Author: Greater NW Communications

Shift Happens: The Value of Unlearning and Relearning

You know this, but I’ll say it anyway. Culture is always emerging.

You get what that means, right? That the world and ways around you are always shifting — always innovating. The introduction of new things and new methods continues to happen every moment of every day, whether or not we are willing to embrace it. The larger question lies in how we choose to respond. Do we welcome the uncomfortableness of the new or do we double down with a comfortable existence in the world?

Regardless, shift happens.

Am I allowing this shift to happen in me? Always for the good? Always letting go of the old me in order to make room for the new, less comfortable me? I have to be honest with you for a moment: Every morning, I wake and have to check myself because it feels like the ground beneath my feet continues to shift. I feel compelled to regularly address the question: Who am I?

Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

Around our country, overt hate and xenophobia have stepped out from behind a thin veil in a sprint to become the new norm. It’s bolstered by unapologetic fearmongering and outright lies. And, it’s insane. I refuse to allow it to gain a foothold among the space Christ calls me to steward in the world — a place of peace, hope, and justice. I simply refuse. Being a United Methodist demands that I “do no harm,” “do good,” and “stay in love with God.”

How do I allow myself to be undone and recreated by the grace of God? There’s enormous value in the process of unlearning my cultural identity as an American Christian and relearning what it means to be a follower of a rogue revolutionary, un-American, Middle Eastern-born person of color, represented in Jesus the Christ. Secondly, how does my personal undoing become a part of a corporate rebirth — shifting from individual to community?

I am always drawn to Matthew’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount, which you can read in chapters five through the beginning of seven in the Gospel of Matthew. There, you have this 30-something newcomer, sitting on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee, with disciples, followers, and the curious gathered around. Among people who have been shaped for generations under the Law of Moses, Jesus calls into question everything that had defined their perspective of the world. He basically said in varying ways, “You have heard the law that says _______________. But now I say _______________.” Jesus was rewriting the Torah on the fly! Surely people were reflecting (maybe even out loud), “Who does this guy think he is?” Can you imagine the internal struggle going on within those listening to Jesus? He called into question their cultural formation and challenged them to see the world — including the “other” — through a new lens. The lens of Christ.

This unlearning and relearning process can be painful, but it is a necessary part of spiritual growth and re-formation. It inescapably remains at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And if the statement “culture is always emerging” is true (and it is), then how are you I emerging as part of the Body of Christ within the neighborhood, community, region, nation, and world? How are our individual actions creating space for a fresh, communal voice to rise up above the bombastic noise we (and others) are hearing?

As we move toward a CrossOver Year in the Greater Northwest Area, beginning this Advent season, these questions could never be more important than they are now.

Shift happens. While making room for others, how will you respond in the midst of it and cross over to life? A new season is dawning. Let’s make the road by walking into the new.


Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson serves as Director of Innovation for a New Church for the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences.

Making the Road By Walking

Originally published on Reflections of a Running Reverend
The Rapanut grandkids having a light moment together before we drove to the airport.

My mother passed away earlier this month. And while she had not fully recovered from the stroke she suffered almost two years ago, her death was sudden and completely unexpected. The last time I talked to her, she was full of life and happy to report that she was making good progress in learning to walk again. That was three weeks before she died. Phone and internet lines had gone down after the devastation of Typhoon Mangkhut, preventing us from making wi-fi calls. Perhaps I should have tried harder to find other means to connect. It’s too late now.

No matter how hard we prepare ourselves and our loved ones for it, death still comes with an impact that shakes us to the very core. We who are left behind are left to pick up the pieces from the life that has ended while dealing with the void created in our own lives and the deep sense of loss.

