Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vacation Ends

It's time to go back to work today. Two worship services, catch up on e-mail, load everything in my car for lake camp this week, go to Thomson FUMC (the near center of the Augusta District which stretches to Greensboro, Milledgeville, and Tignall!)for preAnnual Conference briefing, and I'll launch back into "normal" summer work.

First a vacation recap:
In addition to doing some yard work, and knocking out some home projects, I've almost completed the long awaited "door table." I got an antique door a year ago at the church White Elephant sale. I cleaned it up last summer, but never did find legs or a base that would accommodate what we wanted to do. I stripped the door of 75 years of paint, and since then it's been sitting in one corner of the garage. Then this year at the White Elephant I picked up a long free standing cabinet (OK you might call it a chest of drawers or bureau) that had 3 holes in the top appearing to have been used in a shop with a vise attached. I painted the cabinet black, and then my wife suggested taking at the drawers all together. I stained and sanded, and stained, and sanded, and eventually polyurethaned the top door/table top. I don't have a woodshop, so all my work was done with hand tools. I've set the tile, and will grout one evening next week.

Despite the fact the Lowe's cashier suggested I go into furniture design I believe I'll keep my day job! Still, this has been fun and will be a good conversation piece, plus useful for a crowd. I just hope I don't EVER need to move it!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vacation Days

I've been away with some vacation time. That means staying at home and catching up on projects. Check out the rabbit hutch I built.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who Is a Real Catholic?

Who Is a Real Catholic?

David Gibson got me with the title. Then he made me nod in the affirmative and think about similar applications and questions of other religious groups as well.

Find below an excellent editorial which serves up religion, politics, sex, value clashes and all in very few words. The quandary of Catholicism in the U.S. is likely relevant to most religious groups though some of the particulars of their system of authority may be somewhat different.

"All you need to know to diagnose the state of the Catholic Church in America today is that Pope Benedict XVI -- who has a knack for ticking off Muslims and Jews -- spent the past week wandering the Middle East, yet Catholics here barely noticed. They were too busy fighting over Barack Obama's appearance as commencement speaker at Notre Dame or arguing about the fate of a popular Miami priest known as 'Father Oprah,' who was caught on camera sharing a seaside embrace with his girlfriend."

If you've been near any electronic media you've likely picked up on the above stories. If you are totally out of the loop it would be worth your time to Google the Notre Dame commencement brouhaha or the story of Father Cutié.

"A tabloid published shots of popular Cuban American priest Alberto Cutié -- a multimedia star among U.S. Hispanics -- in risqué poses on the beach with a woman who turns out to be his girlfriend of two years. Nothing draws media flies like a sex scandal, especially one involving a man of the cloth, but a funny thing happened on the way to Father Cutié's disgrace: He did not slink away in shame but instead proclaimed, with Luther-like dignity, that he wasn't worried what the hierarchy thought. 'What worries me most is how God views me. The institution, the church, is something else.'"

As I read the opinion article I couldn't help but wonder who defines Methodism today-- bishop, agency, clergy, or in fact laity? What are the most important things for religious people to be doing? to be saying? And how does the younger generation of clergy see itself in religious vocation?

Enjoy the article and let me know if you have any answers to my questions, or come up with some questions of your own.

Who Is a Real Catholic?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Possibility of a New Methodism?

I've been asking since December what the plan is for the UMC so we don't go the direction of GM or the Big 3. How do established institutions redefine themselves and streamline quickly in order to remain viable in the current economy? I suspect this will come more easily to businesses which run on "the bottom line," that is finances, as opposed to denominations, religious institutions, and nonprofits.

My fear that the UMC is moving too slowly seems to be confirmed. Anyone who knows me or has read a blog or two from me realizes I'm a fan of the arly days of Methodism when the organization was extremely lean (minimal)and the field workers -clergy & lay- are on the move and in the majority. I'll blog some other time about selling all the conference offices and moving the small conference team into a wing of an inner city church! Remember I'm a deacon called to emphasize mission!!

Here are some of the main issues and something of a response by the UMC. I've known since October that the apportionment giving was shifting dramatically in response to the economy as the campus ministry I lead (like all Wesley Foundations in Georgia) got notice of an immediate 40% reduction of funding from the conference. So, 7 months after this impact upon one of my ministry areas the Council of Bishops has met.

