Friday, April 16, 2021

Perspectives: Change Necessary

 I bet it was beautiful in its day.  Today, it needs some changes.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Book Review: Guide to Preaching and Leading Worship

Information about the book

A Guide to Preaching and Leading Worship by William H. Willimon.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2008 (Previously published in 1984)

Quoting the introduction, "This handbook is a practical guide to enable you to be an effective preacher and liturgist.  Too much is at stake in the life of the church for us pastors to be anything less than competent committed, and well-informed "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Cor. 4:1).  Topics included are planning the service, public prayer, sacraments, and preaching.

I purchased the book to be used as a reading for a CLM class I am leading.  The session where we'll discuss this book is one centered around planning worship, so I hope it will be a help for them.  It is focused on being the pastor, with the assumption that pastors are clergy.  My CLM students may (or may not) be assigned as "pastors" to churches, so I hope they can see the information around the bias toward it being for clergy.

I do think it provides good information regarding the planning of worship and preaching.  I am especially impressed with the emphasis on evaluation and how to go about change.  I especially like the chapter on prayer, and think it will be helpful to the CLM students.  I like the emphasis on using lectionary readings for biblically-based sermons.

I did find some of the Bishop's proclamations about worship to be - pardon me - not up to date. For example, the rule that scripture should be read only from a bound book, with no modern paraphrasing seems out of step with modern worship where young people bring their phones to the lectern to read.  I'm not sure he would find the Common English Bible to be appropriate (at least not when this was written).  The idea that preaching is the realm of the pastor (only) - and I may be misunderstanding him in this - seems to exclude lay activity - although I love the statement that lay people should be included in planning and implementation of worship and should be well trained.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Devotional - Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4;32-35)

There is a gentleman in my church named Scott.  I think many churches have a scott – he’s an ever-present volunteer, a lay person who works in the church making repairs, gathering food for the food pantry, working on the backpack ministry, cooking in the kitchen, working with the United Methodist Men, reading scripture – Scott is involved in practically everything.  He’s a quiet presence, but he is always present.  When we are having an involved discussion in Sunday school, Scott’s answer to the question – whatever the question is – is “Love God – love your neighbor.”  This is what Scott believes, and I know that not only because of what he says, but because of what he does.

His actions reflect his belief.

Our scripture this evening is from Acts – the very beginnings of the church, and these verses describe that early church.  The passage begins, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul,”

What did they believe?  They were followers of Christ – probably not called Christians yet – but they believed in Christ, and they trying to live lives as disciples.  A disciple learns from the master, and their master, and those who taught in their master’s place, taught to Love God and love your neighbor.

Those who saw the early church may not ever have heard of Jesus – but they saw the evidence of what Jesus had taught by the actions of his church – The church preached of Christ’s resurrection, and they made sure no one was needy.  They loved God and they loved each other.  They loved their neighbor.

And we know the rest of the story – the church grew.  More people came to follow Christ and to live as Christ taught.

Sometimes, I think, when we are worried about church membership, we plan new and exciting programming.  When we are worried about church finances, we talk about how many bills there are to pay.  When we are worried that youth aren’t attending youth events, and children aren’t in VBS, we nag parents and bring guilt upon them. 

When, really, we aren’t following programming or bill-paying.  We aren’t called to live lives of guilt and worry.  We are called to follow Christ.  And when we do that – when we love God and love each other – the rest will take care of itself.  When we know WHY we are a church – and we tell others WHY we believe in Christ, then that is what calls others to join us.

Creating, loving, God, help us to remember that we are a church, created to love you and to love each other.  This is the WHY of what we do.  Help us to remember that as we do the work you have given us.  Inhabit our conversations and thoughts this evening, thank you for bringing us together, and create in us a commonality of purpose, reminding us of the WHY of what we do.  In your son’s name, Amen.


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Friday, April 09, 2021

Perspectives: Shadows and Fear


Shadows and fear.  How much do we allow them to control us?

