Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Rise Up, O Men of God"

It's amazing to me how sometimes a song in worship will get my attention in all the right ways. I'm fortunate to be involved in a very active church. This transfers into our worship. Or is it that our activity level stems from the vibrancy of our worship?! Our senior high youth choir had just returned from a 9 day tour including singing and missions through AL, MS, LA, & TX so we were celebrating that. We commissioned an international medical team departing for Togo west Africa on Friday. And, of course, today is Father's Day and we enjoyed that remembrance of those who've touched our lives, as well as challenge for all of us to be who God calls us to be. While that second element wasn't stated in worship it certainly carries weight in the old hymn we sang today. Do you know this song?

Rise Up, O Men of God
Text: William P. Merrill, 1867-1954
Music: William H. Walter, 1825-1893
Tune: FESTAL SONG, Meter: SM

1. Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
to serve the King of kings.

2. Rise up, O men of God!
The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
and end the night of wrong.

3. Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
her strength unequal to her task;
rise up, and make her great!

4. Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where his feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
rise up, O men of God!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cost Cutters AND Mission Enhancers?

While the economy pervades the news I still don't see as many GREAT IDEAS on cost cutting and organizational reorientation as I would have expected. As we settle into what appears to be a more long term "new economy" I'm starting to see more reports of lifestyle and organizational changes which will make economic and cultural differences. Some actions, such as dropping phone land lines for cell phones, seem to be the new norm.

An article from the NY Times shares some intriguing actions on college campuses which save money without compromising the mission. In fact, some of these moves appear to enhance student education. Ever heard of the WooCorps?! Check out some of my favorite university cost cutters:

- "Virtual Swim Meets"- where competing universities swim in their own pool, against the clock, and then compare times, without traveling to a swim meet.

- Some schools have cut out their "free" laundry service! I had no idea any universities offered such things. :) This is a worthy education and cost cutter if ever there was one.

- This is one of my favorites. "Cafeterias, too, are saving money, cutting food waste and reducing hot-water and detergent costs by eliminating trays. When Whittier began “Trayless Tuesdays” last fall, lunchtime food waste dropped to 4.6 ounces per student from 7.4 ounces — and the college saved almost $30,000 a semester after going fully trayless in the spring."

- In similar fashion many schools have returned to tap water and dropped bottled water.

- Another favorite move saves money and gives students work experience. "Rhodes College in Memphis economizes — and gives students work experience — by hiring students in 25 professional staff positions, saving $725,000 a year. And the College of Wooster in Ohio is trying to hold on to financially struggling students, and their tuition dollars, by offering minimum-wage summer jobs in its “WooCorps,” which has almost 200 students painting rooms, landscaping and growing vegetables this summer. WooCorps students will get an extra $1,000 in their financial aid packages — and help the college complete more maintenance projects than usual."

Now I'm curious how Christianity might benefit from such thinking and actions. Do you know of any actions taken by a church, denomination, or the Church which is a cost cutter while maintaining or enhancing the mission? I'm not looking for mere budget slashing, but for ways of saving money AND creatively fulfilling or even growing ministries. Let me know what you think.

Find the full article at Higher Ed Cost Cutters

Friday, June 19, 2009

Annual Conference Reflections

We did all the usual things at the North GA Annual Conference this week including breaking in a new bishop to our conference! I find conference to be a strange mix of institutional routine and reports, some times of intense boredom and "chair exhaustion" (I don't sit well!), and other times in worship, singing, and in visiting that are profound and inspiring. With a nod to the Methodist circuit riders of old, who endured much with joy yet were surprised to survive from one conference to the next, we started out by singing "And Are We Yet Alive?" It's a good historic question, and more relevant than ever as we assess our lives and ministry.

On Wednesday I tried a little bit of an experiment. My quest was to look for Jesus even in all the business and pace of conference. I admit I often forget this part of the adventure of life and faith. I had some fun that day as I caught glimpses of Jesus in Athens GA:

-in the beautiful variety of a gathered people- I REALLY like the diversity of people and opinions and expressions- most of the time! I'm still learning about "conferencing" and the idea we might best be a people of faith and the Church as we work this out together.

-in an old preacher who woke me to the moment with a one line introduction to a Scripture reading- "Listen behind the sound you hear for the voice Isaiah heard."

-in an old preacher who preached in a way that engaged my head, heart, and life. I've known Al from a distance the last few years, though he's retired now and doesn't know this mid career clergy. It's a powerful thing when a preacher can break through to people, especially to some of us who are jaded, cynical, and think we've seen it all and heard it all!

-with a group of young campus ministers who do tough work with little recognition but love what God is doing on campuses. This interesting group willing to risk sharing their faith and encouraging young adults in faith is an exciting arena for ministry. These folk don't tend to be the "ladder climbing" type of clergy, but have a calling which is comfortable in expressing faith in a challenging climate often with little support.

