Author: Greater NW Communications

Greater Northwest Area Cabinet begins 2020 with pledge to Resist Harm as it continues to seed a vital, more inclusive church

By Patrick Scriven

Even as members of the Greater Northwest (GNW) Area Cabinet absorbed the implications of the proposed Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, they recommitted themselves to resisting elements of the Traditional Plan that took effect January 1. Meeting for the first time in 2020 last week, they joyfully reaffirmed their baptisms, pledging together to resist harm as they provide leadership to the Area.

Last November, the bishops of the Western Jurisdiction issued their Safe Harbor Declaration, explicitly refusing to implement the new provisions and prohibitions of the Traditional Plan. The GNW Area Cabinet welcomed this statement at the time and continues its move forward with the clear guidance it provides. 

While the Protocol mentioned above includes a moratorium against the filing of charges against LGBTQ+ clergy, and those performing same-gender weddings, if passed, it would only create a pathway down which full inclusion could be reached. Stopping the harm is only one step down the path.

Both the Cabinet and the GNW Guiding Coalition are continuing to plan for a future of United Methodism in the Northwest that fully includes LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the Church. Additionally, they are continuing to learn and to foster practices, each time they meet, that will help the Area to center voices that are younger and more diverse, recognizing that there is both wisdom and vitality around a table with distinct perspectives. 

The GNW’s Innovation Vitality Team offered the Cabinet an update on projects that are underway across the Area, work that includes both New projects (new church starts or new campus/multisite) and Vitality projects (existing church where an identified planter/innovator is appointed). Of the 37 supported projects, 20 (54%) are led by leaders of color.

Rev. Kathy Neary provided an update on her work with smaller congregations in the PNW Conference, sharing one of her insights this week on the PNW News Blog. The GNW Cabinet also discussed the promising work happening in rural areas through the Rural Church Engagement Initiative. Lynn Egli provides a short progress report you can read here.

Continuing its work of assessing and preparing for the leadership needs of GNW Area churches and ministries, the Cabinet finalized its initial list of Clear Appointment Openings. The practice of sharing Clear Openings allows clergy the opportunity to express an interest in a particular appointment while also allowing them to share their gifts and calling with the Cabinet as the discernment process begins. 

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and members of the GNW Area Cabinet spent time with participants of the UMC LEAD Conference.

Plans were also finalized at the meeting for the calling of a Special Session of the Alaska United Methodist Conference on February 22 in Anchorage to ask the 2020 General Conference to discontinue its status as a missionary conference. The Alaska Conference will also vote to petition the Western Jurisdictional Conference to provide affiliation and oversight, possibly as a mission district of another annual conference. 

The Conference Treasurers provided the Cabinet with an end of year report on the apportionment giving of the Area’s three conferences. Apportionment receipts for the Alaska Conference reached 84.7% in 2019, down 2.03% from 2018; Oregon-Idaho Conference receipts reached 77.9% in 2019, down 5.4% from 2018; Pacific Northwest Conference receipts reached 93%, up .21% from 2018.

With the Cabinet meeting concluding late on Saturday, Cabinet members visited area churches for worship the following day. Twelve members were also able to attend parts of the UMC LEAD event that began later that day in Seattle, Washington. Bishop Stanovsky offered a greeting to attendees of the LEAD event, offering a word of encouragement and appreciation for The United Methodist leaders, many of whom had traveled across the country to participate.

Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Need an IV, Stat!

By Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

Growing up, I loved the television show, EMERGENCY! The mid-70s medical drama centered on the heroic work of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 51, Squad 51 — specifically two paramedics named Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto. It appeared that every time Johnny and Roy called in from a scene to Rampart General Hospital, they were always instructed to, “Start an IV of D5W, TKO, stat!” Without fail.

IV, of course, is the abbreviation for “intravenous.” And, “stat,” which comes from Latin origin, is often used as a directive to medical personnel. It means “immediately” or “instantly,” as in right now! Even today, when colleagues use the abbreviation “IV” referencing the Innovation Vitality Team, it makes me think of EMERGENCY! Could it be because the church often needs an IV infusion of life, stat?

