight past the folks in the prayer circle,
hot air popper began its loud roar.
An invitation to join us in the goodbyes went unheeded,
as had many invitations throughout the year.
Some of the most fervent prayers in my life
have come at odd times and locations,
but let me say this............
it is really difficult to hear let alone concentrate
while praying to the whirl of a hot air popper.
That was the last time I saw Bonnie.
No goodbye as she stomped up the steps to her room.
While many of us were shedding some tears at our departures,
Bonnie was continuing to raise the stock of Orville Reddenbacher popcorn.
I don't know if the banks ever caught up with Bonnie,
I don't know if her popcorn diet worked.
I don't know if Bonnie ever developed a meaningful relationship.
And to this day,
I don't fully know the reason that Bonnie and I were housed together for that year.
But this I do know.
Bonnie matters to God.
And even if I didn't like her,
I knew I needed to love her,
because God loves her.
Sometimes loving someone,
particularly someone who is so different from one's self,
means allowing them their space as they learn to love in return.
Some snowflakes just fall and melt quickly,
as if they were never there.
Others fall and remain for a while.
No matter the duration,
they bring value to our existence,
even if to us, it seems so insignificant.
May the Lord give you a Bonnie in your life,
so that you can love the unlikeable,
much the same as Christ loved us
despite our shortcomings.
"Let all that you do be done in love."
I Corinthians 16:14
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Our church leaders will be participating in a post Unbinding Your Heart church leader planning retreat tomorrow at our Crossroads facility. The purpose of the retreat is two-fold; to pray together/listen for God's voice & share where we feel God is leading us as a church. The retreat includes our Church Council, our ministry staff, and our Unbinding Your Heart facilitators.
The book, Unbinding Your Heart was our congregation's focus during this past season of Lent which involved over 40 small group facilitators and 270 small group participants. We heard several testimonies of faith from different people during Sunday worship throughout our six week journey.
The two key elements of Unbinding Your Heart are prayer and faith sharing. We constantly asked ourselves where God was present and why God and the church mean so much to us. By asking these important questions on a daily basis, we become more intentional and willing to invite others into the life of our church.
Since prayer is a key part of our Unbinding Your Heart spiritual journey, I invite us to keep tomorrow's planning retreat in our thoughts and prayers. The prayer below is one that we have been encouraged to pray for the past year. It's a good one!
Dear God, thank you for First United Methodist Church. Strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Monday, April 23, 2012
The information below is from the www.umc.org website which has comprehensive coverage of General Conference 2012 (April 24 - May 4.) The conference is being held in Tampa, Florida and is the top legislative body of the United Methodist Church consisting of 1,000 delegates evenly divided between laity and clergy. They meet every four years.
Please pray for the General Conference and especially our West Ohio lay and clergy delegates listed below. Rev. Alice Wolfe, Pastor of Baltimore Christ UMC is a member of my clergy cluster.
West Ohio Delegation Members
|Dee Stickley-Miner||Chris Steiner|
|Mary Kercherval Short|
The UMC has an excellent daily prayer devotional to use during the sessions. Here's the link.
Major IssuesNOTE: This background section was prepared prior to publication of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate and may not include all proposals related to an issue.
Restructuring General AgenciesLegislation from the 60-member Connectional Table proposes consolidating nine of the denomination’s 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. The center would be governed by a 15-member board of directors, which would be accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. The council would replace the Connectional Table, which was created in 2004 to coordinate the denomination’s mission, ministries and resources.
The recommended restructuring is a result of the church’s multiyear Call to Action process. Originating with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table, the Call to Action aims to address decades of decline in the denomination’s U.S. membership and to increase congregational vitality. The suggested changes originated with the Interim Operations Team, eight laity and clergy working with denominational leaders to implement the Call to Action recommendations. .
The Connectional Table refined and endorsed the recommendations.
The new center would have five offices; four would relate to the Four Areas of Focus adopted by the 2008 General Conference. The proposed offices are:
- Office of Shared Services, which would include the essential functions of the General Council on Finance and Administration, United Methodist Communications and other agencies’ communications staff, the General Commission on Archives and History and the denomination’s information and technology support.
