RV Trips and the Invitation to the Unknown

CrossOver reflection for Week Fifteen • Beginning March 10, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 28

Rev. Jenny Smith


When I was finishing up 7th grade, my parents thought it would be a brilliant idea to take two summer months to drive from Alaska to New York and back. Six of us sleeping in one contained vehicle sounded like a fairly awful idea to me. I was just getting comfortable with my group of junior high school friends and couldn’t bear the thought of being away from my newly budding social scene for two whole months. I liked my family, but come on. That’s a lot for a 7th grader.

They registered my complaint but it did not alter our plans. We hit the road and much to the surprise of my awkward 13-year-old self, we had a good time. Shh, don’t tell my parents. We stopped at funny landmarks, explored new cities, visited family and watched 4th of July fireworks at the Statue of Liberty. 

I’ll always remember the moment we got home. We were donewith being in that RV. Three of the six of us were crying as we pulled into the parsonage driveway in Soldotna, Alaska. Someone requested a group picture where we each held a piece of paper that spelled out, “We made it 11,000 miles!” We smiled through our tears.

It was an adventure my 13-year-old self never would have chosen. It was too far from my normal life and routine. It was full of unknown and unusual. The only constant was my family’s presence.

Turns out that was enough.

In different seasons, we’re each invited into a new adventure. It might arrive in the mail labeled as New Job. Retirement. You’re Pregnant. Illness. Engagement. World Crisis. Denominational Uncertainty. Or maybe your invitation is so subtle and sneaky that you almost miss it: Anxiety. Depression. Loneliness. Disappointment. Stress. Fear. 

Your backpack feels achingly empty when you embark on a new adventure you haven’t traveled before. Your guide simply invites you to gather your energy with a deep breath in. And a long release of a deep breath out. And just when you think you’ll have to make this journey on your own, a noise startles you from behind. You glance over and see your people. Your friends. Your family. Your community. Because they love you, they’re saying yes to your invitation too. They are willing to walk with you on this unknown path. 

Turns out that is enough.

My beloved friend, as you continue to receive invitations to adventure in your one holy life, I pray you would never embark upon those adventures alone. May you pause and look around to see people who are willing to sign up to go anywhere with you. Even if it’s two months in a hot RV across the country. 

Your unknown path may look a little like one you’ve seen before. It may parallel a path you’ve noticed before. It may intersect something familiar. Or just maybe, your adventure will lead you somewhere completely unfamiliar. And maybe that’s the best thing that could ever happen to you. 

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God is already present in every single invitation you’ll ever receive. May this hope give us ease to let go of old worn out pathways and to give an enthusiastic yes to the God of the unknown path. 

The Old Path

Something is shifting
I sense it
It’s quiet
Resolute
Expectant

Stepping into a new adventure 
Asks new things of me
It’s exciting
And sad
The old way made sense
The new way feels uncomfortable
Awkward
Unsure

I miss the old path
I knew it’s twists and turns
I knew the outcomes

And yet

You are present in the new thing

I look behind and see your faithfulness
I look ahead and see your faithfulness
Holding out your hand with 
A smile on your face

You know what’s to come
I do not

Am I willing to give up what I know to 
Follow you to where I don’t?

I know the excitement of a new adventure

God, keep extending your hand to me from the new path
I’ll follow
But stay close
I’m letting go of a lot and 
I need you


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.

Ashes of Sorrow and Resistance

To the People of God in The United Methodist Church,

“Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” – Joel 2:17b

This past week, the special session of the General Conference of our church gathered in search of a way forward out of a decades-old conflict over attitudes toward homosexuals and LGBTQIA people. Rather than finding a way forward, the church chose to turn back the clock and to intensify its exclusion.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky offering a blessing during worship at the 2019 General Conference.

The conference did not create space for United Methodists with different perspectives to live together. Rather, the church reaffirmed its assertion that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,” (UM Book of Discipline, 2016, ¶ 161.G). It intensified standards and punishments for bishops who ordain and appoint gay clergy, and for clergy who perform marriages for same-sex couples. The outcome was devastating for LGBTQIA people, whose very self-worth was debated, and for all persons in the church who believe Jesus models and invites us to become a radically inclusive community of faith.

To LGBTQIA persons in our churches and other ministry settings, I say, 

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ– Philippians 1:3-6

I appeal to every pastor, member, and attendee, to be tender and merciful as you extend care to LGBTQIA persons in your care, and their families, and to continue to create opportunities to promote understanding and justice within the church and society.