So many details. So many matters to think of: planning of the wake, the funeral; what to write in the obituary; what to write on the epitaph for the tombstone; volumes of paperwork that goes with reporting the death so that pension benefits may transfer to the surviving spouse; more paperwork for bank accounts to be transferred; the care of my aunt, Mama’s younger sister, who is mentally handicapped and has been under Mama’s care since our grandmother passed away. I could go on with this list…

And then there’s the grief. The deep sense of loss. Even if the aforementioned logistical details were all taken care of, the painful fact still remains – our Mama is dead. And she has left a gaping hole in our hearts. She will no longer be there to answer when I make a video call. She will no longer call me with a joyful report about how many more steps she has taken today. She will no longer be there to watch with pride and joy as her grandchildren play the saxophone, piano and guitar or cheer for them as they run, swim, play volleyball or taekwondo. She will no longer be there to give encouraging words for my ministry…

I have been on the phone with my Papa Joe more frequently these past few weeks after Mama’s passing. I’ve been on the phone with my brother Noel almost everyday since we got back from the Philippines for Mama’s funeral. This is something we’ve not done as much as we would like to since my family and I moved to Alaska almost 10 years ago. Even in death, Mama has her way of keeping her family close and connected as she did when she was alive. We are supporting each other in our grief. We are crying together, and laughing together as we remember our beloved Mama Rhona. We are journeying together and figuring things and details out as we go. We are “making the road by walking” and we are trusting that God is walking with us.

To honor the mathematician that Mama was, we came up with an epitaph that describes her life in mathematical terms: “a finite life lived in infinite grace.” As we make the road by walking, we pray that this road be one that would honor her memory, keep alive her legacy and ultimately glorify God.

What about you, dear friend? What shifts or changes, great or small, are you, your family, your group or your community going through right now, throwing your life into a complete tailspin and causing you to lose hope and sense of grounding? Is a way forward yet unknown? Is the road ahead yet unseen? How can I journey with you so that together, we might make the road by walking? And more importantly, how can we together trust that God is journeying with us, even as we walk through the valley of life’s deep and dark shadows?

Let’s talk. Let’s journey with God. And together, let’s make the road by walking.

Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

+++

In Memory
To the one who first taught me how to walk, physically and spiritually, and I know walks with me still.

Teofina “Rhona” Axibal Rapanut
August 8, 1947 – October 4, 2018
A finite life lived in infinite grace


Rev. Carlo Rapanut serves as Conference Superintendent for the Alaska Conference of The United Methodist Church.

An Ordinary Revival has started…

Across the northwest, rooms filled with ordinary people are putting their trust again in an extraordinary God!

This video provides a snapshot of the ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Ordinary Revivals as they crossed the Greater Northwest last summer, seeking to inspire new connections between faithful people and the communities they live in. These revivals remind us that God is indeed at work outside the church and that there is strength in diverse communities that keep their hearts open to cries for justice.

Keep your eyes open for information on revivals coming to Boise (ID), Anchorage (AK) and Tri-Cities (WA) in the spring of 2019.

Learn more: ordinaryrevival.org

Crossing over into something new

The late Phyllis Tickle had a broad historical theory that assumed that every 500 years the Church went through an epoch-changing transformation, a crossing-over from one way of life into another.

Christianity began as a minority movement of dissidents who claimed that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord and demonstrated their allegiance to Jesus through lifestyles of compassion, generosity, nonviolence and deep bonds of solidarity with each other. But after 500 years this movement had grown so rapidly that it had transformed into the very Empire that had arrested, tortured and killed their Lord. Christianity went from an outside minority, to a culture shaping dominant majority. And with that, its virtues of compassion became political calculation, generosity became institutional tithing, and solidarity shifted from the least of these into a common good defined by an authoritarian Church. Christianity had crossed over from clarity into complexity.

500 years later Christianity rid itself of its nonviolent lifestyle and became the sword of an aggressive, conquering Empire that seized and ruled all of Europe. In the name of Christ, Christians imposed religious doctrinal beliefs on all citizens, made alliances with the uber-wealthy, and instituted itself, with military force, as God’s kingdom on earth as in Heaven. Obedience to the Church rather than the following of Jesus’ ethics and teachings became the norm. Christianity left its simplicity of solidarity and entered the complexity of enforcing conformity and obedience upon all.

Around the year 1500 Christianity again morphed with the “protesting Re-formation” that essentially proclaimed that every person was their own Pope. In other words, the conscience of the individual became the throne of authority and guidance. The notion that Europe was God’s kingdom on earth was not disputed. Rather, God’s kingdom became a far more complex negotiation between God’s kingdoms and the citizens of those kingdoms who increasingly needed no king.