- Office of Congregational Vitality, encompassing the essential functions of the General Board of Discipleship and multicultural ministries (Focus: New Places and People).
- Office of Leadership Excellence, encompassing much of the work currently done by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (Focus: Developing Leaders).
- Office of Missional Engagement, responsible for much of the work of the General Board of Global Ministries, including global health, missionaries, Volunteers in Mission and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (Focus: Global Health).
- Office of Justice and Reconciliation, encompassing the essential functions of the General Board of Church and Society, the General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (Focus: Ministry with the Poor).
The Connectional Table supports the petition of the Women’s Division (United Methodist Women) to separate from the General Board of Global Ministries. It and the General Commission on United Methodist Men would become membership organizations accountable to General Conference.
Reforming the Council of BishopsUnited Methodist bishops propose amending the church’s constitution to redefine the role of the president of the Council of Bishops.
Under the proposal, the president would serve full time for four years without the responsibilities of overseeing a geographic area. The president would be the denomination’s chief ecumenical officer, help align the strategic direction of the church and focus on growing vital congregations, among other duties.
The intent is to enable the president to focus better on the global church. The president would also help give The United Methodist Church a more prominent voice on the public stage.
Currently, the council president serves a two-year term and retains a residential assignment. The presidency now rotates among the U.S. jurisdictions and the central conferences.
Proposals to have a full-time president go back at least to 1968 and the merger that created The United Methodist Church, but none has been approved.
To be adopted, a constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the delegates to General Conference and two-thirds of the aggregate number of members attending annual conferences.
The current proposal follows a Call to Action recommendation to reform the Council of Bishops. Active bishops would assume responsibility for establishing a new culture of accountability throughout the church and promoting congregational vitality by improving attendance, participation in servant/mission ministries and benevolent giving, lowering the average age of church participants and increasing professions of faith and baptisms.
Another proposal folds the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the denomination’s ecumenical agency, into the Council of Bishops. The commission’s staff members would work for the council as part of the newly created Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships. The commission’s current 38-member board of directors would become a 15-member oversight group. If the legislation passes, the new office will be established by 2013 or 2014. If not approved, the commission will continue to exist, but with a 15-member board.
Clergy Appointments and Ordination ProcessThe 2008–12 Commission to Study the Ministry is making several recommendations. Chief among them is eliminating appointment guarantees for ordained elders in good standing, while retaining the ability of bishops to move clergy to different assignments and churches.
Guaranteed appointments are a major contributor to mediocrity and ineffectiveness, the ministry study commission said, and guaranteeing all elders an appointment restricts the flexibility of bishops to appoint the most effective person for each congregation. As some churches struggle to survive and some conferences have an oversupply of ordained clergy, guaranteed appointments have become a barrier to achieving the church’s mission, according to the commission.
The Sustainability Advisory Group, a body examining church finances, supports the proposal. The group says the present appointment structure and compensation system are unaffordable and unsustainable and often do not place competent, qualified leadership in local churches.
The Book of Discipline states elders in good standing who honor their covenant to the itineracy, effectively fulfill their ministerial duties and attend to continuing education requirements “shall” be continued under appointment. The proposal changes the language to “may” continue to be appointed.
The commission recognized concerns that eliminating appointment guarantees could adversely affect pastoral freedom in the pulpit and leave clergy subject to potential abuse of authority. The commission recommends each annual conference determine a clear definition of clergy effectiveness and a method for evaluating effectiveness and the mission needs of communities.
Delegates will also consider proposed procedures to address concerns about clergy ineffectiveness. Under the proposal, a corrective plan between the bishop and the clergy person will be initiated after concerns are identified. If that plan is not carried out as directed or fails to produce the desired result, the bishop and district superintendents may place the clergy person on “administrative location,” which removes the clergy’s conference membership.
To help ensure that women and racial-ethnic clergy are treated fairly, the commission proposed that the jurisdictional committees on episcopacy meet annually to review and evaluate the commitment of the bishops in their jurisdictions to open itineracy.
