For the second year, the Greater Northwest (GNW) Innovation Vitality Team is partnering with the Parish Collective in presenting the Inhabit Conference, April 26-27, in Seattle. The conference is intentionally designed to “engage, encourage, and empower innovative, missional practitioners as they go about practicing the way of Jesus in place.”
“Inhabit is focused on community engagement” says Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, GNW Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church. Joining Barber as a presenter at Inhabit this year is the Rev. Shalom Agtarap.
The GNW Innovation Vitality Team is offering a special pre-conference session on Thursday, April 25, the day before the two-day main conference. Clergy or lay people interested in planting new churches and bringing new vitality to existing ministry are encouraged to attend.
Pre-conference attendees will learn from Melvin Bray, an Emmy® award-winning storyteller, social entrepreneur and author. Bray is the author of a United Methodist Women Reading Program 2019 book pick, “BETTER: Waking Up to Who We Could Be.” Melvin will help participants examine the role of various forms of power in moving from critical analysis to better practices.
The pre-conference is designed to equip leaders for building better connections within their communities, specifically with those on the margins and people of color. “This is core foundational work” says Rev. Dr. William Gibson, GNW Director of Innovation for a New Church. “This is work that needs to be done to prepare to engage with diverse communities.”
The pre-conference will be held at Seattle’s First United Methodist Church, April 25 from 9 am. to 4 p.m. As a bonus, the first 25 registered for the United Methodist day will receive free admission to the two-day Inhabit event. The Greater Northwest Area’s sponsorship of the Inhabit Conference provides this opportunity along with all costs of the pre-conference except for a modest $10 registration fee which includes lunch on Thursday.
During this Crossover Year, we are reading Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking. When I heard that title, one of my first thoughts was “no we don’t—one makes a road by doing a topographic survey where they want to build the road, drafting design plans, producing a cost estimate, putting it out to bid, hiring a contractor, and then finally building the road according to plan. That’s how you make a road.
I used to work for consulting engineers doing this kind of work. If we were going to build a road, we didn’t just go out and walk. We took measurements locating all current topographic features of the land and existing improvements, both horizontally and vertically. We would then design the road we wanted to build, specifying the alignment, width, and grade, calculating the radius and superelevation of curves, making runoff calculations, designing drainage, and indicating the type of surface for the finished roadway.
One of the most important things was knowing what soil was under the proposed roadway, how much sub-base was needed, and how it was to be compacted. We superimposed the designed road over the existing topography, calculating cuts and fills, establishing ditches and shoulders and estimating material volumes. We did all of this and more in order to make the road.
We have known that General Conference 2019 would be a watershed moment of crossing over from what was to what will be. We suspected that The United Methodist Church would not look or feel the same to most people after GC2019. Since the close of General Conference, as Treasurer of the OR-ID Annual Conference, I have been receiving many questions from people wanting to “get the lay of the land”—inquiring about the existing topography of the Conference and denomination’s financial commitments. I welcome such inquiry.
Some people and groups I know are considering designing a whole new denomination. Some say “I’m not going anywhere,” but want to cross over together into a Promised Land they’ve always envisioned and lived. Someone has to build the road to get from here to there, wherever “there” is. These are the engineers among us, asking the practical questions that go into road design.
Some of those design questions appear in McLaren’s book in this week’s reading of Chapter 31, titled “The Choice is Yours.” McLaren points out the benefit of the house builder who made plans for building a house because the wise builder “doesn’t just hearJesus’ message; he [sic] translates it into action.”
McLaren’s point is that Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, part of the Sermon on the Mount, challenge us to move beyond mere interest and agreement to commitment and action. We are invited to consider all we have heard (the topography), and “translate it into our way of living, our way of being alive.” We are called to build a community of lovers who are just, kind, and humble.
You have heard the words of Jesus long enough. You know where he’s headed, and it includes all. You may help build the way to get there, or you may walk the road once it’s designed and built by others, or you may decide to walk a different way. We each have our role to play. As McLaren’s chapter title offers, “the choice is yours.”
I’m an engineer at heart. I ask a lot of questions. I love producing topo maps of what is existing, to aid us in getting where we want to go and in developing what we are called to build. I hear and need the dreamers, the prophets, the deciders, the vision-casters. All of us are needed if we are to get from here to there. I am glad to be part of this team in this uncertain Crossover time. I have faith all will work out as it needs to, no matter what our community of faith ends up looking like.
The choice is mine; the choice is yours.
Rev. Daniel Wilson-Fey serves as Conference Treasurer for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the news, when I came across a familiar name—Susan Boyle. Boyle was a contestant on Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. In that episode (which you can watch here), Boyle, an eccentric middle-aged woman, appears in an average dress and messy hair. When Cowell asks her what her dream is, she replies that she wants to be a professional singer. The television camera then pans to the audience where you see a young woman give a face that clearly implies Boyle is delusional to have this dream.
