Spiritual. Religious.

bible

This made me think, from my favorite prayer site’ Sacred Space. The key line is near the end, where it talks about good religion. I think we need more of that.

==============

Spiritual or religious

The terms spiritual and religious are often used interchangeably and most often when people identify themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’.  Joseph and Mary, as they are depicted in the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel, appear deeply spiritual.  They use inner resources to overcome difficulties; these difficulties and challenges don’t have to be spelled out to us who are familiar with the account of the birth of Jesus. These inner resources open them to occasions where God’s promptings and grace help nudge them into a safer place, even though at times comfort might tempt them to sit still for a while.

The narrative in the Gospel of Matthew, however, shows how deeply they are immersed in the religion of their days. Quotes from the Old Testament show how these moments are part of something greater and of which they are an important part. The two, religion and spirituality, are one. One definition of spirituality that I cannot forget is that it is the art of making connections. In our prayers and in our ponderings we try to connect with someone or something that can help us make our paths straight and find our own ‘Emmanuel’ or God who is with us (Mt 1:23). If we remain solely spiritual (if that can be done) then we are left with nothing to connect to.

Good religion helps us to connect deeply through its rituals, peoples, wisdom, and traditions.

 

Choosing and Sharing

Newport beachs

It has been a rough couple of weeks. Heath issues. Car issues. Cash flow issues. Car issues again after supposedly being fixed.  My stepdaughter, of whom I have become quite fond and who my wife adores, just left, moving to Colorado for a new life, causing an understandable melancholy in the woman I love beyond all others. My schedule has been blown apart for a couple of weeks now and I am a more than bit discombobulated. My house, inside and out, is pretty much out of control.  I don’t feel like I am doing my best work anywhere, for someone who prides himself on the quality of what he does, that’s not a good place to be.

Nothing’s resolved. I have no idea the timetable for any of it to be resolved. But I am OK, odd as that sounds. Most people would not notice that things are falling apart for a while.

Last week I was talking to a good friend of mine in Philadelphia. He asked me a question. Was my sense of faith because I am naturally a calm, stable person? Or am I calm stable person because I have a faith?

Most philosophical questions are kind of hard for me. I have to think on them. And I had to think on this one a while. That has more to do with my slow emotional thinking than the hardness of the question.

The truth is this. While my mom did her best to instill a sense of “Never let them see you sweat.” in me, it never really took. Oh, I was stable looking on the outside, but that was the “never let them see you sweat.” act, not reality. I stuffed it all, and worried in silence, all the while inside I was popping more antacids than you can imagine. I am sure somewhere there is an entire Tums factory dedicated to me.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what God meant when he says in Matthew 6:25-27, 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Somehow I think he means ACTUALLY do not worry. And dang, I was not good at that. Mostly now, I am. I’m not sweating the stuff on my plate right now. I want to get my latest round of tests done so I can know whether or not I have a medical battle ahead of me. And I’d like to have my old Trooper back, preferably with a bill that won’t make me wince. And the money stuff will take care of itself. It’s all in the mail somewhere, and slow as Vermont mail is, it does eventually show up. And we’ll adjust to my stepdaughter being half a country away. I’m concerned about it all, but not worried. What changed? How did I get from a 24/7 antacid addict to a place of peace? (Most of the time. I won’t lie, now and again I still worry. But it’s rare.)

Time and experience and a mindful understanding..

Let me explain.

I’ve come close to death at least 3 times in my 63, almost 64 years. Sickness has plagued me more than once, often with a longish time of tests and waiting and a longish path back to health.

I’ve been dirt poor once or twice, so poor I had to choose between medicine I needed and food. The memory is vivid and still feels acute, as if it were new.

I’ve come completely, and I mean completely undone emotionally and spiritually. I lived in a black place for some time, struggling to rebuild my faith and struggling to cope with depression and emotions I was utterly overwhelmed by.

As I told my wife the other day, once you have survived certain things, you come to understand you can and will survive anything. That gives you a leg up on taking a few less Tums in your day.