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Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Call me Back

Hoyt Hickman, in his book Worshiping with United Methodists, wrote about Jesus’s words, “Do this, as often as your drink it, in remembrance of me.”

He wrote, “The word remembrance has a meaning stronger than we ordinarily mean by the word ‘remember.’ We might better use the word ‘recall’ in the sense of to ‘call back’ — ‘Do this to call me back.’”

This is part of the holy mystery, isn’t it? That we can worship in a way that doesn’t just remember Jesus, but that calls him back to be with us, in that moment.  Communion isn’t a scrapbook event, where we think about Jesus.  It’s a meal WITH Jesus and all the saints.  It’s a family dinner. 

Use any of the words you want.  It is holy ground.  Thin place. Encounter.

I remember going to the funeral of the father of a pastor in our Annual Conference.  He led those gathered in communion, and he talked about it as worship where we gather with those who have gone before - a meal with his father. And his Father.

Recall.  Calling Jesus back.  Remembrance.


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Monday, April 05, 2021


How comfortable are we with mystery?

I was reading Hoyt Hickman’s book, Worshiping with United Methodists.  As he spoke about communion, he called it a Holy Mystery.  “Ultimately, the communion (koinonia) we have with God and one another in Jesus Christ is a mystery.”  He lists several times in the Bible that the word mystery is used.  I like the last one especially.  “We are ‘stewards of God’s mysteries.’” (1 Cor. 4:1).

“When a pastor or other ordained minister presides at this holy table in the name of Christ, she or he is a steward to whom is entrusted a sacred responsibility to pass on to the congregation a treasure that is beyond the understanding of any of us....None of us is so wise to have plumbed the depths of the mystery.”

How comfortable are we with that idea?  Are we able to rest in the idea that we are not wise enough to understand the holy mystery - communion or even any other part of our faith?

I think sometimes we act as if the faith is plain.  Easy to understand.  Black and white.  Right in front of our face. 

Sometimes it is.  Love God. Love your neighbor.  It’s simple enough to understand (not really simple to do, but that’s another story).  I’m glad Jesus said it was THE commandment.

What do we have to give up when we rest in the idea of mystery?  That God is too complex for us to understand, and none of it is simple?  We have to give up our pride, I think.  We have to give up judging others.  We have to let go of the idea that we have the answers and someone else doesn’t.  And we have to give up the idea that we are right. 

Are we comfortable in the mystery?



Friday, April 02, 2021

Perspectives: Path



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Review: Synergy

Information about the book
Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers  by Ann A. Michel.   Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2017 (Cokesbury Link)

From the Cokesbury website:  Author Ann Michel presents a more inclusive, collaborative understanding of ministry, affirming the gifts and calling of both clergy and lay servants. Using the concept of “synergy,” Michel provides practical advice on the day-to-day skills of a mutually responsible ministry, showing you how to engage others, build teams, and manage effectively.  "Synergy is both a practical and deeply spiritual resource that helps provide a more collaborative way of thinking about ministry shared between clergy and laity.  Ann has captured the challenges that can present themselves as laity serve in ministry not only from her research but also from her personal experience as a lay person and respected Seminary theologian, and she offers practical ways to equip laity to fully live in this call of lay servants and lay staff members. As a lay person who has served on a church staff for more than 23 years, understanding this synergistic energy articulated so well in Ann’s writing has reignited my passion and affirmed my call." - Debi Williams Nixon, Managing Executive Director, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

We are using this book in our CLM course as a guide for discussions about Leadership.  Thanks to the MonValley CLM Course for using it - that's where I found it.  Each session, we'll take a chpater of the book and discuss thoughts around a leadership topic.

I was impressed by the practical approach taken to the team approach in church leadership, and think it is very appropriate for the work of a CLM.  I love how it begins with the  idea off call - that everyone is called and that ministry is service.  I'm looking forward to the discussions our group will have over the topics covered.