Each of these revolutions were a “crossing over” from one way of life into another. Indeed, each was a transformation in how God was understood, and how Christians were to relate to culture. Each crossing over was from a tradition that had worn itself out requiring increased novelty and imaginative innovation so that the power of the new might be given birth. In other words, just as each of us must evolve through toddlerhood into teenagers into adulthood into maturity and elderhood, so too Christianity as the good news of God’s love and liberation must evolve up the ladder of complexity and responsibility.

Today we are in the midst of another epoch changing cycle of complexity. On the one hand Christianities have so mutated that our central message of Jesus has become incoherent. Which Jesus are we talking about? The Jesus of Franklin Graham, of Joel Osteen, of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Each Jesus has a different version of God with a vastly different governance of ethical guidance. Which God are we talking about? The God who stands outside of history, intervening every now and then. Or, a God who is inside of history as the unfolding power of evolution itself?

On the other hand, a new cultural god has emerged that increasingly displaces the role of religion itself. This power is the rapidly changing scientific-technological milieu that uses technology to redesign what it means to be a human being. Indeed, we can now see the inevitability of the creation of a silicon-carbon based form of life. What is the image of God in such hybrid forms of humanity? What is the need of God when humans can control evolution’s future? And what is the Gospel good news in an age of technological control, political centralization and authoritarianism?

We are always crossing over from what is to what is coming. The question that faces us as a Church is Bonhoeffer’s question: are we still of any use?

O God our help in ages past, our Hope for years to come,
Return us to the wisdom of Jesus and restore within us the fullness of Human Being.
Make us to be the Body and Blood of Christ, so that this world might have new life.
Bread for the hungry and a cup of everlasting joy.


Rev. Rich Lang serves as SeaTac Missional District Superintendent in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

CrossOver and El Buen Coyote

“Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.  That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here…” – Ephesians 2:17-19 (The Message)

I have yet to hear any mention of “crossover” that does not immediately cause me to think of immigrants. Caring for and about immigrants is not only part of our Judeo-Christian faith tradition, but it is a somewhat new and very particular part of my call.

Recently, I stumbled across another crossover story online. (What follows will be far more meaningful if you read that original post.) It grabbed my attention because the author/guest blogger, Bob Ekblad, happens to have connections to our region. The story he begins with takes place on Fir Island, near the Skagit River in Washington.  It’s a story of agricultural workers that could easily have come from many places, including places very near my own home.

Ekblad describes a conversation with an undocumented worker who has been condemned by many people who tell them they speak from a place of Christian faith.  Ekblad responds, “…I believe that in the Kingdom of God there are no borders and that God views us all as beloved children. If salvation were about obeying the law, then all of us are damned. I tell him that I’ve been seeing Jesus more and more as our Buen Coyote. Jesus crosses us over into the Kingdom against the law, by grace.”

I was—and I still am—especially struck by this idea of Jesus as el buen coyote, the one who breaks some laws in order to fulfill the Gospel.

I put a significant amount of effort into seeing various sides of issues and different perspectives on matters that come to my attention, but there are plenty of circumstances where there is a clear line.  With so much talk about crossover, I am paying extra attention to how I respond to those lines.

Immigration requires crossing an international boundary line, and there are many ways to do that. When it comes to matters of safety and wellbeing, for instance, I refuse to cross lines that will put children at risk. But when there are terrifying risks on both sides of the line, then what?

I don’t know how a parent ever makes the choice between staying in la patria (the homeland) where their children are in grave danger and crossing an international border into the land of opportunity that is riddled with countless other risks. Church polity and biblical obedience present another line.

It is not always so simple as right and wrong, at least not as I see it. Sometimes there is a choice between being right and doing right. Other times, it is still far more complicated…and often heartbreaking.

Recently I have found comfort, hope, and new perspectives by referring to worship resources from other cultures.  I have several favorites from Fiesta Christiana: Recursos para la Adoración (Resources for Worship), including “The Immigrants Creed” by Jose Luis Casal.  (Spanish and English text available here. Video with Spanish and English available here.)

Since coming across this idea of Jesus as el buen coyote, my prayer has been this: May the only lines I ever cross be those that Jesus, El Buen Coyote, leads me across.


Rev. Karen Hernandez is Sage District Superintendent in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Don’t be fooled by the name—she’s una gabacha (a white girl) who seeks to confront privilege and racism, beginning with her own.