Excerpts are from Realign Resources

"At their spring meeting, the denomination’s Council of Bishops voted to take a pay cut as a sign of solidarity with those affected by the economy. Bishops cited 'the present financial challenges of our general church, general agencies and annual conferences and local congregations,' and approved a rollback in salaries to the 2008 level for the 50 active U.S. bishops. (Effective January 2010, their annual pay will drop from $125,658 to $120,942.)"

Other key notes from the meeting:

"Though the denomination is still rich in land and resources, its annual conferences are hurting financially due to debts, benefit obligations and guaranteed appointment for clergy, said Barbara Boigegrain, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits. 'We are starting to have a cash problem and we need a workout plan,' she said."

The group offered something of a plan though I'm not clear that it is nearly enough. "Immediate challenges for the United Methodist Church include deficit spending of nearly $1.5 million from the 2008 General Conference, and a projected shortfall of over $3 million for the 2012 conference. The bishops will be collaborating with the General Commission on General Conference and the General Council on Finance and Administration to redesign the 2012 assembly."

"Statistics from the denomination’s General Council on Finances and Accountability show that total year-to-date giving has increased in 18 annual conferences by $500,000 compared to 2008, but total giving for apportioned funds is down 16.5 percent, or $2.8 million, from 2008. The church can either let the crisis 'cause us to fail faster,' Ms. Boigegrain said, or 'start identifying available resources and making decisions to realign them so that we can continue to feed people and sustain church activity where people need it most.'"

"The Rev. Kendall Waller, a financial officer from the Missouri Conference, said that while annual conferences are being affected differently, he predicted that within four years, 22 of the 62 annual conferences in the U.S. would not be able to underwrite the current pension program."

"United Methodist schools also have suffered, with endowment losses of nearly 25 percent and less money available for tuition subsidies. 'A number of our schools are seriously hurting,' Mr. Alexander said."

Are the actions fast enough? Are they substantial? Here's where I struggle as I believe annual conferences ought to be "steering the ship" and that we must move more quickly in this economy from our old approaches to new practices. Otherwise, we're like the Big 3 presenting their December 2008 plan to Congress when something more radical is necessary. Check out the response by the agencies:

"In light of the crisis, Mr. Alexander said, the denomination’s general agencies are becoming increasingly 'clear on what is the main thing,' and have cut paper costs, trimmed the length and frequency of meetings and reduced personnel."

"Church leaders also are considering ways to trim costs of General Conference, as well as how to 'retool the structures and practices at every level of the church,' Mr. Alexander said. He called on the church to demonstrate 'creative frugality' and an understanding of 'real-world urgency.'

I know many churches and church leaders have the answers if the agencies are willing to hear what must be done. Many local congregations have been through this process of retooling, showing an annual responsiveness to available resources, and being creatively frugal even when resources shift dramatically. The necessary wisdom for this day is in the local congregation and should be actively sought and followed.

It is time for the UMC to follow the lead of the current circuit rider. The circuit rider doesn't benefit from the work of most UM agencies. The local congregation is asked to give to the UM agencies but receives little or no benefit from many UM agencies. In general the agencies are too far removed from the action in the field by the local congregation in ministry, too far removed from the everyday life and faith of the Methodist laity. Yes there are good people there, and yes they stay busy, but it is time to put our best and brightest back to work in the annual conference and in the local ministry. There must be ways we can express a connectional Methodist system that is vibrant and able to move quickly (economically and organizationally) in this new world order.

If an agency has little or no impact upon the work of local ministry does that express retooling, creative frugality, or real world urgency? Return the majority of resources- finances and people- to the work of local ministry and the annual conference. Without too quickly dismissing this outrageous thought entertain the notion for a few moments on paper, and imagine a new day for Methodism. You might suddenly find a Methodist freedom of funding, personnel, and thought you never believed possible again for our beloved movement.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Christianity in Iraq

This is a heartbreaking story from Iraq that I just heard on the news. In a land that had some of the first Christian converts 2000 years ago the days are now filled with fear and terror. What shall we do?

Iraqi Christian

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"The United Methodist Church at 40" by Dr. Russ Richey

Dr. Russ Richey, Professor of Church History at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, is someone I've gotten to know a little better in recent months as we both sit on the North Georgia UMC conference board of ordained ministry. I confess he isn't exactly what I would have imagined only having known him from a distance previous to our shared service to the larger Church. But you can't judge a person by his bow tie!

I am beginning to think the good professor of church history, and some who serve in similar capacities, might be some of the best people who understand where Methodism has been and how we might move forward in more vital ways which better express our doctrine and polity.

