Keep Herod in Christmas?

CrossOver reflection for Week Three • Beginning December 16, 2018
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 16

by Rev. Gregg Sealey, CPCC, ACC


How many of us have a nativity scene or crèche decorating our home this Advent?

Nativities include some powerful symbols in this season of waiting, even outside of the Christ child (that incidentally should be absent until Christmas!).

  • The shepherds are a powerful reminder of those who are looked down upon as they were the first to see and worship the incarnation of God.
  • The wise men/”stargazers” are symbolic of the government representatives who have to travel long distances to celebrate this Good News and are transformed along the journey
  • Joseph had three opportunities to bail on Mary but remained steadfast and faithful
  • Mary, God’s chosen one, is an unwed, pregnant teenager of all people.

We often see animals that are clean and happy in nativity scenes, but I wonder if we lose some of the message of Christmas (and in fact the message Jesus himself brings to us as Emmanuel/”God with us”) if we keep our holy season completely sanitized. Does the season speak to the world today as richly when we don’t realize the importance of keeping Herod in our awareness during Advent and Christmas.

There was darkness in the world that first Christmas, and there is certainly darkness in our world today. Just as innocents were slaughtered by Herod, we have innocents who have been slaughtered in places of worship, in stores and in schools. We don’t have to look any further than the daily news to see the darkness in our world. Herod is THE symbol of our messed up world ruled by fear and violence.

Will we acquiesce, become cynical or depressed, or will we look for another way? Mary’s song, the Magnificat, foreshadows how the rulers of the darkness will be brought down and how her son will lift us up! The message Jesus brings is a call for us to be people of love and hope in a world of fear and violence; to be people who can attest to the light that cannot be overcome by darkness; to be a people of healing and life in a world of death and disease.

In this CrossOver year, where there is anxiety in our United Methodist system, my prayer is that we don’t forget about the darkness in our world, but it ought not be our sole focus either. What if we were to actually “cross over” from an existence ruled by anxious reactions to the darkness in our world to one in which we can thoughtfully and faithfully respond, guided by the peace and grace of Christ?

There is another way … a way that leads to life.

May we follow that more excellent way, this Advent and always.


Rev. Gregg Sealey serves as Superintendent for the Inland Missional District in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is the current dean of the PNW Cabinet and is a trained and certified Professional Co-Active Coach.

Thoughts on Women on the Edge

Bonus Content for Week Two • Beginning December 9, 2018
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 15

by Llewellyn Pritchard   


The Bible tells us of the challenges faced by Sarah and Elizabeth in their efforts to conceive a child. The way women of their time established their validity and self-esteem was to have a child and they could not do so. Their time had passed, and they had no hope!

The impossible happened: They conceived and gave birth. Luke also shares another conception story—the miracle of Mary and the Virgin birth.

Llewellyn Pritchard
Llewellyn Pritchard

The Impossible Happens: Three women prevail against all the forces of nature and science which are arrayed against these powerful women.

This devotion brought back memories of Elizabeth Korn, my art history professor at a college, decades ago. She was a Jew living in Germany with her scientist husband in the face of Nazi persecution. She was headed to the Death Camps. She fled in the dark of night to Norway and ultimately arrived in the United States.

Her life was impossible: She had lost everything. She told me the only thing she had left was her education and her talent as an artist. She moved into a third floor walk-up flat in Hoboken, New Jersey and took a job teaching as an instructor at my alma mater. She was a gifted teacher and an inspiration in the classroom. She took me to New York and to every museum and instilled in me a love of art which greatly impacted my life. At the same time, she became an American citizen and helped defeat a corrupt political boss in the city where she resided.

The impossible happens: Today’s headlines reveal many stories of women and their children who, like Professor Korn, face incredible challenges as immigrants to our wonderful country. Perhaps we should help make the impossible happen so they, and their children, can find a safe haven in our land.