I join many of you who feel abandoned by your Church home. I am ashamed that the Church has turned its back on so many people who Jesus has loved and called. I cannot abide by or enforce the new rules in conscience. My soul cries out to God, “do not make your heritage a mockery. Why should it be said among the people, ‘Where is their God?’” And I know that many of you also find yourselves adrift. I hear questions like, Is our Church redeemable? Or, is it time to leave the church that has left us and form a new expression of Church that opens doors and affirm people, rather than closing doors and denying or punishing them.

Let me offer you some reassurances. First, none of the actions of the General Conference take effect until January 1, 2020. Practices of candidacy, ordination and weddings will continue unchanged for the time being. Challenges to the constitutionality of some of the new provisions are underway that may overturn them. Regardless of how that turns out, as your bishop, I don’t intend to lead us backward. We have come too far together to turn back now.

Pastors and people from large and small churches across the United States are looking for an expression of Church that affirms LGBTQ persons and recognizes them as full members and leaders. Coalitions of individuals and groups who will not submit to the recent actions are forming to develop plans for full inclusion, either inside or outside the existing UMC. We do know that a majority of the North American delegates to the recent General Conference opposed the actions taken. If you are among them, please indicate your interest in being part of this movement at: OneChurch4All.org

At the same time, I strongly believe that the Church should and must be a place where people who love Jesus, but don’t see eye to eye, are in fellowship, prayer, study, and conversation with one another. I don’t want to be in a church that does not welcome and honor people who hold different opinions from mine. I hope that our love of Jesus, and the people Jesus loves and asks us to love, is stronger than our differences of opinion.  I believe we must stay together in charity, if we can. For, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

With trust in God, who will lead us even if the Church wanders away and loses itself.

Your bishop and friend in Christ,

Elaine JW Stanovsky


If you haven’t already seen it, please watch the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishop’s response to the actions of General Conference that you’ll find below. Please also share it with your congregation on Sunday Morning or whenever you are able.

Download | English Transcript | Version en español

Expect Miracles

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 5 | February 26, 2019

After a discouraging heart-breaking day yesterday when the General Conference chose NOT to move forward rejecting the One Church Plan in favor of the Traditional Plan to cling to the church’s policies of exclusion and marginalization of LGBTQ people.

At 8 pm last night, nearly 200 people gathered at a spontaneous gathering of people from the Western Jurisdiction and friends. It was a battered but joyful multi-colored, multi-languaged, LGBTQ-friendly community that sang the songs of the faith, prayed, shared words of encouragement. The gathering became a reminder and a foretaste of the One Church we strive to become. 

God bless the grass that grows through the cracks…

Today we await the judicial council decision about the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan, and a Minority Report in support of the One Church Plan. By the end of the day all petitions before the body will have been acted on, and delegates will turn toward home as the bishops prepare to meet tomorrow. 

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ — not even the Church!

No Way Forward in Sight

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 4 | February 25, 2019

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
To guide our feet into the way of peace.  Luke 1: 78-79

I’m writing to people who awaken to shadows this morning, after yesterday’s actions at the General Conference. I’ll address the rest of you another time. I care about all of you, and I have worked to ensure that there is space for a wide diversity of people in our United Methodist Church. But today, I suffer with those who suffer. 

We knew yesterday that the prioritizing process would give an indication of the will of the Conference. It did. Wespath proposals for the future of pensions received highest priority, not apparently because we care more about pensions than mission, but because we can all agree that we care about pensions, but not about how we care about mission. Of the various plans put forward, more than half of the delegates indicated that the Traditional Plan is the priority that should be considered first. While it is not determinative, this likely indicates strong support for adoption of some version of the Traditional Plan, which would preserve the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and prohibitions against same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy.

The action to consider the Traditional Plan first was deeply harmful to LGBTQ people, and all who support their full inclusion in the Church and its ministries. It suggests that our global church is not ready to extend the recognition and blessing of the Church to LGBTQ people, or to recognize their monogamous, covenantal relationships as holy and blessed by God.  Many LGBTQ clergy and laity feel betrayed by the church’s apparent willingness to use and abuse them as long as they are closeted, but not to embrace and affirm them.  

General Conference will reconvene this morning in a day-long legislative session, beginning by perfecting the Traditional Plan, followed by consideration of all the other petitions that are properly before the body.  Protests and lamentations will undoubtedly erupt. Common wisdom is that, while these are understood and tolerated in a North American democratic context, they are seen as disrespectful and further polarizing to delegates from other parts of the world.

So, the walls do not seem likely to come down today, though I am eager to be proven wrong!  

