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.
“We dare to believe that through tiny little seeds like us, through the yeast of our little ecclesia, through the spreading branches of this expanding movement, the world is beginning to change.”
Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking(Chapter 37)
Recently, I was at a national church gathering where several people said, “If we had been focused on our church’s mission in St. Louis, what happened at General Conference wouldn’t have happened.” When I heard these statements, it made me wonder if there really isn’t a problem with our church’s mission statement.
Perhaps we need to stop and examine ourselves for a moment. Maybe we can’t “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” until we first take time to act like disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Perhaps that’s the real issue. So, maybe we need to change one word in the United Methodist Church mission statement. What if we changed the word “make” to “be,” since the mission of the Church really starts with us. Or, more precisely, it starts with God working in and through us. Discipleship has to do with what we do . . . how we see . . . how we act . . . what we worship . . . and how we treat each other and those around us.
Until we manage to get this right, there’s really no need in trying to convince others about what we think it means to follow Jesus, because those around us will look at the evidence found within our own lives to determine what it means to be a Jesus follower. It’s like the famous quote, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
The truth is, people are watching; what we do and how we act makes a difference. That was clear from all the media coverage that occurred following our church’s St. Louis gathering. And what people saw there was what they think United Methodists believe it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Personally, I think we missed a great opportunity to demonstrate to the world what following Jesus is all about, and we won’t get that same opportunity again.
What should people have been looking for? Paul helps us with this in his letter to the followers in Galatia, when he lists a series of behaviors that he calls “fruit of the Spirit.” Paul’s list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’m not sure those would be the first words that people would use when describing what they witnessed in St. Louis. And that’s a problem.
It’s hard to make disciples of others when we struggle with the basic principles Jesus taught so much ourselves. Jesus calls us to live in the world in a totally new way that challenges the assumptions of power, privilege, and position. Jesus calls us to see the world differently and treat others in a more loving manner.
As we see in Chapter 37 of McLaren’s book, living in ways that point toward justice, peace, and joy are contagious and spread rapidly, changing life-after-life in the process. And this is how disciple-making occurs. In fact, throughout McLaren’s book, we are reminded of this again and again. And we see this phenomenon taking place in people’s lives—through Paul, Timothy, Luke, Silas, Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia—and on and on.
Brian McLaren, in reflecting on the scripture passages referenced in Chapter 37, says, “We are partners in an earthquake of liberation!” This is an amazing undertaking, and it all starts with God working through us. When we are in sync with God’s Spirit in this way, it is something that is hard to ignore.
Transform the world? Sure, but this begins with our own transformation first. And the truth is that we’ll have other opportunities to make a difference in the world. In fact, the next opportunity may just happen in our very next personal encounter! That’s how it has taken place from the beginning of the Christian movement—and because of this, the world continues to be transformed!
Rev. Lowell Greathouse serves as Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20 NRSV
I ask for your prayers for those of us from the Greater NW Area who will attend two significant conversations on the future of The United Methodist Church in the aftermath of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
The first event, UM Forward, will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota May 17-18. Organizers have designed the gathering to center voices too often marginalized including people of color, and persons from the LGBTQI+ community. As they prepare for this event, some persons from the GNW Area expressed these thoughts:
The spirit before us, our creator behind us, and Jesus alongside us we continue a march toward liberation. The justice of God will continue to set us free to be church we are meant to be! – Esteban Galan, lay, Boise ID
Our way forward must empower those who are most impacted by the harm the church and world have caused. Only then, can we be the church. – Joseph Lopez, lay, Seattle WA
Wherever the church ends up I am sure of one thing, if it does not fully embrace LGBTQIA+ people it will not stand. – Ryan Scott, clergy, Toledo OR
I’m hoping to make connections and learn from other people who are passionate about the future of our denomination and our movement towards full inclusion. – Emily Wright, lay, Seattle WA
A second event, UMC Next, is being held at the Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City on May 20-22. This gathering will bring together over 600 United Methodists with groups of 10 from each Annual Conference in the United States. Of this event, some who will attend from our area have offered these hopes:
We must move beyond old prejudices and entrenched patterns and be as committed to the life and well-being of others as we are to ourselves and our own preferences. – Mary Huycke, clergy, Yakima WA
My hope is we name the reality—including what is at stake, what we lose in remaining/exiting—then tell the story that enlivens our movement. – Jeremy Smith, clergy from Oregon-Idaho Conference, Seattle WA
My hope for the UMC Next gathering is that progressives, centrists and conservative compatibilists would be able to find enough common ground on which to raise a new expression of Methodism, built on the foundation of faith, mission, grace, inclusion, equality, justice, and mercy. – Carlo Rapanut, clergy, Anchorage, AK
Business as usual is over; now we are given the opportunity to step into our call toward radical love. I hope we can be brave. – Nica Sy, lay, Seattle, WA
In this trying time, we need to follow Christ’s example and prove that Christians can show love to the world as well as to each other. – Teri Watanabe, lay, Monroe OR
As United Methodists striving to live faithfully and serve missionally in the Greater Northwest, we are a diverse group of lay and clergy who expect to listen and speak from our context. And we expect the Holy Spirit to be among us as promised. Please keep us, and all who gather, in prayer during this time.