Every day we make judgments like the one this audience member and the judges on the show made. We judge people based on what they are wearing, what car they drive, where a person lives, the color of their skin, what they do for a living, and even how they talk. Each time we judge another person, the potential for causing harm is high. Those on the receiving end of our judgments can be scarred for life. Judgments made in the name of religion, Christianity or God can cause deep spiritual harm; sometimes that harm is never repaired. In any case, judging others can make it difficult for someone to live fully into the wholeness of life that God desires for us all.
Rather than judging others, I believe Jesus offers us another way of being in the world. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye?
Jesus acknowledges that we are really good at pointing out what is wrong in others and judging them for it. However, we rarely see the things in our own lives that need work. Instead of judging others, Jesus calls to work on pulling out the logs in our own eyes. This task is not an easy one as it requires us to look deep within ourselves and make changes.
The next time you catch yourself pronouncing judgement upon another person, ask yourself one of these questions:
What real evidence do I have for this judgement?
What could this person teach me?
What log is stuck in my eye?
What might I need to change in myself?
If you’ve seen the aforementioned episode of Britain’s Got Talent, you also know that it ends with Boyle singing her heart out leaving the audience shocked and applauding her amazing voice. Boyle goes on to win second place on the show. She has since released several albums, and according to Wikipedia, has sold over 19 million albums.
Rev. Cara Scriven serves as Pastor of Puyallup United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This week’s CrossOver post comes in audio and text options. Your choice!
While on a hike after a very painful experience, TJ encountered a sign along the trail that read: “Valley of Grieving.” Curious, TJ headed down the trail. There were others on the trail, some were zooming past TJ, still others allowed TJ to pass them. Eventually, TJ realized that all of them were bent over. The load was invisible, yet the evidence of that burden was clear. TJ’s own condition of weariness became clearer with shoulders slumped and eyes looking at the ground.
After trudging uphill for what seemed an interminable length of time, going past those who had decided to stop, TJ pushed on toward the Valley of Grieving. Finally, the trail crested a ridge and headed downward.
The trail eventually settled in along a small creek. Tears welled up in TJ’s eyes. This surprised TJ because tears were not something that came easily, nor were they welcomed. The hillside oozed with its own tears.
Beside the trail there was an overlook from which one could see many bridges reaching across the valley. The design of each bridge was unique, from plain and simple to elaborate and complex and everything in between.
TJ realized that the bridges were without people. “Why on earth would anyone build such structures and not allow people to cross? At the end of the first bridge were three very strange things:
1) a sign reading “JOY” with an arrow pointing across the bridge;
2) a group of people trying to figure out how to cross the bridge; and
3) no decking on the bridge.
“Who builds bridges without decks?” thought TJ, trudging on in hopes of finding an answer. Eventually, there was a bridge with one person on it. So, TJ asked, “How did you get out there?” No response came. TJ realized that there was no decking beneath this person!
Someone standing nearby said, “They only paid a little bit. Unlike all of the other material that is provided simply by asking, the deck comes with a price. For some of us the price is too high.”
Fear began to take hold of TJ. “What price is too high? If others cannot pay the price, surely I will be stuck in this Valley of Grieving, forever.” Doubled over, looking downward, and with a heart full of guilt and shame, TJ trudged on.
TJ came around a corner and saw someone, coming from the other side, dancing on a bridge without decking! “How did you cross over on the bridge?” called TJ.
“By walking on the decking,” was the reply.
“But I don’t see the decking, how is this possible? Can you teach me to walk where there is no deck?”
“I cannot,” the sage replied matter-of-factly.
“Ah,” said the sage, “the burdens that I have laid down have paved the way for me to cross over. You cannot see them as they are not your burdens.”
“Then how do I get decking? What is the price that so many are unable to pay?”
“Unwilling,” the sage replied.
“What?” asked TJ.
“The others are able to pay the price, at this point they are unwilling.”
“How do you know?” asked TJ.
“Because,” said the sage, “I was stalled at the end of the bridge for a very long time before I was willing to pay the price.”
“And the price?”
“It won’t cost you a penny. You have what you need to cross to JOY.”
“I don’t get it,” said TJ, “if I already possess the decking what is stopping me from just putting them down?”
“There are many things that keep us from putting them down: pride, comfort with the burdens we know, fear of what life will be like without them, hate, disgust, distrust, wanting others to conform to our vision of who they should be and what they should be like,” said the sage.
“Ok, so what must I do to cross over to JOY?”
“It is simple,” said the sage. “Forgive others and yourself. Each time you forgive, you put a piece down. Some relationships will be renewed, and others released can be released. * Eventually, your way is paved to cross over.”
*The idea that forgiveness leads to renewed or released relationships comes from, The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.
The Reverend Todd Bartlett is the Executive Director for Camp and Retreat Ministries of the Oregon-Idaho Conference. He served as the director of the Collins Retreat Center for 8 years during which he and the staff focused upon Gracious Hospitality to guide their work and lives at the retreat center, before that he served churches for over 18 years. He now lives in Milwaukie, OR with his spouse, the Reverend Laura Jaquith Bartlett and their younger daughter Megan. He enjoys a good story, photography, gardening, and being outdoors.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 Methodists, Mainstream 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.
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.