You’ve likely heard of the playground experiment. A team put a fence up around a playground. Children ran all over the playground and felt free to explore. When the fence was removed, researchers noticed children gathered around their teacher and were reluctant to explore.
Rules (and fences) can be helpful. They make us feel safe. They give us boundaries. Someone determined the rule was helpful and needed. This works. Until it doesn’t. We grow, change, ask new questions and the rules that previously gave us freedom now keep us trapped.
We’re ready for wisdom.
My dad recently retired as a United Methodist pastor and I appreciated his comment that at first it felt like his life was getting smaller. Less responsibility, fewer keys, less contact with colleagues and friends from church. But then his brother texted him two words: expansive sabbath. At the very moment that life feels like it is getting smaller, it, in fact, is opening up in a spacious wide-open way.
Eugene Petersen puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 in The Message: “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living in a small way…Live openly and expansively!”
It’s worth asking in stuck, tight, anxious, scarcity moments: What rules am I living by that are slowly taking my life? Am I open to some new wisdom? To receive it, I have to first believe I don’t actually know everything. And isn’t it surprising how often we find ourselves thinking we do?
McLaren puts it this way: “When we’re ready, the Spirit leads us to graduate from rule-oriented primary school to secondary school with its new emphasis: wisdom.” Wisdom is more than rule-following. It’s Spirit-leading.
To graduate from rules to wisdom, we’re invited to not simply follow a different plan. We’re invited to move in an entirely different way. We need this as individuals. We need it especially as faith communities.
A spacious community living from wisdom instead of rules asks different questions. They address their fear and dig underneath it. They resist scarcity. They practice trusting abundance.
Are there rules your community follows that don’t feel life-giving anymore? It’s helpful to name them aloud in safe group conversation spaces. You can help your faith community dig into good conversations and do courageous work to discern and name where God may be inviting you next.
Spacious communities trust God’s wisdom is gloriously sufficient to hold us as old rules fall away. Spacious communities know grace and love will birth new ways of being beloved community together. Spacious communities do the work to grieve what is shifting. It is a kind of death. And they prepare for the resurrection!
I offer this reflection as a prayer for your local church family:
A Spacious Community
There’s room to breathe In a spacious community
There’s space to bring Who you are
There’s margin to explore A new perspective
There’s questions to ask That could change everything
A spacious community Doesn’t feel narrow Exclusive Restrictive Confining or Suffocating
A spacious community Breathes freedom into the Tight Anxious Confusing Painful Knots of our souls
In spacious community There is Life Movement Gift Joy Sorrow Doubt Peace Love
Because a spacious community Is fully alive Showing up with courage Paying attention to pain Cooperating with Love Releasing the assumed outcome So that Love gets a wide-open playground To skip, climb, slide and giggle Its way through us all
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.
Let’s be in joyful prayer for the ten United Methodists from across the Greater Northwest Area who are at Claremont School of Theology this summer receiving theological training and leadership skills through the Western Jurisdiction’s Course of Study (COS) or Licensing School programs. Licensing School completes on July 4th, and the second session of Course of Study concludes on July 6th.
Lord, Let me never be so conceited to believe that you love me More than the person standing next to me Or the person living a continent away from me. Keep me humble So that I may know That every person born is your favorite, Beautifully and uniquely created by your loving hands. Amen
McLaren writes: “Our neighbor is anyone and everyone—like us or different from us, friend or stranger—even enemy.” And, “We must find a new approach, make a new road, pioneer a new way of living as neighbors in one human community, as brothers and sisters in one family of creation.” McLaren asks us to “see our differences as gifts, not threats, to one another.”
In every family, there are a variety of personalities, a variety of gifts, and a plethora of opinions. This is true in every church family and every domestic family unit. My sister was a cheeky tom-boy and I was a practical, perfectionist. And we often clashed.
One evening we were squabbling over something (so long ago that neither of us remember the ‘what’ or ‘why’). Penny looked at me and burst out with intense attitude, “Well, I am Dad’s favorite.” Dad’s frame filled the doorway as he came to investigate what all the fuss was about. I look up asking, “Dad, just who is your favorite?” (Sounds a little bit like two disciples, you know the one that Jesus loved and that other one).