On that note, perhaps it’s the perfect time to share an IV (Innovation Vitality) stat (or two) that represents the work our team has been charged to lead, particularly around the practices of Inclusion, Innovation, and Multiplication. I am asked all the time about how much we are investing in existing congregations. And, I am always eager to answer that question.

There are several indicators for how we are all collaborating for a new vital church — one that empowers younger, queer, and people of color to innovate and co-create and help shift us from the status quo. For starters, consider these stats: 

  • 23 of the 37 projects supported across the Greater Northwest Area (GNW) are New projects, which represents 62% (a New project is a stand-alone new church or new campus/multisite project, led by an identified planter/innovator).
  • 14 of the 37 are Vitality projects, which makes up 38% (a Vitality project is an existing church where an identified planter/innovator is appointed to foster vitality and new movement).
  • What is the most exciting stat? Of the 37 supported projects, 20 are led by leaders of color! That’s 54%!

We believe it is an exciting time to be a part of the Greater Northwest Area. The IV Team has conducted several district trainings and workshops across the GNW, with more scheduled this winter and spring. These, again, focus on the practices of Inclusion, Innovation, and Multiplication. The practices are cultivated through the resourcing of intercultural competency, faith-based community organizing, asset-based community development, and intentional multiplication.

Click the image to learn more about the natural practices of vitality.

To equip pastors/innovators to navigate culture shift within our local churches and to re-embrace our Wesleyan rhythm of multiplication, we have continued our Multiplying Ministries cohorts, first piloted in 2016. These have helped position multiplication of new places across our conferences from places like Bend, Oregon, to Olympia and Marysville, Washington, and all the way to Squamish, British Columbia. In the process, new conversations have ignited about ministry opportunities. In fact, we see new movement in a number of exciting areas that strive to practice Inclusion, Innovation, and Multiplication. Here are some additional vital stats:

  • The importance of intercultural competency has been repositioned as foundational to vitality.
  • 13 churches joined in the Rural Church Engagement Initiative (RCEI) in 2019 from the Sage and Crater Lake Districts of Oregon-Idaho and the Seven Rivers and Inland Districts of the Pacific Northwest.
  • 20 churches are poised and ready for the 2020 RCEI cohort, which includes the Alaska Conference this year.
  • 13 new projects started over the last two years, six of which are vitality projects in existing churches.
  • 26 interns engaged and placed in ministry settings across the Area.
  • 7 people of color appointed to projects in 2019.
  • 13 candidates being assessed for 2020 in our new leadership identification process, of which eight are people of color.
  • 127 leaders trained to date in the last four cohorts of Multiplying Ministries, of which 91 are pastors serving existing local churches.
  • 23 planters/innovators in 6 new cohorts launched Area-wide for 2020, which focus on social enterprise and financial sustainability of both new and vitality projects.
  • Connected with thousands of leaders of color, building trust, new relationships, and opportunities, making way for a promising leadership pipeline.

The truth is there are a lot of indicators of life across the Greater Northwest Area, and that’s contagious. The thought of a vital movement on the horizon is generative, which can position the GNW to help shape something pretty special. As news of an impending split in the UMC populates the news feed, we need to stay focused.

So, while some folks across our connection might be declaring an EMERGENCY, take heart! It is important to remember that the Spirit is moving in fresh, new ways and that you are running a good race. That’s not to say that sometimes when we call in from the scene we might need an IV; stat! For now, let’s remember the new life that was recently born into our chaotic world. We know it as the “good news that will bring great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10).

Right now, it’s vital. Let’s continue to embody it.

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.

A Christmas Message from Bishop Stanovsky – 2019

Please enjoy this Christmas message for United Methodists across the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area from Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky. She invites us to step outside to see what God is up to beneath the surface.


When I was a little girl and it was just about Christmastime, we’d go out as a family in the station wagon and we’d get a Christmas tree at a lot. We’d bring it home and we’d get out the boxes of decorations to hang on the tree, and when we came to the tinsel, the shiny tinsel; in my family we called it rain.