Like what you read? Subscribe: bit.ly/CrossOver2Life

Just as he is

Starting this Advent, the Greater Northwest Area will begin a CrossOver year study together. Groups and individuals will work their way through short readings of Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking over the 12 months that follow. This study will be complemented by short reflections and creative pieces offered regularly throughout the year, like this one republished with permission from Steve Garnass-Holmes.

As we consider the journey ahead in this CrossOver year, how will we bring Jesus with us? That is a question Garnass-Holmes’ piece begs of us. What else does it evoke in you?

Learn more about the study and subscribe to future posts.


Just as he is

They took him with them in the boat, just as he was.
 — Mark 4.36

Not the holy, jewel-encrusted Jesus,
not the Son of God believe-it-or-else Jesus,
but the teacher from Galilee, plain, just as he is.

No emblems, no gesture, no crown.
No doctrine, no special powers.
Just his presence, his open heart, his willing flesh.

Let him go with you. Take him as he is.
He will change your journey (You will be frightened.)
Just get in the boat.

   —  June 21, 2018

Breaking Down Walls: Reframing Affinity

By Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

The church has been making headlines as of late but not for the best of reasons. On the unsettling political front we hear conservative political pundits (along with some conservative evangelicals) using Scripture to justify some of the administration’s most divisive policies. And now with the formation of a Justice Department task force announced this past week by United Methodist and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, devotion to defend religious liberty has reached new heights.

The Trump Administration is doubling down on building walls between people and protecting white privilege. Amid a war on immigrants and people of color, families have been torn apart, causing irrevocable psychological damage to many young children in the process. And while many progressive churches are fighting back and organizing strategically, much of Evangelical Christianity continues its slippery slide into alignment with an administration, trading the Church’s responsibility to act as a force for the common good for political access and gain.

So, in a season when like-mindedness, political affiliation, and fake news represent skewed affinity, what is the Church’s responsibility when it comes to its own culpability? After all, we have built an Empire on affinity. And, as I have argued before, we need to check ourselves and reconcile the church’s role in building a culture of exclusion.

Much of the existing strategies for congregational development across our denomination elevates the consideration of affinity between pastors/leaders and the mission field/communities to which they are appointed. However, I want to de-emphasize this notion. And, yes, I am aware that there will be folks who disagree. Regardless, here is my argument.

First, strategies around leveraging affinity groups are based on the Church Growth Movement (CGM), which came into view in the 1960s. The 1950s and 1960s represented years of significant upswing in church attendance and engagement. The CGM was actually birthed by Donald McGavran at Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon. I find it ironic that the CGM was given life in our context; what is today (as you now know) called the “None Zone,” where there are more people outside of the church/Christian community than anywhere in the United States.

Essentially, in the 1960s, alarm bells were going off around the exiting of young adults from the church, much like today. In the midst of a twentieth-century crisis there was a struggle for Christian identity, which found devision among races. During these years, and in the midst of a fight for civil rights, white supremacist hate groups, most of which undauntedly claimed a legacy of Nazism, radically promoted their belief that white Christians were God’s chosen people.1 Though the ideologies of these groups varied, history shows that these groups primarily directed their vindictiveness toward Jews, homosexuals, and other minority persons of color, especially African Americans.

Upon this backdrop there grew strategic considerations for church growth within Evangelical Christianity. Resulting from scientific principles and set on 30 years of missionary experience in India, McGavran founded the Institute of Church Growth around the vision that congregations must be formed from homogeneous groups of people, and that it was important for folks to feel comfortable and “at home” with others. People with similar skin color, beliefs, priorities, fears, hopes, etc. would successfully grow in community together. McGavran expressed his theory on the sociological implication of Christian community development, by stating:

“[People] like to become Christians without even crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers… It has been found that where cultural obstacles are recognized and new converts nurtured in churches of their own culture, the evangelistic efforts are far more effective…”2

The base premise was that because people indeed have prejudices, that these biases should be used and made as an aid to Christianity, drawing individuals together in comfortable and like-minded groups.3  This was based on the idea that church growth professionals believed that in the struggle for Christian identity, and the overall Christian movement, most opposition in society was not theological, but instead sociological. A broad example is that Sundays contained the most segregated hour of the week.

