Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Approach to the World Hunger Crisis

The approach in Malawi was to use outside finances for a subsidy program to reduce costs for farmers. See the whole story as the transformation has huge impact for families who have known drought and severe hunger repeatedly over the years.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Isn't Working in the UMC

A recent panel of bishops discussed the question, "What is not working in the UMC?" They said out loud what many of us in most conferences discuss as key areas to work on: "Boards of Ordained Ministry, the appointment system, Charge Conference, general agencies and an antiquated communication system." While these discussions have been going on for some time at every level of the denominational structure it is time to move beyond discussion to action. The question of faith is always "What challenging step must we take today to follow Christ in our world today?" Unfortunately institutions and structures get accustomed to doing business a certain way, and can be slow to change what we are comfortable with and know from practice. As a bishop said so well our "Institutional preservation is our unstated mission." Sounds rather like heresy doesn't it? One huge related challenge will be, as one bishop recommended, to "follow the money" and consequence of our de facto mission now which appears to be sustaining the clergy.

An interesting read as many issues are diagnosed. Now that we have noted the symptoms will we move to a remedy which helps us, and more importantly the world, to to experience the Good News of Jesus Christ?

An addendum thought an hour after the original post-- It is "rivalry Saturday" for college football. One interview talked about the significance of special teams play for Florida. What got my attention was the punt return expert who is legendary for "changing field position." His strategy is exactly what the UMC needs to learn. How do we change "field position?" As one who works in mission I think the main key is to change from an emphasis on the institutional church to what God is doing in community and how the church needs to be at work/life in the community. Recapturing our mission in the world will be the key to changing our field position!

See more about the bishop's panel discussion at

Friday, November 28, 2008

From Thanksgiving to Advent and then Christmas

Here's a favorite poem/prayer that seems to fit this season of endings and beginnings.

by Ken Sehested

May your home always be too
small to hold all your friends.

May your heart remain ever supple,
fearless in the face of threat,
jubilant in the grip of grace.

May your hand remain open, caressing, never clinched,
save to pound the doors
of all who barter justice
to the highest bidder.

May your heroes by earthy,
dusty-shoed and rumpled,
hallowed but unhaloed,
guiding you through seasons
of tremor and travail, apprenticed
to the godly art of giggling
amid haggard news and
portentous circumstance.

May your hankering be
in rhythm with heaven's,
whose covenant vows a dusty
intersection with our own:
when creation's hope and history rhyme.

May hosannas lilt from your lungs:
God is not done;
God is not yet done.

All flesh, I am told, will behold;
will surely behold.

New Year's Day 2005

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Music

Ah, the food, the family, the traditions, the fun that ties together the days and years of our lives.

I'm curious about your celebration of the day. Have you got a favorite Thanksgiving song? It could be sacred or secular, could be old or new. Help me create a Top 10 List of the BEST Thanksgiving songs. These would be songs that really express what it means to be thankful, or that might move us into that spirit.

Here's the beginnings of a list some of my Facebook friends helped generate. This is a mix of songs from a collective response of friends sharing the music that helps their experience of preparation for and expression of Thanksgiving. Maybe one of these songs will help you tap into some of the reflection, knowledge, and emotion which leads to thanks giving:

Blessed, Brett Dennen, Jazzy Folk style
Mystery, Bruce Cockburn, Rock
“Thankful,” Josh Groban
Let All Things Now Living
Count Your Many Blessings
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
We Gather Together
For The Beauty of the Earth
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Thankful, Caedmon's Call
Thank You, 33Miles
Thank You, Sanctus Real
How Could I Ask for More, Cindy Morgan
Give Thanks Forever, Chris Tomlin
How Great is Our God
Now Thank We All Our God
The Thankfulness Song, Veggie Tales Song
Amazing from the Sex and the City Soundtrack
Do You Remember by Jack Johnson
Jessica by The Allman Brothers
"Thanksgiving" by George Winston

What do you listen to in order to get in the mood for giving thanks or as part of your Thanksgiving celebration? Send a comment and add to the list.