But that has nothing to do with faith, does it? Lots of people survive and end up irretrievably broke, constantly anxious, a bundle of worry. and I mean LOTS of people. We all encounter them every day.

Let me share what has been different for me, and this is just my experience, not quite a blanket (more on that later.)

As I went through all these things in my life, I always went to God. I acted in the belief that he was a God who loved his children and a God who listened to prayer. When I was in too deep, I prayed harder. I read more in my bible. I acted in faith that he would work to get me through and that it would be OK.

And of course, it did.

I’m not whole from all these things. I have scars, inside and out. Sit down and talk with me some time and I’ll gladly share them with you. No, I am not whole, but things worked out. Disasters led to something new. New opportunities. New understanding. New thinking. New love. God has quite the imagination.

It has taken me choosing to believe God was at work, to trust that he was when things were going to Hell in a handbasket, and to thank him and see him at work as things got better.

And now, a messy pile of disasters later, I see the pattern, when I include God in my personal disaster recovery program, it works out faster, and better than I could have imagined. Because I chose.

It’s the difference between floundering and knowing it will be OK, even if I don’t know how it will get better. In fact, I never saw the paths to recovery that God chose coming. But his path got me to better places.

Every time.

So that is how I got there. But I’m not done yet.

You see, one of the things we are called to do is witness. That word, witness, I think has gotten all turned around. Many people feel it means to evangelize, even to the point of obnoxiousness. And we are uncomfortable with that. I know I am, and I’m a bi-vocational preacher. My family upbringing and my personality (introverted as they come.). Being in New England doesn’t help either. It’s a place where decorum and manners still matter.

But we Christians are stuck with that commandment that shows up and again and again. We are called to be witnesses.  But we are uncomfortable with the idea. It brings to mind standing on a soapbox somewhere and shouting out our faith.

But that is not what witnessing is. The term witness, in the new testament, is a legal term that means simply, telling what you know. You don’t need to preach. You are not required to talk about God as if you were in a tent revival down South (I’ve been to few of those. They amazing, but I’m just not wired to preach that way.) You don’t have to have theological degrees.

You just have to share what you know. “I went through this. And God helped me through by (fill in the blank).

Why witness?

Well, we could fall on the old adage and song that (Sing along with me) “The bible tells me so.), but why does the bible tell us so?  I have beome a big believer that when the bible tells us to do something, it’s generally for our own good and the good of people in general. That the rules are not arbitrary.

When we share our own stories of God at work, others can hear, and if they hear enough, or the trust us enough, they can benefit from the hearing. They can know from our share experience that faith works, and not have to struggle to trust God as much as some of us have had to as we went through our own journey. And that’s an amazing gift.

It’s also good for us, because our own brains listen to us, and each retelling, each time we talk and share our experiences, we are reminding our own brains that God is at work and we can trust him. In short, we shore up our own faith, for the next time things fall apart.

That’s neuroscience.

So there you have it. This was not the sermon from last week or the thing I intended to write, but it’s what came out. I hope it might be useful. There’s peace on the other side,
if we choose it.

Choose to see God at work. Choose to share. And life will be transformed. Our life and the lives of people we touch. That’s my experience, and I believe it’s part of the Bible’s message as well

Be well. Travel wisely.

Tom

PS; The picture was taken on one of the Rhode Island beaches. There’s nothing like the ocean to calm a soul.

Day three of the NE Methodist Conference

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Day three. 8:00 AM

The energy is lower as we start, no doubt because of the late night last night. The praise band that is leading the music is up-tempo, more praise music than hymns, but they can’t get us going yet.  The room is not as full as the past days, filling slowly as people scragglier in. I see coffee cups everywhere. Sooner or later, the caffeine will kick in….

I am sitting at a new table again this morning. I have spent each session at a new table. It’s a way to get to know more people, and a way to hear different views and get a better sense of where people are, what the emotions are cumulatively. Not easy for a shy guy, but it helps me.

