Forgive my absence, as I've been "out of the room" for awhile as the other duties of work and life have taken priority. Busy days of ministry, some vacation time, UMC conference season, my 8 year old's baseball season, and the added time my backyard garden requires have served to fill the days.
My United Methodist Church has survived General Conference & I didn't see any need to add to all the voices reviewing and critiquing that event. In fact, I resolved to dig into my ministry at the local and state level as I have blogging & Twitter (is that "voice but no vote?") at the General Church level. I grew tired of the opinions and many voices about GC and yearned for more of the Voice.
My Annual Conference has been through a quiet, maybe even subdued annual meeting in June, with focus on normal denominational happenings and little extra fanfare. In some ways, it was good just to experience the annual "family reunion" of North Georgia UMC's. The big difference for me this time was that my daughter attended NGAC12 as a youth delegate from the Augusta District. I found it hard to be as cynical and jaded when I was helping to interpret "holy conferencing" for my child. Doesn't it make a big difference in our attitude and actions when we are trying to help someone we love fall in love with the church/Church?
My local UMC congregation has been it's usually hyperactive self with the added drama of the transition of our previous senior pastor who'd served with the church 5 years. We always have a lot going on even if there is a staff transition. As often happens in a larger church context, some were ready for the former pastor to go and portray him as one of the worst to ever serve us. Some were sad to see him go, and value him as one of the best who've ever served us. The vast majority had "no dog in the fight" and merely look for continuity of proclamation and consistency of the Gospel in the church. As is the Methodist way, we "pass the baton" from one pastor to another and seek to continue the growth and movement as we follow the Risen Christ today and tomorrow. My hope, and earnest prayer, is that these are the best days that we are living right now!
In the weeks ahead, my blog posts and reflections will take something of a different turn as I focus on my local community. I've been teaching through the biblical prophets in Sunday School through the summer and God has used that to get my attention. I want to find the reality of our community, the truth about who we are, and the challenge of what we need to do to become a stronger community. There are some huge issues confronting us that have only intensified in the last decade. What is the role of the Church and the Christian as we are confronted with these realities? What will we do to help create a stronger community? What will we do in order to give a strong city to our children and grandchildren?
Augusta, Georgia has always been an interesting place to serve in mission and ministry. We have 2 or 3 "worlds" here which give a mission pastor many opportunities. We have the rich and the poor and the middle class here, if you think of city tribes or groups in economic ways. If you think of people groupings in the US in religious ways... well, there is still some influence by Protestants and Catholics here, but it's not like the Bible Belt of a decade or so ago. The religious identity is much more diverse, and not as quickly embraced as a characteristic of the younger generations. Sadly, the religion we do tend to exhibit has an emphasis on the spiritual and the next world with little expression of a "present salvation" or the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. In one of my upcoming blogs I'll discuss the state of the segregated church in Augusta and how both the white churches and the black churches have failed and how the City is poorer for that failure.
I'm thinking a lot about community, or the lack of it, as a diseased part of our City. In general, I don't see the community standards and expectations that once would have been generally agreed upon due to shared value systems and life goals. Everyone does their own thing, religion is personal, and there isn't much expectation that anything is going to change. A lot of us are barely getting by and struggling paycheck to paycheck. Some of us are caught in addictions that focus our cravings and our habits and actions. There is an anger, a hostility, an aggressiveness that is anti-social and destroys community. And while we might talk about such things in the church, there isn't much of a bridge between the Church and the Community. Church people run with their crowd, and folk from the Community run with their gang, their tribe, their group.
This isn't generic Sunday School ramblings, but practical theology. It's a matter of life and death.
Just last night a man is alleged to have strangled his girlfriend. At a downtown event, First Friday, 6 people were shot.
How do people get to this point? What groups are they part of & what is their value system? How might we create new, dynamic alliances of people in Augusta/Richmond County and "re-Community" in ways that helps everyone experience Life? How might the Church be more active in helping create Community rather than just being another small gang comfortable with our group?
I'm looking for more than politics and tired rhetoric. I'm looking for more than simple religious answers that lack action. I'm looking for some Augusta folk who are tired of what has been and eager to create a new community.