Shaking his head with a grin appearing across his face, Dad calmly replied, “You’re my favorite Linda.” Before I can snap back at my sister, he interjects, “You’re my favorite Penny and your sister is my favorite Carla.” Dad went on to explain that each of his daughters were his favorites for different reasons.
Dad told us what kept us high on his favorite list was when we showed each other kindness, consideration of the others feelings, thoughtfulness and respect for each other. He shared that when we generously shared what we had with others, were honest and truthful, and didn’t squabble–we were his favorites.
Reflecting on Christ’s commandment to “Love thy neighbor”, I can say that I am God’s favorite me just as you are God’s favorite you. We are different yet God favors each of us as His own with immeasurable, equal love. We are called to show kindness and consideration placing others needs above our own wants. We are called to love our neighbor, respecting our differences in what we believe. We are commanded to share our resources, gifts, and talents with one another. We are to love those that are different. Loving our neighbor is giving all that we have to meet another one‘s physical, mental and spiritual needs. Loving one another is sacrificial.
Our neighbors are everyone! Believers, non-believers, churched or unchurched, male or female, even those of different faith are our neighbors. In Christ’s church, “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:5 NRSV) We belong to each other. We are all part of the one body and interdependent upon each other making us responsible for each other in God’s Holy Name.
As McLaren writes love is “practical, specific, concrete, down- to- earth action.” He concludes, “In the movement of the Spirit, to love is to live.”
God may be speaking to me in a way that conflicts with what He is speaking to you. I may be right. I may be wrong. You may be right. You may be wrong. I am called to love. Loving you as my neighbor requires me to treat you with grace and dignity; honoring you as God’s favorite you!
As I sign my cards to my dad,
Your favorite Linda
Linda Haynes is a child of God, mother of four blessings, grandmother of three blessings and a certified lay servant and member of Christ First UMC in Wasilla, Alaska. She serves the Alaska United Methodist Conference as a volunteer in the roles of Conference Statistician and Lay Servant Trainer. Linda was a Reserve Delegate to the 2016 and 2019 General Conferences.
This year the Greater NW Area Innovation Vitality team has expanded its summer internship program to different cities throughout the region.
Young leaders of color are getting the chance to develop leadership skills while exploring the intersection of faith and social justice in various community settings.
This summer, instead of being based in the Portland area, the group will expand to Boise, Salem, Tacoma, and Seattle.
Read the profiles written by the individuals chosen to be leaders and learners this summer through a joint venture with the IV team and The Voices Project:
Portland Coordinator: Nicholle Ortiz is an incoming co-pastor at Tabor Heights United Methodist Church. She is originally from Tacoma, Washington but now calls Portland her home. Nicholle graduated from Warner Pacific University where she began to actualize her dreams of community development, ministry, and artistic expression. Nicholle is a connector, an includer, a performer, an artist, a spouse, an advocate, and a friend. Nicholle wears many hats but all in the name of justice, inclusion, and love. She chooses to enter spaces that are uncomfortable because she believes in sharing her voice so that other people may feel inspired to share theirs. Nicholle is a Black, Puerto Rican, Plus-Sized Woman who enjoys wearing funky glasses, laughing loudly, talking about recycling and telling jokes that don’t make sense.
Portland Coordinator: Forrest Nameniuk is the incoming co-pastor at Tabor Heights United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of Warner Pacific University where he served as student chaplain. He has been with the UMC for the last year, serving in different capacities under the Innovation Vitality Team, and he is currently pursuing his candidacy for ministry. Forrest’s two greatest passions are the church and theatre. He believes that the church should be the greatest instigator for justice and healing in our world. He sees his call as creating spaces where weirdos, misfits, and wanderers can be their true selves and encounter the gospel in new and creative ways. On his time off, Forrest can usually be found at his stolen desk writing stories, with his cat and a cup of coffee close by.