9:00 AM

Our lay speaker this morning comes from Maine. She is Korean-American, a woman who came to Christ as an adult, out of an agnostic household. She is a lesbian, married woman in a church that has largely rejected who she is. But not here in NE. She speaks eloquently of the struggle of LGBTQ+ who have a faith. She talks about their displacement, their pain, so bad that it often leads to suicide, rejected by society and faith.

She told us that’s 70% of LGBTQ+ see the church as hostile. 70%. And she talked about how, what we do, or try to do in the Conference. And how by keeping in dialog, we can change everything. She talks about how what we do in New England is an example for how church should be done. It was a powerful message of the power of reconciliation. I hope they post this speech. If they do, I will post it here.

The lives of people, including LGBTQ+ people will not be saved by believing the right things, but by doing the right things. We must, she said, DO justice. Acts of love.

There is a resolution to boycott the General Conference as a statement or our stance in NE, rejecting the conference and their view of LGBTQ+. It has been declared out fo order, but the Bishop felt that we needed to hear what they had to say. There is a lot of discussion. There will not be a vote on it, but there is a sense of leaning towards it. That’s how enraged the body is about the choice of the larger choice.

What they say make a certain sense. For 12 general sessions in a row, the larger church has rejected the inclusion of LGBTQ+. What makes us think anything would be different this time? Again, there will not be a vote, but my sense of the crowd is that should it come to a vote, we might just not go, but only as a part of a larger plan of succession.

There is a large contingent that feel the larger UMC church has become a church of oppression, and there is pain, and there is anger.

 

There was a recognition of licensed local pastors. Licensed local pastors have a limited role in the church, and generally are limited in the area they can conduct the sacraments. They are not guaranteed a church but otherwise serve as any pastor in the denomination. Licensed Local Pastors make up the majority of pastors in the New England Methodist Church.

A video recognizing the history of the relationship between Green Mountain College and the Methodist Church. Green Mountain College, in Poultney, Vermont just this spring. There was a blessing of delegates to the 2020 General Conference.

Two ammendments are being brought up. Both have to do at looking and connecting as a conference with groups looking at alternative ways to be Methodists, and still be true to our conference’s belief that all of God’s people, include LGBTQ+ people, should have full participation in the church.

You might think there was a lot of debate, but there has not been. The entire arc of this annual conference has been about rejecting the “Traditional Plan” voted on by the larger conference These statements are not quite a Declaration of Independence from the larger church, but skate right on the ends.

I spoke yesterday of the fact that local licensed pastors not being full members in terms of voting rights. Today a resolution was proposed to give licensed local pastors full voting rights. Currently we are neither fish nor fowl. We can’t vote on clergy items, and we aren’t lay people.

This seems a small thing, but it is actually something big. Like the LGBTQ+ question, it’s something that is at odds with the larger UMC, which does not recognize the voting rights of the licensed local pastor. The resolution is also being presented to 6 other regional conferences simultaneously.

There was a lot of discussion, and an amendment to include LGBTQ+ people to this. There is a feeling that these amendments dilute the overarching question. In the end, all amendments were defeated, and the resolution passed. This doesn’t mean we local clergy can vote yet, but it stirs the conversation at the national level.

The rest of the afternoon was full of smaller, less important resolutions. The energy was mostly good and I left feeling like we are on the verge, not quite there, but on the verge of a new thing, possibly a new way to be a Methodist, that is more inclusive than we have been in many years. It’s a good feeling.

Tom

 

 

Day Two of the NE UMC Conference

Day two.

This morning at breakfast, I sat with with a table of elderly African Americans. They have talked to me about how this LGBTQ+ struggle in the church, how the Bible was once used to hold them back from inclusion, and how important they see this time in our church, as we stand on the cusp of a change in the church. I was deeply touched by their passion

8:30

The unease with where we are as a larger church is showing up in the day to day decisions.

Many of the things that are decided in conference each year are generally automatic. These are decisions about the budget, about keeping reserves in place, what those financial reserves can be used for, that sort of thing

But all the uncertainty about the future of the United Methodist Church has people wanting to hedge their bets. As one speaker said, “Why would we give money to a church we might well be leaving in a year or two?”