Now, my friends when I grew up made fun of me for that. They thought hanging rain on a tree was a pretty dismal thing to do. But as a child, it was the rain that reflected the light and that reflected symbolically the love of God in our lives, and so that taught me that at Christmas time it isn’t so much about what’s really going on on the surface of things. It’s really about what’s going on in here that matters.

That amazing couple, Joseph and Mary, traveled to a distant town. It’d be like my family going to the mountains of western Virginia where my family first migrated to this nation.
They were in a place they didn’t know.
They were not among family.
They were about to have a baby out of wedlock.
They were homeless.
They were displaced.
They were alone.

And it was there that they experienced this amazing miracle as this tiny baby was born to them. God’s miracle that life can come with joy, and anticipation, and incredible blessing even in the worst of circumstances. And so, we all these years later, we celebrate what happened that night and we do it by lighting lights and listening to music, making music, singing music. We do it by eating great food and inviting people over to our homes and saying, “Oh, let’s get together and celebrate this amazing thing that happened to Joseph and Mary when the tiny baby Jesus was born.”

You know you can get lost in all of that. You can make it about the food and the song and the lights.

I invite you this Christmas to step outside.
Step outside of your home.
Step outside of your preparation.
Step outside of your expectations, your anxiety.
Step outside of your sorrow to see what God’s up to this year this Christmas. What’s being born?

Step outside to see the goodness, the kindness, how merciful God is, and take a deep breath.

The heavens will dance. Peace will settle gently. Hope will shine again and anew for us. God is faithful. God is steadfast.

May it be to us according to God’s promises for this day, for our lives, for our church, for our nation, for the whole beautiful world. A blessing to you. Amen.

Video by Rev. David Valera, Exec. Dir. of Connectional Ministries (PNW)

Conferences of the Greater Northwest Area commit to 100% payment of General Church apportionments in 2019

Conference treasurers report decision as Area Cabinet meets to begin appointment work for 2020

Story by Patrick Scriven, Photos by Rev. Dr. William Gibson

DES MOINES, WA — The three United Methodist conferences that comprise the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area have each committed to paying 100% of their General Church apportionments for 2019. The announcement, which comes toward the end of a tumultuous year where giving has slipped significantly across the denomination, was delivered by conference treasurers during the recent Greater Northwest Area Cabinet meeting.

For several years, the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho (OR-ID), and Pacific Northwest (PNW) Conferences have each stretched to honor this commitment to the General Church and our shared ministries, ministries which touch and save lives around the globe. The majority of the conferences in The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction have also met this commitment on an annual basis.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky welcomed the treasurers’ report while also acknowledging the pain and mixed feelings many are experiencing about the Church. “While I know that many faithful United Methodists across the Greater Northwest Area were hurt by the actions of the 2019 General Conference, it is important that we don’t allow our pain to do harm,” she said. “When Christians hear bad news, there’s always a good word coming. As we prepare for Christmas, I trust that Jesus is being born again in our hearts and in the world, and that he can even transform our Church.”          

The decision to fully pay the General Church apportionment involved many conversations and several leadership teams as each conference wrestled with new questions raised by the Special Session of General Conference held last February.

“As I worked with groups in the Alaska and PNW Conferences, we openly discussed the costs and benefits of continuing this practice,” said Alaska and PNW Conference Treasurer Brant Henshaw. “Ultimately, we decided that we would continue for this year in the hope that the denomination would make space for God’s movement as we are experiencing it in our ministry context.”

Apportionment giving from local churches across the area has been mixed as members also continue to wrestle with the serious questions raised by last year’s events. In the PNW Conference, giving hasn’t deviated much from previous years, currently at 81%, down .5% after 11 months. Giving in the Alaska and OR-ID Conferences dropped a few points more with OR-ID reporting in at 65%, down 3.5%, and Alaska at 78%, up 2.75% after 11 months.

To meet 100% of their General Church apportionment, all three conferences will need to rely on reserve funds or investment earnings.

