Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Stop Moving the Young Clergy Age

Young Clergy is defined in my conference as those clergy 35 years old or younger. Depending on who is talking, some people like to move the line to those under 40.  Now that I am in the middle of those two lines (will be officially 37.5 years old in a few weeks) I thought I had enough experience to weigh in on this idea.  As a 37 year old let me say this…stop calling me a young clergy.

I am honored that many fellow clergy and laity alike, look upon my head of dark hair (now speckled with flashes of white here and there) and you see a young whippersnapper.  I will take it because part of me really wants to be young.  I know I look at people 10-15 years younger than me and they still look REALLY young.  So I get it.

As I wrote I started to go into a rant about how Young Clergy can seem very condescending because it denotes inexperience, lack of knowledge and cheek-pinching.  However, I don’t want this post to turn into that. 

Here is why I think it is important to make sure that those we call Young Clergy stays at 35 years old and younger.  According to the US Census, middle age starts at 35 and ends at 54.  I know the most painful birthday for me was 35 when I had to start checking the box marked 35-44 years old.  Something switched in my brain because I realized I really wasn’t young any more. 

As I switched boxes in my age I also switched in years of experience. 25 years old is the age someone graduates who went straight through from high school to a Bachelor’s degree to Seminary.  25 years old is when you start full time ministry.  Starting ministry at 25 gives a person 40+ years of a ministry ahead of them.  By the time they are 35 they have been doing full time ministry for a decade. 

10 years of experience in any field doesn’t equal a newbie, rookie, beginner or greenhorn.  After 10 years, this minister has a vast knowledge and experience.  S/he is probably on a second or third appointment and ministry isn’t new anymore.  It makes sense that after a decade of ministerial experience we stop calling them “young clergy.”  Continuing to do so, shifts the term from one of applause to condescending.

The larger issue is that if we redefine “young clergy” as those under 40 we are doing so to boost the numbers and make ourselves feel and look better.  We have a leadership gap when it comes to those who make ministry their first and hopefully lifelong vocation.   According to the Lewis Center Report on ClergyAge Trends in the United Methodist Church Report (2014), in my conference [Western North Carolina] 37.48% of the clergy (Elders, Deacons and Local Pastors) are between 55-72 years old.  5.51% are under 35 years old.  59 is the most represented, or Mode age, in our conference. 

This is telling and painful therefore the tendency is to try and shift the data to make ourselves feel better.  The numbers will jump if you shift ‘young clergy’ from 35 to 40, although not very drastically.  Yet, you are not accomplishing anything in shifting that line.  All you are doing is ignoring the current reality. 

Baby Boomers are listed as people who are born between 1946-1964.  Generation Xers are those born between 1965-1980 and the Millennials between 1981-2000.  In a little more than a year the Millennial Generation will have its first 35 year old and they will have to check that new box.   That is a hard pill to swallow but to adjust the age of whom we call “young clergy”, once again ignores our current reality.


Let’s keep the ages firm, 35 years old and younger are “young clergy.”  Not in experience nor ability but simply because they haven’t reached middle age yet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflection on UNC by a Duke Fan


As a Duke fan I look at the news that is coming out about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and their student athletes with remorse and sorrow.  I don't read articles about them taking teacherless classes with silent cheers or a constant smile on my face.  I don't watch news reports about the findings of 18 years of academic fraud while dancing like Carton.  As a Duke fan, I look at this situation at UNC with sadness.

Here is why.  For me the Duke/UNC rivalry always represented the best of North Carolina Universities.  The two top schools going head to head in every way possible; academics, sports, and pride.  They are only separated by a few messily miles and yet hold some world renowned programs within their walls and stadiums.  I want both schools to live up to that expectation.  Actually I wish this for Wake Forest and NC State as well.  I want the Tobacco Road rivals to represent the best schools and the best sports in the entire nation.

My heart breaks to hear of this scandal at UNC because now their reputation is tarnished.  It will take a long time to get them back to where they use to be.  I want UNC at the top of their game in the classroom, and on the field/court.

I want that because it is that much sweeter when Duke wins and I know we have beaten the best of the best.  I hope UNC can get their act together and recover from this.  I have a feeling they will.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Name of Washington's NFL Team

I think it is time for the Washtington DC NFL team to change their name.  It is offensive. We need to stop arguing that it is not.  Here is one exercise to prove my point.  Take any color, put the word "skin" at the end and tell me if it doesn't sound offensive.