Salem Coordinator: Jess Bielman is the Associate Director of Innovation for the Greater Northwest UMC. He has spent the past two decades investing in the lives of young folks and empowering them spiritually and academically. For 17 years he served as a professor and the campus pastor at Warner Pacific University. He loves the Pacific Northwest, having lived along I-5 his whole life. Jess loves baseball, sushi, 90’s era music, and John Wesley. He is married 17 years to Candi with two daughters.
Boise Intern: Destiny Miteg is a Portland native who now resides in Salem, Oregon. Destiny is excited to be a part of UMC’s the Voices Project because of its intent to help young people of color see how the church can become more tangibly present in their communities. She is eager to see how faith and community intertwine together in people’s lives outside of just the spiritual. Destiny is studying Ministry and Community Engagement at Warner Pacific University. After graduating, she hopes to do work at a non-profit that centers around serving those in need. When not in the classroom, Destiny can be found eating Top Ramen or spending time in the library.
Tacoma Intern:Rachel Taylor is originally from Tacoma, WA. She is studying for a BA in Christian Ministries in Portland with the goal of working with nonprofits. Rachel chose this internship because she is passionate about equity and wants to learn how she can best help others. She enjoys writing and experimenting with makeup while drinking large amounts of coffee in her spare time. Rachel’s favorite part of the summer is spending time with the kids in her life.
Portland Intern:Monivoi Vataiki is of Pacific Islander and Caucasian descent. She is from Vancouver, BC, Canada. Monivoi recently graduated from Warner Pacific University with a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Ministry. She chose this internship because she wanted to be apart of making room at the table and to be apart of the change she hopes to see in the church/world. Monivoi sees this internship as a way to create space for those like her, especially as a woman of color. Monivoi’s hope is to continue to help in the rebuilding, redefining, and redirecting the church. Fun facts: Monivoi sings and writes music. She also plays soccer, rugby and loves to travel.
Tacoma Intern:Akéylah Giles is from Tacoma Washington. Akeylah attends Warner Pacific University and is a Criminal Justice major. She also serves as a Spiritual Life Coordinator on the Campus Ministry team where she is a worship leader and a leader among her peers on campus. Akeylah chose this internship because she wants to be involved in work that is meaningful for herself and others. For fun, she enjoys singing, worship flag dancing, and swimming.
Portland Intern:Asia Austin is from Portland Oregon. She is a Music Performance major at Warner Pacific University. Asia is the Vice President of B.S.O (Black Student Organization), a proud HOLLA Mentor, and a Spiritual Life Coordinator on her school’s Campus Ministry team. Asia applied for this internship to help further her education, and to empower her voice so she can prevent injustices in her city. In her free time, Asia loves to play guitar and watch Netflix.
Portland Intern:Chidozie Kenneth Urom (“Chi” for short) is currently enrolled at Concordia University and is majoring in Psychology. Chi grew up in Nigeria with his grandparents before moving to Portland. Chidozie looks forward to working with fellow interns and further identifying his leadership abilities. In his free time, Chi loves to cook and write music. He even has a Youtube channel where he shares his musical creations.
Salem Intern:Juan Pedro Nicanor Moreno Olmeda is a proud first generation Mexican American. He was born in Hillsboro Oregon, and his family comes from Guadalajara Jalisco Mexico. Juan is a current student at Warner Pacific University studying Business Administration with an emphasis on Sports Management. Juan has always been passionate about sports, and in his free time, he likes being active outdoors or at the gym. If you give him a soccer ball he could have fun for hours! Juan also enjoys music; whether it’s listening to it, making it, or even dancing to it. Juan also loves video games, whether they are retro or new, he’s always looking for a nice challenge. Juan chose this internship because he believes that it can help him obtain and polish his abilities and help shape and form a career he is passionate about. Juan would also like to amplify and learn more about spirituality, and how he can use those skills and apply them to life. Juan believes that if we put our heads together, we have a real chance of making a difference.