The commission also recommended streamlining the candidacy process. If approved by delegates, candidates could be eligible for ordination as soon as they complete their educational requirements. After serving at least two years as a provisional elder or deacon, they would be eligible for full conference membership.
BudgetThe General Council on Finance and Administration and Connectional Table are proposing a budget of $603 million for the 2013–16 operations of the denomination’s general agencies.
The figure represents a 6.04 percent reduction from 2009–12 and marks the first time a smaller budget will go before the church’s top legislative body. While budgets for the agencies have increased over previous years, income has not kept pace with inflation.
Reductions in the number of members in U.S. congregations and declining revenue have forced general agencies to eliminate some staff positions and programs. The number of general agency staff positions has decreased annually from 3,139 in 1971 to 1,384 in 2010.
According to the General Council on Finance and Administration, the 7.7 million members in some 33,500 churches in the United States had expenditures totaling $6.2 billion in 2009. Of that total, churches paid $126.3 million or 2.03 percent to the seven general church apportionments — 79 percent of the $159.3 million budgeted.
Budgeted funds support seven general apportionments: Africa University Fund, Black College Fund, Episcopal Fund, General Administration Fund, Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, Ministerial Education Fund and World Service Fund, which provides funding for most general agencies.
Factors considered in budget projections include church membership, inflation, per-capita disposable income and “giving elasticity” — the percent of giving from increased revenue, net spending and the U.S. gross domestic product.
Budget-related IssuesDelegates will consider amending the church’s constitution to allow General Conference to empower other units or bodies within the denomination to raise and distribute funds — in essence, directing and initiating the work of the church — between General Conference sessions, provided those groups are accountable to General Conference. Currently, after General Conference adjourns, no entity can make changes to the allocated budgets.
The intent of the amendment is to equip the church to be more flexible in ministry and mission.
Another recommendation enables General Conference to authorize the board of the proposed United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry to study the most effective ways to fulfill the mission of the church, specifically sustaining and developing greater numbers of vital congregations.
Under this proposal, the board would evaluate programs and spending at all levels of the church.
Ultimately, it could reallocate up to $60 million during the 2013–16 quadrennium. Of that total, $5 million would go toward theological education in the central conferences and $5 million toward lay leadership development for young people. Additional funds would support efforts increasing the number of vital congregations and training ministerial students under age 35.
One goal is to fund education at United Methodist-related seminaries to help reduce student debt.
The Global ChurchDelegates will consider recommendations to make the denomination less U.S.-centric and strengthen its worldwide connection.
The 20-member Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church of international church leaders recommends three actions:
- Adopt “A Covenant for the Church as a Worldwide Church,”
- Streamline The Book of Discipline to focus on law and doctrine applying to the entire church rather than dealing with predominantly U.S. issues, and
- Renew conversation about restructuring the denomination so General Conference can concentrate solely on issues affecting the church worldwide.
The group calls for discussion of creating “continental conferences,” new bodies in North America, Africa, Asia and Europe to focus on regional church issues. Under such restructuring, General Conference’s role would narrow to include only issues of global relevance.
The committee does not expect action on its suggested structural changes until 2016 at the earliest. The committee’s main emphasis in 2012 will be adoption of the covenant as a statement of intent.
The 2008 General Conference directed the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table to appoint the study committee after that assembly approved 23 constitutional amendments to make the church’s structure more uniform globally. Those amendments were not ratified by the annual conferences.
The amendments would have allowed the organization of groups of annual conferences in a particular area or single nation, including the United States, into a larger regional conference. The term “central conference,” referring to the church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe, could have been replaced by “regional conference.”
The United Methodist Church has nearly 41,000 congregations in the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines. In 2010, the denomination reported more than 12.1 million members worldwide. About 7.7 million United Methodists live in the United States.
SexualityMore than a dozen U.S. annual conferences are petitioning General Conference on the church’s stance and statements on homosexuality.