"Whiteskin"
"Blackskin"
"Yellowskin"
"Brownskin"

See...sounds utterly racist.  The only reason why Redskin doesn't sound that racist is because we have grown up saying it.  It is part of our culture.  Yet, it is offensive.

Now if you are not offended by the term because your family is 1/365 Cherokee, it still doesn't make the term any less offensive.  You are simply not offended by it.

When Washington does change it's name (I think it is only a matter of time now) I do not think they will lose any fans.  There will be some who will still wear old jerseys or paraphernalia, but the revenue of people having to buy new jerseys, banners, hats, everything, means they will probably make a nice prophet that year.

If your mind is still not made up, watch this brilliant piece by The Daily Show because it makes a great argument.

Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Things to Do to Improve Your Old Church

At my appointment, Indian Trail UMC, we just celebrated 112 years of ministry this past week.  We are an old church, meaning years of existence.  We have old buildings.  The church buildings were built in the 1940-1950s.  There is a certain style, feeling and smell that comes with such buildings.  We hosted a Girl Scout Recruitment night last week and as parents and kids filled through I over heard one of the say, "This smells just like my grandmother's house."

There are some things we cannot change but we are attempting to do some things to revitalize our congregation.  Here are 7 things that we have done to improve our old church and make it more inviting.  They are simply and fairly cheap, but can deeply change the look and feel of an old building.  These small changes express something that a friendly congregation cannot.  They tell a visitor something beyond a warm handshake on Sunday morning.  It says, we care about our church and new life is happening here.

The other thing is to remember is that you don't want these areas to be stuck in people's head.  You want them leave feeling they connected with God and other people.  You don't want them sharing horror stories of things they saw when while they were there.  Here are 7 easy suggestions to take those eye sores away from your next church guest's experience.

1. Paint 
The walls of the church may have a layer of dust on them, but that doesn't mean with a good wash and paint job they can look fresh.  I am not talking about the sanctuary because that means Jesus would have to come back.  I am talking about hallways, Sunday School rooms, offices, entrances, and BATHROOMS!  A simple paint job can take the look of a hallway from drab to inviting. We recently painted our hallways, which were white, to a nice grey.  It gives the first thing people see coming into our offices/education building a warm and reassuring feeling.

2. Update fixtures 
The bathroom of one church I was an intern at had taps on the bathroom sink that were older than my grandmother.  They were rusted and hard to use.  Another church had door handles from the 60s that were hanging on by one thread of a screw.  You had to push it in, twist and pull back out to get it to open.  $20 can take a small item like door handles and bathroom fixtures and make them useable.  A guest may never even realize they were just put in but that is the point.  You don't want them going home complaining about not being able to get the water to work and forgetting everything else they experienced.

3. Flowers/Landscaping
Planting seasonal flowers can bring new life to the outside of a church.  Finding a green thumb in the congregation who can plant and let seasonal annuals grow makes the outside of the church look much more inviting.  Cut back shrubs or remove old ones.  I had a church who's shrubs out front had roots the size of trees.  They were original with the building.  When they were trimmed all you saw was the thick stems and it wasn't appealing.  Freshly trimmed shrubs, new flowers, bulbs coming up, and new landscaping timbers can radically change how your church looks from the street.

4. Throw it out
There are always pockets within a church that is the dumping ground for donations from the past. I recently found a 1970s carpet cleaner with a yellowing duck taped handle hiding in the walls of my church.  It looked like someone had it, wanted to get rid of it and donated it to the church (because that is place for all the junk you don't want in your house).  I was at another church that had a room for old medical equipment.  It was a good idea so that if someone was in need of crutches then the church could help out.  However it wasn't cleaned out for decades.  I am pretty sure there was a wheelchair that FDR used up there.  THORW IT OUT!  If it hasn't been used in 2 years it is no longer needed.  Yes, that lamb's costume was precious when little Johnny wore it for the Christmas pageant but he is married with two kids of his own.  Only 20% of the cotton balls stay on...THROW IT OUT!

5. Deep Clean
Once in a while, maybe every spring before Easter or every Fall, get together and clean the church top to bottom.  Or hire someone to do it.  There are cobwebs in light fixtures and corners that should be cleaned up.  Wash those light fixtures while you are at it so they look clean and I bet the light will work better too.  Also, look for dead bugs.  Vacuum window sills and behind Sunday School furniture to get those pesky and nasty things up off the floor.

6. Air Filters
Change the church's HVAC air filters as much as you do at your house.  I pulled one air filter out that looked like a cat had laid there for 14 years.  This improves the air quality and SMELL of the church.  No one likes smelling like an old musty building when they get home and changing the air filters is one easy fix to battle that stigma.