We’ll do our best to bring you into the conversation after we return.
Elaine JW Stanovsky | Resident Bishop, Greater Northwest Area
Click here for a list of persons attending from the GNW Area. Let us know if we have missed anyone!
This week the Council of Bishops met and issued a public statement that aspired to be pastoral and prophetic. Thank you for your prayers as we met. Here are some of the reasons I am hopeful after the meeting.
bishops are keenly aware that United Methodism is in crisis. The
backlash in Europe, parts of the United States and other places around the
world to the recent General Conference, makes a unified future for the UMC appear
impossible. Some people hold out hope for a change at the 2020 General
Conference. Others anticipate schism. No-one seems to believe that United
Methodists around the world will simply implement policies that exclude and
punish LGBTQ+ people.
The bishops kept the main thing the main thing. Placing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, at its center, we devoted 11 hours over 4 days focused on the deep fractures in our Church. We felt deeply the despair of LGBTQ+ persons, their families, and of a new generation of leaders in the United States. We also awoke to the increased risk to poor and vulnerable people caused by funds being withheld or re-directed from apportionments, The Advance, UMCOR, Africa University and other United Methodist causes.
bishops recognize that this crisis offers a rare opportunity. United
Methodism is overdue for a spiritual and practical revival to address systemic
racism, sexism, colonialism, heteronormativity, irrelevance to young people,
and a governance system that is not designed or capable of addressing our
global complexity. How can the Church use this crisis to help God give rise to
a new movement of Methodism? Don’t waste a good crisis!
The bishops see that division keeps
us distracted from mission. We’ve
had split decisions on sexuality for 45 years as a denomination. In February we
took our best shot at adopting legislation that could hold us together and
failed. Our established legislative and judicial processes are not able to heal
the breach. United Methodist spiritual practices and resources are weak. We
find ourselves adrift in turbulent waters.
The bishops began to tell the truth:
maybe not the
whole truth, but a lot of new truth. We spoke more frankly about our ministry
contexts and the conflicting demands within our areas. We challenged each other
honestly about ways our leadership may contribute to division and distrust. Some
challenged participation by bishops in caucuses and reform groups on both sides
of the divide. Some reported conservatives being blamed for the actions of the
General Conference. I recalled that the Western Jurisdiction has been fully
inclusive since before the Church prohibited ordination of LGBTQ+ people and
blessing of their relationships.
The bishops acknowledged that worldly powers and principalities are at work, intending to divide the Church and silence its prophetic voice.
In some places, bishops report that disruption in their areas was amplified by outside groups spreading accusations of influence peddling, delegate voter fraud and defamatory rumors about individuals and regions of the Church. We asked ourselves, are we just too nice to investigate and expose these actions? Should bishops identify ourselves with these groups? Should there be a standard of disclosure and transparency for any group that wants to be considered a trustworthy partner? You may have seen the photo of bishops meeting with the Reform and Renewal Coalition comprised of Good News, the Confessing Movement, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), during the Council meeting. Bishops who were not there asked the other, “Why did you go to the meeting?” Bishops who attended raised strong objections to unethical and dishonest tactics of some affiliated with the coalition.