In the meanwhile, enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations Still Continued

Make Me a Captive Lord
George Matheson, 1890

Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.

My heart is weak and poor until it master find;
It has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move till Thou has wrought its chain;
Enslave it with Thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.

My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve;
It lacks the needed fire to glow, it lacks the breeze to nerve.
It cannot drive the world until itself be driven;
Its flag can only be unfurled when Thou shalt breathe from heaven.

My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leant, and found in Thee its life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations Continued

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
George Matheson, 1882

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Learning to Be Thankful

Sunday my pastor shared a sermon trying to get me/us ready for Thanksgiving. He did a great job (at least for this typically ungrateful slob) in moving me toward a more thankful heart and life. My preacher reminded me that it's easy to be thankful for all the good stuff (as I see it and qualify life's happenings), and counter intuitive to even consider being thankful for the challenges in life. He shared a story at the end of the sermon about the blind pastor/hymn writer George Matheson (1841-1906). Matheson wrote the following prayer about his blindness: "My God, I have never thanked Thee for my 'thorn!' I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my 'thorn;' I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my 'thorn'. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Surprises in Mission and Campus Ministry

The nature of my work in the church and in the community means there are surprises every day. When I took my current church position in July 2007 it was to be a missions pastor. Quickly after that we realized there was a great need and a good opportunity with campus ministry next door at Augusta State University as director of the Wesley Foundation. One thing lead to another and I found myself as part time director of a group that had fallen on hard times.
That means there wasn't a program and there weren't any students!

A year later we have a faithful number of students who connect with us, with each other, and with God. And this crew is a real inspiration to me! They are diverse, they reflect different life experiences as well as a variety of religious (or not!) experiences. Every time we gather I find some of the best conversations, sometimes insightful and typically funny stuff, and usually some surprises along the way. This last week there was one conversation that reminded me of my struggles in college to take some of my own steps into young adult life. She is making choices about life and faith that are intense, profound, and transformational. I was deeply touched by her openness, and she has been the center of my prayers since that impromptu holy moment during lunch with all the student noise as background.

Early in the lunch this past Tuesday I was surprised to see one table of students get up and form a prayer circle. Our informal lunch has lots of noise and movement as some students are arriving from class and others are wolfing down their food and running to class. This particular table didn't know each other to start the semester, found one another at the weekly lunch, and now have deepening relationships so that they refer to themselves as a family! The witness and the growth of these college students is an exciting thing to see growing.

In these days leading to Thanksgiving my college student friends are one of the elements of my life and ministry that I'm very thankful for.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

International Faiths Concerned About Religious Violence in India

Here's another story about the religious violence in India and a growing international call for the government to bring the situation under control.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Connecting Congregations & GBGM In Mission Together

I've learned many lessons over the years by working with churches and Christians in international settings. We tend to call these "mission teams" in the U.S. and got to foreign destinations to assist and encourage the local church. Often we supply "people power" and offer medical teams, construction, children's ministries or other resources which help advance the work of the local congregation. Of course, the financial boost is typically a significant element of the work. Usually for me the experiences and the relationships work their way into my soul and have profound effect in the short term, and ongoing effects upon me for the long term. shows the World Methodist work through Connecting Congregations. This program offers churches in a number of countries throughout the world which need outside support. My first experience with this was in the late '90's as Trinity on the Hill UMC supported a Roma (Gypsy) Methodist congregation on the eastern side of Slovakia. After one of our medical missions in Romania a few of us spent a few extra days and traveled to the Slovak church and had an incredible time in this land of castles.

A similar effort is offered through the UMC General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) called In Mission Together. A number of partnership projects, are underway in Cambodia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Laos, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Vietnam. The commitment as a partner congregation includes annual financial support and may also include sending a team to visit and make friends, opportunities to learn about the culture of your partner church, and working together on a mission project.