More than half urge delegates either to remove discriminatory language from or add inclusive language to the Social Principles. Others propose removing bans on clergy performing same-gender marriage or civil unions or holding those ceremonies at United Methodist churches. Some would remove prohibitions against practicing homosexuals being certified as clergy candidates, ordained or appointed in the church.
At least one annual conference seeks to uphold the current language regarding homosexuality.
The General Board of Church and Society is petitioning to strike two statements from the Social Principles: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching;” and “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.” The petition seeks to add the statement, “As a denomination, we are conflicted regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality.”
Since 1972, the subject of homosexuality has been debated and discussed at every General Conference. While delegates have consistently voted to keep the Discipline’s stance against the practice of homosexuality and the candidacy, ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, disagreement about the issue continues.
In mid-2011, at least 900 active and retired United Methodist clergy around the United States signed pledges affirming their willingness to perform same-sex unions. At the same time, 33 retired United Methodist bishops, including two from central conferences, called on the church to remove its ban on homosexual clergy. In response, more than 2,500 United Methodist clergy and 12,000 laity signed letters urging the Council of Bishops to take a public stand supporting the denomination’s position. In November, following the council meeting, the bishops issued a statement declaring their commitment to their covenant “to uphold The Book of Discipline as established by General Conference.” The statement also acknowledges the denomination’s “deep disagreements over homosexuality.”
In June 2011, the church wrestled with the issue in a public church trial for the seventh time in 20 years. The Rev. Amy DeLong, a lesbian clergy member of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, was charged with violating the church’s ban on non-celibate, gay clergy and its prohibition against clergy officiating at same-sex unions. Acquitted of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” DeLong was found guilty of celebrating a same-gender union. The trial court suspended her from ministerial functions for 20 days and sentenced her to a yearlong process to “restore the broken clergy covenant relationship.”
The sentence marked the first time in 20 years in which a United Methodist elder was not stripped of his or her clergy credentials or placed on indefinite suspension. Although the Rev. Greg Dell was initially suspended indefinitely in 1999, the North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals later amended the suspension to one year. Observers said DeLong’s sentence is indicative of the division over the issue.
The 2008 General Conference rejected language acknowledging the church’s disagreement on homosexuality and retained language describing homosexual practice as incompatible with Christian teaching.
Delegates in 2008 also adopted wording stating “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God” and calling United Methodists to “seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.”
Delegates retained statements asking “families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends” and approved a resolution to oppose homophobia and heterosexism, saying the church opposes “all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation.”
MembershipThe Book of Discipline states all people “without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition” shall be eligible to attend worship, participate in programs, receive sacraments, be admitted as baptized members and “upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith” become professing members in any local church in the connection.
The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is asking General Conference to add “gender” to the list of categories. One annual conference is urging delegates to include “sexual orientation, gender choices and gender identity.”
AbortionOne annual conference is asking General Conference to end the church’s financial support of and membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The conference is also petitioning to remove from the Social Principles the statement recognizing “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.” The petition adds a statement to allow abortion, if deemed necessary by medical professionals, “when life conflicts with life.”
The 2008 General Conference affirmed the continued membership of the General Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
DivestmentThe General Board of Church and Society is asking delegates to instruct all general agencies to divest immediately from “Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard until they end their involvement in the Israeli occupation” of the Palestinian territories. Those companies were named because general agencies, boards and annual conferences have repeatedly asked them to cease their involvement, according to the petition.
The petition also urges divestment within two years from other companies that have been identified as being involved in the occupation if those companies do not cease their involvement.
At least five annual conferences submitted similar petitions.
Delegates in 2008 rejected a petition calling on the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and the General Council on Finance and Administration to identify companies profiting “from sales of products or services that cause harm to Palestinians and Israelis” and to begin phased selective divestment from them.
ImmigrationWith tougher immigration laws passed in several states and continued debate over U.S. immigration policy, various church groups are advocating for change.