“While giving is down modestly in the Oregon-Idaho Conference this year, we continue to see and hear an interest in being part of a church whose reach extends globally,” offered OR-ID Conference Treasurer Rev. Daniel Wilson-Fey. “There is a deep love for ministry abroad, as evidenced by the continuing tremendous support by our local churches of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Advance Specials, as well as continuing Volunteers in Mission trips to countries like Kenya. The vote in February did make some people’s feelings toward the denomination more complicated.”

In other work, the Cabinet identified 14 openings in local churches and new ministries that will require some recruitment of gifted individuals. The audit, as it is often referred to, also identified thirteen clergy persons who are planning to retire in the coming year; it is common for this number to grow modestly as the new year begins.

Members from Alaska, OR-ID, and PNW will gather in a shared annual conference the second week of June in Puyallup, Washington.  Reports were offered regarding ongoing fundraising to ease the costs of persons traveling from Alaska, and those traveling significant distances in the two other conference.

It was also reported that over $14,000 has been raised for the Safe Harbor Fund, initiated by Bishop Stanovsky earlier this year. These gifts are helping the cabinet to be responsive to requests from LGBTQ+ clergypersons and candidates outside of the Greater Northwest Area endangered by the new provisions, prohibitions, and punishments of the Traditional Plan that come into effect January 1, 2020. 

Planning is also underway for a retreat in the Spring of 2020 to gather ethnic leaders together for deep and frank conversations about the denomination and our future together in the Greater Northwest Area. While smaller gatherings have, and will continue to take place, leaders aspire to offer more time for better, relational conversations to occur.

In this period of denominational uncertainty, the Greater Northwest Area Cabinet is committing to reporting out from their meetings, as appropriate, to provide transparency and information that people might be interested in. The Cabinet will meet again in January of 2020, when they will continue conversations about the year ahead, and explore new ministry possibilities taking shape by the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team, in addition to their regular pastoral appointment-related work.

Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Close of a Year of Collapse and CrossOver

CrossOver reflection for Week 52 • Beginning December 1, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 13 

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Long ago and far away, my walk with Jesus took me to Russia, just as the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s. Russia was crossing over in 1992 from the secularism, suppression and social control of the Soviet Union. Churches, whose property had been seized and had operated largely underground for 75 years – Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist – were all emerging, from the long winter of repression and confinement.    

  • Imagine crossing through security at a prison furniture factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. Your guide is a Russian Orthodox priest, in long black robes, newly recognized as chaplain to the prison. He has convinced prison administrators to allow Christian prisoners to produce small icons of the faith instead of furniture to sell to fund the prison. In a small upper room, it is like a tiny workshop of believers. Those believer prisoners lead you to a far corner of the prison to show you the chapel with a shiny copper onion dome they are building in their free time.  
  • Sit with the Admiral of the Russian Fleet, in the ornate Russian Admiralty, as a U.S. Navy Chaplain tells how he gives spiritual care to sailors and they discuss what military chaplaincy might look like in a post-Soviet Russia.
  • Now walk to a sagging two-story brick building, held upright only with the help of salvaged railroad rails driven crudely through exterior walls to provide cross bracing. Older women love and tend shunned teenaged girls, who are learning to love and tend their babies. They sew dolls that they sell to support their children in an honorable way.  
  • Visit the women’s ward of a stone-cold, drafty 150-year old prison hospital, where a post-operative woman climbs a rattly ladder unaided to her upper bunk every time she has her bandages changed or uses the bathroom.  
  • Notice as one of your traveling companions, a substance abuse counselor, sneaks away from our church hosts to meet surreptitiously with underground advocates for treatment of alcohol and drug dependency in a country that brands alcoholics criminal.

It took the collapse of the Soviet Union for churches in Russia to have the freedom to step outside the tight restrictions on freedom of religion to re-engage in the fabric of community life and to bring the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ to people and a nation who had sat so long in darkness. In 1992 the Christian faith felt fresh and robust, shiny and new. Everything seemed possible. It was a CrossOver season, with plenty of uncertainty, but an irresistible tug toward living faith with every breath, every word, every human encounter.