There are several “church growth” models, many of which are present still today in strategies for congregational development. These bear witness to the CGM and include the following examples: mega-church, cell church, Alpha course, Natural Church Development, seeker sensitive, soul-winning, and other similar programs and methods. It is absolutely true to state that our natural human tendency is to be drawn to others who are just like us in every way. We have what Parker Palmer calls an ancient fear of “the other.” This is embedded in our humanness, so it would make sense to leverage this for some sort of gain, right? That is what the CGM proposed to capture; a formulaic approach for the Christian movement. And, as the CGM began to cross from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, methods leveraged our dominant American consumer culture, drawing upon marketing and sales strategies.

As good as this sounds, when we consider embracing the “Good news that will bring great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10, NLT), sacrificing the theological position over sociological truths is contrary to the gospel. The gospel subverts such a posture. The gospel reaches cross-culturally and reflects the “kin-dom” of God, representing all races and ethnic groups equally. The gospel breaks down the barriers that divide us, for “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NLT).

In short, Jesus desires to subvert these natural human tendencies in us, nudging us toward “the other” with whom we, more often than not, do not share a common affinity.

Is there a time when this makes sense? Yes. I believe that affinity is most important when it relates to persons of color who find themselves in a dominant white culture. Cultivating a safe space around affinity in this instance is absolutely appropriate and very much needed in this current season. And, white leaders in the church need to not only become advocates and allies, but we need to use our privilege to equal the playing field. As leaders, if we do not allow Jesus to subvert the tendency we have in our own lives to default to what’s most comfortable, and then model what it looks like to step into unfamiliar relationships with others, how do we expect our communities of faith — new and old — to do the same?

While affinity appears natural in developing safe and courageous spaces, I do not believe it should, today, be a primary consideration for how we foster Christian community. Instead, I believe that we should more readily embrace intercultural competence as the primary lens through which we understand ourselves and then see and engage the world around us. This is an inside-out move that would begin to provide visible evidence of an invisible grace working within each of us.

How will you allow Jesus to subvert what might be hidden deep within, so that you can be more effective at breaking down walls? The lives of your neighbors depend on it.


1. John Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life: A Short History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 443.

2. Martyn Percy, “How to Win Congregations and Influence Them: An Anatomy of the Church Growth Movement,” Modern Churchman, 34 (1992): 25.

3. Ralph H. Elliott, “Dangers of the Church Growth Movement: Is it possible to maintain our identity as the church and to be a ‘successful’ institution as the same time?” The Christian Century, 98 (August 1981).

It’s Time to Innovate for Change

By Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

Don’t you think it’s about time to embrace innovation, for a change? Actually, what we sometimes forget is that innovation is about change. Culture is always emerging — the ever-ticking clock ticks — and it would be an understatement to say the church doesn’t do well to keep up. “The times they are a-changin’,” — always — to reference the poetic genius of Bob Dylan. If you can stomach it, simply look at your news feed for glimpses of the upside-down world of “alternative facts,” “fake news,” and the minute by minute, widening political and theological divide.

No misunderstandings intended here; I am not inferring that the church is suppose to become culture… What I am saying is that we — as the church — have been slow to engage culture, move beyond  think-out-of-the-box conversations, and actually do more that would accurately reflect innovative ways to influence culture. In our current climate, we’ve got to shift beyond carving out “safe space” and now create more “courageous space,” to riff off one of my ministry team partners, Kristina Gonzalez.

So, what does it mean to be innovative?

One of the most influential books I read as a young, rookie business entrepreneur was Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles (Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. 1985). In the opening chapters, Drucker explained that entrepreneurs can’t help but be innovative. Entrepreneurs innovate. Period.

From Drucker’s perspective, innovation wasn’t a technical activity. It was economic or social. In other words, innovation was wonderfully nuanced by the emotional temperament of humanity. It engaged the deep recesses of our creativity (both producers and consumers), which was often suppressed by sensibility and certainty.

Over the years, the church has tried to embody innovation through the business phrase “best practices.” For the business world, “best practices” were about maintaining quality and establishing benchmarks. In the church, however, we’ve had a tendency to see “best practices” as program options that will ensure our success. If they worked in that church, then surely they will work in our church. A tempting argument.