The Women’s Division is petitioning General Conference to urge the U.S. government and denominational groups to dismantle policies that unfairly target and criminalize communities of color. Among other actions, the petition urges General Conference to call on the U.S. government to stop racial profiling, raids and wrongful imprisonment; and institute legalization programs for migrants that protect civil and labor rights, keep families together and strengthen communities.
The petition also urges United Methodists to build alliances between citizen communities of color and new migrant communities, challenge police engagement in immigration enforcement, and provide local ministries of compassion and solidarity.
At least six annual conferences in 2011 passed resolutions calling either for comprehensive immigration reform or support of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), a bipartisan bill to provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements.
Laws passed in Arizona in 2010 and Alabama in 2011 moved United Methodists to repeat their call for immigration reform and mobilize for advocacy.
Among the issues with the Alabama law, considered the toughest immigration law in the United States, was a provision making it a crime to harbor or transport immigrants who are not in the country lawfully. That portion was blocked after a coalition of groups and individuals, including bishops of the United Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches, filed suit against the law contending that it would criminalize routine acts of ministry.
The Arizona law requires police to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials. It also makes failure to carry immigration papers a misdemeanor and allows people to sue local governments or agencies if they believe the federal or state immigration laws are not being enforced.
The United Methodist Task Force on Immigration and MARCHA, the denomination’s Hispanic caucus, called on every United Methodist to oppose the law.
Despite opposition to the laws, United Methodists do not agree about the solution to the United States’ immigration issues.
The church’s Social Principles call on the church and society “to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
The 2008 General Conference urged the United States to reform immigration laws and make “family unity, students being able to get an education at an affordable rate, fair and just treatment of laborers and a reasonable path towards citizenship a priority.”
War and PeaceGeneral Conference 2008 approved a petition calling for the end of the war in Iraq. In 2012, delegates will address the issue of the war in Afghanistan.
The Women’s Division and at least one annual conference want General Conference to advocate for the end of the conflict in Afghanistan. The Women’s Division further calls for promoting “Afghan-led peace talks” that include women and redirecting U.S. financial resources from the war to improving the lives of women, children and communities worldwide.
A petition from the General Board of Church and Society asks United Methodists to expand their peacemaking efforts globally by encouraging worldwide disarmament of nuclear and conventional weapons and redirection of military spending to “peaceful and sustainable purposes.”
Financial Reform and EqualityIn the wake of a collapsed U.S. housing market, recessions and continued high unemployment, coupled with a worldwide economic crisis, delegates will consider two petitions from the General Board of Church and Society that attempt to safeguard the “most vulnerable members of society.”
One urges governments to “reapportion national revenue diverted from military spending” and to prioritize domestic programs to reduce social inequalities.
Another calls for United Methodists to educate themselves and others about abusive and deceptive lending practices and to take steps to reduce them. A third calls for establishment of fair and just tax structures globally to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
EnvironmentOne annual conference is petitioning General Conference to urge congregations to evaluate their carbon footprint.
The Women’s Division is calling for delegates to approve advocacy urging governments to codify reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the level needed to reduce atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases.
BullyingAt least two annual conferences want delegates to affirm their opposition to bullying, while the General Board of Church and Society is urging the church to take specific steps to reduce bullying in society.
Legal JusticeOne annual conference is calling on General Conference to support efforts to restore voting rights to ex-felons.
CivilityTwo petitions call for greater civility in public discourse.
One from the General Board of Church and Society calls United Methodists to urge elected officials to refrain from using hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric that prohibits meaningful dialogue and to model that behavior themselves.
A petition from the Women’s Division calls on the church to model a different way of discussing controversial issues as an act of justice to counter “the current climate of hate and racism in the United States and in other parts of the world arising from the global economic crisis.”
Disability AwarenessOne annual conference has asked General Conference to develop a committee on disability awareness.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Reading #1 “Sturdy Settlers, Eager Souls...”
Guest Reader; Rev. Brooks Heck
The year was 1799. A small group of pioneers were gathering within the cabin home of Edward Teal along the banks of the nearby stream, Pleasant Run.