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Monday, March 29, 2021


I remember, in 2012, I was involved in the local planning group for the NEJ Conference.  It was held in Charleston, WV.  It was a great experience that took a lot of work, but was fruitful for me, and, I hope, for others.

One of my understandings that changed during the planning and implementation of the Conference was the word Hospitality.  It is so much more than we think it is.  As I was reading Impact! by Kay Kotan and Blake Bradford, I found some pages that talk about hospitality.
  1. We mistake hospitality for friendliness.  So often in my church (where I have been a member since 1981) members say that we are very friendly - and they have experienced that.  I believe them when they say it.  However, it took many years for me to feel like I "belonged" to the church where I belonged.  Hospitality involves making room for relationship, not just hellos.  How do we offer people the opportunity to really belong - to develop relationships?
  2. We mistake fellowship for friendliness.  Fellowship is an important part of belong to a church family.  When my Sunday school talks about what they value about life in a church, they talk about fellowship, even if they don't call it that.  The problem is that Fellowship is inwardly focused.  It is about the relationships that exist within the congregation.  It is doing life together; it isn't about being welcoming to the stranger.  How do we make room in worship and in the life of the church to demonstrate hospitality to strangers/guests?
What is hospitality?  Bishop Robert Schnase defines it as "the active desire to invite, welcome, receive and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.  It describes a genuine love for others who are not yet a part of the faith community."  It is outwardly focused.  (Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations)

How can we intentionally (and it has to be intention) demonstrate hospitality?

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Perspectives: Curiosity

 Do we show curiosity? When we don't understand something, or think we disagree with it, do we demonstrate curiosity? Do we attempt to discover what we do not know? Are we even aware that there are those things we do not know?

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Reading Critically

On the opening evening of our CLM class, I shared some thoughts with the students regarding how to read the material we will be working through.  I think it applies to all of us.  As we read or listen, we should practice critical thinking.  This doesn’t mean thinking that criticizes, but instead thinking that involves being open-minded - using judgement and discipline to process what we are learning about without letting our own personal bias or opinion detract from the arguments. 
In other words, be open minded – one thought is that is we read or hear something we don’t agree with, apply Wesley’s quadrilateral – analyze it in the light of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.
For example, I was reading one of the books we are using in class, and the author suggested that all reading during worship should be done from a well bound, hard back Bible.  I don’t want to just dismiss something I disagree with, so I stopped to think about it.    That’s not a biblical command.  It probably does apply to the author’s tradition, but maybe not to mine.  I often see younger people reading in church from their iPhones.  My reason tells me that is an adaption to the modern culture, and my experience with the Holy Spirit tells me that it is more loving to be inclusive than exclusive – why criticize what people read from in church when the loving action is to be grateful for the sharing of the scripture. 
Don’t dismiss something just because you disagree with it, but also don’t accept what you read as rules that must not be broken.  Read critically.


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Monday, March 22, 2021

Devotional - Covenant

On March 1, I started a journey with other lay people across the Annual Conference.  I'm leading a Conference Certified Lay Ministry Course.  It's a new thing - for me, for the students, and for the Conference.  I am spending  a whole lot of time planning, reading and coordinating.  I'm sure over the next few months  you'll see the course mentioned here, and you'll see posts about it (including book reviews - I already have three of those written).

