Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will History Repeat?

With all the talk of schism from those on one side of the church and talk of schism from those on the other side of the church brought up a deep memory from my church history class.  I don’t know why it because my current church has been on this lot of land for 111 years and was founded as a Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  This congregation was founded in a denomination started as a result of the first schism in American Methodism. 

There is great article on Wofford College’s website that was written by Phillip Stone in 2013.  It appeared in the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate in February of that year.  In it he says the following,
“For nearly 100 years, the Methodist Episcopal Church was divided into northern and southern wings.  Sixteen years before the southern states seceded, the southern Annual Conferences withdrew from the denomination and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.” 
Click here to read the whole article and I hope you do.  It is a good reminder of our past, my church’s past, my conference’s past.  I have only served MEC, South congregations during my ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference.  What is interesting is that I have been the only one that has really noticed our history.  The laity seem to not remember nor really care.  I don’t write that as flippant, but as a pastor that piece of history is more important to me then those in the pews. 

I find it important because it is our past and when we forget our past sometimes it becomes our present.  The past will rear its ugly head again if we are not careful.  The idea of schism seems to be tossed out like candy at a parade, not really caring where it lands.  There are people who are passionate about it.  There are brothers and sisters within my own conference that are in the 80 clergy/theologians who are pushing for it.  I am sure there are others on the other side that would love for it to happen as well.  It is a touchy, passionate subject, which is why I went back to 1844.

I would say that in hindsight, we understand now 170 later that the south got it wrong.  Slavery is wrong.  Treating another human being like property is not seeing them as a child of God.  However, I have no clue how I would have felt   Today I am not living in a society where there is an open slave trade and slaves are part of everyday life.  My current culture doesn’t match the one that was here on these farmlands of North Carolina 170 years ago.  So honestly, I don’t know where I would stand if I had a vote in 1844.  I wish I could but I can’t place myself in the midst of that mindset enough to know if I would stay in the south as an MEC, South pastor or if I would go north of the Mason Dixon Line to seek an appointment among the MEC.
about it 170 years ago doing ministry in the Old North State.

In Frederick Norwood’s The Story of American Methodism, he writes,
“When this long general conference [1844 GC which lasted 6 weeks, the longest in American Methodist history] finally adjourned on June 11, the church was not yet separate, but provision had been made for lawful separation if the South should so decide.  There was little doubt of that decision.  The process of implementing the separation plan was filled with frustration, misunderstanding, and ill feeling.  The wounds, instead of healing, were left to fester.  They produced deep scars which took a hundred years to heal and have not yet disappeared.  All too accurately, the experience of the church foreshadowed what was about to happen to the nation.”
The part that hurts is “the wounds, instead of healing, were left to fester.”  My gut tells me history will repeat itself if we are not careful, prayerful, and willing to do the hard work of understanding each other. 

James Howell said it well in his blog post I referenced in my last post…
“God wants us to be holy.  God wants us to embody the Scriptures.  And holiness in those Scriptures tells me we keep our promises, and love.  I want to be right on every issue.  But love and personal commitments trump in over being right more than we’re willing to admit.  I wonder if that’s the holiness test before us today.”
100 years from now as some scholar is writing a complete history of Methodism in America, I wonder what they will write about the this time and place. The time and place I have a vote, I have a voice, and where I do understand the culture.  Will we listen to each other, respect one another, and love one another?  Will we come out of this issue a stronger church more ready to make disciples for Christ?  Will we have transformed anything within our world?

  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wise Words

There is a lot of gossip about the United Methodist Church splitting, breaking up, divorcing, schism, what ever you want to call it.  There have been harsh words on all sides and those who agree and disagree.  In other words...it has been church.  As General Conference 2016 approaches and we are only a year away from voting for those who will represent us there, I am sure the rhetoric will only continue to rise and become louder.

In the midst of these conversations I have been wondering how best to express my feelings.  Low and behold, James Howell did it for me.  Please read his blog post from Monday.  We are a denomination that holds down the extreme middle.  James read my heart and wrote it down.  This tells me my feelings are shared by others.

What I found refreshing is that I am not alone.  My prayer is that the conversation will continue, prayer will continue, holy conferencing will continue and may God's grace be felt and expressed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hello this is church...

I just hung up the phone with the second telemarketer of the day...I've been in the office for two and a half hours now.  9 times out of 10 this is why the church office phone rings.  Someone has something that will make my congregation grow deeper in their relationship with God.   My youth group can now understand how to connect with God more fully.  My staff's cell phone plan can lower it's cost if I switch.