Llewellyn Pritchard is a lay member of Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland, Washington. He also is the long-serving chancellor for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Impossible Possibilities

CrossOver reflection for Week Two • Beginning December 9, 2018
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 15

by Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard


Okay, question number one – it’s a “fill in the blank” kind of question. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s _____________________!  That’s right – Superman!

That one may have been a little too easy. So question number two – who teaches us that with great power comes great responsibility? Yes – Spiderman!

Finally, number three. Tell me who this sounds like – Stop a bullet cold, make the axis fold, change their minds and change the world? This one is a little trickier, but the answer is of course, Wonder Woman!

Ah, superheroes – we are all familiar with them, in part because we’ve grown up with them. We might even think we know all about them. For instance, we know that they all have some sort of amazing, and often superhuman, abilities. Perhaps it is X-ray vision, or the power of flight. Maybe they are super strong or super-fast, or have the ability to become invisible at will. They have some amazing abilities, which are combined with an agenda that has something to do with justice and fairness. Our superheroes even seem to maintain a moral code which goes beyond the ordinary level of commitment.

But there is something else these superheroes all have in common, something which I like to call the ability to live out “the art of possibility”. The superheroes of fantasy, fiction, and even of real life all somehow manage to see possibilities where others see only the impossible.

In a way, the season of Advent calls to the “superhero” in each of us, because it asks us to see possibilities where others may only see the impossible. Certainly that was true for Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for her cousin Elizabeth. (See Luke 1:5-45) It is easy to discount their stories of miraculous pregnancies and the babies that spring from them. After all, isn’t it impossible for an old woman, well past child-bearing age to conceive? And a virgin… come on! We all know it is impossible. But as Brian McLaren puts it:

But what if that’s the point? What if the purpose of these stories is to challenge us to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible? Could we ever come to a time when swords would be beaten into plowshares? When God’s justice would flow like a river – to the lowest and most ‘god-forsaken’ places on Earth? When the brokenhearted would be comforted and the poor would receive good news? If you think “Never – it’s impossible!”, then maybe you need to think again. Maybe it’s not too late for something beautiful to be born. Maybe the present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t see or even imagine. (We Make the Road by Walking, pg.68-69)

We can – each of us – choose to live a new way, seeing what is possible instead of focusing on what we find impossible. We can trust in God’s presence when we can see it and even when we cannot. We can focus on abundance rather than scarcity, on hope instead of fear, and on rejoicing rather than despairing. My friends, God does not expect us to be super-human. But I believe God is inviting us to become super-heroic, seeing possibilities where others may only see what is impossible.

The Christmas story would go nowhere without Mary’s willingness to do just that. Consider, if you will:

Is there anything about your church right now that feels “pregnant with possibility”?

Who do you think can help you to see possibilities where you may only notice the impossible?

Prayer for the day:

Amen, God… usually we say it at the end of our prayers. But today, I say it right up front, in the beginning, to remind me of Mary and Elizabeth, of all those heroic ones who help me see beyond the impossible and remind me of your possibilities every day. Amen… “So be it”… with me this day.


Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard, Senior Pastor of Portland First UMC, believes that faith ought to be a pathway to joy!  As a pastor, she helps create a deep sense of joy in spiritual growth, compassion, and social justice ministries. When not working, Donna loves spending time with her two adult daughters, walking her Corgi, laughing with friends, painting silk, playing the piano, traveling and reading “just for fun”.

Donna also serves as Chair of the Western Jurisdiction’s Leadership Team, and as a member of the Commission on a Way Forward for The United Methodist Church.

Call to prayer, giving, for those impacted by major earthquake in Alaska

Good people of the Greater Northwest,

…the heavens and the earth shake.
But the LORD is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people.

Joel 3: 16

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Alaska just north of Anchorage Friday morning. We know what a terrifying and destructive force is unleashed when the earth groans and stretches.