African American bishops testified to their survival in an unjust system. In a wrenching witness, African American bishops described decades of racial segregation within the Church in the United States and the faithfulness of African Americans who stayed and supported the Church, despite being marginalized. The church has never healed those wounds, and black voices are still not heard in the Church today. Some resent the outcry in support of LGBTQ+ people, when there has never been acknowledgement and advocacy for full racial inclusion. Through their pain, these colleagues offered another oppressed group encouragement to survive in structures that deny your humanity. I heard them saying – don’t leave. You can stay, despite the pain inflicted on you, because God loves you and makes you strong. The Church needs you to be whole.
The bishops began to see that human sexuality cannot be considered as an either/or proposition to be settled by an up or down vote. If there is one new thing I am learning from the LGBTQ+ community, it is that binary options are not adequate. Either/or choices don’t take account of how fearfully and wonderfully God has made us. Making sense of LGBTQ+ requires and deserves deep conversation, biblical scholarship, ethical consideration and prayer-filled spiritual maturity. It requires the wisdom of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. People are not simply male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, biblical literalists or biblical critical thinkers, rule-follower or people-lover. Binary choices cannot reveal the whole truth, because you have to ignore part of the truth to answer a complex question with a simple answer.
In the midst of the messiness of the struggle I find hopeful
signs that the Church is alive, and at work, humble, and learning. The Council
of Bishops did not propose a top-down 5-year plan. It’s not time to have a plan
yet. Most of us are so rooted within our side of the divided question, we don’t
know how complicated the questions are for someone stuck on the other side. We
have to keep listening, and searching for the whole truth that has room for
each of our particular truths.
Later this month I’ll travel to Minneapolis to participate
in the UM Forward Conference, inviting voices of Young, Queer and people of
Color to speak at the center of the conversation. From there I will travel to
Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City, where some 600 people will gather
at the invitation of Pastor Adam Hamilton, to pray and think together about the
future of the Church. I hope there will be lots of listening and truth-sharing in
both groups. I’ll check in with you after I return, as we prepare for Annual
In the meantime, by every prayer, every step, every sermon, every Bible study, every act of generosity, we are crossing over, and making the road by walking.
When I attended Candler School of Theology, I had the chance to go to Cuba with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute on a religious visa. I could talk for days about all of my experiences. It was amazing. As a lifelong United Methodist, it was my first personal experience with the charismatic church, and I witnessed the Holy Spirit moving in new and inspiring ways. It was intense, and it was life changing.
Two of the other participants, Kathy and Sharletta, were also from my seminary and when we returned to Atlanta, we came home with the recognition that we were responsible for our own faith formation. It may seem obvious, but at a theology school, we kind of thought we would be handed the best practices. In Cuba, we humbly realized that wasn’t the case. No one was going to “do” our faith for us. We weren’t going to mature as disciples by osmosis. We had to choose to pray, to worship, to engage in fellowship, to serve others, and to study for ourselves.
So, we decided to meet weekly to sing, share with one another, and pray. We met faithfully each week in the same space. Our time together wasn’t formal, but the rituals formed organically among us. We would start by checking in, talking about life, family, and our own needs. It was like “joys and concerns” but with deep focused attention on each of us. We could choose to share as we needed and share again if something else came up. We took turns praying however we felt led—for each other, and sometimes for our own requests. Sharletta had a beautiful voice and easily drifted from spoken words to singing, and we would join her. Her readiness to sing drew out our own inclination to sing and so it came to be that any of us might lead with a prayer or song at any point in our time together.
We also learned to be comfortable in the silences. We didn’t rush to talk or pray the next prayer. We intentionally slowed down, leaving space for each other and created space for the Holy Spirit. All of that happened in our first year of seminary. Our time together was so valuable we continued it until the end of our third year when we graduated. Over the years, we invited other friends to join us. Some came once or twice, others joined for a season, and others joined and never left.