This is yet another victim of the battle in churches about the LGBTQ+. Money for many ministries is being held back because of uncertainty.

10 AM

A motion has come up that says basically, if an entire conference chooses to succeed from the larger UMC, that they would keep all the property that belongs to that body., It SEEMS to be laying the groundwork for an entire conference succession, and keeping their money.

IT feels like a political groundwork to pull out of the larger UMC. .

The motion was deferred, but it is clear where the conference is heading or WANT’s to do.

The problem was that there was a lack of clarity of what would happen to church property for churches that chose to leave the conference. It was sent back to clear up the legal ambiguities

One of the interesting parts of this conference are the videos. Bishops of other conferences have been video taped and their messages and prayers played back to us. Here’s what’s evident: Our bishop and the NE conference has a powerful reputation for caring for all people, and other Methodists are grateful for our leadership.

One of the undercurrents from last year continues.

In the conference, there are three levels of people, “Ordained” Elders and Deacons, who generally have the larger churches, and who are promised a job, but have to go where the conference sends them. Licensed local pastors, like myself, who are licensed to do work at specific churches, generally the smaller churches, and sometimes more than one of them, and laity (No-clergy).

There are some things that come to vote that only laity can vote on. And some that only ordained clergy can vote on. Licensed pastors are often left out and have no voice on a large percentage of things in the conference. Considering that a growing percent of pastors in the UMC are Licensed, not ordained, but have no voice, has an undercurrent of resentment going on.

I don’t sweat it, but the longer it goes on, the more others do, and the resentment for second class treatment grows. Because there are larger issues going on, I don’t expect it to explode this year, but I almost exploded last year, and I don’t think it will go away. Tuck that away for next year.

A Memorial Communion at mid-day.

What occurs to me is is how ready we humans are to put people down and hold them down. We don’t seem to need much excuse. And I grateful to be part of a faith community in the Northeast that believes there is an overarching reason NOT to put or hold people down – Our God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The scripture for the sermon by Dr Elian Heath was from Lamentation 3:19-33.

Grief always come in layers, and grief triggers all those layers and griefs from our pasts.

The same physiological changes that fear causes, grief causes.

Our sense of home disappears when we lose someone.

Lamentations is our book of loss.

Written for a people, the Jews, who had lost everything.

Talked of other losses, the church in Charleston and Pulse

And that sense of loss never, ever leaves us

God grieves with us. That is the message

We are not ever alone.

We wonder if God knows our pain

Lamentations is the answer. He does indeed.

Psalm 19

We were mis taught

We learned God was primarily a smiter and punisher.

Not that God was love and mercy which is what Christ was and said

That Christ is love, and we should be too

Jesus said “I make ALL things new”

ALL things.

Love will have the last word.

Not hate

Not shame

Not prejudice

Love.

And then there was communion. One of the things most people don’t realize about pastors is that at times we just need to worship, not lead worship. To be able to worship, sing and share holy communion with about 1500 of my fellow Methodists, is a joy that transcends the politics of the time, if only for a short while.

We ended the service with an a cappella version of “It is Well With My Soul” (My favorite hymn) and “When the Saints go Marching In. We left the room for lunch, dancing.

!:30

The afternoon session begins with singing. In years past there has been more praise music, and very few of the “great hymns of the faith.” This year they seem to be balanced. Good stuff. I love to sing.

Our speaker is one of the District Superintendents today talks of needing to have the courage to proclaim a gospel of loving all people. Behind him, all of the other Superintendents stand behind him in solidarity. Not one sits. That word, ALL, is showing everywhere during this conference. His sermon is a challenge.

He speaks of being torn and tired of this fight. He wants to be able to focus on love, not fighting. He simply wants to love people, particularly those left on the fringes, without fighting over it. It is possible to love all. Not only that, it is what we are called to do. “It is necessary!” He says. Be more curious than defensive. Be willing to listen and love first. Our current crisis he says, can be the catalyst for something new, better, and inclusive.