Boise Intern:Eveline Okonda-Kapinga is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is currently attending and pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Theology with a concentration on Christian mission, youth ministry and a minor in business administration at Seattle Pacific University. Eveline is currently a Senior and is set to graduate in the fall of 2019. After graduation, Eveline plans to start grad school at SPU but is still deciding on her major. Eveline’s goal is to attain a career where she can use her specialized theology skills combined with a strong business background to help churches, as well as business organizations, implement information that will help communities achieve their goals and help them become more efficient and effective. Eveline has a calling in ministry and is currently serving at her local church, Open Door Church Ministries, as an interpreter, a singer, and as a youth leader. As a youth leader, Eveline guides students in their faith journey and imparts teachings of faith through prayer, events, activities and mission trips that appeal to youth while encouraging them to be faithful followers of Christ. Eveline believes the knowledge that she will acquire in this internship program will enable her to become a better leader.
Seattle Intern: Nyob zoo, kuvlubnpeyog Dawci Herr. Dawci Herr (She/her/hers) is Hmong and a first generation student at PCC (Portland Community College) working towards her AAOT (Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer). In Dawci’s spare time (when she’s not studying or working), she likes to go out to try out new foods and restaurants with her family and friends. At the moment, Dawci’s favorite restaurant is Taste of Sichuan. To satisfy her sweet tooth craving, Dawci likes to get a bubble tea drink in Beaverton or Portland. When the weather is great, Dawci also enjoys hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest. Dawci chose this internship to further her college learning and to find ways that the church and community can connect.
Salem Intern:Josiah Mendoza was born in Salem, Oregon. He currently attends Warner Pacific University where she is majoring in recreational sports medicine. Josiah chose this internship to develop and identify leadership skills within himself. He also seeks to find more ways to help his community.
Tacoma Intern:Eunice Langbata is from Washington State. She loves to take risks, go on random adventures, go hiking, spend time with her family, and just chill and watch “Friends”. Eunice can be shy and quiet but is actually an outgoing person and sometimes can’t stop talking! Eunice chose this internship because she wants to learn different leadership skills. She understands the difficulty that comes with being a leader but she wants to gain new experiences and learn things that might be outside of her comfort zone. Eunice is currently a student at Warner Pacific University, and over this past year, she has learned to be patient with life, listen to herself more, and to pay attention to what is visible around her. She realizes that things are placed in her life for a reason. Eunice knows that the more she is open to learning new things, the more she learns about herself. She is excited for the opportunities this internship will create for her to try something new.
People fleeing violence in their homelands, meet violence at the border of the United States: rejection, separation, incarceration, neglect and death. It’s easy to feel the revulsion when it’s innocent children. Our faith reminds us that every migrant arriving at the southern border is a beloved child in God’s eyes, equally worthy of the care, dignity, and respect that we would afford to our children or grandchildren.
I am asking each local church and faith community in the Greater Northwest Area to prayerfully join me and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in observing a ‘Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children’ on Sunday, June 30.
Below you’ll find UMCOR’s encouragement toward prayer, action, and generosity on behalf of all of God’s Children. Let’s take action to respond with open hearts and minds this week to embody God’s love and make a difference.
Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.
Elaine JW Stanovsky Resident Bishop
UMCOR: A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children | Sunday, June 30
In light of the recent news about children in U.S. government holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has received numerous requests to respond. We have heard the plea for action from the church. Unfortunately, the facilities in question are managed in such a way that precludes even UMCOR’s assistance. Access to these government facilities is extremely limited.
As the arm of The United Methodist Church mandated to cultivate and promote mission, the General Board of Global Ministries seeks to equip your church with tools to use as you confront the frustration and helplessness that this situation evokes. While this particular case is in the U.S., we recognize that migration is a global issue and the breadth and depth of our Global Migration programming at UMCOR and Global Ministries reflects that fact.
As a church that is united on the need to care for children, we can be in mission together.
This Sunday, June 30, Global Ministries encourages you to take part in A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children in three ways:
PRAY – We encourage you to pray for children. Below, you will find a prayer to use this Sunday. You might choose to dedicate a service to suffering children everywhere or conduct a prayer vigil in your community for the children suffering along the border.