All of that was more than 13 years ago and it still stands as one of the most profound experiences of church in my life.
As I reflect on this week’s scriptures and Brian McLaren’s chapter on worship and ecclesia (We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 36 • The Uprising of Worship), I think of the riches of relationships in the church. We have so much to offer one another, so much to gain from investing in learning to do faith together. A quick read of the scriptures makes it sound easy. The reality is, like much in our faith, it is simple (pray, break bread, praise God, care for one another) but not easy. It takes commitment, dedication and intentionality.
Being the church together isn’t easy, but it is worth it. And when it gets really hard, it’s good to go back to what’s simple: pray, break bread, praise God, and care for one another.
Do you know that I was literally born in a parsonage? Yes, I mean literally!
My Dad loves to tell the story that on the night I was born, his favorite TV show, “Tarzan”, was on. He always says that the reason why my Mom did not make it to the hospital to give birth to me was that he was glued to the television watching. So, because of this, I can practically say that I have been in the church since the day I was born!
But when I think of call stories to faith and discipleship, I feel mine is boring. There is little to tell. There is nothing earth-shattering in my encounters with God. I was born in the church parsonage. I just grew up in the church attending Sunday School, VBS, children’s choir then youth group, prayer meetings, bibles studies and a lot of potlucks. I grew up attending church Sunday after Sunday after Sunday mostly because I didn’t have a choice as a PK (Pastor’s Kid), but then that is also how I came to know Jesus, God, and the Church!
The gospel stories tell us that Jesus called some of his disciples in simple and mundane ways as well. According to these accounts, to some, he simply said, “Follow me…”, “Come and See…” or “Let us have breakfast…” and they did. Thus, there seemed to be also nothing noteworthy about their call, but I tell you that Jesus’ call and their response to that call changed their lives forever.
From that day on they became disciples, followers of Christ… … they left their boats, their work and their families.
From then on, their lives’ purpose was radically changed… …from being fishermen they became fishers of people.
From then on, their lives were never the same.
What I am saying here is that when God calls you to faith and discipleship, that’s always a big deal whether anyone recognize it or not.
But again, my guess is that for most of us, there was also nothing earth-shattering about your call to faith. Probably some of you are like me… just grew up attending church and that is how you came to know God.
Or maybe you have friends or family who had been attending church and you just decided to join them one Sunday and that was that.
No big deal…
Nothing extraordinary we may say…
But for me, that is exactly why I believe that Jesus’ call is so profound. Behind the simple appearance of the call is a life-changing experience. For when Jesus calls us to faith, he is not just calling us to attend and be a member of the church, but rather he has called us to life anew and to be agents of change and transformation in the world.
The call can be so simple that some Christians unfortunately take their call for granted.
Yes, the call is as simple as “Come and See…” or “Follow Me…”
Thus, we can say that we are called to follow Jesus and invite others to do the same. In doing so we are building communities of God’s people who love each other and are committed to changing the world. That is how we transform the world as disciples of Jesus Christ, not by isolating ourselves from the world, not by judging the world, but simply by inviting and engaging the world into the transformative work of God.
So now, let me conclude by giving this warning. Do not allow the simplicity of the call to discipleship to fool you nor let the familiarity of faith lead you into complacency!
Be DISCIPLES OF THE RISEN CHRIST who TRANSFORM THE WORLD and invite others to do the same.
Rev. J. Mark Galang serves as Superintendent for the Puget Sound Missional District in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8, NRSV
I was doing housework—or something—with half an ear to my local National Public Radio station. The story was about a father and his children, a Latinx family. I didn’t catch the father’s country of origin, but he was undocumented. He had been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a time, separating the family.
The story was not so much about the father’s experience as about his children’s. The children were so traumatized by the separation that, once released, they would not allow their father to run a simple errand without one of them accompanying him. Their father indulged them, taking with him the child that was ready first, knowing that the next child would be in tow on the next errand. Ah…
My immediate response was this: There, but for the grace of God, go I. There, but for my family entering the United States at a time when hard-working immigrants were valued, if not still exploited.