From Russia with Love

Could we learn from the Churches in Russia? What if The United Methodist Church woke up to discover that our buildings were gone, our websites and Facebook pages shut down, and bank accounts were closed? What would be left of the Church? What difference would it make to the woman in her bunk? A hopeless sailor in the Navy? An alcoholic trapped in his addiction? What would the church be, without all of its institutional forms, habits, schedules?

What if we viewed this season of breakdown or break-up in The United Methodist Church as offering a rare opportunity to think anew and afresh about what the church is for, and how it can best share the blessings of God with the world?  

Crossing Over as a Way of Life

Thank you, for reading, praying, discussing, pondering, imagining new ways to be lovers of God, neighbor, and self.

A year ago I invited you to join me on a year-long CrossOver journey to become “Alive in the adventure of Jesus.” In small groups or alone, for the whole year, or just for a season, many of you read wondered with Brian McLaren in his book, We Make the Road by Walking. A remarkable number of you wrote brilliant, touching, wise blog posts for each chapter of the book. We asked ourselves, how do we understand the Bible? What was Jesus up to? What does it mean for the Church to be Christ’s living presence on earth? How must I live to serve?

Here we are a year later – at the end of our book – realizing that we have not reached the other side. Yet, we are not stalled. We are making the road by walking and we are stronger and bolder as we continue the adventure of Jesus. What I know more clearly now than I did a year ago is that most United Methodists in the Greater Northwest are firmly committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the Church, but that a significant minority understands the Bible to prohibit full inclusion. 

So, what’s next? Though we may not all think alike, may we not love alike?  

I don’t know today if The United Methodist Church will stay together as a world-wide connection, if it will split into two or three separate incompatible entities, or if some “amicable separation” will be negotiated between parties that do not choose to live together anymore. What I think I do know is that God is using this time of uncertainty to invite us to deeper connections with each other. And that deepening our connections with each other will make it easier to walk the way that will unfold before us without hurting each other. 

I am working with a team of leaders from across the Greater Northwest to offer a season of deeper, broader, authentic relationships across the divisions among us from January through May of 2020. John Wesley saw the church as a great life-giving connectionFor Wesley, connection was personal, relational. I’m calling for growing a new, personal, gracious Grassroots Connections among church participants, between our churches, and between people inside and outside our churches. This is where Jesus shows up — when we are in relationship. Watch for more.

With a thankful heart,

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Dr. LaVerne Lewis joins Innovation Vitality Team as Associate Director of Innovation for a New Church

Dr. LaVerne Lewis is the newest member of the Innovation Vitality Team (IV Team) for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church. Serving in a part-time role as the Associate Director of Innovation for a New Church, Lewis joins forces with Rev. Dr. William Gibson in the work of resourcing planters/innovators in the area of entrepreneurship, social enterprise, financial sustainability, and intentional multiplication.

Dr. LaVerne Lewis

“We are incredibly excited about LaVerne joining the ongoing work of the IV Team,” said Rev. Dr. William Gibson, Director of Innovation for a New Church and Team Leader. “LaVerne brings a broad range of experience and gifts in an important area of concentration for our work this season — that of financial sustainability and entrepreneurship. Her experiences as a successful entrepreneur, tax consultant, and college professor are invaluable. She and I speak the same language, and I am over-joyed about our collaborative work moving forward.”

Raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Lewis has faithfully served as a member of Gresham United Methodist Church in Gresham, OR, and as the Church Treasurer. She was instrumental in the development and launch of the Rockwood Center — previously Rockwood United Methodist Church — where she also served as the Executive Director. Since 2017, she has served as a lay representative on the Oregon-Idaho Conference’s Congregational Development Team and engaged in social entrepreneurship coaching with planters/innovators in support of the IV Team’s work.