Questions that come to my mind are:

  • Do delegates from around the world understand the cost of adopting the Traditional Plan—how it will weaken the church’s institutions that maintain global mission initiatives, disaster relief, educational, health, economic and agricultural initiatives?How it will weaken the credibility of the Church in America, where more than 70% of people accept homosexuality and homosexual marriage. 
  • How should and will United Methodists around the world who have waited and worked for a step toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people react if the Traditional Plan is adopted? Will they be defeated? Defiant? Will they leave? Will they stay? Will there be more church trials? Fewer trials?
  • Having done its best to find a way forward, how do I, or any of us, live in, and lead the Church if all it can do is double-down on policies that have divided us for decades?  
  • How do we continue TODAY to bear witness to the way we have seen God at work in and through the lives of Christian LGBTQ siblings? How do we stand in solidarity as they are once again told they are unworthy?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not without hope. But I am sobered. And I am keenly aware that it is possible that we will fail to move forward. 

How is today different from all other days?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 3 | February 24, 2019

By the end of today, the General Conference will have decided which of several plans for “a way forward” it will prioritize for consideration. The day starts with worship, followed by a presentation of the three plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward (CoWF). Under consideration will be:  

  • The One Church Plan, with the strongest support from the CoWF, the Council of Bishops and a Coalition of Uniting MethodistsMainstream UMC, the Reconciling Ministries Network, and several other groups
  • The Connectional Conferences Plan
  • The Traditionalist Plan
  • The Simple Church Plan
  • And a variety of other related proposals.  

At stake will be whether to split into groups that uniformly embrace or marginalize LGBTQ people, or whether we make space for United Methodists in different cultural contexts and with different theological understandings to adapt in different ways while remaining united.  

The prioritizing process today will give a strong indication of which plan will be perfected and adopted. 

As he convened the opening session, Bishop Christian Alstead (Nordic and Baltic Area) reminded us that the football stadium we are meeting in is Church for these three days. All Greater Northwest delegates are in their seats, ready to speak and vote their faith. Observers, staff, volunteers, and advocates are also here and taking their respective roles. Nothing can undermine the gracious and persistent shared life of the United Methodists of the Greater Northwest Area.

We pray with you for a good future for our Church, on this day that is different from all others. 

Christ Bears the Church

Rev. Patricia Simpson | University Temple UMC, Seattle

Editor’s note: This blog piece, riffing off the same Brian Wren hymn Bishop Elaine wrote about earlier this week, originally appeared in the University Temple UMC Newsletter. It is reprinted with permission.

As we approach the United Methodist General Conference this weekend, I have a hymn stuck in my head. “Christ Loves the Church,” by Brian Wren, has these words in the second verse:

Christ bears the church, corrupted and conforming,
obsessed with trifles, blessing greed and war.
His love outwits us, spinning gold from straw,
through saints and prophets, praying and reforming.

The triple meaning of “bears” is shaping my understanding of what’s at stake for The United Methodist Church.

Christ endures the church — putting up with our endless struggles over the full inclusion of Christians no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is a sign of amazing grace that the expansive spirit of Jesus still inhabits our part of the Body of Christ.

Christ carries the church — as in that old poster of footprints on the beach. Why only one set of footprints? “That was the time you could not walk on your own, and I carried you,” Jesus says. Only that constant bearing-up can explain the endurance of United Methodists whose lives were declared “incompatible with Christian teaching,” who have stayed with the church through over 40 years of legislated discrimination. Christ has carried us, in the womb of mercy — along with supportive families, allies and reconciling congregations.

Christ gives birth to the church — This is my hope for the gathered body in St. Louis—that from the long, difficult gestation a new church will be born. Whether we take a just and inclusive stance together, or whether a separate denomination is born, new life will come forth.

So let us join the “saints and prophets, praying and reforming.” Check out the link below if you want to inform your prayers with news updates, or even watch the proceedings live.

It All Comes Down to This

CrossOver reflection for Week Thirteen • Beginning February 24, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 26

Rev. Timothy L. Overton-Harris

I begin with a confession. When I signed up to write the Crossover Blog for this week, I really didn’t pay attention to the chapter or the date—I just wanted something away from Christmas and Easter. So, I picked February 24, 2019, and Chapter 26. As I was entering it into my calendar (so that I would be sure to complete my homework) I became aware of the fact that I had picked THE week of the year—the week of the special session of General Conference 2019! 

I almost asked for a redo. Who am I to write this blog on the week of such a potentially world-altering event? What could I possibly say that would matter as we all await what will come on the other side of GC2019? How could I offer something significant, even inspirational at such a momentous and potentially devastating time in the life of the UMC and for so many who hold it dear?