The problem — as I have alluded — is that the church is not as adaptive as Corporate America. We don’t like change. We are drawn into it kicking and screaming. Or, at the very least, we are so guarded that our fear of change keeps us from operating out of the box.

In 2011, I stumbled upon a valuable little book written by Stephen Shapiro. In Best Practices Are Stupid: How to Out-Innovate the Competition, Shapiro argues that the time has come to be more innovative about the way we innovate. His core argument rests upon this premise:

“Following in the footsteps of  others is the fastest way to irrelevancy. Instead, create your own path. Find new and creative ways of staying ahead of the competition. Only through repeated, rapid, and efficient change can an organization survive and thrive in today’s volatile marketplace” (pp. 6).

Neither Shapiro or myself are saying that we should ignore “best practices;” not at all. In fact, it is extremely important to understand what is working in a particular context and why it is working. There are always nuggets that may spark something that works in our setting. But… It’s a mistake to think that a “best practice” is a silver bullet answer for a declining church that lacks creativity and innovation. We’ve got to move beyond a “plug and play” approach to “best practices” and start focusing on what I call contextual problem solving. This is the more robust pathway toward creativity and innovation in ministry.

“It’s a mistake to think that a ‘best practice’ is a silver bullet answer for a declining church that lacks creativity and innovation.”

Many argue that “best practices” for the church allow the church to at least do something. This is true. However, we want to move us from “at least doing something” to actually advancing the mission of the church; to make disciples for the transformation of the world. I desire to make a difference; to change the crazy world in which I find myself. My hope (and assumption) is that you do as well.

So, what would it look like for you and I to be more innovative in our work? What would it look like to engage culture, elevate the gospel above the noise of this world, and challenge ourselves (and others) to change? That will take a very different and practical approach. It’s risky. It’s kind of like… No; I would say it is exactly like “walking by faith.”

I hope you’ll check out our web presence on the Greater Northwest Area website. You’ll learn more about the values undergirding our work and can find resources and ideas to spark movement in you and your mission fields; ideas that help shift your work toward being a contextual problem solver. If we are going to create new places for new people, especially considering our current political and theological climate, then we are going to have to embrace such a time as this. It’s time to innovate for change.

Holy Week 2018 – We will recognize…

To United Methodists in the Greater Northwest and all who read these words, wherever you are:

Between last week’s HOSANNA! and Easter’s ALLELUIA! we watch as Jesus walks to his death at the hands of secular and religious authorities, but emerges on the other side, victorious by the power of love at work in the world.

If we haven’t already cast the story with bunnies, daffodils and butterflies, we will recognize this story wherever hope breaks forth from despair. In the crowds of young people in the streets of America, marching, pleading, promising to claim their chance to live without the fear of being stalked and killed at school or at home, or in the neighborhood.

We will recognize the story among immigrants, who have left everything behind, travelled at great peril across deserts, war zones, oceans, boundaries, to arrive in foreign, often hostile lands in hopes of living in freedom, security and opportunity.

We will recognize the story among the poor and homeless who live every day like birds or tiny fur friends in hidden corners, and under bushes, in alleys, behind abandoned walls, in defiance of the powers of death that hem them in before and behind.

We will recognize the Jesus story in our own lives every time we break free from habits of thought and practice that do not serve us well – routines, sorrows, low expectations, petty grievances that we give safe harbor, allowing them to dull our senses and lower our gaze.

We will recognize Jesus, alive and well every time we hear the unlikely – miraculous story, really – of someone walking out of the valley of the shadow of death into the dazzling light of a new day.

You see, the Jesus story isn’t about Jesus, really. His death and resurrection weren’t about him at all. They were about us. They were about God’s magnificent creation, coming out from behind a cloud. Jesus lived and loved and died and rose to open our hearts, our minds and the doors of our small lives to the way God’s love in and through us can make all things new. This is the body of Christ, broken for you. This is the cup of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many.

May new hope dawn in your life, in our nation, and on this precious, precarious planet. May a way open that you thought was closed. And may you discover unimagined blessing.

So shall we shout, Alleluia!