Most recently, Dr. Lewis was named as a board member of the Northwest United Methodist Foundation. After 18 years of service, she retired as a Law Enforcement Officer from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, where she also specialized as a Training Instructor at the State of Oregon Academy in Salem. As a recently elected official, Lewis serves as a board member for the Mt. Hood Community College and has garnered over ten years of experience as an adjunct professor. An experienced entrepreneur, Lewis started several businesses throughout her career. She has also been an enrolled agent admitted to practice before the IRS and credentialed for 35 years in the area of taxation, accounting, and small business consulting. She annually volunteers in global communities abroad, leading teams who serve the unhoused and underserved.

In her new role with the IV Team, Lewis will work alongside Gibson to consult and resource planters/innovators and pastors in the area of entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and financial sustainability, related to creating new places with new people. The Innovation Vitality Team focuses on vitality across the Greater Northwest Area, which includes the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho, and Pacific Northwest Conferences. Encouraging and resourcing the practices of Inclusion, Innovation, and Multiplication, the team supports the strategic initiatives of the Bishop and the Greater Northwest Area Cabinet.

Words Make Worlds

CrossOver reflection for Week 51 • Beginning November 24, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 12 

Rev. Katie Ladd

Words make worlds. They are the DNA of meaning. Did someone you deeply admired ever highly praise you? How did you feel? Were you ever called a — as a child or as an adult — that left you feeling ashamed or like you were nothing? Words make worlds. Words make worlds beautiful, and they make them unbearable. It is genius that our origin story begins with God speaking creation into being. It is no coincidence in John’s Gospel that we have a new creation story that says, “In the beginning was the Word….” Words make worlds. String words together into stories and that is where we find deep and transformational meaning.

Sadly, too many Christians spend too much time worrying about the facts in the Bible. While there are most certainly facts in the Bible, they aren’t the purpose of the Bible. This is an important distinction. The Bible is a story about meaning that creates meaning; it is an inquiry into why; it is not primarily a report of what. Again, in Genesis, Christians often focus on the fall, and we argue about the creation story. When we do, we miss a key component — the why. Why did God create? The story tells us, but we miss it. God creates us for communion — to reside in God’s good garden in peace and covenant community together and with the Divine. Sabbath is the purpose of creation. In our squabbles about the what and the how we miss the meaning in the words.

The Bible invites us into new worlds created by our spiritual ancestors that tell us about God’s faithful acts to and for creation. It invites us to explore hard things like war, power, greed, loss, and tragedy. It also offers us glimpses of what God’s good world might include. It is a love letter to God and from God being worked out in the mess of human frailty.

Chapter 12 of Brian McLaren’s “We Make the World by Walking” is called “Stories that Shape Us.” In it, he says, “…it’s easy to miss the point of ancient stories. Those stories didn’t merely aim, like a modern textbook, to pass on factual information. They sought people’s formation by engaging their interpretive imagination” (52).

As a pastor, I’ve heard many people struggle with their faith because they simply can’t believe (that is, think something is correct) what they’ve read in the Bible. They can’t agree with it. This, people think, means they must walk away from Christianity. However, agreement isn’t the goal of sacred story. The truth of a story is not found in its accuracy to facts. I encourage people struggling with faith to change their definition of belief to trust. Trust in the stories to lead us to someplace new. Trust the stories to transform our hearts and our lives. Trust in the wisdom of the ancients. It will create new worlds.

There is much to know about the Bible, its timeline, archaeology, and history. Such things should not be discounted, but none of those are the locus of salvation and transformation. Jesus did not call us to think better; he invited us to follow him. His primary commandment was to love, and love is all about encounter and meaning and purpose and communion. When I say that my dad was the best dad in the history of all dads, no one wants to fight me for being factually inaccurate. It is a statement of love, and everyone seems to understand that. It is 100% true even if it is not factual (but, let’s face it, it is factual). 

I invite you to let the Bible form rather than inform. Let the words build worlds of meaning inside of you. There is an infinite and sacred trove of wisdom in the Bible, but it is not an easy book. The words do not always settle easily in 21st-century minds. Wrestle with them and let them wrestle with you, as Jacob and the night stranger wrestled together so many years ago. Like him, come away changed, perhaps even limping from the struggle. Like Jacob, be transformed by encounters with the Divine.