When I was dreaming about ministry sitting behind a desk in seminary (yes, seminary students do that), I never realized how much business is crammed into ministry.  You have to squint a little, tilt your head to the left and push that right eyelid closed almost and stare at it, but if you look close you can see business all over ministry.  It shows up in all dollar signs.  As I hung up the phone with a person wanting to sell the newest Youth Ministry Product by informing him we don't have a "youth pastor", I wondered if it was always like this?

In the 1950s did church's get phone calls from companies offering the newest Bible Study?  Were they getting offers to bring the best new speaker to their church for a revival?  It probably wasn't exactly the same, but I am sure it was there.  Today it is all up in your face and I have learned to sound bored and unapproachable as I answer the phone.

The truth is ever since people have been worshiping, there is someone out there trying to make money off of it.  The motives haven't changed only the avenues they travel on.  I guess it is just something they don't tell you about in seminary.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Signs of Revitalization: The Nursery

I have been absent from writing for a while because I have been in the midst of change.  I have been at this present appointment for almost two years and the amount of change that we have been through is incredible.  It has been overwhelming at times, in both good and bad ways.  I have been on the brink of heartache and ecstasy all in the same day.  I have taken some time to sit back today and take a look at what all has happened and I am truly overwhelmed. 

Let me share one story.  This past Sunday we had a family of three visit our worship service.  They arrived about 10 minutes early with their two year old boy.  When they arrived they sat on the back row and asked one of the people sitting near them if we had a nursery.  They said yes and one of our youth volunteered to show them where it was.

She walked them to the nursery which is the first door you see when you walk into our education building.  When they walked in they found freshly painted walls, new blinds, a clean place full of toys and all visible through the window in the door.  This use to be a Sunday School Classroom made up our oldest adults.  It use to be filled with missed matched chairs and junk.  It was a dumping ground for old computers, files, and simply junk.

The old nursery was located in the back corner of the first floor of the education building.  It was a small space and the three regular children made it feel crowded.  When this was made known to the congregation, that our nursery was crowed, the older adult Sunday School volunteered to let their Sunday School classroom be the new nursery.  Over the course of a year we have transformed it and there is still some finishing touches that need to be done. 

Now back to the family that visited.  They let their two year old go back with our nursery worker after the children’s moment with the other children who usually go back there.  A background checked volunteer watched them for the rest of the service and when they came back out for communion he was all smiles and happy to join his parents again. 

I am not sure if this family will join us again.  But I do know we did everything we could to make them feel welcomed.   They were greeted with smiles and open arms.  They felt comfortable enough to leave their child in a nice nursery with caring and warm volunteers. 


It seemed small in the moment but as I have reflected on this these past two days I have been in awe of what we as a congregation have been able to accomplish.  We have made a turn in the life of the church and God’s grace and love has led us through.  God is doing amazing things in the life of this congregation and I am simply blessed to be a part of it. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

14 (or 15) Points that make a Church...according to the IRS

I was listening to a radio news report on the definition of what a church is according to the IRS.  In a segment by John Burnett he discusses the idea that the TV Network, Daystar, is considered a church by IRS standards.  Here is a link to the show.  I had never had to deal with making sure the congregations I have been a pastor of were considered a church by the IRS.  I was interested to learn what these 14/15 points were that made the IRS consider an entity a church.  Here is what I found..
In applying the analysis to determine whether a religious organization may
properly be characterized as a church, the Service considers whether the
organization has the following characteristics: (a) a distinct legal existence, (b) a
recognized creed and form of worship, (c) a definite and distinct ecclesiastical
government, (d) a formal code of doctrine and discipline, (e) a distinct religious
history, (f) a membership not associated with any other church or denomination,
(g) an organization of ordained ministers, (h) ordained ministers selected after
completing prescribed studies, (i) a literature of its own, (j) established places of
worship, (k) regular congregations, (l) regular religious services, (m) Sunday
schools for religious instruction of the young, (n) schools for the preparation of its
ministers, and (o) any other facts and circumstances that may bear upon the
organization's claim for church status. See IRM 7(10)69, Exempt Organizations
Examination Guidelines Handbook, text 321.3(3).

These terms seem so broad I was wondering if anything could become a tax exempt church?  What about a coffee house?  Could a prison?  Could a fast food restaurant become a church if they changed a few names of people?

I guess what disturbed, but not surprised, me about this piece was the Television Network's claim that since they produce worship services as TV shows that it counts as worship.  There is no formal service outside the ones shown on TV.  Now I confess I have not seen any of these shows.  I did visit the website and it looks like any other TV network website.  You can see clips from their shows but there is no scheduled worship time or location.

I am not worried that my church is not a church.  By this list we fulfill the necessary requirements.  It is a shame though that there are those people out there that are taking advantage of the system and making millions upon millions of dollars off of a loophole that the IRS is too busy to fill.

It is a great piece by John, take time to listen.