Edward Teal had been a Baltimore, Maryland Methodist class leader prior to relocating to what would eventually become the town of New Lancaster… an area still regarded as “The Wild Frontier” by most Easterners, as the region remained a primitive wilderness in those days indeed!
Still, it was in that rustic setting that one of the first informal Methodist gatherings in this area would take place. This gathering is known to have consisted of Teal and his wife and four other couples. These hearty pioneers had gathered to hear the preaching of one James Quinn… a Methodist traveling clergyman.
Other Methodist Circuit Riders soon crisscrossed the largely untamed Ohio countryside as well; preaching the Gospel and sharing the teachings of John Wesley to many an eager soul of the early 1800s.
The geographic boundaries of the Fairfield Circuit were officially established at the Methodist Western Conference held October 1, 1811 in Cincinnati.
The following spring of 1812, the prominent Circuit Rider James B. Finley organized the very first Methodist class in the fledgling town of New Lancaster.
That 1812 gathering was the first formal Methodist class in New Lancaster and, most importantly, the first gathering with a defined organization.
And thus… a brand new Methodist Episcopal congregation had assembled from out of the literal wilderness exactly two-hundred years ago nearly to this very day… A family of faith destined to become The First United Methodist Church of Lancaster.
…and the story of First Church had just begun to ring on!
Bicentennial bell tolls a single chime
Reading #2 “Disruptive Times”
Guest Reader; Rev. Robert Kimes
1820… A time documented locally as “The Year of Disruption”!
Many an American Methodist had objected to the authority of Bishops during the early years of the church!
The subject of the abolition of human slavery also contributed mightily to local tensions during the 1820s! An Ohio Conference had recently condemned Methodist ministers engaged in the slave trade except for humane purposes. To make matters even more contentious, several early New Lancaster residents were recently relocated slave-abiding southerners.
Any resolution to your slavery debates during these early, pre-Civil War years is not immediately known. The debate over the authority of Bishops, however, is known to have raged on for years within the entire Methodist Episcopal denomination. This squabble finally resulted in the splintering away of numerous Methodists into the newly formed Methodist Protestant Church in 1828. The local Protestant church opened with forty-one members, most of whom rejoined your congregation following the failure of the local Protestant denomination a mere twenty years later.
Meanwhile, back in the 1820s, a nearby Wyandotte Indian Mission became the first foreign mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Ohio Conference. The Reverend James B. Finley, one of Lancaster’s earliest traveling preachers, became your very first missionary!
And the story of First Church would continue to ring on through the years….
Bicentennial bell strikes a single ring
Reading #3 “Bricks and Mortar, A Ton of Bronze and a Fire…”
Reader; Rev. Cheryl Foulk, Visitation Pastor
Reader; Rev. Cheryl Foulk, Visitation Pastor
Your young congregation had grown steadily, and it was time to replace your original South High Street meeting house. Construction commenced on a new brick structure in the spring of 1838 on the same property as your initial building. The first service was conducted in the basement of the new church on Christmas Day, 1838. The basement housed all subsequent services until 1843, as the sanctuary above required nearly five additional years to complete!
You eventually commissioned a magnificent bronze bell – your recently restored Bicentennial Bell—and installed it within the modest steeple of the new church.
Your bell was cast at the Menealy Bell Foundry in West Troy, New York in 1849. The same general size and ring-tone as the Liberty Bell, it must have been a glorious Sunday morning indeed when your ancestors were first called to prayer by the glorious ring from the brand new bell!
The South High street church building was destroyed by fire in 1944, nearly forty years after you had relocated to your present structure and had sold the old building to the Lancaster Masons. The Masons rebuilt following the fire, and it currently remains a near copy of your 1840’s church building.
And the history of First Church would continue to ring on through the years…
Bicentennial bell strikes a single ring
Reading #4 “Brethren at war… peal after peal of the bells”
Guest Reader; Rev. Sam Halverson
Human slavery in America had pitted the Lancaster Methodists in considerable debate since our earliest days. And, even though Abraham Lincoln and his anti-slavery platform had badly lost Fairfield County during his presidential election victory in 1860, Lancaster’s fathers and sons dutifully marched off in defense of the Union when the U.S. Civil War commenced the following spring.