I do not believe that God favored my grandparents over others or that they were special in God’s eyes—no more than the children in this story. Rather, I think God smiles when barriers are removed that allow each of us to live and give into our full potential.
It makes a difference when we put ourselves into the story.
At this time in our CrossOver year, Brian McLaren asks us to enter the story of the days following Jesus death and triumph, to be present with all the pain and confusion and fear that follows witnessing cruelty and injustice. We are asked to think of the story in the first person. How would I respond? How would I feel? What role or roles would I play in this drama?
Jesus’ story is not so different from prophets throughout history who have pushed back against power and suffered the ultimate sacrifice for their leadership – with one exception. Jesus showed us that it does not end there. It cannot end there. It must not end there. Jesus shows us – present tense – that love prevails. But not without us.
You are sent. You are accompanied. You forgive.
Place yourself there in that upper room; or in a family of immigrants who do not know if their father will return each time he leaves home; or with a mother who cannot afford health care for her children; or with an LGBTQ+ sibling who feels disaffirmed in their personhood; or with… With.
Can I put myself in that place of profound uncertainty? Who are my companions along the journey? Can I both enter their story and allow others to enter my own? Can I be in fellowship that is deep and life-changing?
McLaren defines fellowship in this way: “Fellowship is a kind of belonging that isn’t based on status, achievement, or gender, but instead is based on a deep belief that everyone matters, everyone is welcome, and everyone is loved, no conditions, no exceptions.”
McLaren makes the case that fellowship is what was present in that small room where Jesus’ followers were huddled and where he appeared to assure his beloved that God’s kinship had a future in them. In us.
So…to the challenge of placing the Gospel in First Person…of entering that profound fellowship, here will be my test:
Can I say of another’s story, There, but for the grace of God, go I? What is your test?
Kristina Gonzalez serves as Director of Innovation for an Inclusive Church on the Innovation Vitality Team in its work for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church.
McLaren, Brian. We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 34, page 175.
Des Moines, Wash. – Last weekend, over 60 leaders from the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho (OR-ID), and Pacific Northwest (PNW) Conferences gathered to continue conversations on how they could marshal resources toward vital mission and ministry across the Greater Northwest Area. The Vitality Stewards Summit 2.0, as the name suggests, was the second formal gathering aimed toward this task, expanding the circle of those who met in September of 2018.
The event began by orientating new and returning “stewards” on the aspirations of the summit and some of the resources that the area has available to it. An opening devotional by Rev. Shalom Agtarap, centered on the story of the early church in Acts, emphasized the opportunity and challenge of sharing. Agtarap asked, “How can we move from a transactional economy to one of kinship?”
While denominational conversations often center around scarcity, leaders were encouraged instead to recognize the significant assets under their care. Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky shared that we often don’t consider these assets or remember that radical growth is in our DNA. “If we pool our resources, share a common vision, couldn’t we do more if we focused on a few big things?”
Stanovsky addressed the elephant in the room as she talked about the impact of General Conference upon United Methodism. Instead of being a roadblock, she framed it as an opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of the past. To avoid old behavior, we need to invite “younger, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people to the table to help shape what is coming.”
This call for more diverse leadership echoed throughout the meeting.
Stanovsky also advised that the work of the meeting be considered provisional in anticipation of the challenges, and opportunities for greater inclusion, in front of us. Drawing upon the biblical story of the crossing over into the Jordan, the bishop offered, “It’s time to leave the wilderness. Not everyone is going to cross over to the Jordan.”
Next up was Eric Walker, who is serving as a special assistant to Bishop Stanovsky, charged in part with organizing the Summit. A lay person from Vashon UMC with non-profit management experience, Walker helped to keep the event moving, reminding participants of its goals. Those goals were:
Developing a good understanding of vitality work across the area.
Creating the first draft of Area-wide funding criteria.