Then I heard the Bishop’s voice and remembered what she said about God calling us to mission and ministry regardless of what happens at GC2019. I took a deep breath and I deleted my email pleading for a change of date and chapter and began to reflect and pray.

As I sat with the scriptures for this week, I was struck by the chords that seems to echo through them … faith, forgiveness, authority, breaking with tradition and institution.

Mark 2, Hebrews 11 and 1 John 1-2 are all about looking beyond what is expected, acceptable, and given the stamp of approval by the institution. They speak of faith—by faith we are forgiven, by faith we are healed, by faith we know and experience a new reality, by faith light shines in the darkness, by faith we know what is true and real.

As the beloved of God and Christ, we know that which claims our loyalty and allegiance—the grace, acceptance, and love of God made known to us by Jesus Christ. We know that institutions and religious authorities are often restricted in their ability to see beyond the borders that have protected us and kept us faithful. They cannot see the possibility that is being birthed because they are so focused on maintaining what is.

The Hubble Telescope has allowed us to look deep into the universe and back in time. We have been allowed to see new worlds being birthed and new stars exploding into life. If we look back in time, we can see that Jesus was such a moment of birth and light—the birth of a new cosmos. Where once peace came only through violence, now peace comes through justice. Where once rules excluded, now grace includes all. Where once forgiveness resided in the mythical hands of God, now forgiveness is available to all.

As we emerge from General Conference, we will be different. We must rely on the words we all know from Hebrews—“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1, CEB)—to help us move into the new road that will be created. I, for one, am not willing to give up hope that the new cosmos birthed in the life and teachings of Jesus will continue to grow and expand so that the grace and love of God will shine light over all people, places, and creation—even The United Methodist Church!

Pray with me for General Conference 2019 and for the road we are and will make toward God’s light and love.


Rev. Tim Overton-Harris serves as Superintendent for the Cascadia District in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is the current dean of the OR-ID Cabinet.

Credit: Original image by ESA/Hubble (M. Kornmesser), cropped.


A Prayer for St. Louis

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 2 | February 21, 2019

St. Louis is more than just the place where United Methodists will gather this week.

We have to talk about genocide of Native Americans…
This country was built on the genocide of Native Americans and slavery.
That’s the foundation of this country.

That’s how genius filmmaker, Spike Lee, summed up the distorted image many Americans have of our nation’s history of discovery, exploration and manifest destiny last week. He was talking about his academy award nominated film, BlacKkKlansman, a documentary about a Black man who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. But he also referred to his disturbing 2000 film, Bamboozled, which explores the traditions of minstrel shows and blackface, among other racist practices. United Methodists gather in St. Louis this week at a crossroads of America’s history of racial violence.

Gateway to the West
Last night on the ride downtown from the St. Louis airport, the Gateway Arch shone in the night sky. It was built as a monument to American Progress and westward expansion across the American continent. But the “expansion” of European Americans across the continent depended upon the removal, displacement and genocide of the people whose home it already was. Cherokee people travelled through St. Louis when they were removed from Appalachia to Oklahoma, Indian Territory. And countless European-American migrants passed through St. Louis passed on their way west along the Oregon Trail or the Santa Fe Trail, claiming land that was not theirs. The Gateway Arch is meant to be a proud reminder of American Progress. Progress came at a cost that is still being paid by the suffering of Native Peoples who lost home, land, language, cultural integrity, social structure, independence, self-sufficiency in its wake.

So, here, on the banks of the Mississippi River, I remember the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 in Colorado, led by Methodist minister, John Chivington. And all the Methodist and other Christian Indian agents who started Indian boarding schools, where children were ripped from their families and stripped of culture and identity. I remember Father Wilbur, Methodist minister turned Indian Agent in 1864, who built the boarding school at White Swan, Washington.

And I learn that just east, across the Mississippi River, eighty Cahokia pyramid mounds mark the largest pre-Columbian Native American city north of Mexico, a reminder of the great cultural heritage of the people who were in this land before Europeans arrived.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot
St. Louis was a destination city during the Great Migration of African Americans from the South in the early 20th Century. Today it is home to roughly equal numbers of African American and White citizens. I remember Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old African American, shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer found not guilty. And, I remember unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, shot and killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Missouri, 15 miles from where I sit. I remember Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. And the Black Lives Matter.

The Church is Here for Healing
Wouldn’t it be something if the Church came to this great city for healing, for peace, for restoration? This morning I pray:

Gracious God, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Put our hearts at peace so that we can see this city and all its people;
              this nation and all its people; this world and all its peoples.
Heal our divisions so that we might be a healing presence to each other and your world.