ACT – We encourage you to act on behalf of children. While we cannot take UMCOR hygiene kits to the U.S. government holding centers, we are distributing UMCOR hygiene kits at transitional shelters all along the US-Mexico border. In the last three months, UMCOR delivered 46,128 hygiene kits to six church-run transitional shelters. Instructions on how to make and send these kits are available here.
You can also act by calling your U.S. elected officials. This link to the General Board of Church and Society, our sister United Methodist agency responsible for advocacy, will give you some suggestions on issues to raise with these officials.
GIVE – Finally, we encourage you to give on behalf of children. Through the Global Migration Advance, UMCOR provides grants to organizations along the U.S. border and elsewhere around the world that are working to fill gaps in the needs and rights of migrants.
Jesus implored his disciples to welcome the children. This is our mission: to make sure the children are welcomed. Thank you for your prayers, your actions and your gifts.
God of All Children Everywhere, Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering alone Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help. Our hearts are broken when we have some complicity in the matter. For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we thought about calling elected officials to demand change, but did not, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility, forgive us, oh God. With Your grace, heal our hearts. With Your grace, unite us in action. With Your grace, repair our government. With Your grace, help us to find a way to welcome all children everywhere, That they may know that Jesus loves them, Not just because “the Bible tells them so,” But because they have known Your love in real and tangible ways, And they know that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them from Your love. Amen.
Brian McLaren’s chapter this week (42 – Spirit of Love: Loving God) starts with a reminder of how church people can often be a barrier to our neighbors who might need God’s love the most.
McLaren writes: “Hot-headed religious extremists, lukewarm religious bureaucrats, and cold-hearted religious critics alike have turned the word God into a name for something ugly, small, boring, elitist, wacky, corrupt, or violent—the very opposite of what it should mean.”
McLaren’s words reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called UnChristian by David Kinnamon which included a list of the various negative impressions that younger people had of Christianity. While the book had its flaws, its naming of these negative impressions—hypocritical, too focused on conversions, homophobic, sheltered, too political, judgmental—resonated for many.
At this moment in the life of The United Methodist Church, we are not making great strides in convincing young people that these impressions are all that wrong. As a leader or member of a local church, you may be having a better go of it—I hope that is the case—but I have little doubt that these barriers to God’s love remain in far too many places.
As I was reflecting on this chapter, I was drawn to think that we sometimes neglect to consider our personal responsibility to share God’s love especially because of our denominational conflict. It’s easy to act as if this task is external to us; to imagine that if we just resolved what should or should not be in the Book of Discipline, everything else would sort itself out.
Such a perspective fails to give agency where it is due. We, you and me, are called to take the love of Christ out into the world even if there is no church to support (or hinder) those efforts. Indeed, we are often best positioned for that task.
Every day, we interact with, bump into, and otherwise impact dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. Some of these interactions are intentional, significant, and lengthy. Others are less significant, at least to us. Many of these people have no regular interaction with a functional (or dysfunctional) church.
Each of these interactions is important. Each is an opportunity to share God’s love.
Now I’m not suggesting that we turn these interactions into some grand evangelistic moment. Quite the contrary, doing so might sound exactly the wrong message in many situations (see “too focused on conversions” from Kinnamon’s list). But each interaction is an opportunity to pay forward the love, generosity, and grace we have received, even before we knew we needed them, and certainly before we earned them.
Imagine with me for a moment. That person bagging your groceries may have just lost a someone cherished by them; or maybe they are struggling with addiction. The smile, thank you, and acknowledgment of their presence might be just the thing that helps them to get through that day.
That jerk that just cut me off in traffic? That same person might be a single parent heading to their second job unsure how they are going to pay all of their bills this month. Did my obscene gesture express God’s love adequately?
I don’t mean to suggest that the big things don’t matter; they do. Just don’t wait for your denomination, or local church, to perfect its witness before you tend to your own. And thank God that you don’t need to form a committee, or a majority, before you can respond to God’s calling to share your belovedness with the world!
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.
“For you have been called to live in freedom, my [siblings]. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.” – Galatians 5:13-16 (NLT)
For almost 6 months, we have been walking/making a road together. What happens when the road feels like it’s now under water?
