upper room daily devotions

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Leave Annual Conference More Mindful and Hopeful

The PNWAC held its commissioning and ordination service this evening. After a week of worship services plagued by technical difficulties, the abysmal worship space dictated by an arena, and a seemingly lackluster spirit in the air, tonight something happened. The worship went smoothly. Even better, it was clear that God was in our midst and something holy was taking place. Six women were ordained Elder (no men). Two men were ordained Deacon (one to permanent Deacon status, the other still under the 1992 Book of Discipline in a transitional Deacon status). And several others were commissioned for their work in the church. Elaine Stanovsky, District Superintendent of the Seattle District, preached a poignant sermon about baptism, ministry, and ordination. A choir of laity and clergy sang God's Holy Spirit into the place. Tonight reminded me that the Church is indeed a gift to the world. Despite all that we do to limit it, diminish it, or make it irrelevant, God continues to work in the world and even through us.

Tonight's service came at the end of a long and powerful day. Every year the clergy women of the conference vote to give a woman (often lay, sometimes clergy) an award for groundbreaking or pioneering work among the conference. At our annual winter women in ministry retreat we spend time in conversation about the good and holy work of women who have made it possible for us to stand in pulpits as clergy. We remember the lay women who served as missionaries when they weren't allowed the weight of a stole around their necks. We honor those who continue in mission work today. We celebrate women who have nurtured the whole Church, who have stretched it to be better and bigger, and who have been prophets among us. This year we decided to give the award to a lay woman who among many other things has championed the care of victims of clergy abuse. Because of the importance of her witness among us, the bishop also gave her the Bishop's Award. And, as a part of this witness a victim of abuse addressed the whole assembly. It was a hard word. It was a holy word. And, unfortunately, it was a necessary word. This was holy conferencing.

This evening the Reconciling Ministries Network hosted a dinner during which delegates to General Conference shared stories about the work of the denomination. They named the pain of that gathering and they lifted up moments of God's grace at work in our Church.

So this evening's service comes after a long and full day. I am proud to be a United Methodist tonight. We did good work today. More accurately, God did good work among us today.

I leave Annual Conference mindful of who I am as a United Methodist, as an ordained Elder, and as a child of God. I am hopeful for the church when I think of those commissioned and ordained. They are gifted for this holy work. And, I am inspired to explore my gifts more fully. I want, when people look at me, for them to see someone who embodies a faith that embraces pain and brings life. I want to be a clergy person who never loses sight that it is my job to remind those whom I serve that they are the ministers of God's gospel and that they have a holy task of proclaiming it for the transformation of the world.

I can't wait to go home, but I'm happy that I came. I am rejuvinated for my walk with Christ and my work for his gospel.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

When Parishioners Mock...

I have a new T-shirt that has the United Methodist Cross and Flame logo and motto "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." I wore it this evening to a church gathering wondering if anyone else might like to have one. It's a tasteful shirt - no cheesy scripts or weird sentiments. It's a white shirt and the logo/motto is small. Well, it became clear quite quickly that some people in my church just don't believe that our church has "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." One person asked if I was going to add the word "except" on the back.

Good responses and good question. I know that at at least a couple of General Conferences our denomination has debated the veracity of this slogan. What happens when the image that a church tries to project doesn't match the image that even its members have of it?

I realize that the congregation that I serve is particularly wounded by the church's exclusion of LGBT people, but are there others who aren't welcome? I also am aware that there are some who say that our "minds are so open that our brains have fallen out." And, are there others who experience a church with closed hearts? Could the Lord's Table be a place to set aside our need to agree so that we can all commune?

I love the heritage of my faith and I struggle with the current reality of my denomination. I firmly believe that God can overcome the frailties of the human condition; that is, after all, the core of our faith story.

Just so you know, I came home and hung my shirt in my closet. I wonder if I'll wear it again soon.

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