Why, he asks, are we so afraid? Afraid of the possibility of something new. Of reimagining church. Vermont in particularly was pointed out about creating new ways to do church.

“We stand on the precipice of possibility” – Jill Colley Robinson. Jill has a been chosen to be the next Dean of the Cabinet. (The leading group of the NE Conference District Superintendents.

2:11. Business Meetings start again.

The first part of the business is the closing of churches, a group of several churches across New England that because of the closing of churches of churches, often with a 150 years plus history. There is a sadness for their closing, and a celebration of what they have done in those years of ministry.

Statistics: Vermont UMC attendance declined 6.7% last year. We had the largest percentage decrease in attendance of any New England district.

Only 10% of Vermont churches reported an increase. Vermont had the lowest % of churches that grew last year. As a note, Rupert UMC is one of those churches.

Vermont has 15 Methodists per 1,000 residents, which means we have more Methodists than any other state in the country.

The Budget was discussed. Over all the budget remains the same, but some things went up and some went down. I won’t hit all the details (My eyes glazed over after a while. Math does that to me.) There is some sloppiness in the budget this year and the people at the convention are calling them out on it.

This is unusual, normally the financial people here are on top of the details and can answer the questions right off the top of their heads. But not this year. Looks like it’s going to be messy. We’ve called a break while they huddle and we all figure out how to go forward.

It is also hard because there are a few of the people in the convention who are more about grandstanding for their agendas than listening and working within the system. A lot of half truth flying around.. Charisma over facts. Messy, messy democracy.

4:11

It is chaotic. There has been a motion to post phone the budget till more, better, more detailed information can be developed and having a special conference to pass the budget. It is a messy, loud confusion, a lesson in how people half hear, and half tell. In the end they decided to NOT postpone the budget vote to a special conference.

This means the budget people will have to go back, clarify and change things tonight. And THAT means that after our evening service, we will meet again instead of going back to our rooms. That means we start again about 10:30 tonight.

7PM

We had an ordination service, nearly three hours. But it was a good thing, a worshipful time in the midst of the business of money and conflict and struggle. The bishop gave an impassioned sermon about love for ALL, and a church that loved all. Honestly, I felt like he edged close to announcing a breakaway Methodist church, but I don’t think that is in the works – yet.

I will post the speech when it is available on line.

I was touched by the service. Not just the speech, but the ordination itself. Just as going to a wedding can make you recall your own, the service brought back all the emotion of my own ordination service, one of the most emotional moments of my life, so far. It all rushed over me, again. The calling. The work. The barriers. The study, and the actual moment.

We end up up singing “Ill Fly Away” as the new applicants left the room

Here is where the big battle will be fought, on this resolution, which is summarized here:

Because we in the New England Annual Conference find and model that “while we may not all think alike, we can love alike,” seeing that we hold in common more than would drive us apart;

Because we find that our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ as we mutually strive for

sanctification through grace, and our ministries seeking transformation in and with God’s world, are

stronger because of— not in spite of— our diversity of identity, theology, and practice;

Because the New England Annual Conference has historically championed the fully-inclusive United

Methodist movement, which can be surmised from Wesley’s understanding of the catholic spirit, and

has been expressed through our ancestors in faith who were leaders in Abolition, the Free Pew

movement, Labor Rights, Women’s Rights, and our own 2016 Action of Non-Conformity;

Because the 2019 Called Session of the General Conference enacted legislation that is foreign to the

meaning and purpose of the Methodist movement, was deemed largely unconstitutional, widely

unconscionable, and in our context practically untenable; and

Because the United Methodist Constitution states that the annual conference is the fundamental or

basic body in the Church (see ¶11 and ¶33), and the Discipline states that The UMC “as a

denominational whole is not an entity, nor does it possess legal capacities and attributes. It does not

and cannot hold title to property, nor does it have any officer, agent, employee, office, or location”

(141), and that tangible and intangible property is held in trust by the incorporated (annual) conferences of the denomination (see ¶2501.1);

Therefore, we resolve that the New England Annual Conference commissions and empowers an

immediate Open Spirit Task Force to examine whether and how United Methodists of New England

might align with, create, or form a new church body in the Methodist tradition (independent or in collaborations with others.