We began our time together with a Zoom meeting.  I opened the meeting with the following devotional.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

As I was thinking about the beginning of our journey together, and planning what the devotional would be, I was drawn to this particular lectionary reading from last week because of the word covenant in it.
We will talk about covenant in our time together.  We will talk about ministry covenants, but we will also – even if not directly – talk about God’s covenant with each of us.  So I thought literally beginning our journey with thoughts about covenant would be appropriate.
One of the things I hope you notice from this passage is that it is God who establishes the covenant.  This is not a contract where each side states what it will do for the other – God is declaring through this covenant that God will be “God to you and to your offspring after you.”  Abram and Sarai will be blessed to become the ancestors of the multitudes – of nations and kings.  This is all God’s action.  It has not been earned by Abram and Sarai – it is a covenant of Grace.
We should also notice that this covenant is based on relationship, God is not establishing a covenant with a people – God is establishing a covenant with Abram and Sarai.  The covenant extends to all who will follow – but it is established out of a relationship between God and these two particular people.  It’s amazing to think, isn’t it, that the creator of the universe knows these two people, promises steadfast loyalty to them, and that personal relationship will literally reconcile humanity.
Abram and Sarai receive new names in this passage – Abraham and Sarah.  What I did not know before I started planning this devotional is that God, too, is called by a new word.  This  passage is the first time in the Bible that the word El Shaddai is used to describe God.  We translate that as God Almighty, but it can also be translated as God of the Mountains. 
As we begin this journey together, I hope you will remember that while the covenant in Genesis 17 was with Abraham and Sarah, it was an everlasting covenant.  We to, the People of these Mountains are in relationship with God – we are recipients of God grace because of the restoration begun by God so many years ago.  We too have new names, beloved of God. 
El Shaddai, God Almighty, God the mountains, God of grace and love, walk among us tonight.  Gather with us in homes, at our desk, around our computers, and inhabit our work tonight and throughout this year.  Make your will known to each of us, and grant us the grace to move forward in your call.  I give you thanksgiving for each of those here tonight.  May we all live into the new names you have given to us.  In your son’s name we pray, Amen.


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Friday, March 19, 2021

Perspectives: Love around us

 We were walking a trail in Barboursville Park and found this painted under a bridge. I post it here to remind us that love is around is - God is around us - if we will look.  (Note:  I don't mean to imply this is a painting of God, but lips remind me of love, so there you go - a peek into my brain).


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Book Review: Rediscovering our Spiritual Gifts

Information about the book

Rediscovering our Spiritual Gifts; Building up the Body of Christ through the Gifts of the Spirit by Charles V. Bryant.  Upper Room Books, Nashville.  1991.  (Cokesbury link)

The book identifies 30 spiritual gifts and shows their value for the church (per Cokesbury).  The author states, "In this book, I propose ____ study of the extraordinary powers God gives people who receive the Holy Spirit."  He explores what spiritual gifts are and what they are not.  He provides an in depth look at 32 spiritual gifts and how they are used to build up the church.  The book ends with an assessment to discover what the reader's gifts.  For those interested in using this book as a resource for group study, John I. Penn offers Rediscovering our Spiritual Gifts Workbook as a companion piece (Cokesbury Link).  I think studying the book in a group would help alleviate some of the concerns I list in the Impressions section of my post.  (Note: I do not have and have not read the Workbook)

I appreciated the beginning chapters of the book more than the litany of spiritual gifts.  I found that there were times when I did not agree with the author.  His statements sometimes seemed black and white or difficult to support.  For example the idea that we receive spiritual gifts when we receive the Holy Spirit (and only then) and that the gifts never change seems to limit God's action.  If spiritual gifts are gifts of grace from God, then why would we assume that God can't give a new one later if it serves God's purposes?  The idea glosses over the thought that we may not be in a situation presently  that requires a particular gift - it's not disobedient to not be using a particular gift right now.  Also, some of the characters he lists that people demonstrate who have a particular gift seem too narrow.  Do people with the gift of leadership ALWAYS step up to lead? Do people with the gift of hospitality ALWAYS prefer short term relationships?  Most of the gift descriptions contain these types of statements.  I may be sharing my reaction to the writing rather than the author's intention, however.

I do appreciate the definitions of each gift and the exploration of the word origins for each.  Very helpful.  Also, as I mentioned, the first few chapters were very good, and I appreciated his insights.

If there are any other posts on my blog that refer to this book, they can be found at this link.

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