Find a great resource at Methodist Review which shares academic thinking with many possibilities for practical application. "Methodist Review is sponsored by the Candler School of Theology, Emory University; the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools; and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church. Free, one-time registration is required." If these first articles are any indication you will find it well worth your time.

I continue to struggle with what I am beginning to think of as the necessary deconstruction of a denomination as we've known it (similar to GM) and the new organizational structure which better allows us to be in effective, sustainable ministry while better expressing Methodist Christianity. Find Russ Richey's article on "The UMC at 40: Where Have We Come From?" and find many answers rooted in our history which will also help us see more clearly a strong future. Dr. Richey offers good analysis with focus on "connection enhancing" and "connection straining" aspects of Methodism. Another nice quote: "One century's initiatives become another's burdens."

After an overview of key trends and influences for Methodism of 1884, 1939, & 1969 Richey "brings it home" (as they would say of a preacher in these parts). Check it out.

Speaking of United Methodism Richey writes:

"We have been a church of partial visions and fragmented leadership. Each board or agency functions independently, competing with the others, acting like it alone were the church. Board directors and committee members view themselves as representing their respective jurisdiction or caucus. Caucuses pursue their agendas. Bishops operate in diocesan fashion, serving their respective conference, itinerant general superintendents only when they fly off to a meeting. Clergy-in-conference worry over pensions and health care. We have left it to individual pastors to try to deal the the big problems in American cities. Many responded creatively, heroically, and stoically. No one, nobody, capitalized on experimental success, conceived a national strategy, and established new implementation procedures for Methodist and United Methodist witness to a changing American society. To be sure, a board policy here and a Key 73 there imagined Methodism doing something coherent, extensive, coordinated, sustained. But to naught."

Read more of Richey (and an intriguing article on "What Makes Theology 'Wesleyan'?") at the Methodist Review.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Long Awaited "Door Table"

OK, it's been a year since I got the old throw away door from a church yard sale. Then in this year's yard sale I found a long cabinet that looked like it had been used in a shop. I could tell because it had some holes in the top of the it that looked like it had held a vise. I'd struggled for a few months last summer trying to find the legs I wanted for the table. Said another way, I didn't want to spend money on the legs I eventually found that would be appealing and functional for the table. The cabinet would provide just what the creative recycling artist desired!

I've learned along the way a dining room table should be around 29-30 inches in height. Plus I wanted lots of room for a plate, plus plenty of room below the table for feet and knees. The plan is to add some tile in the insert areas & Monica and I are now working that out. I'm voting to leave the holes in the door from the door know and lock, though I may not prevail in that. After all it's still a door, right?! I still need to sand, stain, place tile, etc. but here's an updated picture of the table just in time for Mother's Day.

Oooh wait, was that 2008 or 2009 I was supposed to finish this?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Church Never Ends

It's that time of May to enjoy all the "end of the year" events. Just today our church preschool and kindergarten chapel program for parents was celebrated. The children sang, the parents & grandparents took pictures and video, and by the end of the program as we all said the Lord's Prayer two of the restless boys were thumping each other on the foreheads.

"Our Father"

Child 1 thumps child 2 in the forehead.

"Who art in heaven"

Child 2 thumps child 1 in forehead.

Repeat the actions throughout each phrase of the prayer as the chapel ends in dramatic fashion.

Being my day off I had the privilege of taking my triumphant 5 year old home. He was still singing some of the songs from chapel as we traveled home.

Then he shared what I thought was a profound theological insight.

Cooper told me "Church never ends."

Well, this clergy dad was blown away by the depth of the thought. My mind swirled with the sense of eternity in the statement, the work of the Kingdom in the present and future, and the way we are drawn into something more than ritual and routine as we express a living, active relationship and faith.

His church kindergarten experience and year in chapel had gone into some deep water! I thought about the power of that thought, the idea that we shouldn't be tied to a location, or a day, or an hour, or certain personalities, but that our faith ought to go on into all of our days and ways.

I was dizzy in the moment!

Yet, I was curious what he was thinking. So, I asked "What do you mean?"

Cooper restated "Church never ends."

I persisted, "OK, explain that to me."

He was getting a little flustered with my lack of comprehension.

"Church never ends." he said again.

And then he followed it up.

"I don't like that." he said, as I almost pulled off the road without thought!

"What?!" I asked as I tried to stay in the lane and not wreck.

"You know," he said, "school gets out, other things end for the summer, but church never ends."

"I like to sleep in sometimes."