I’ve been in touch with Alaska Conference Superintendent Rev. Carlo Rapanut who shares these details:

Initial reports say there is no major damage to any of our churches or parsonages, but power is still down in many locations and there is lot of damage to roads and bridges. We thank God that tsunami warnings in Seward and Homer have been lifted.

Please hold us all in your prayers. We will keep you posted as updates and needs arise.

When disaster strikes, United Methodists respond. While it is too early to know the work that will be needed, be assured that we will be there. Our United Methodist churches in Girdwood, Homer and Wasilla have opened their sanctuaries for who might need to evacuate. St. John is standing by as needed. So, let us be inspired by their good example! Until then, I join Superintendent Carlo in asking you to:

  1. PRAY for the people affected by this earthquake, and for those responding to its impact
  2. And GIVE this Sunday or another Sunday in December through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to the U.S. Disaster Response fund (#901670). 100% of your gift will be used for relief and recovery work with no administrative overhead. You can give online at www.umcor.org/donate.

Our conference emergency response team coordinators (listed below) have already been in contact with each other as early assessments come in. We’ll continue to benefit from their dedication and expertise as plans form to offer the love of Christ to those in need in the coming days and months. As needs surface, and plans develop, we’ll share them with you.

Let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
– 1 John 3:18b (The Message)

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater Northwest Area

Contacts:

What can I believe?

CrossOver reflection for Week One • Beginning December 2, 2018
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 14

by Rev. Charles D. Brower


“His clothes were as white as snow.
… And flames were all around its wheels.
A river of fire was flowing. It was coming out in front of God.
Thousands and thousands of angels served him.”
– Daniel 7:9b-10a (NIRV)

A worldwide flood with only two of each type of animal surviving?

A burning bush not consumed by flame?

A sea parting so a people can escape slavery?

Early missionaries to Alaska met a people used to hearing tales of feats by the shamans making these Bible stories easy to believe. The locals had heard of shamans’ interstellar travels or of their experiences changing into spirit animals.

Ever wonder how the concept of a Promised Land might sound to an indigenous person hearing a missionary expound promises of a life eternal? Then to hear that same promise followed by an uncertainty of when that fulfillment might happen?

What might be our response today to stories we deem hard to believe? Do the stories in the Bible challenge our faith; do the stories seem impossible?


Rev. Charles Brower is an Inupiaq serving Nome’s Community United Methodist Church. Social justice, homelessness, and high poverty challenge this mission church.

Photo Credit: parting the red sea” by amboo who? , CC BY-SA 2.0.

Wesleyan Traditions: Watch Night & Covenant Renewal

I often struggle to experience worship when I am leading worship. That was not the case on January 1, 2017. That Sunday morning I led my congregation through the liturgy of Wesley’s covenant renewal service. We included a time for personal reflection and journaling our covenant with God for the year ahead. I then kept my covenant within reach at my desk for the entire year. I reread it a few times. Looking back on it now, it’s plain to see how the covenant I entered into that day shaped the year ahead, shifted my ministry, and compelled me to follow my call in a new direction.  It was a powerful experience for me!

A new calendar year is a time of crossing over. It signals a fresh start, the opportunity to begin again—and that’s a gift many need any given year. What if we could invite our congregations, our small groups, our families, or just ourselves to really make the start of the new year a deeply meaningful time in our faith?

I remember well the challenge of offering something new or creative in worship immediately after an exhausting Advent and a pull-out-all-the-stops Christmas Eve. As a result, I want to offer you some resources in hopes that you and those with whom you worship and fellowship might revisit the tradition of a covenant renewal service.