This image speaks to me of the road we think we walk on—how we might be so sure of our footing one day—with one frame of mind and one convicted stance, like singular rocks jutting from the earth—only to lose sight of and contact with the path when the floods of change swamp our shores.
God’s eternal presence sings in the streams of water and wind in all creation. The words from the song “God Help Me” by Plumb have been a soundtrack for my heart these days:
“Help me to move Help me to see Help me to do whatever you would ask of me Help me to go God help me to stay … God help me”
The lyrics “Help me to go/Help me to stay” seem to represent the push and pull of the current struggle we as United Methodists face as a denomination. It’s also representative of the magnetic attraction and repulsion of how we take sides within our own souls.
Our denomination has proved the world right. We are divided. We are hypocritical. We do not show love in the way that Jesus calls us to. Perhaps it would help to remember that even the phrase “maybe they’re just not there yet” is a judgment.
So it’s up to us to change—starting with ourselves. One heart at a time, each of us can make the choice to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, move us, help us to see. (Notice that sometimes the guide and the movement come before seeing and knowing where we are going.)
It’s up to us to let the Holy Spirit breathe peace into our souls and let Spirit lead the way. Maybe then we can shine a different light into the world, God’s light.
What would happen if we unfurled our sails to catch Holy Spirit wind? If the tides of opportunity start rolling in, how could we move with each other in love?
Let us hear Jesus’ words through the paraphrase of The Message: “ Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:34-35
Let us recall Paul’s words to the Romans, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8, NIV
Here is the part of Plumb’s song that feels like the prayer my heart needs to hear right now:
“So take all my resistance Oh God I need Your grace One step and then the other—show me the way”
May we continue to pray for God to help us make Jesus’ road by walking. One step and then another. Spirit show us the way.
Teri Watanabe is a Certified Lay Minister serving the United Methodist Churches of Monroe and Valley in Oregon.
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. (God) doesn’t grow tired or weary. (God’s) understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted.
… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.
Isaiah 40:28-31 CEB
What does it look like to rise up whatever the hardship? Who embodies strength in the midst of adversity?
UTOPIA Seattle (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance)is a LGBTQ, people of color-led, grassroots organization born out of the struggles, challenges, strength, and resilience of the Queer and Trans Pacific Islander (QTPI – “Q-T-pie”) community in South King County (Washington State). Their mission is to provide sacred spaces to strengthen the minds and bodies of QTPIs through community organizing, community care, civic engagement and cultural stewardship. UTOPIA was founded and is led by women of color, identifying as transgender and/or fa’afafine. Fa’afafine is a third cultural gender identity native to Samoa. This gender identity extends beyond a binary notion of gender (e.g., man or woman), similar to other cultures within and beyond the Pacific Islands (In Hawaiian, Mahu; in some indigenous cultures, two spirit; and in India, hijira). I suggest this short clip “The Meaning of Mahu” from the PBS Independent Lens film, “A Place in the Middle” to better understand this third gender.
I recently went to UTOPIA’s annual fundraising luau. Before this event, I knew nothing of the organization or the fa’afafine community. It was an incredible evening—full of food, music, dance, and speakers. We heard personal stories of overcoming all sorts of difficulty—domestic violence, transphobia, physical violence, and isolation—as well as personal stories of community, family and faith support. The entire evening was an expression of power, beauty, love, culture, community, and resiliency—a true “rising up.” The event inspired and strengthened me to continue the important work of resisting homophobia, transphobia, and racism in the church and to seek radical solidarity with others in the creation of God’s beloved community.
In this week’s reading, Whatever The Hardship, Keep Rising Up!, McClaren suggests that throughout Christian history, moments of hardship have always offered the movement an opportunity. An opportunity to practice interdependence, grow in our trust of God, and of course, love more fully and more deeply. He writes, “If we don’t give up at that breaking point when we feel we’ve reached the end of our own resources, we find a new aliveness, the life of the risen Christ rising within us.” This echoes a sentiment delivered by the prophet Isaiah, “(God) doesn’t grow tired or weary. (God’s) understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
As we face the different challenges in our life—whether grief, isolation, fear of the unknown, coming out, marginalization or oppression—we can continually turn to our God, the Wellspring of hope, strength, and resilience. We can also turn to community for support and celebration. We would do well to remember this as we continue to discern what’s next for us as the Greater Northwest Area. It is time to call upon all the resources of our faith—scripture, song, prayer, community—to guide us and strengthen us as we continue to face an unknown future in this CrossOver year.