After four long years of bitter bloodshed, and according to one local historian – “When news of the Civil War’s end arrived on April 9, 1865 …peal after peal of bells emanated from the churches of Lancaster!”
Our bell contributed mightily to that joyous symphony of chimes from its steeple high atop the old Methodist Episcopal Church building down on South High Street!
But, sadly, our bell would soon sound a mournful toll as, once again, all the Lancaster church bells rang simultaneously, reportedly without a single pause between 10:00 AM and noon on April 18, 1865, a mere nine days after Lee’s surrender to Grant. Now our bell chimed to mark the funeral of the assassinated President Lincoln.
And the history of First Church would continue to ring on through the years…
As your historic old bell rings once more between readings, let us remember all our brethren -- on both sides -- who suffered and died during the Civil War.… including President Abraham Lincoln.
Bicentennial bell strikes a single ring
Reading #5 “Friends Across Town and Familiar Settings”
Guest Reader; Rev. Jerry Dickey
The Methodists west of the Hocking River desired a congregation of their own at the turn of the twentieth century, and the Sixth Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church was thus established.
The old High Street church was deemed inadequate for your future needs at about that same time as well. The Stutson residence at the corner of High and Wheeling Streets was available, and it was here you chose to locate your new church.
Construction began and a cornerstone was ceremoniously placed in 1905. A grand dedication service officially opened this splendid building on Sunday, September 15, 1907.
Not until the spectacular and much needed Crossroads Center opened a full century later would you again relocate in any way.
Before vacating the old High Street church, the grand old bell was relocated to the belfry of your new six-story tower! Seventeen years later, a bank of electric Deagan chimes arrived as a memorial gift and your 1849 bell was lowered to a dusty landing midway down the tower where it went silent, cold and largely forgotten.
The bell was ultimately rediscovered eighty-six years later, restored and has once again taken its place as a significant feature of the life of your church, serving now as a permanent marker of this congregation’s bicentennial!
The 1924 Deagan chimes were replaced in 2009 with ten glorious Carillon Bells which were -- along with the Bicentennial Bell Monument project -- separate and magnificent gifts to your congregation from several of her contemporary families!
And the story of First Church would continue to ring on….
Bicentennial bell strikes a single toll
Reading #6 “For Grandmother and Grandpa, Mother and Daddy…”
Guest Reader; Rev. Ralph Hudson
It is now 1912… Your Centennial anniversary!
The mile-posts of the next three decades will include The Methodist Episcopal Church Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals – a massive national lobby supporting Prohibition’s successful passage in 1920!
Local summertime camp meetings still draw large, exuberant crowds. Nationally known orators include the great William Jennings Bryan!
World War I has cast a pall across your congregation and the Great Depression will again darken the mood a single, roaring decade from now.
The word “Episcopal” disappears following the unification of the three American Methodist denominations in 1939. For the next twenty-nine years you will simply attend “The Methodist Church”.
World War II erupts!
Still… your city and your congregation are truly thriving, thanks largely to the enormous success of The Anchor Hocking Corporation!
Lancaster is now a grand place to live and work indeed… and “The Church on the hill” is one of her leading houses of worship!
Your sanctuary is enhanced with an artfully-carved oak Chancel area in 1944! The original, 1907 organ remains, however, as your spectacular Schantz pipe organ won’t arrive until 1971.
But… Let us end this chapter back in 1945…
World War II is ending.
An era of prosperity unprecedented in human history is at hand. Your country, your city and your church will soon come under the stewardship of a new, depression-weary and war-hardened generation. History will eventually honor this group of young adults as “The Greatest Generation”!
And the history of First Church will decidedly continue to ring on!
As your Bicentennial bell rings yet again, let us each quietly honor our own parents and grandparents… regardless their respective denominations.
(Bell strikes a single ring)
Reading #7 “A truly historic preacher…”
Reader; Jack Burnside, A Long-Time Church Member
A new pastor arrived here in 1946….