Rev. Katie Ladd is the pastor of Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. She is also the founder and director of The Well.

Jesus Followers Rewrite Stories of Past Pain

CrossOver reflection for Week 50 • Beginning November 17, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 11

Rev. Jenny Smith

I glanced down at my phone with shaky hands. I found the door code in a text and punched it into the keypad. The door clicked open and I stepped cautiously inside a home turned therapist’s office. As I sat nervously on her couch, I fidgeted with my keys and water, honestly wishing I could head right out the door I just entered. 

But no. I was brave when I made the appointment and I would try to summon that courage again. It was time. So for the next hour, I talked through my feelings and pain from a previous season of life. I cycled through a variety of emotions and my therapist made it feel safe to get curious about them. Turns out they had a lot to tell me when I was ready to listen. And somehow in the listening and noticing, I felt healing rise up. What had previously been a hazy knot of fear was now a pile of loose ropes on the ground that I could gently clear away. 

I went into my fear, lived to tell about it and came out the other side with a little more love, compassion, and joy. That knot of fear, left unexamined, had created all kinds of havoc in my life. I was harsh to myself and others because I didn’t have a language for the pain inside my past. But when brought out into the light, the fear got its turn to speak, and then I understood. The harshness faded. Bringing my pain and fear to Jesus (and a therapist!) enabled me to shift from a spirit of anger to a spirit of reconciliation.

In chapter 11 of “We Make the Road By Walking,” Brian McLaren wonders, 

“How will we tell the stories of our past in ways that make our future less violent? We must not defend those stories or give them the final word. Nor can we cover them up, hiding them like a loaded gun in a drawer that can be found and used to harm. Instead, we must expose these violent stories to the light of day. And then we must tell new stories beside them, stories so beautiful and good that they will turn us toward a better vision of kindness, reconciliation, and peace for our future and for our children’s future.”

We do this work in many ways. We’re invited to explore the stories in our own past that hold pain and anger for us. As we explore and heal, we can write new stories about past pain. 

We’re invited to name past pain inside our faith communities. Left unexamined, these traumas continue for generations. We can give an incredible gift of healing and reconciliation by naming and working through misunderstandings and conflict. We can write new stories for new generations of Jesus followers.

We’re invited to tell the truth about painful realities in our cities, country, and world. We all cope with difficult news headlines differently, but maybe you’re a bit like me, and just want to put your head in the sand some days and ignore it all. Once in a while, that may be a healthy thing to do. But we are Jesus followers. We’re invited to look right into the face of hate, anger, and violence and tell a different story. We can write new stories of goodness, peace, and kindness. 

Our world is depending on it.

Rev. Jenny Smith serves as pastor to Marysville United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference. You can find more of her writing on her blog.

Abundant Life Outside the Lines

CrossOver reflection for Week 49 • Beginning November 10, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 10

Rev. Mary Huycke

One of the human attributes that allow us to navigate daily life is the very attribute that enslaves us to unhelpful patterns of behavior and attitude.

A thousand times a day, we are beneficiaries of not having to stop to think deeply about the task in front of us. The simple act of getting a glass of water from our kitchen faucet is simple precisely because we don’t have to stop and wonder, where is there a water faucet in the house? How do I turn on the water? We grab a glass from the cabinet and fill it up all without pausing in conversation. Once mastered, driving a car is automatic. Upon seeing a stoplight, we don’t have to take the time at each intersection, pondering, “hmmm…what is the meaning of a red light, again?” The learned somatic pattern kicks in, our foot depresses the brake, and we stop.

We’d be lost without our patterned responses. But Christian discipleship — the going-on-to-perfection trajectory John Wesley describes — depends on our ability to notice our patterned responses and move beyond them. 