What stories of resilience do you turn to for inspiration and strengthen? What ritual, scripture, song, poem, or picture gives you hope in the midst of difficult times?
Rev. Kathleen Weber serves as Superintendent for the Crest to Coast Missional District in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
I just returned from two gatherings that I believe will shape the future of Methodism for years to come. Taken together, they could mark a turn toward LGBTQ+ persons being fully recognized, included and honored in Methodism in the future, whatever form it takes. More than 900 people participated in one or both of the two events, including leaders from the Greater Northwest.
As you know, the actions of General Conference 2019 stirred up deep distress within The United Methodist Church. Many are asking: how do we live in a church that has adopted values and rules that we believe are not Christian? Do we stay and try to change the Church? Or is Jesus, who makes all things new, leading us to create a new expression of Methodism that is more faithful to the gospel? It feels like we are in a great season of sorting out how much diversity can remain united, and what are the limits beyond which some may have to leave.
The first gathering, Our Way FORWARD brought together justice-seeking communities to hear one another, recognize their shared oppression, and speak their call and commitment to a new Methodist movement that will act for justice inside the Church and in the world. As intended, people of color and LGBTQ+ United Methodists organized and led the event, with a deep commitment to creating a Church in “radical solidarity” with oppressed people.
Around 350 persons attended this event, with 19 of our fellow United Methodists present from the Greater Northwest Area. I was the only bishop present. Here’s what I experienced.
This gathering was church. It was church in the way it intentionally included many voices in the planning and leadership, and in the way it made space for people to be present in the fullness of their beings. It was church in the way the host congregation prepared, welcomed, fed, honored and protected participants. It was church in the depth, passion and beauty of worship. It was church in the prophetic proclamation of the liberating love of Jesus Christ, in the midst of misrepresentation, rejection and agony. It was church through shared sorrow and grief, the bold claim of baptism, the celebration of the goodness and fragility of God’s creation and gathering at the table of grace.
Many wore T-shirts bearing the baptismal promise of all United Methodists everywhere to: resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
In contrast to the fervent voices of some presenters, around tables I heard people saying:
I want to be in the Church my parents attend in their conservative town. I don’t agree with them, but I want to be in the same Church.
Even if I left the UMC, I would not be free of it. It is the community of my people. It made me who I am.
I want gay babies born today to have a church that embraces and nurtures them. If I leave, they are still at risk.
Black Methodists stayed in the Church through segregation, even when they were treated as second-class citizens. There can be strength in resistance.
As I left the gathering, I was deeply grateful for the honesty, urgency, and generosity of the community. And I felt confident that the leaders at this gathering and across our Church are ready and able to lead the Church into the future.
The second gathering, UMC NEXT gathered “centrists,” who were outraged at the actions of General Conference, together with progressives longing for real change. This broad coalition of United Methodists denounced the Traditional Plan and vowed to work toward a Church that stands and strives for justice and full inclusion.
But there was concern held by some leading up to this gathering.
I had my own questions about how participants were selected, and whether it would be a truly participatory process.
Nearly 30 people came from the Greater Northwest. Some are respected leaders. Others are newer and not as widely known. Some attended both events to ensure that UMC NEXT would benefit from the conversations and perspectives from FORWARD.
Together, participants helped craft a vision for a new, hopeful, inclusive, just Methodist movement based on four core commitments:
To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity that is anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, reason and experience as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people, and to build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
These commitments are consistent with statements and actions taken by our Greater Northwest annual conferences for many years. I embrace these commitments and find them helpful as I lead United Methodists in the Northwest. I believe that inclusive community is the Jesus way and that it is the future of our Church.
