Thursday, May 1, 2014

the connection

Not being a life-long Methodist, I often notice words and phrases that must have a special meaning for UMC people. They're words I understand and use, but I can tell from context that there's some distinct meaning that's intended.

I often hear people talk about "the methodist connection." A quick google search provided me with this information from the North Alabama conference website:

To be honest, I clicked on this link, glanced over it, and said to myself, "I'm not going to read all that right now." The reason I thought of "the connection" and titled this post the same, is that we were reminded of our connectivity in the last week when we found out that our musician will be leaving us. She is married to a pastor in our conference, and he received a phone call last week from the bishop (or the cabinet, or somebody official) informing him that he was being moved to a new appointment.  This is a sobering reality for a couple reasons. First, we need to get a new piano player ASAP! But also, it's a reminder that pastors serve where the bishop/cabinet decide they will serve.

I think itinerancy is overall a healthy thing. That doesn't mean it's always comfortable, nor does it mean that every move is the right one at the right time. My own desires to stay put aside, I think it's mostly good for pastors and for churches.

The pastor will be ordained at this summer's annual conference - less than two months away. I'm very proud of her, of course. Her ministry is our main focus as a family - really it's *our* ministry together. Part of being an "elder in full connection" is being accountable to the bishop and serving where you are appointed. This isn't always what we would choose for ourselves, as we know from experience. Our musician's move reminds us of the implications of ordination vows - our lives are not our own, we belong to God. Letting go of control continues to be a lifelong process for us, and it can be scary. But I know God walks with us through it all, and that is comforting. I pray we will continue to strive to be faithful to God's call on our family.

I know this might come across as "the connection = the firm," but I promise that I have a lot of good things to say about the connection - maybe my next post!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Catching up

Well, it's been a while since my last post, and I feel like it's way past time for an update.  Advent has come and gone, with a love feast and Christmas Eve services and all that goes with the busy, exciting, stressful holiday season.  We got through it, and it went very smoothly in my opinion.  The parishioners at these two little churches are sweet people who love each other most of the time, and going through the holidays with them was a warm and cozy experience.

Now we have to face the realities of the rest of the year.  When I last posted, the smaller church had decided to use their savings on risk-taking ministry.  There was some trepidation about change, but it seemed that most folks (out of the handful that participate) were aware that if they didn't change, the church would close in just a couple years.  So they assented to the vision that our leadership team presented.  In fact, the leadership team is basically everyone who comes to church there.  It seemed we were all in agreement.   As far as I know, there's nothing in the plan that anyone would come right out and object to.  But there are signs of fear as they come to terms with the realities of actually making changes.  Change is hard, even when you know it's coming and that it's necessary.  People who have committed to specific tasks are feeling overwhelmed, even though no work has really started yet.  We are still trying to figure out how worship will look, both in terms of style and minor physical changes to the worship space.  The vision for worship is a contemplative service - not contemporary music or a "blended" style, but more of a coffee house feel, if that makes sense.  Our home church does a Saturday night service that we are trying to use as a template, tweaking it to fit our needs.  But the pastor and I are not musicians, so we are trying to communicate the vision to a music leader who can do either traditional or contemporary, but prefers contemporary.  In the meantime, there are folks "upset" about changes to worship, when all that's happened is that we've done some contemporary songs - we still do hymns too.  That really shouldn't surprise me, I know, but I find it a little disappointing.  I am still hopeful about the possibilities here, and we are praying about it daily, but I know the future is not certain for this little church.  However, I am confident that even if the place closes in a couple years, God will reconcile all things and our work on behalf of the Kingdom of God is not in vain.

Our larger church is coming around, I think.  They have had some internal discord left over from a previous pastor, and it's taken some time for things to settle down.  Our wonderful pastor consultant that lead us through visioning with the smaller church has agreed to work with this one too.  It is a great blessing!  This is really a country church, but within a couple years, a huge development is coming - more than 20,000 homes and a business park are planned.  The edge of the land slated for development is less than two miles from the church.  It will transform this rural county into a more suburban environment, and even though the folks know it's coming, there is still some denial about how quickly things will change.  We are hoping that this church family will be able to love the newcomers and grow in healthy ways as folks from all over the world will come to live near them.  It's a tremendous opportunity.

On a more personal note, the pastor has been writing papers and I've been videotaping sermons and Bible studies for ordination.  Most of the work has been done since Christmas, but I videotaped several sermons in the fall with this in mind.  Ordination in the UMC is a long and involved process, especially compared to the much more autonomous Baptist church in which we both grew up.  It is a double-edged sword, though. For many reasons, I am glad there is a high bar for ordination.  But my wife graduated with an MDiv (with honors) from a prestigious seminary in 2009.  She should pass ordination this spring, but of course that's not guaranteed.  It seems to me the process could be streamlined a bit.  I won't bore you with any details, but she has done an awful lot of work to prove herself to several groups of people.  She is gifted for ministry by any measure anyone could come up with, and I pray she will pass this year.  You can pray for that too, if you're so inclined.