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Greater Northwest Area invited to Table Talks to discuss a Way Forward for the UMC

Bishop Stanovsky
Bishop Elaine Stanovsky leads communion for the Table Talks facilitator training training held in Portland in early March.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky is inviting United Methodists in the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences to participate in Table Talk conversations on human sexuality, the upcoming report of the Commission on a Way Forward and special called session of the General Conference in February 2019. The conversations will be held in various settings across the Greater Northwest Area.

Early in March, 47 leaders from the three conferences were trained to convene these conversations in a worship-full context. In her invitation to these leaders, Bishop Stanovsky shared that the United Methodist Council of Bishops is encouraging similar “conversation in each annual conference to further our life together around matters of human sexuality and church unity.” This facilitator training allowed them to experience and offer feedback on a model for conversation that they will take out to other groups across the area.

Noted worship designer and leader Dr. Marcia McFee resourced attendees at the training held at Christ United Methodist Church, west of Portland, Oregon. Worship is an essential element of how we work together as the Church and McFee was brought in to offer creative guidance and insight. Nancy Tam Davis, Pacific Northwest Conference lay leader, and the Rev. Donna Pritchard, Senior Pastor at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Commission on a Way Forward member, also provided facilitation and insight.

Trainees gathered with a spirt of curiosity, hopefulness, and anticipation. Bishop Stanovsky, Pritchard, and others offered insight to participants on the state of the larger church’s conversation before they experienced the time of meal, worship and conversation that they are being asked to replicate and lead.

What to Expect at Table Talks

The Table Talk design allows for a safe place for conversations about topics that may be difficult or divisive. According to McFee, “Surrounding the conversations in worship is a way to ground ourselves in the story of our faith and our own hearts.”

Before entering discussion, participants will be invited to commit to a simple covenant. In short, the covenant asks them to: (1) Stay Curious, (2) Be Kind, and to (3) Listen with the same amount of passion with which they want to be heard.

Rev. Carlo Rapanut, Alaska Conference Superintendent and a member of the design team asked the questions, “How did Jesus deal with conflict?” Then citing Luke 22:14 he pointed out that, “Jesus would start a difficult conversation by gathering for a meal.” So most of the Table Talk sessions will include some sort of meal time to allow for connection and conversation.

Table Talk
Jan Nelson, OR-ID Conference Lay Leader, shares with other facilitators at the training.

Facilitators learned that there isn’t a specific outcome expected from the conversations, but rather that there be a forum and process for respectful dialog. According to Stanovsky, “Table Talks aren’t an attempt to make everyone think or believe alike. But they are an opportunity to ask if our differences need to drive us apart? Or is there a way that we can honor one another, stay together, and continue at one table, in one conversation as we continue to seek to understand God’s will?”

Oregon-Idaho Conference Lay Leader Jan Nelson is one of the facilitators. She reflects that, “There are many issues that we avoid discussing even with our friends and families. It’s important for us in the church to model a way to talk about things that divide us. In this way, both laity and clergy can be witnesses to God’s love.”

While it is intended that all Table Talks provide a place to grow in understanding, each conversation will take on a certain character of its own. It is intended that they take place in districts, church clusters, ethnic caucuses, and within other groups and existing networks. Some Table Talks may include 40-50 persons while others may be relatively small in number. The questions and beliefs of participants will inevitably shape the conversation to some degree as well.

The Commission on a Way Forward

Commission on a Way Forward logoThe Commission on a Way Forward was proposed at the 2016 General Conference by the Council of Bishops “to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” The proposal was approved, and a 32-member commission was named in October of 2016. You can learn more about their composition, vision, and how they are structuring their work here. The Bishops have also called a Special Session of the General Conference to be held be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri limited to acting on the report from the Council “based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”

In December, the Commission on a Way Forward filed a report with the Council of Bishops outlining three “sketches” or possible models for how the denomination might move beyond the current impasse regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ persons. The Commission met again in January to continue its work on these sketches after receiving input from the Council. Following the most recent Council of Bishop’s meeting, it was reported that there are two plans under consideration.

How to participate

Dates for Table Talks will be published as they are made available on the Greater Northwest Area Website. They will also be on their respective Annual Conference calendar. If you don’t see one near you, check back later as more may be added.

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Our Address

Office of the Bishop 816 S 216th #2 (Street Address) PO Box 13650 (Mailing Address) Des Moines, WA 98198-1009
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