Arriving at a basic agreement on the kinds of projects that would excite Area-wide funding.
Sparking movement towards a culture of Area-wide collaboration.
Walker offered a big picture look at the challenges and opportunities facing the Area as it seeks to have more churches engaged in vital ministry. Sharing that a significant number of churches are in some stage of decline, he framed the goal of innovation and vitality work across the area as bending bad trajectories toward more positive possibilities.
Inclusion is the Starting Point
Rev. Dr. William Gibson followed Walker by sharing some of the learnings of the Innovation Vitality Team (IV Team). After one year together, the team has landed upon the understanding that Inclusion, Innovation, and Multiplication are crucial practices, and measures, of church vitality. More recently, they have begun to understand inclusion as foundational to the success of the other two practices.
Participants next engaged in a presentation from Kristina Gonzalez, Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, and Gibson on Intercultural Competency and its effect on the IV Team’s work. Gonzalez gave an overview of Intercultural Competency reflecting on her own choice to be a United Methodist. “The United Methodist Church appealed to me because of its emphasis on practical divinity, and the use of practical tools like Intercultural Competency to effect change.”
Barber shared how some of his work, specifically internships and revivals, had embodied these principles of inclusion in making deliberate connections between the Church, persons of color, and younger people. Some of the participants in the first cohort of interns are now being tracked to provide leadership in local churches.
Gibson concluded the IV Team’s report by sharing how they have developed new guardrails to better steward monies allocated to church plants and other revitalization projects. Experience has helped them to understand that there is no necessary correlation between age and innovative ability and that some churches “aren’t interested with changing to pivot in the moment.”
The afternoon continued with reports from several District Superintendents and, separately, the lay leaders of each Conference. Erin Martin, chief missional strategist for the Columbia District, has been asking her district to consider what it would mean “to envision ourselves as a community of United Methodist Congregations.” A success story she shared involved the arrival of the Rev. Alan Buck, a gifted Native American church planter from Oklahoma, who is helping to revitalize Wilshire UMC, recently renamed Great Spirit UMC.
Rev. Rich Lang spoke about three practices found to be present in early Christianity, but often absent in the churches he serves in the SeaTac Missional District:
The Practice of Non-violence
The Practice of Self-emptying
The Practice of Giving Away
He shared how funds from recent church closures were being reinvested in other churches to provide multi-ethnic leadership teams toward the goal of fostering multi-ethnic communities. Lang named Valley and Mountain, soon to give birth to a third iteration, as an example of excellent ministry incarnating inclusion and innovation, leading to multiplication.
Seven Rivers Missional District Superintendent Rev. Mary Huycke offered a non-urban perspective as she serves a region stretched across the central part of Washington from the Canadian border down to Oregon. The district has intentionally invested in laity with the understanding that “clergy come and go, the laity are the ones who stick around.”
A number of the churches in her district are very small. Helping some of those churches to end their ministries gracefully, while finding creative ways to extend the life of others with alternative leadership structures, is a portion of the work. A lack of diversity, and inclusive practice, is a challenge many are wrestling against.
Offering her perspective on the OR-ID Conference, lay leader Jan Nelson shared that many laypersons there are unaware of the work of the IV Team but not incapable of embracing innovation. She pointed to the example of the Open Door Churches in the Salem area while advocating for more leadership training to make use of laity who feel under-utilized. “We need a better structure, or system, to engage laity.”
PNW Conference lay leader Nancy Tam Davis also noted the absence of leadership development among lay people in her conference. She added that Certified Lay Ministers were often serving in challenging appointments but lacked the same network of support afforded to clergy. “Morale is low,” said Davis. “How do we bring lay leaders together for support?”
Jo Anne Hayden, lay leader in the Alaska Conference, named some of the same concerns. On a conference-level, there are efforts to train local church leaders underway through Zoom with hopes to expand the number of groups soon.
How we are working together already
The second day began with a presentation by the Area treasurers detailing some of the resources available for vitality work and some of their other projections. Currently, expenses for shared work are split between conferences – PNW (54%), OR-ID (40), and AK (6%) based on conference size and budgets.