The resources you’ll find here are intended to be helpful, which means that I hope you will adapt them to fit your context and your sense of where the Spirit is leading you. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking creatively:

  • Use these materials as a ready-to-go Sunday morning service on any of the first several Sundays after Christmas or at a time when a fresh, new start is needed in your setting.
  • In keeping more with the watchnight tradition, include this opportunity for covenant on New Year’s Eve. (Shout out to Burley UMC in Burley, Idaho! In years gone by, they sometimes had a game night on Dec. 31 as an option for those who didn’t have or want a raucous party. Shortly before midnight, there was an invitation to enter the sanctuary for a very informal covenant renewal service. Got a recovery ministry in your church? Invite them to join you!)
  • Have a potluck with all those holiday leftovers and invite those gathered around the table (in homes or church fellowship halls) to read the covenant renewal liturgy and talk about it together.
  • Familiarize yourself with the liturgy, then gather a group for informal conversation about the ideas within it. Talk about God’s faithfulness in the past year and your commitment to following God more closely or in new ways and different directions in the year ahead.
  • Include in the life of your family, your small group, your friends, or your church a “blessing of the calendars.” Gather all kinds of time-keepers—watches, day planners, cell phones—hold them or place them in the center of the group. Invite other voices and pray about how you long for God to be present and how you commit to be present to God in your moments and days, throughout the seasons and the year ahead.

Resources offered here include the following:

  • Sample Order of Worship—Watchnight Service – PDF
    A basic pattern of worship for traditional Sunday morning worship services that includes the Covenant Renewal liturgy and reflection time in lieu of a sermon
  • Wesleyan Tradition of Covenant Renewal—Sample Introduction – PDF
    The sample order of worship includes an introduction to this tradition. The text provided here can be used as that introductory material or adapted to suit your community.
  • Covenant Renewal Service Liturgy & Journal Pages   PDF Version – Publisher Version
    This document includes the complete liturgy, covenant prayer, and lined pages for journaling about one’s own covenant.It is designed to be printed on letter sized paper, two-sided pages (flip on short edge), and folded in half. Each booklet uses 3 sheets of paper.
  • Covenant Renewal journal for KIDS – PDF VersionPublisher Version)
    This document invites children to think about the past year and the year ahead. It is most useful for children who can read, but it can be used alongside an adult for non-readers and has plenty of spaces for drawing or coloring. It is designed to be printed on letter sized paper, two-sided pages (flip on short edge), and folded in half. Each booklet uses 3 sheets of paper.

Click here for some additional Watchnight liturgical resources courtesy of Ministry Matters

Do you have great ideas of your own about how to bring greater meaning to people of faith at the start of the new calendar year?  Share them here!


Rev. Karen Hernandez is Sage District Superintendent. Most recently she served Kuna United Methodist Church (Kuna, Idaho), where the congregation graciously tried all kinds of new things in worship and beyond. 

Tight Fists or Open Hands?

CrossOver reflection for Week Zero • Beginning November 25, 2018

by Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky


The Church is of God and will be preserved to the end of time.
Reception of Members, The Methodist Hymnal, 1935

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing…
Isaiah 43: 18-19


Well, which is it? Is God enduring, unchanging, immovable, like a mountain? Or is God an innovator, creating new, unimaginable things, twisting and turning and even changing course like a river?

Does God call us to hold fast, dig in, preserve what we have inherited from the past? Or does God call us to engage the changes that surprise us, peer into an uncertain future, and then move beyond what we thought we knew, stretching, evolving, adapting?

Is God bound by these conflicting opinions? Or, might both be true in their own way?

What if God holds some eternal, immutable values that are true in every time and place, AND what if God expects us to recognize that these values may look very differently as they come to life in the changing circumstances we encounter in the real lives of people? What if, throughout our lives, God continues to call us to explore what is not familiar – what is strange or foreign, and to bring the eternal values of God’s love and justice, to situations that are new and challenging?