-in an old preacher carrying a baby around a local restaurant. It turns out he was walking his granddaughter as practice for her baptism this Sunday!

-in a meal with a good friend as we shared thoughts & dreamed dreams-- think I sensed the Wesley brothers too as we ate dinner and shared our lives and ministries!

-in a storm in the middle of the night as the thunder cracked, the wind rattled the windows, and the rain came down in torrents. Sometimes middle of the night thoughts, reflections, and prayers are the best! Sometimes even in the storm their can be a sense of peace and joy which is beyond words.

So, it's not the half million for mission given, or the amendment rhetoric or votes, or the pain of de-funding some social ministries due to the economy and lack of funding that I'll remember of this conference. Here's the official wrap up if you want those details.

What I'll best remember is meeting the Living God in some unexpected people and places, and being inspired and renewed because of those encounters. I hope your Holy Conferencing worked as well for you!

And are we yet alive,
And see each other's face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
For His almighty grace!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Complete North GA Amendment Results

Bishop Watson announced results from voting on the Constitutional Amendments:

North Georgia's Constitutional Amendments Voting Results:

Amendment 1
yes 544
no 958

Amendment 2
yes 1409
no 91

Amendment 3
yes 224
no 1264

Amendment 4
yes 88
no 1262

Amendment 5
yes 223
no 1262

Amendment 6
yes 1391
no 111

Amendment 7
yes 221
no 1264

Amendment 8
yes 1407
no 95

Amendment 9
yes 153
no 1345

Amendment 10
yes 84
no 1402

Amendment 11
yes 218
no 1265

Amendment 12
yes 223
no 1261

Amendment 13
yes 83
no 1403

Amendment 14
yes 224
no 1260

Amendment 15
yes 1386
no 115

Amendment 16
yes 220
no 1264

Amendment 17
yes 1291
no 216

Amendment 18
yes 225
no 1259

Amendment 19
yes 1334
no 174

Amendment 20
yes 218
no 1263

Amendment 21
yes 219
no 1264

Amendment 22
yes 1461
no 43

Amendment 23
yes 86
no 1400

Amendment 24
yes 219
no 1264

Amendment 25
yes 220
no 1264

Amendment 26
yes 85
no 1399

Amendment 27
yes 217
no 1268

Amendment 28
yes 221
no 1264

Amendment 29
yes 221
no 1264

Amendment 30
yes 222
no 1262

Amendment 31
yes 223
no 1262

Amendment 32
yes 226
no 1261

Note that these votes will be added to the aggregate vote of all United Methodist Annual Conference member's votes world-wide. To be adopted, two-thirds of the aggregate vote must be yes.

North GA UMC Amendment Results

Here are the more official results confirmed by North GA for the full report on the amendment votes

North GA Amendment Results

North Ga Amendment Results

The amendment vote results were reported this morning and will be reported at the conference website at

#2- yes 1409 no 91
#6- yes 1391 no 111
#8 yes 1407 no 95
#15 yes 1386 no 115
#17 yes 1291 no 216
#19 yes 1334 no 174
#22 yes 1461 no 43

The other amendments had similar results against.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

North GA Annual Conference 2009

We've been in Annual Conference in Athens since Tuesday morning. Of course, many UM's showed up Monday night to claim a room, check out one of the many great restaurants in Athens, and for some of us to enjoy pre-conference meetings. The North GA deacons always gather on Monday and that's always a good way to start the week for me.

The Hope for Africa Children's choir sang and danced and were a highlight of the week. See what the local press reported on Hope for Africa

I also took a number of pictures to show some "behind the scenes" about conference. I know food and fellowship are a key component of this having experienced it firsthand so often throughout the years! But my camera is acting up and many pics in my electronic camera have mysteriously disappeared.

Of course, we do a lot of worship and business as well. But I figured the "official" news will report some of that very soon. Since so many conferences have shared info on the amendment votes I will post unofficial numbers for North GA once those are released from today's vote. We have a large conference and also include many visitors and others who can't vote but are welcomed to attend. Here's a pic of the "bar of the conference" at the back of the room:

I don't know what your UM annual conference is like but this is the routine for us. The business is held in this room of the Classic Center, and worship is held in another room. And of course there are service options and meals and displays and more meals in plenty of nearby breakout rooms. Traveling the hallways and seeing people is half the fun!

Conference wraps up tomorrow by 5, and I'll give a follow up at some point in the day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Staycation- June 2009

Staycation June 2009 comes to an end today. It's a good way to end things with worship, and an excellent way to start this next chapter. In the week ahead I'll be involved at the North Georgia United Methodist Church Annual Conference. Think annual meeting of clergy and lay delegates from all the churches who gather for worship, business, mission, ministry group meetings, ordination, and lots of singing and eating. Annual highlights always include renewing contacts with old friends who haven't been seen in a year and meeting new friends. Then back home and at work for just a few days before our team leaves for Togo west Africa for our medical mission.