We should have gotten to this today, but talk over the budget has put it off. Tomorrow should be interesting.

two.

This morning at breakfast, I sat with with a table of elderly African Americans. They have talked to me about how this LGBTQ+ struggle in the church, how the Bible was once used to hold them back from inclusion, and how important they see this time in our church, as we stand on the cusp of a change in the church. I was deeply touched by their passion

8:30

The unease with where we are as a larger church is showing up in the day to day decisions.

Many of the things that are decided in conference each year are generally automatic. These are decisions about the budget, about keeping reserves in place, what those financial reserves can be used for, that sort of thing

But all the uncertainty about the future of the United Methodist Church has people wanting to hedge their bets. As one speaker said, “Why would we give money to a church we might well be leaving in a year or two?”

This is yet another victim of the battle in churches about the LGBTQ+. Money for many ministries is being held back because of uncertainty.

10 AM

A motion has come up that says basically, if an entire conference chooses to succeed from the larger UMC, that they would keep all the property that belongs to that body., It SEEMS to be laying the groundwork for an entire conference succession, and keeping their money.

IT feels like a political groundwork to pull out of the larger UMC. .

The motion was deferred, but it is clear where the conference is heading or WANT’s to do.

The problem was that there was a lack of clarity of what would happen to church property for churches that chose to leave the conference. It was sent back to clear up the legal ambiguities

One of the interesting parts of this conference are the videos. Bishops of other conferences have been video taped and their messages and prayers played back to us. Here’s what’s evident: Our bishop and the NE conference has a powerful reputation for caring for all people, and other Methodists are grateful for our leadership.

One of the undercurrents from last year continues.

In the conference, there are three levels of people, “Ordained” Elders and Deacons, who generally have the larger churches, and who are promised a job, but have to go where the conference sends them. Licensed local pastors, like myself, who are licensed to do work at specific churches, generally the smaller churches, and sometimes more than one of them, and laity (No-clergy).

There are some things that come to vote that only laity can vote on. And some that only ordained clergy can vote on. Licensed pastors are often left out and have no voice on a large percentage of things in the conference. Considering that a growing percent of pastors in the UMC are Licensed, not ordained, but have no voice, has an undercurrent of resentment going on.

I don’t sweat it, but the longer it goes on, the more others do, and the resentment for second class treatment grows. Because there are larger issues going on, I don’t expect it to explode this year, but I almost exploded last year, and I don’t think it will go away. Tuck that away for next year.

A Memorial Communion at mid-day.

What occurs to me is is how ready we humans are to put people down and hold them down. We don’t seem to need much excuse. And I grateful to be part of a faith community in the Northeast that believes there is an overarching reason NOT to put or hold people down – Our God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The scripture for the sermon by Dr Elian Heath was from Lamentation 3:19-33.

Grief always come in layers, and grief triggers all those layers and griefs from our pasts.

The same physiological changes that fear causes, grief causes.

Our sense of home disappears when we lose someone.

Lamentations is our book of loss.

Written for a people, the Jews, who had lost everything.

Talked of other losses, the church in Charleston and Pulse

And that sense of loss never, ever leaves us

God grieves with us. That is the message

We are not ever alone.

We wonder if God knows our pain

Lamentations is the answer. He does indeed.

Psalm 19

We were mis taught

We learned God was primarily a smiter and punisher.

Not that God was love and mercy which is what Christ was and said

That Christ is love, and we should be too

Jesus said “I make ALL things new”

ALL things.

Love will have the last word.

Not hate

Not shame

Not prejudice

Love.

And then there was communion. One of the things most people don’t realize about pastors is that at times we just need to worship, not lead worship. To be able to worship, sing and share holy communion with about 1500 of my fellow Methodists, is a joy that transcends the politics of the time, if only for a short while.

We ended the service with an a cappella version of “It is Well With My Soul” (My favorite hymn) and “When the Saints go Marching In. We left the room for lunch, dancing.