Such long term relationships with churches around the globe will change the world!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teenage & Young Adult Community Activism

I really enjoy a variety of news and information sources. That's one reason I like the internet. I often catch BBC news which always surprises me with "world news" that I don't hear anything about in most U.S. coverage. I also like some of the PBS shows like Independent Lens. Last night I saw a documentary by three teenagers from the Swinomish Tribe in Washington state. They had gotten into trouble with drugs and alcohol while living on the reservation, and part of their treatment was to make a documentary about their life on the rez, including the impact of a nearby oil refinery on their way of life. It really shows an exploration of the impact of an industry on a local ecology, yet also offers a clearer understanding develop as the teens seek to tell their story, and must confront the larger world in both Olympia and Washington D.C. as they seek answers and seek to be heard. The movie and process was aided by MARCH POINT, a group serving as a collaborative film making effort between media professionals and Native youth telling their own story and the story of their tribe.

Look this movie over at the link below, and then imagine a similar project coming out of Harrisburg, or Bethlehem, another part of Augusta, or perhaps a nearby rural community.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bad News on Christian Education

“'Boring' is the number one word or phrase associated with Sunday school (among all adults), and 'fellowship with friends' is the number one reason adults attend Sunday school classes. "

This comes from Dan Dick in a United Methodist study on Christian education. Other insights worth discussion from the recent United Methodist General Board of Discipleship study:

  • Four-out-of-five UM adults (80.4%) report “little” or “no” interest in Sunday school, Bible study, or small group formation
  • Two-out-of-five (39.1%) claim that believing that Jesus Christ is God’s true son is enough — since they have a guaranteed spot in heaven, they don’t have anything else of value to learn.
  • 48% believe that attending weekly worship is adequate, and that there is no need for any other formational experience in their lives
  • only 1-in-6 (17%) of those attending studies report finding practical information that applies to their daily lives.
He goes on to say:
"...many teachers report seeing the same people over and over — good for community, not so good for launching disciples. The vast majority of Christian educators report that most students see classes and studies as an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end. Information is a higher value, it seems, than either formation or transformation."

"Those who teach in prisons, at universities, at nursing homes, in public schools (after hours, of course), etc., find that their audience is much more interested in learning about the faith than those who teach in churches."

MY RAMBLING THOUGHTS OFF the CUFF-- We aren't mobilizing an army and have fallen to merely making some numbers of people happy with a social network! Fellowship isn't a bad thing, and as a matter of fact a necessity for small groups, so I'd celebrate those who are in a group, yet want to find ways to "spice up" the study with a bigger intent in mind. That could lead to another blog just thinking about bridging into new study. I know of some churches who've "taken their study the next level" with great success.

Tougher issue- How do we move people beyond the pew and into a study? Isn't that the million dollar question?! Part of the issue developed over the last generation or so; I imagine we can't fix that over night. Do we push those who are stuck in the pew or merely try to start with the new generation?! Note the approach of many denominations in starting new churches rather than revitalizing the old and we may find an answer. Some of this may betray our artificial separation of worship and education with the professional/ministry separation of preacher from Christian educator. We don't do well at "filling the house" for worship though it's easier to do that than re-create the church into the Body of Christ for the world today. We need to re-work our approach, our roles, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead us into the "new" old ways. Many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world know more about this now than we do here in the United States. Yet another reason it is vital for our churches to be involved in mission as we ALWAYS take more away in the learning and blessing than we are ever able to give.

Of course, the challenge is to not lapse into a "closed" system. Too many churches and too many study groups are dead/boring/ irrelevant due to the fact we are stagnant in terms of members, ideas, and connection to real life. I suspect the numbers also betray much about our preaching, our worship, and our mission in the U.S. When I visit churches in the international "mission field" they typically have a small sanctuary and overflow with people, and they have limited finances with a ministry emphasis which is very similar to their lives- the emphasis isn't institutional but highlights the salvation and lordship of Christ today! Thus, neither preaching nor teaching are mundane; the hearing and the practice of the Gospel is vital to the church and the Christian.