Clint and I met Robert when I was a seminary student. He was a hard-living, damaged soul in middle age. He drifted in and out of the reality I knew. Heard voices I couldn’t hear. Muttered under his breath to people I couldn’t see. Old West Church had become a safe place for him. On a sunny afternoon, you might find Robert sitting in the parlor emptying the tobacco into a pie pan from butts foraged in gutters and rolling it into fresh cigarette papers. Or, he might be setting the loose tobacco on fire right in the pan. Cigarettes were life to him. He lived from smoke to smoke. Bummed them off people on the street. When it came time to say good-bye after three years, I wanted Robert to understand that I really knew him and cared for him. So, on my last day at Old West, I walked to the corner store and did something I had never done before or since. I bought a carton of Kool menthol cigarettes – Robert’s favorites. Love came wrapped as a carton of cigarettes that one day in the spring of 1981.

Love is constant, like a mountain. Our neighbors change from time to time, necessitating that we keep fluid, like a river.

Our challenge is to know what is constant, and what is changing; to hold tight to God’s eternal values, and also to open our hands to put them to work in every situation we encounter in the world, and in the lives of the people around us. If we greet every change with a fist grasping the past, we’ll never even notice, let alone embrace, the new things God is doing.

Brian McLaren says, “You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take?”

As we are Crossing Over to Life, I’ll meet you on the road, where “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

ETERNALLY FRESH!


Elaine JW Stanovsky serves as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.

Shift Happens: The Value of Unlearning and Relearning

You know this, but I’ll say it anyway. Culture is always emerging.

You get what that means, right? That the world and ways around you are always shifting — always innovating. The introduction of new things and new methods continues to happen every moment of every day, whether or not we are willing to embrace it. The larger question lies in how we choose to respond. Do we welcome the uncomfortableness of the new or do we double down with a comfortable existence in the world?

Regardless, shift happens.

Am I allowing this shift to happen in me? Always for the good? Always letting go of the old me in order to make room for the new, less comfortable me? I have to be honest with you for a moment: Every morning, I wake and have to check myself because it feels like the ground beneath my feet continues to shift. I feel compelled to regularly address the question: Who am I?

Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

Around our country, overt hate and xenophobia have stepped out from behind a thin veil in a sprint to become the new norm. It’s bolstered by unapologetic fearmongering and outright lies. And, it’s insane. I refuse to allow it to gain a foothold among the space Christ calls me to steward in the world — a place of peace, hope, and justice. I simply refuse. Being a United Methodist demands that I “do no harm,” “do good,” and “stay in love with God.”

How do I allow myself to be undone and recreated by the grace of God? There’s enormous value in the process of unlearning my cultural identity as an American Christian and relearning what it means to be a follower of a rogue revolutionary, un-American, Middle Eastern-born person of color, represented in Jesus the Christ. Secondly, how does my personal undoing become a part of a corporate rebirth — shifting from individual to community?

I am always drawn to Matthew’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount, which you can read in chapters five through the beginning of seven in the Gospel of Matthew. There, you have this 30-something newcomer, sitting on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee, with disciples, followers, and the curious gathered around. Among people who have been shaped for generations under the Law of Moses, Jesus calls into question everything that had defined their perspective of the world. He basically said in varying ways, “You have heard the law that says _______________. But now I say _______________.” Jesus was rewriting the Torah on the fly! Surely people were reflecting (maybe even out loud), “Who does this guy think he is?” Can you imagine the internal struggle going on within those listening to Jesus? He called into question their cultural formation and challenged them to see the world — including the “other” — through a new lens. The lens of Christ.

This unlearning and relearning process can be painful, but it is a necessary part of spiritual growth and re-formation. It inescapably remains at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And if the statement “culture is always emerging” is true (and it is), then how are you I emerging as part of the Body of Christ within the neighborhood, community, region, nation, and world? How are our individual actions creating space for a fresh, communal voice to rise up above the bombastic noise we (and others) are hearing?

As we move toward a CrossOver Year in the Greater Northwest Area, beginning this Advent season, these questions could never be more important than they are now.

Shift happens. While making room for others, how will you respond in the midst of it and cross over to life? A new season is dawning. Let’s make the road by walking into the new.


Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson serves as Director of Innovation for a New Church for the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences.