Corrupted or Conforming, God Loves the Church

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 1 | February 20, 2019

Who will we be in a week? What will become of The United Methodist Church at the special called General Conference that begins on Saturday, February 23rd?  Elected lay and clergy delegates from across the United States, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Philippines will gather to decide the future of The United Methodist Church, after nearly 50 years of disagreement and antagonism over the role of LGBTQ persons in the Church, and in the household of God’s creation.

I’ll be flying to St. Louis by the time you read this, preparing to turn a corner as a church between Saturday and Tuesday.  Over the weekend friends sent me off with a hymn by Brian Wren that speaks of God’s love of the deeply flawed Church.  I share it today—#590 in your United Methodist Hymnal and also available online here on Hymnary—as a blessing for all who watch, wait, witness, and wonder who we will be a week from today.  I travel with the promise that our God “outwits us, spinning gold from straw.”

Come, Holy Spirit, come.  Make of us something we do not have the power to ask or imagine.

Jesus, Violence, and Power

CrossOver reflection for Week Twelve • Beginning February 17, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 25

Rev. Mary Huycke


Jesus, Violence, and Power – what a perfect title for the chapter I’m to reflect on as I prepare to head to General Conference next week. It names so clearly what we are to crossover from. The chapter begins, “Once Jesus took his disciples on a field trip. There was something he wanted them to learn, and there was a perfect place for them to learn it.” McLaren is referring to their trip to Caesarea Philippi, first a site for worshippers of Baal, later of the Greek God Pan, and then a stronghold of the Roman occupation.

It was there, “in the shadow of the cliff face with its idols set into their finely carved niches” that Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say I am” followed by, “and who do YOU say that I am?” I can imagine them seeing Jesus in that place and wanting him to tear down the idols and throw out the occupiers and rise in victorious rule. When Jesus explains how different his path will be, they are horrified. “God forbid it, Lord.” Peter exclaimed. “This must never happen to you.”

A week later he takes the disciples to the top of a mountain where they are shown Jesus, shining like the sun, talking with Elijah and Moses—a Jewish triumvirate: the lawgiver, the prophet, and the Messiah. Peter offers to build tents for the three that they might dwell there, together. What would there be to fear with these three together? How could the empire withstand such power? This time it is God who rebukes him, “This is my son. Listen to him.” Jesus then leads them down the mountain, back into the chaos and towards his death, instructing them to tell no one what they saw until after he is raised.

Violence and Power – we are hard-wired for them. When we are afraid, when we are angry, when we feel protective of that and those we love, violence and power whisper, “This is how you can make things right, keep things safe, get things done.”

So if not through manipulation and force, how are we to contend with what feels wrong or even evil? Finding a new way is a major crossing-over in both adult and spiritual development. As in so many other areas, Jesus leads the way.

I’ve always been bothered a bit by that section of Ephesians 6 (verses 10-17) that talks about putting on the “whole armor of God.” Such a war-like image, it didn’t fit for me. But as I read through it recently, I understood it in a way that turned my earlier reading on its head. I see it now as saying that the way to withstand the evil in this world is neither through defensiveness nor aggression, but through the power of authenticity and vulnerability. “Take up,” it says:

The breastplate of righteousness: Righteousness is best interpreted as being in right relationship with God, with others, and with self. The protection the heart needs comes not from shielding it, but through opening it and being in relationship as Jesus practiced it – authentic, caring, differentiated.

The sword of truth: While caring deeply for others, Jesus spoke honestly. He didn’t soften his words to please others nor did he sharpen them to wound. His “yes” was yes, his “no,” no. He was open with his opinions, but was also open to learning from others. (Matthew 15:21-28 – the Syrophoenician Woman)

Shoes that make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace: There’s an inner attitude that allows you to see not just the difficulty of the situation in front of you, but to stand firm in God’s hopes and possibilities for it. Jesus embodies this in the healing stories and in facing his own arrest and death. Living, dying and in resurrection, he proclaimed peace. “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

This vulnerability in the face of conflict and difficulty is a crossing-over that I aspire to. Of course, it gets dismissed as naïve. I’ve had people tell me, “you’ll grow out of it once you learn how the world really works,”  (usually followed by the unspoken, but implied, “little girl”).  

I pray I don’t.  


Rev. Mary Huycke is the clergy delegate to General Conference 2019 from PNW and currently serves as the District Superintendent of the Seven Rivers District. Mary 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.

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