Social scientists say that by the age of two, we each have learned strategies for getting our needs met. Our in-born nature combines with our familial environment to wire us in particular ways. Those specific ways are what we come to think of as “normal,” and lead to us acting and reacting automatically. But what serves us well in one stage of life, or type of situation, is not always helpful, let alone Christ-like, in another. As people trying to follow Christ’s Way, we are called to take on the mind of Christ and the attitudes and behaviors that arise from that. This requires becoming aware of our in-grained patterns and how they lead us in a different direction.

That’s why studying scripture and practicing spiritual disciplines are so important. They re-pattern us. To paraphrase McLaren in this week’s chapter, God invites us out of slavery, but slavery still has to be gotten out of us. Each of us has attitudes and behaviors that make perfect sense for us to have given who we are, how we were raised, and what we’ve experienced. Yet, they are often harmful to ourselves, to others and to the world. Each season of growth in faith reveals new ones to be addressed – that’s why it’s a going-on-to-perfection and not a done and done thing.

As a leadership coach and process consultant, one of the phrases those working with me hear often is, “we can’t manage what we don’t see.” And truly, we generally don’t manage what we don’t hold as important to ourselves or those we care about. 

This week’s chapter in, We Make the Road by Walking, is coming at a perfect time for me. While in the ordering of chapters, it’s at the beginning, our Area study of the book puts it at the end. After walking this road for the past year, this chapter now asks me the right question, “Given what you’ve said you’ve wanted and longed for and been committed to, take a look at your life again – what has you enslaved to walking a path you say you don’t value or want?” 

And even as my heart sinks at seeing those things, and the seeming impossibility of moving beyond them, I hear a voice gently saying, “Come.”

Rev. Mary Huycke has authored several books on leadership and church renewal and is a founding partner of Courageous Space Coaching & Consulting. She lives in Yakima, Washington with her husband David and their three cats.

Rivalry or Reconciliation

CrossOver reflection for Week 47 • Beginning October 27, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 8

Nancy Tam Davis

Chapter 8 of Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking addresses the choice of rivalry or reconciliation. When faced with a loss, or even the fear of loss, we make a choice. Sometimes that choice is conscious; often, it is not. The loss can be something I would consider trivial, like losing a game of checkers. Other losses can be life-threatening. What is a substantial loss for me may be insignificant to you. The issue is that we reach a point of choice, a decision to enter into rivalry, or we find a way to reconcile the loss.

I am reminded of a visit to an aquarium many years ago. I was wandering through a cool, dark, cave-like hallway displaying various sea creatures in dimly lit, glass windows. In one such tank lived the longfish. This tiny fish was about 2 inches long and ¼ of an inch at its widest point. Each fish lived in one of the many parallel trenches on the bottom. It looked as if a careful gardener had passed a fine rake across the bottom of the tank. Only one fish occupied each trench. Each one waited patiently until a tiny pebble rolled down the side of a trench, and the occupying fish would immediately pick the pebble up and spit it into the neighboring trench. The neighbor fish would then gather the stone and spit it back, with what I imagine to be a sense of satisfaction. 

If fish could talk, I believe the dialog would be simple. “Oh no, you don’t, I don’t want your rock.” “Here, take that.” “How do you like them pebbles.” And the game went on all day. Their reason for living seemed simple. Keep your own trench clean, and don’t worry about your neighbors.

I recognize the longfish in me. The impulse I had today when a car passed too close for comfort was to let that driver know they had made a poor choice. I could teach him. Then I could return to my lane (or trench), knowing that I had once again balanced the scales. There have been times when the words of another caused pain, and quickly there arises the impulse to hurt back. That nanosecond of decision-making is almost preconscious and can initiate a chain of rivalry that destroys a relationship. 

Throughout history, rivalries have not ended well. For some, it has caused irreparable divisions in families. In the worst cases, it has sparked never-ending wars until no one remembers or even cares about the igniting issue.

I also remember those times when I did stop and think about the choice ahead of me. I have both received and given the grace that moves into reconciliation. With reconciliation, we can hear one another, understand and learn from one another. The seemingly endless game of rock-spitting can be ended. I believe God calls us to all be people of grace and reconciliation. It is a choice.

Nancy Tam Davis serves as the Conference Lay Leader for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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