!:30

The afternoon session begins with singing. In years past there has been more praise music, and very few of the “great hymns of the faith.” This year they seem to be balanced. Good stuff. I love to sing.

Our speaker is one of the District Superintendents today talks of needing to have the courage to proclaim a gospel of loving all people. Behind him, all of the other Superintendents stand behind him in solidarity. Not one sits. That word, ALL, is showing everywhere during this conference. His sermon is a challenge.

He speaks of being torn and tired of this fight. He wants to be able to focus on love, not fighting. He simply wants to love people, particularly those left on the fringes, without fighting over it. It is possible to love all. Not only that, it is what we are called to do. “It is necessary!” He says. Be more curious than defensive. Be willing to listen and love first. Our current crisis he says, can be the catalyst for something new, better, and inclusive.

Why, he asks, are we so afraid? Afraid of the possibility of something new. Of reimagining church. Vermont in particularly was pointed out about creating new ways to do church.

“We stand on the precipice of possibility” – Jill Colley Robinson. Jill has a been chosen to be the next Dean of the Cabinet. (The leading group of the NE Conference District Superintendents.

2:11. Business Meetings start again.

The first part of the business is the closing of churches, a group of several churches across New England that because of the closing of churches of churches, often with a 150 years plus history. There is a sadness for their closing, and a celebration of what they have done in those years of ministry.

Statistics: Vermont UMC attendance declined 6.7% last year. We had the largest percentage decrease in attendance of any New England district.

Only 10% of Vermont churches reported an increase. Vermont had the lowest % of churches that grew last year. As a note, Rupert UMC is one of those churches.

Vermont has 15 Methodists per 1,000 residents, which means we have more Methodists than any other state in the country.

The Budget was discussed. Over all the budget remains the same, but some things went up and some went down. I won’t hit all the details (My eyes glazed over after a while. Math does that to me.) There is some sloppiness in the budget this year and the people at the convention are calling them out on it.

This is unusual, normally the financial people here are on top of the details and can answer the questions right off the top of their heads. But not this year. Looks like it’s going to be messy. We’ve called a break while they huddle and we all figure out how to go forward.

It is also hard because there are a few of the people in the convention who are more about grandstanding for their agendas than listening and working within the system. A lot of half truth flying around.. Charisma over facts. Messy, messy democracy.

4:11

It is chaotic. There has been a motion to post phone the budget till more, better, more detailed information can be developed and having a special conference to pass the budget. It is a messy, loud confusion, a lesson in how people half hear, and half tell. In the end they decided to NOT postpone the budget vote to a special conference.

This means the budget people will have to go back, clarify and change things tonight. And THAT means that after our evening service, we will meet again instead of going back to our rooms. That means we start again about 10:30 tonight.

7PM

We had an ordination service, nearly three hours. But it was a good thing, a worshipful time in the midst of the business of money and conflict and struggle. The bishop gave an impassioned sermon about love for ALL, and a church that loved all. Honestly, I felt like he edged close to announcing a breakaway Methodist church, but I don’t think that is in the works – yet.

I will post the speech when it is available on line.

I was touched by the service. Not just the speech, but the ordination itself. Just as going to a wedding can make you recall your own, the service brought back all the emotion of my own ordination service, one of the most emotional moments of my life, so far. It all rushed over me, again. The calling. The work. The barriers. The study, and the actual moment.

We end up up singing “Ill Fly Away” as the new applicants left the room. An incredible, unifying ending to worship.

10:00 PM

It is back to work.

It is a frustration. We’re tired and we are discussing the budget. I don’t know if people aren’t listening to each other, or purposely ignoring the answers and questions. People are being stirred up by both sides making statements without hearing each other, or ignoring each other. There are questions about things funded and not funded, about the leadership raises, about what can be used from the reserves

Is it tiredness? Or agendas? I don’t know. There is a lot of confusion small groups challenge and try to change individual line items. I pity our poor Parliamentarian. But in the end, the budget passed, without change.