Making the Road By Walking

Originally published on Reflections of a Running Reverend

The Rapanut grandkids having a light moment together before we drove to the airport.

My mother passed away earlier this month. And while she had not fully recovered from the stroke she suffered almost two years ago, her death was sudden and completely unexpected. The last time I talked to her, she was full of life and happy to report that she was making good progress in learning to walk again. That was three weeks before she died. Phone and internet lines had gone down after the devastation of Typhoon Mangkhut, preventing us from making wi-fi calls. Perhaps I should have tried harder to find other means to connect. It’s too late now.

No matter how hard we prepare ourselves and our loved ones for it, death still comes with an impact that shakes us to the very core. We who are left behind are left to pick up the pieces from the life that has ended while dealing with the void created in our own lives and the deep sense of loss.

So many details. So many matters to think of: planning of the wake, the funeral; what to write in the obituary; what to write on the epitaph for the tombstone; volumes of paperwork that goes with reporting the death so that pension benefits may transfer to the surviving spouse; more paperwork for bank accounts to be transferred; the care of my aunt, Mama’s younger sister, who is mentally handicapped and has been under Mama’s care since our grandmother passed away. I could go on with this list…

And then there’s the grief. The deep sense of loss. Even if the aforementioned logistical details were all taken care of, the painful fact still remains – our Mama is dead. And she has left a gaping hole in our hearts. She will no longer be there to answer when I make a video call. She will no longer call me with a joyful report about how many more steps she has taken today. She will no longer be there to watch with pride and joy as her grandchildren play the saxophone, piano and guitar or cheer for them as they run, swim, play volleyball or taekwondo. She will no longer be there to give encouraging words for my ministry…

I have been on the phone with my Papa Joe more frequently these past few weeks after Mama’s passing. I’ve been on the phone with my brother Noel almost everyday since we got back from the Philippines for Mama’s funeral. This is something we’ve not done as much as we would like to since my family and I moved to Alaska almost 10 years ago. Even in death, Mama has her way of keeping her family close and connected as she did when she was alive. We are supporting each other in our grief. We are crying together, and laughing together as we remember our beloved Mama Rhona. We are journeying together and figuring things and details out as we go. We are “making the road by walking” and we are trusting that God is walking with us.

To honor the mathematician that Mama was, we came up with an epitaph that describes her life in mathematical terms: “a finite life lived in infinite grace.” As we make the road by walking, we pray that this road be one that would honor her memory, keep alive her legacy and ultimately glorify God.

What about you, dear friend? What shifts or changes, great or small, are you, your family, your group or your community going through right now, throwing your life into a complete tailspin and causing you to lose hope and sense of grounding? Is a way forward yet unknown? Is the road ahead yet unseen? How can I journey with you so that together, we might make the road by walking? And more importantly, how can we together trust that God is journeying with us, even as we walk through the valley of life’s deep and dark shadows?

Let’s talk. Let’s journey with God. And together, let’s make the road by walking.

Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

+++

In Memory
To the one who first taught me how to walk, physically and spiritually, and I know walks with me still.

Teofina “Rhona” Axibal Rapanut
August 8, 1947 – October 4, 2018
A finite life lived in infinite grace


Rev. Carlo Rapanut serves as Conference Superintendent for the Alaska Conference of The United Methodist Church.

An Ordinary Revival has started…

Across the northwest, rooms filled with ordinary people are putting their trust again in an extraordinary God!

This video provides a snapshot of the ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Ordinary Revivals as they crossed the Greater Northwest last summer, seeking to inspire new connections between faithful people and the communities they live in. These revivals remind us that God is indeed at work outside the church and that there is strength in diverse communities that keep their hearts open to cries for justice.

Keep your eyes open for information on revivals coming to Boise (ID), Anchorage (AK) and Tri-Cities (WA) in the spring of 2019.

Learn more: ordinaryrevival.org

greaternw-map

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