At the same time, I intend to continue to honor all lay and clergy members and churches in the area I serve, whether they support or reject the actions of the recent General Conference. Over 23 years in Conference leadership, I have never discriminated against clergy or laity, based upon their theology. To the best of their ability, my cabinets have placed clergy in settings where their gifts and graces, as well as their theological perspectives, serve the needs of the community and congregation. I pledge to continue to lead in this way. I will also continue to try to keep you informed of possibilities and plans as they develop.
How will these gatherings affect you? Us? Participants from the Greater Northwest met yesterday before leaving Kansas City, to begin to plan together. There are no concrete plans at this time but these gatherings, and the coalitions that are being built, will help us in shaping what comes next. Before and during annual conferences we are considering conducting surveys or polls to get a “sense” of how United Methodists in Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest view the future of Methodism. Policies to guide processes of disaffiliation are being developed for churches that feel they must leave the denomination. In the next few weeks, the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conference sessions will give us a chance to learn more, and to think and pray together about our future in the Northwest.
In this CrossOver year, we are finding our way, and making the road, by walking. Almighty God continues to find the goodness in each created being. Companion, Christ, walks with us, as guide and savior. The Holy Spirit continues to breathe life into each one of us moment by moment, with grace in every breath.
I’m grateful for each of you who has participated in Table Talks, held information sessions in your church, sought out and read information about all the many conversations that are unfolding across the church. I hope you are talking with people in your families, your home church, in nearby churches, and outside the church, about the critical challenge we face. I hope you are talking to people whose life experience is different from yours. Where two or three are gathered, God is present.
“I pray that… Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Christian stewardship is a big deal. It is not just about money. It’s not just about being in service to others. It can be, as we respond to Christ’s call to authentically care for others, a matter of life and death.
When we embrace a robust understanding of Christian stewardship, we have to be willing not only to help those in need but to recognize and respond to their emergencies as if it were our own. Perhaps that is the intersection of empathy and action. The real test comes when we are asked to bend or break the rules as we seek to protect those who look to us for deliverance.
In conversations over coffee and donuts at our local airport, I have often had friends offer their opinions about immigrants crossing the southern border. “They are breaking the law” they relay adamantly, as if to suggest that by crossing into the US without permission all immigrants fall into the same category as drug dealers and human traffickers.
But what about a situation when we cannot both do the right thing and follow the rules? Sometimes we must break the rules, and even the law, to do what is necessary and appropriate.
As a private pilot, I am constantly aware of what it means to be “Pilot in Command.” In that role, I assume stewardship for the safety and well-being of those in the aircraft with me. If something occurs in the course of a flight, it is my responsibility to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of those on board—even if that means breaking the rules.
A pilot, facing a critical situation in flight, is expected to “declare an emergency” and then do whatever it takes to get the people under his or her care safely on the ground, even if that means landing an airliner in the Hudson River. It is not that the rules and laws don’t matter, but that there are expected exceptions that one in charge of the safety of others must do.
Isn’t that exactly what those seeking asylum for their children by crossing the southern border are doing? They are “declaring an emergency” by fleeing a dangerous and even deadly threat to their lives and the lives of their children. They are getting them to safety, then standing responsibly before the authorities to answer for their actions. Yet we have consistently denied these courageous people the same latitude which is written into the laws of our land concerning basic safety for those at risk, be it in the air or on the ground.
The real emergency at our southern border is a case by case response to human safety. Each family that has fled violence and hunger is facing the hard choices of seeking safety, not just opportunity. If we who are sitting in judgment of others would accept this perspective, we might discover a new appreciation for the courage and fortitude of the immigrants coming to us. Liberated from our judgment, we could instead engage our creativity, compassion, and resources to welcome them as the heroes they are.
Perhaps it is time for us to engage our sedate value of Christian stewardship in a radical and pro-active way, eagerly offering care for those who look to us for help. The emergency of our siblings is our emergency too. And in this, we should do first what brings people to safety, even if that may necessitate bending or breaking the rules. To my mind, this does not compromise or invalidate the rules and laws by which we live, but rather puts a human face on them.
Rev. Jim Frisbie is a retired elder in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.