Christian Education in the U.S. must:
1) get practical and relate to the everyday real life of people and to the mission of the church,
2) get out of the house! Note that many people are eager to learn, but we are stuck in a closed system of classes.
3) become relevant especially to church outsiders with real life application. Include a variety of people in the group including many who are new to the journey or approach the study from a different vantage point.
4) find expression in worship, mission, and throughout the various ministries of the Church.

Having just attended the national Christian Educators Fellowship I know some exciting elements of this are occurring in many churches. The challenge may be for the whole institution, and especially the clergy, to fully embrace what must take place for us to do our best work in helping people grow into the fullness of the image of Christ.

grace and peace,

For Dan Dick's full report see

Sunday, November 16, 2008

As We Worship Some Face Danger as Christians

Some of my Christian friends in India are in grave danger. This is not an internet hoax. It is not likely to get much attention in the national press until someone from the U.S. is killed. Yet too often religious violence in certain Indian states is flaring into damage of property and even loss of life. Unfortunately the pro-Hindu government is turning a blind eye to these atrocities.

Consider what it would be like for a mob to approach you as you leave church today, douse you with gasoline, and burn you to death merely for the fact you had been to worship. Or imagine returning to your home after church, but being jumped by a crowd and being hacked to death. This is too common place in the Indian state of Orissa. That is the area, perhaps most famous to westerners, where the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his ages 9 & 7 were burned to death in their car. Though time has moved on the approach to religious diversity is still extremely violent and dangerous in many locations throughout India.

For more ongoing information find an excellent resource at FIACONA. This group is "deeply concerned about the increasing threats to the secular and pluralistic nature of Indian society and about the state of religious freedom of Christians in India." Would you be shocked to learn that 500 Christians were killed in Orissa in Kandhamal District with two hundred Christian villages and 127 Church and prayer halls either destroyed or burnt August-September 2008? This took place with police knowledge and no response. Official government reports grossly misstated the level of violence and murder.

For more information from a missions perspective see

Saturday, November 15, 2008

As Worship Ends we Go to Serve

There have been a great variety of variations of the following prayer found in recent books and online. It's not the typical sugary sweet rather bland prayer, but a challenge as a benediction to end a time of worship. It's ironic how many of the Google listings I saw kept the first 5 sentences, and deleted the even more offensive and in some ways more interesting, last 2 sentences.

But this is how it is supposed to be when we finish with the ritual, the prayers, and the songs. We depart worship in order to serve God in the world, and to live as agents of reconciliation and redemption.

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort… at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths ,and superficial relationships. May God bless you so that you may live from deep within your heart where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger… at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people. May God bless you so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears… to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war.

May God bless you so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, in your neighborhood, so that you will courageously try what you don’t think you can do, but, in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly speak out about injustice, unjust laws, corrupt politicians, unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners, and senseless wars, genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember we are all called to continue God’s redemptive work of love and healing in God’s place, in and through God’s name, in God’s Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.

Source: “Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine,” published by the Franciscan Missionary Society, Liverpool, UK: Spring 2005. As found on

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Rainy Day Off & Renewal of Creativity

I don't know about you, but I start to feel a little beat up by this point in the fall. Too much work, not much time off, and not enough rest and reflection drain my batteries!

It's a rainy day in my part of Georgia which gives a great chance to do NOTHING!! This is a really under utilized activity. After not doing much of anything (except playing with the "new" dog [another story for another day]) I got on the internet for a moment in search of someone to spark my creativity. Isn't it renewing to see the creativity of others to jump start the imagination?

I found today and have really enjoyed the various artistic expressions found there. Check it out for yourself and see if something isn't sparked in you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Current World Challenges Calling People of Faith

I wish I could just share some random thoughts on theology, or an inspirational story to renew your spirit. Instead, I'm struggling with the fact that now is the time to put our best theological thoughts to action. We are living in days that demand we do more for the good of all. We must move beyond our own self concerns and renew efforts to care for our neighbors- those in the next neighborhood or community as well as those half way around the world.