One of the fun parts of this Staycation was introducing 2 new chicks to our family. Flapjack and Jaycee are doing well so far as they are warm enough (a critical issue with chicks!), are eating and active, and have not gotten into any problems yet.

Our suburban farm is coming right along now as they join the rabbit Callie (name still under family review!).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Staycation- June 2009

Nothing like an exciting climax to "planned" opportunities! In the last couple of days of yard work we realized that recent water department work had brought our supposedly disabled yard sprinkler system to life. We bought the house 2 years ago, and understood from the previous owners that everything was turned off. We are at the top of a hill, and the first house on the line. Said another way, when the water department works on anything down the line they must turn off the water right in front of our house. This means we get a lot of air in the line when they work for a half day or so, which they did early in the week. In addition to the explosive pressure that comes into the house once the water line is fired up again, we found water leaking out the front of the lawn. I suspect the air blew open a zone valve enough to allow about a gallon a minute of water to seep out the front sprinkler line. Strangely enough the main valve for the whole sprinkler system was NOWHERE to be found. I spent my exciting Friday of Staycation June 2009 guessing, digging holes, and looking for a mystery.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Staycation- June 2009

Other adventures in recent days of Staycation 2009 allowed me the privilege of "painting the town." Turns out my daughter needed a silver bed for her purple room. And my son needed a black bed for his room. And...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Staycation- June 2009

The excitement continues as in recent days I've hung plates, pictures, etc. ad infinitum.

Plates on a wall?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Staycation- June 2009

I've been so busy in recent days I haven't kept up with blogging.

Here's what I did a couple of days ago:

Planed a door

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Economy Hits the General Church Agencies

"Two of The United Methodist Church’s largest agencies are trimming more than 90 jobs in response to the economic crisis. The Board of Discipleship announced nine layoffs June 2, bringing the total positions eliminated since January to 30. The Board of Global Ministries will eliminate 41 positions, and 20 open positions will not be filled. In early June, the Board of Global Ministries sent individual letters offering a retirement package to eligible staff and a general letter offering the option of "voluntary separation" to the remaining staff. All employees have until June 30 to decide whether they will accept a retirement or severance package. In general, the separations will take effect July 31."

See the full story at Church Agency Layoffs

Monday, June 8, 2009

Higher Education Challenges

In March I attended a UMC General Board of Higher Education event with focus on how to bridge the gap between church and academy. Of course, when we got down to it much of the interest seemed to be in how to funnel more UM students into UM schools. Some colleges/universities seem more successful than others in gaining students, keeping strong relationships, producing strong graduates, and maintaining that circle of relationship which is necessary for continued vitality. Of course, when the question was posed about UM schools costing too much for many in UM churches we all seemed to be at an impasse with little hope of resolution.

The following viewpoint is intriguing for it's insight into higher education, some possible answers for UM related colleges, and for possible innovations which higher education institutions may need to consider to weather the current economic storm. I reprint it in it's entirety due to its line of thought and the intriguing options the authors propose which are "outside the box" in terms of my experiences in college and graduate school.

Do you know of any UM or other private schools or state schools which are going to some of these new approaches?? If so, please do tell the school and what innovations you see.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated May 22, 2009
Will Higher Education Be the Next Bubble to Burst?


The public has become all too aware of the term "bubble" to describe an asset that is irrationally and artificially overvalued and cannot be sustained. The dot-com bubble burst by 2000. More recently the overextended housing market collapsed, helping to trigger a credit meltdown. The stock market has declined more than 30 percent in the past year, as companies once considered flagship investments have withered in value.

Is it possible that higher education might be the next bubble to burst? Some early warnings suggest that it could be.

With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care. Patrick M. Callan, the center's president, has warned that low-income students will find college unaffordable.

Meanwhile, the middle class, which has paid for higher education in the past mainly by taking out loans, may now be precluded from doing so as the private student-loan market has all but dried up. In addition, endowment cushions that allowed colleges to engage in steep tuition discounting are gone. Declines in housing valuations are making it difficult for families to rely on home-equity loans for college financing. Even when the equity is there, parents are reluctant to further leverage themselves into a future where job security is uncertain.

Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering.

In such a climate, it is not surprising that applications to some community colleges and other public institutions have risen by as much as 40 percent. Those institutions, particularly community colleges, will become a more-attractive option for a larger swath of the collegebound. Taking the first two years of college while living at home has been an attractive option since the 1920s, but it is now poised to grow significantly.

With a drift toward higher enrollments in public institutions, all but the most competitive highly endowed private colleges are beginning to wonder if their enrollments may start to evaporate. In an effort to secure students, some institutions, like Merrimack College near Boston, are freezing their tuition for the first time in decades.