Disaster response leaders in the OR-ID and PNW Conferences shared how they have been collaborating because it makes sense. Jim Truitt began serving in March as Disaster Response Coordinator for the Greater Northwest Area, leading a pilot program building upon years of collaboration between leaders in OR-ID, PNW and Alaska.
Truitt, along with Kathy Bryson (PNW) and Dan Moesler (OR-ID) shared with the group how clear common goals, shared practices, and trainings have made collaboration work for them. Programs like “Connecting Neighbors” embody some of the vitality practices of developing intentional partnerships beyond the Church.
Next up was a presentation by Revs. Karen Hernandez and Gregg Sealey, and layperson Lynn Egli. As superintendents of mostly rural districts, Hernandez and Sealey shared their excitement for the Rural Church Engagement Initiative’s promise to translate Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) training for a rural context.
Egli, described as the “Energizer Bunny behind all of this,” helped to explain how he has applied his background as a CPA for Hewlett Packard to the design and implementation of the pilot program. “We have to be demanding, to expect performance,” he shared. “It’s going to be tough for local leaders to put together a team.” He expects to learn from the pilot, and adapt subsequent iterations based on that learning.
Three cohorts (including 14 pastors and local church teams) of the Rural Church Engagement Initiative are already meeting together monthly, sharing learnings and support for each other.
Representatives of Committees on Native American Ministries (CONAM) offered the final presentation on shared ministry and collaboration across the Area. Duane Medicine Crow (OR-ID) shared a desire to do more. Sharing when “we get money, we give it away,” he talked about a recent project supporting a Nez Perce intern at Wallowa Lake Camp.
Rev. Charley Brower (AK) offered some historical context on Christian missionary outreach to Native American populations in Alaska and how some denominational decisions years ago continue to impact the mission field today.
Finally, Kristina Gonzalez shared how the PNW was inviting a Native American developer from OR-ID to evaluate three ministries in the conference which have been struggling.
Proposals and Next Steps
Much of the remaining time was spent in small group exercises to determine how leaders might collaborate together on projects besides the IV Team and how those projects might be funded.
Revs. Mary Huycke and Kathleen Weber helped to surface some evaluative measures after small groups had defined individual lists of priorities. The next step was the hearing of “pitches” from several individuals who had submitted Concept Notes.
In addition to funding pitches from Lynn Egli (Rural Church Engagement Initiative) and Jim Truitt (Disaster Response), five other short presentations were received and evaluated using the evaluation criteria previously identified. These were:
Multicultural Hubs, an innovative urban initiative presented by Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber of the IV Team;
A Land and Housing Coalition designed to build knowledge for wise, social good with property assets presented by Rev. Erin Martin;
Latinx Ministry in the Cascadia District presented by Rev. Tim Overton-Harris;
The Awesome Project, a lip dub designed to help the Area rebrand itself after General Conference 2019 presented by Rev. John Tucker;
A Dreamworks and FailFest proposal designed to encourage bold innovation by Rev. Overton-Harris.
Before a concluding conversation, Eric Walker presented five possible ways to fund Area-wide projects: Tithe, Syndicate, CrowdSource, Pathways, and Pledge. Some of the approaches were familiar to existing practices while others have shown potential outside of the Church.
In a final conversation with Bishop Stanovsky, several participants expressed feelings of being stuck. They named the need to be bolder than we have been in embracing a future together. Other comments were made to remind the group that too few of those named at the outset—younger people, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people—were present in the room.
In her closing remarks, Stanovsky embraced the idea that we should allow something to surface from the time spent in conversation together. She suggested that we work toward funding the most popular Concept Notes—the Multicultural Hubs and Rural Church Engagement Initiative—work out the details of contributing 10% of their funding to a shared area-wide Vitality fund, and begin thinking about how our leadership makeup is more apparently young, people of color and/or LGBTQ+
A date was set for another gathering in September with the explicit goal that at least 50 percent of those in attendance will be young, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+. She asked leaders to covenant together to invite these new voices into meaningful decision-making.
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.