While we complain about the economy here in the U.S., and granted it may be nearing a historically awful place comparable to that of the Great Depression, many of us are still able to survive with hopes and dreams of a better future. In many places throughout the world today is a day of survival and basic subsistence, and if today is survived then tomorrow will be a very similar day of basic survival.

There is currently a global food crisis which is calling for our action. There is a special need for training and development of agriculture appropriate to local poor farmers and families throughout the world. Interested in helping to form such a team?? Read the following article and consider how you might help change the world with your interests and abilities.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bahamas 2009 Mission Thoughts Continued

What I've recently learned about the Bahamas:
  • It's a commonwealth

  • People drive on the left side of the road

  • It's an archipelago consisting of 2000 cays and 700 islands

  • They say "If the U.S. sneezes the Bahamas gets a cold."

  • There are significant numbers of Haitian refugees

  • It's a very beautiful place and some of the friendliest people I've ever met!
In addition to the work next summer in Nassau there are also options throughout the year on the various islands through Mission Encounter and through the Bahamas Methodist Habitat. This would be ideal for college or adult teams as there are needs in construction, children's ministry, and general community ministries. Abe and his team with Bahamas Methodist Habitat are well prepared for groups interested in both construction and other ministries. See for contact information and team application packets.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Can You Picture Yourself Here?

Enjoy the beauty of an island, meet United Methodists from across the U.S., learn about international mission teams in a safe setting close to the U.S., and delve into a different culture. All this while eating some great food and benefiting from the expertise of some who've been involved in mission teams for years. We'll have many opportunities with both Bahamian and Haitian cultures. Think about this the next month or two while the weather is cold. But don't wait too long as the two camps will fill up fast. Go to Mission Encounter at for more information. And tell them Scott Parrish sent you! :) Just be sure to save me a hammock near the beach!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Summer Mission in Nassau, Bahamas

I just returned from a 1 1/2 day visit to Nassau, Bahamas with a team of conference youth coordinators. Terry Carty of the Youth Workers Movement and Mike Shinn of Mission Encounter are facilitating the effort in conjunction with United Methodist Church leaders from across the United States. The scout team included conference youth leaders from Rocky Mountain, Virginia, Wisconsin, Delaware, Western North Carolina, North Georgia , & Arkansas. This is a really large effort with hundreds of youth and adults participating in a variety of projects including construction, vacation Bible school, recreation, and other opportunities. Some of the group will work in July, but I'll be involved in the June 21-27 camp and encouraging groups to talk it up and register in the next couple of months. We hope North GA might have 75 youth & adults involved. This will be a great entry level international mission for groups or youth ministers/counselors/churches who have always wanted their youth to experience such a mission but haven't had the opportunity. Look for more details soon here or find more information in mid November at

In addition to the entry level mission for youth or college students they also offer some good options on the other islands of the Bahamas through

I'll share more pictures and stories in the days ahead.

Monday, November 3, 2008

International Gathering in ATL July 2009

One of the things I most love about being a Christian is how the relationship and gathering transcends nationality and language barriers. There will be an international gathering of deacons (that's the type clergy I am- one who has focus on service to the Church and World) at GA Tech next July. Think about a group from Asia/Pacific, Africa, Europe, and the Americas & Caribbean you get the look of us. The group started meeting every 4 years starting after the end of World War II. The group is ecumenical and as diverse as any gathering you might ever encounter. To learn more or to join the adventure check out the slide show at:,1,Diakonia: Crossroads of Grace - Revive and Reconcile

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Interested in Becoming Clergy, Missionary, or Some Type of Church Worker?

If you are over age 18 and have interest in a church career then the United Methodist Church offers a "Discerning God's Will" event in January in Norcross you should consider. This is sponsored by the UMC General Boards of Global Ministries and Higher Education & Ministry. Space is limited for the event and the deadline for application is Dec. 1, 2008. Participants cover their own travel costs but lodging and food are covered by the sponsoring agencies with the stipulation of a $50 deposit upon acceptance. The sum is applied toward meeting costs. Scholarships are available from both sponsors.

For more information about working in the United Methodist Church review the link and then contact Rev. Scott Parrish.