Could it get worse for colleges in the coming years? The numbers of college-aged students in the "baby-boom echo," which crested with this year's high-school senior class, will decline over the next decade. Certain Great Plains and Northeastern states may lose 10 percent of the 12th-graders eligible for college. Vermont is expected to lose 20 percent by 2020.

In the meantime, online, nontraditional institutions are becoming increasingly successful at challenging high-priced private colleges and those public universities that charge $25,000 or more per year. The best known is the for-profit University of Phoenix, which now teaches courses to more than 300,000 students a year — including traditional-age college students — half of them online. But other competitors are emerging. In collaboration with an organization called Higher Ed Holdings--which is affiliated with Whitney International University, owner of New England College of Business and Finance, where one of us is president and the other a trustee--some state universities have begun taking back market share by attracting thousands of students to online programs at reduced tuition rates. One such institution is Lamar University, in Texas, which has seen its enrollment mushroom since working with Higher Ed Holdings to increase access to some of its programs.

Moreover, increases in federal financial aid and state scholarships have been unable to keep up with the incessant annual increases in tuition at traditional four-year colleges. For example, Congress has raised the Pell Grant limits from $4,731 to $5,350 a year by scrubbing the federal loan programs of bank subsidies thought to be excessive. But $5,350 pays for only about four to six weeks at a high-priced private college.

A few prominent universities, including Harvard and Princeton, have made commitments to reduce or eliminate loans for those students from families earning less than $75,000 or even $100,000 a year. But the hundreds of less-endowed colleges cannot reduce the price of education in that fashion. It is those colleges that are most at risk.

What can they do to keep the bubble from bursting? They can look for more efficiency and other sources of tuition.

Two former college presidents, Charles Karelis of Colgate University and Stephen J. Trachtenberg of George Washington University, recently argued for the year-round university, noting that the two-semester format now in vogue places students in classrooms barely 60 percent of the year, or 30 weeks out of 52. They propose a 15-percent increase in productivity without adding buildings if students agree to study one summer and spend one semester abroad or in another site, like Washington or New York. Such a model may command attention if more education is offered without more tuition.

Brigham Young University-Idaho charges only $3,000 in tuition a year, and $6,000 for room and board. Classes are held for three semesters, each 14 weeks, for 42 weeks a year. Faculty members teach three full semesters, which has helped to increase capacity from 25,000 students over two semesters to close to 38,000 over three, with everyone taking one month (August) off. The president, Kim B. Clark, is a former dean of the Harvard Business School and an authority on using technology to achieve efficiencies. By 2012 the university also plans to increase its online offerings to 20 percent of all courses, with 120 online courses that students can take to enrich or accelerate degree completion.

Colleges can also make productivity gains by using technology and re-engineering courses. For the past 10 years, the National Center for Academic Transformation, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has helped major universities use technology to cut instructional costs by an average of 40 percent while reducing the number of large course sections, graduate teaching assistants, and faculty time on correcting quizzes. Grades have increased, and fewer students have dropped out. Meanwhile, students have a choice of learning styles and ways to get help online from either fellow students or faculty members. That "transformation" requires a commitment to break away from the medieval guild tradition of one faculty member controlling all forms of communication, and to give serious attention to helping students think and solve problems in new formats.

The economist Richard Vedder of Ohio University, a member of the federal Spellings Commission, offers more radical solutions. He urges that university presidents' salaries include incentives to contain and reduce costs, to make "affordability" a goal. In addition, he proposes that state policy makers conduct cost-benefit studies to see what the universities that receive state support are actually accomplishing.

Fortunately, some other forces are at work that might help save higher education. The federal government recently raised significantly the amount of money that returning veterans might claim to pursue higher-education degrees, so it reaches at least the level of tuition and fees at many public universities.

In addition, the rest of the world respects American higher education, and whether studying at a college here or an American-based one abroad, the families of international students usually pay in full. The number of international students could rise from 600,000 to a million a year if visa reviews are expedited; the crisis of September 11, 2001, temporarily reduced the upward trajectory of overseas enrollments in American colleges. Accrediting agencies could also develop standards to expedite the exporting of American education into the international market.

But colleges cannot, and should not, rely on those trends. Although questions about the mounting prices of colleges have been raised for more than 30 years and just a few private colleges have closed, the stakes and volume of the warnings are mounting. Only during a critical moment in economic history can one warn of bubbles and suggest that the day of reckoning for higher education is, in fact, drawing near.

Joseph Marr Cronin is the former Massachusetts secretary of educational affairs, and Howard E. Horton is the president of New England College of Business and Finance.

Section: Commentary
Volume 55, Issue 37, Page A56

Will Higher Education Be the Next Bubble to Burst?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009