Dr. Herd’s historic work began immediately with his educational program for children preparing for membership. Hundreds would benefit greatly from participating in this excellent program!
Our Church facilities developed steadily during Reverend Herd’s pastorate as well.
Several projects included a significant building addition in 1950, the acquisition of the Stanberry-Rising House, and the establishment of the north parking area.
We observed our 150th anniversary with numerous celebrations in 1962… coincidentally the precise half-way point of Reverend Herd’s remarkable thirty year tenure here.
Six years following our Sesquicentennial, we became known officially as “The First United Methodist Church” with the merging of the Methodist and United Brethren Churches in 1968.
Of the six First Church senior pastors since Reverend Herd’s retirement in 1976, Dr. Heck and Reverend Larry Brown combined to cover twenty-two of those intervening years. We have been blessed with many much-beloved associate pastors over the years as well!
We are grateful to the former pastors who were able to return to First Church to celebrate with us this morning!
Inspiring and dedicated clergy continue to pastor First Church to this day.
But, quite likely never again will any pastor shepherd the sheer number of souls here as did Dr. George W. Herd; A truly historic clergyman and senior pastor to at least five generations of Lancaster Methodists!
…and the story of First Church would continue to ring on!
Bicentennial bell strikes a single tone
Reading# 8 “10,614 plus 10”
Reader; Rev. Robert McDowell, Sr. Pastor
Two centuries of worship together… What an amazing, humbling testament to an unbroken family of faith!
This morning we’ve heard about bricks and wood and bells, pioneers, preachers and even a U.S. president!
But, it still seems this occasion is about a bit more than all of that. But what more? Hmmmmm… What more indeed?
How about Youth choirs and Adult Bible Studies? Alter Guild, Global and Local Missions, Second Saturdays and The U.M.W.. The Cokesbury Book Table, Wednesday Night and Shrove Tuesday Dinners, Youth Fellowship and Confirmation Classes. Sunday Schools and a myriad of adult choirs!
Consider Christmas Eve and Easter Sunrise Services. Sunday Morning Greeters, Sound Board and Radio Ministries, Monday Night Callers, Vacation Bible Schools, Trustees and Church Council. First Community Kitchen, The Carols of Christmas, Van Ministry and The Sundae Shop. Men’s Breakfast, Worship Arts and magnificent organ and piano music!
Think of the Puppets, Clowns and Magic Ministries. Bell Choirs, Bore’s Head, The Last Supper and Home Study. Staff-Parish Relations, Church Orchestra, Caring Ministry, Boy Scouts and Men’s Fellowship. Softball, Golf, Bowling, our beloved Ushers and even several spectacular Haunted Houses!
We recall the Visitation Ministry, the Finance Committee and the Blood Pressure Clinic. The A.I.D.s task force, and the Sewing, Painting, Woodworking and Flower Arranging Ministries. Holy Week, Amazing Praise and Unbinding Your Heart. The Messenger, The Circuit Rider, The Friendship Class and The Celebration Committees from 1843, 1912, 1962, 1984 and 2012!
And, how could we possibly forget all those countless, professional church staff people down through the years!
All of that and much more merely begins to recall the vibrant life of this congregation since 1812!
Imagine the sheer numbers of weddings, baptisms, burials and roughly 10,400 Sunday mornings lead in worship by nearly eighty individual preachers!
Existing records confirm enough active members to fill this sanctuary seventeen times over! That’s 10,614 souls… Plus the ten newest members just joined last month!
All the facts, figures and stories you’ve just heard not only echo the remarkable history of your congregation, but also anticipate with glorious certainty that the story of First Church will continue to ring on for years and years to come!
(Two rings of the bicentennial bell)
Happy Bicentennial First United Methodist Church!
[These eight readings were written by Brian Bingham, church member in loving memory of his mother-in-law, Viola Baus, an earnest student of local history and a life-long First Church member.]
[These eight readings were written by Brian Bingham, church member in loving memory of his mother-in-law, Viola Baus, an earnest student of local history and a life-long First Church member.]