11PM

Now we are discussing reducing the number of districts from 9-7. This is being to suggested to save money in a church declining in membership and ability to give. This is a passionate discussion. People’s hearts don’t want to have less districts, larger districts. But the numbers don’t work. There is a question about whether or not we have a plan to grow the church as we eliminate jobs.

In the end, the motion to change from 9 to seven. Now we have a couple of small things to vote on, and it’s off to bed.

Day one, the NE UMC conference.

There is a spirit of revolution here at the NE Conference of the Methodists.

For those of you who don’t keep up with Methodist church politics, we, like many denominations, have struggled for twenty years of more over the place of LGBTQ+ Christians in the church. Our official rule book, a nearly 400 page dusty tome called “The Book of Discipline” has in it a phrase that says homosexuality is not compatible with biblical truth.

That phrase has been used for generations to exclude people from the LGBTQ+ community from the church. Technically it only meant that the church would not allow LGBTQ+ Christians to be come ministers, nor would we allow their marriage.

Practically, it was a larger exclusion, a statement that said these people were seen as second class, not really welcome in our churches and our faith.

The continuing study and revelation of bible study, and the changes in our society have created a battle. More and more of us, clergy and laity alike, have come to a place were we believe inclusion is a centerpiece of Christ’s Gospel.

The United Methodist Church has struggled with this. At the last general conference, a council of Bishops were charged to come up with a way forward with the two sides, that would allow the worldwide church to remain united, and settling the subject once and for all.

It was not to be. The Bishops came up with a plan that would allow the church to remain together, but agree to disagree on this subject. That plan was rejected, that rejection led mostly by church leaders in Africa, Asia and parts of Europe. Not content to reject inclusion, they increased the penalties and promised more diligent prosecution for those who supported our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community.

Many churches, and our NE Conference have been very creative in getting around these rules. The NE conference in particular has been creative, and a bit revolutionary, basically saying we would not follow this exclusion, and that our conference would not persecute pastors like myself, who lived, preached and lived inclusion.

But the new rule makes that creativity a church crime. We are at a place where we can no longer bend the rules and still stay truth to our discernment of what the Bible tells us.

I can’t tell you what is going to happen in the long run, but here, after the first day of the NE conference in Manchester, NH. There is a spirit of revolution. With all the rainbow stickers, stoles, and other paraphernalia, you could get the impression that this church gathering was an LGBTQ+ Pride event.

It’s not of course. It’s a collection of churches and people sincerely trying to figure out God’s will, and live it. More and more, the talk, the handouts, the buzz is that there may well be a split in the Methodist Church over this subject.

It is a remarkably gentle revolution. Both sides who are speaking are passionate but not ugly to each other. Don’t mistake that gentility with a lack of passion. There is an energy here you can feel. A feeling that we may emerge from this meeting having lived a historic moment.

Our wonderful bishop Devudhar is a strong believer in inclusion. He loves the Methodist church, and this battle has taken a toll on him. Despite his position in the larger church, he has been a tireless champion for inclusion. He led the movement to separate the NE church from the world church’s stand. In his passionate speech to open the convention was all about inclusion. It sounded like a quiet call to revolution.

I could be wrong, but that is the sense.

There is no clear indicator, but two or three groups are emerging calling for a rejection of the larger church’s decision, and laying the groundwork for a new Methodist Church. They are getting a lot of attention, and are being given an unlikely amount of access to people at the UMC convention.

Again, I could be wrong, but I believe we will end up with two Methodist Churches. It won’t happen here in Manchester, but my sense is it’s on it’s way and the NE Methodists will be leading the way.

Stay tuned. I will be writing each day of the convention as things unfold.

Tom

Good Enough

This made for You Tube version of our Mother’s Day sermon looks at a question many moms, and a fair number of Dads) ask themselves: Am I Good Enough? Using Proverbs and 1st Peter, we seek an answer.

The Methodists did what?

 

In light of the recent UMC general conference decision, here is a breakdown of how the decision came about, how both sides make their biblical case, and what this means for the churches, particularly accepting open-hearted churches like ours. (Hint – we are going to stay open-hearted.)