7. Take a Stranger Walkthrough 
Invite a friend who has never been to your church to come by and do a thorough walkthrough.  This stranger to your building will see things that you never see because you see them all the time.  Have them walkthrough with a camera and take a picture of everything that looks out of place, junky, spots on carpet or walls, dead bugs hiding spots or stained carpet.  Walking into familiar places blinds you to what you are actually walking into.  A stranger to that building will see things you never even noticed and give you a new perspective on what your old church looks like to those who are walking in for the first time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Global Denomination = "Global Discipline"?

I was invited to attend the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Board of Ordained Ministry Mid Quadrennial Event in Denver, CO last week.  Or to put it in acronym
form, GBHEM's BOM Mid Quad Event. (my brain hurts after writing that statement because of all the UMC Polity involved)  It was interesting, most of the time, and I felt like I was the little kid invited to the adult table at Thanksgiving.

I am the Chair of the Call and Vocation Team for our conference and I fulfill the role of 'recruitment' of young clergy.   I don't serve on the BOM, nor have I ever, so it was a little weird hearing the insider talk and learning the relationship the people who attended from my conference have with the board and conference.  Weird in that I had to learn the 'language.'

The last session was on Friday and it stood out to me as one of the more interesting sessions of the event.  In this session there was discussion from a panel of people working on formulating a Global Discipline.  This proposal will come up at General Conference 2016 (GC).  Here is my basic understanding of the work this panel was doing.  They were tasked at another GC to see if a Global Discipline could be formulated.  They were to go through the current Book of Discipline and boil it down to the basic essentials which makes the United Methodist Church the United Methodist Church.  The point of a Global Discipline would mean that the essentials of what makes a UM church can be held up around the world.  Yet how the local churches/regions then are ruled, governed and so forth are left up to those areas.

Here is a quick example.  The Trust Clause is essential the UMC in America because the denomination holds the deeds to all property and makes us, or forces us to be connected.  Yet not all countries allow a denomination to 'own' property.  So how does a UM Church exist in a European country that doesn't allow it to own property?  Clergy educational requirements are another example.  How can we hold other clergy to the same educational requirements as we do for US clergy when they may not have access to that type of education?  Do we stop ordaining people in Africa or parts of Asia because they don't hold a Batchelor's degree and Masters of Divinity because the nearest place to get that type of education is a continent away?

These are quick illustrations of the problem that is uniquely United Methodist.  Something I found truly inspiring is this statement, "The United Methodist Church is the only denomination attempting to make a global church with democratic polity."  No other denomination in world is attempting to do this.  Sure the Roman Catholics have a global denomination but it isn't run democratically.  Other denominations may run their synod, conference, or convention in a democratic fashion but they aren't global.  They are truly only regional and may only have churches in one hemisphere of the world.

The UMC is truly a global denomination that is trying to figure out how to order, run, and grow that denomination in a global society.  Our current Book of Discipline is centered on how to run the UMC in the US.  The polity of District Superintendents and the local churches are focused how we do things in America.  The idea of a Global Discipline would free up local churches in the central conference to figure out how to be the best UMC in their part of the world.

One concern our table had (during our discussions) is that this would seem like a ploy from the liberal movements to get rid of the African vote at General Conference and push more inclusive stance on homosexuality within the America's UMC.  This cannot be further from the truth.  The idea of a Global Discipline has come from the central conference, those churches outside the US.  They want more freedom to in order to organize their local churches with what makes sense for their part of the world.

Now there was no discussion on how parts of the homosexuality debate would fall within the Global Discipline, such as the ordination or marring of homosexuals.  I guarantee this will come up at GC2016.

My personal reflection on the matter is that it just makes sense.  For us in the US (who yes financially support a dramatic chunk of the central conference) to dictate how the rest of the world should govern the local churches seems a lot like colonialism.  It makes sense to have one Discipline that states this is what it means to be United Methodist as a standard for all UMC and call it a Global Discipline.  It also makes sense that how the governing of the church, the local polity, then be left to decided by that area of the world.

The more you think about it the more questions come up, I know.  What are your thoughts?  Could a Global Discipline work?  Then there would be regional disciplines; Volume 2 Disciplines, that would dictate the local/regional/national polity involved, would that work?

The bottom line is we are attempting to do something that is not currently nor ever been done before.  We are bridging, building, and growing a global denomination run by democratic polity.  We are unique and we should take pride in this fact.  We should also recognize that if we want to succeed at this task, then it will take changes to our sacred Book of Discipline.