Observations from the Wesleyan Covenant Association ©

Last Friday, October 7th, I experienced the high privilege of participating in the first meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA).  It was my honor to preach at the closing communion service and share with my friend and colleague Bishop Bob Hayes in presiding over Holy Communion.

wca-lowryI experienced the event as a movement of the Holy Spirit. Prayer was deep. Hope was bright. A sense of the Spirit’s leading was strong. Obedience to Christ was paramount. Such prayer, hope, sense of the Spirit’s leading, and obedience to Christ remains paramount.

In writing these words I quite realize that the gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association was and is controversial.  For some, the WCA is viewed as a potentially schismatic organization.  Honesty compels me to acknowledge that a case can be made that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is potentially a church in waiting.  Yet it is carefully worth noting that WCA is supportive of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  In point of fact, unlike some 9 Annual Conferences, the WCA upholds the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  The WCA is active in searching for a meaningful new unity.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association statement of purpose notes:  “The association is a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from across The United Methodist Church, committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the uncertain future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.”

While facing the possibility of future schism, the opening meeting Wesleyan Covenant Association shared a commitment to give the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward an opportunity to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Like the rest of the church, this is not a blank check to support whatever the Commission proposes but rather an opportunity to allow space for a new kind of unity.

At the WCA inaugural meeting, a theological statement was adopted which is called the Chicago Statement to the Bishops’ Commission.. I urge a careful and attentive reading of this document.

We need something greater than a tepid statement of vague theological tolerance.  If we are too rigid, boundaries will strangle us as a denomination and we will lose our cardinal focus on the cross of Christ and the redeeming grace of the Lord active in our midst.  Without meaningful theological and ethical boundaries, the United Methodist will dissolve into cultural flotsam.  In its theological statement, the WCA is benefiting the whole church by calling us back to the central issue of reclaiming our core Christian theology.  For those who believe the theological and ethical boundaries are wrongly drawn, a serious debate on what constitutes the core of the Christian faith is blessing to the whole church.  At its heart, the issue before us is not (ultimately) about human sexuality but rather is a dispute about what accurately constitutes the core of the Christian faith and the essence of United Methodism.  To be united is to share a common doctrine, discipline and mission (which includes methodological coherence).

At its heart, I believe we need to recover a high Christology and a deep doctrinal emphasis on the cross of Christ.  For myself I stand with the Apostle Paul and witness of Holy Scripture.  In my closing sermon at the WCA gathering, I shared again the great testimony of faith from the Word of the Lord to the Church at Corinth (and in Central Texas!).  “Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:22-24).

For myself as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, the Fort Worth Episcopal Area, I wish to be publically clear that I believe it is important across the theological spectrum to give the Commission an opportunity to offer a new way forward. I continue to pray daily for the United Methodist Church and its future under the Lordship of Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May we together walk with Christ!

An Opportunity not to be missed ©


N.T. Wright, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews University in Scotland, author and retired Anglican bishop of Durham, England is coming to Perkins School of Theology at SMU November 15-17.

Perkins School of Theology has issued a public invitation to join them in Professor Wright’s presentation. “We hope you can join us for lectures and discussion related to his book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good. More information and registration can be found at the following link: http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/Events/NTWright .

I believe that Perkins offers us a rare opportunity not to be missed in learning from Bishop N. T. Wright. Three free public lectures are offered:

November 15 at 7:30 p. m                  “The Jesus We Never Knew”
November 16 at 7:30 p.m.                  “Jesus at the Crossroads of History”
November 17 at 7:30 p.m.                  “Jesus and the Future”

There are two special workshops offered (a fee is charged) on Wednesday which will focus on five books by Professor Wright’s:

I strongly urge you not to miss this great opportunity for learning!


Statement from the United Methodist Bishops of Texas

In response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent press release regarding Texas’ intention to withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program , the United Methodist bishops in the state of Texas have issued the following statement. You will notice in our signing of this statement that each bishop is listed by Episcopal Area. Please know that the Fort Worth Area (of which I am the bishop) includes all of the Central Texas Conference; the Northwest Texas Area is the Northwest Texas Conference; the Houston Area includes all of the Texas Annual Conference; the Dallas Area is the North Texas Conference; and the San Antonio Area includes all of the Rio Texas Conference.
-Bishop Mike Lowry

As bishops of The United Methodist Church in Texas we join with other faith leaders in our state to encourage Governor Greg Abbott to seek a pathway that will affirm the worth of all humankind.  

As Christians and as Texans our values are grounded in respect and hospitality toward newcomers. Those values lead us to welcome refugees to our state. We recognize that these are difficult and complex times but as Christians, we rely on Jesus Christ to overcome our fear of those who may be different. 

The United Methodist Church in our Social Principles states, “We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God…. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.” 

We ask for God’s blessing on those who will step in to serve in the absence of our state’s participation in the resettlement effort, for they are truly being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Bishop Earl Bledsoe, Northwest Texas Area
Bishop Scott Jones, Houston Area
Bishop Michael Lowry, Fort Worth Area
Bishop Michael McKee, Dallas Area
Bishop Robert Schnase, San Antonio Area

Learnings and Sharings ©

This has been a great week of learnings and sharings around the Conference. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, we held our annual Fall Cabinet Retreat at Stillwater Lodge. As a part of our work together, we focused on team building, caught up on a myriad of details and calendar items that need to be coordinated, and engaged in an exercise designed to surface potential new DSs or Executive Center Directors. (Dr. Georgia Adamson, Dr. Bob Holloway and Rev. Gary Lindley all retire at Annual Conference in 2017.) It is always my hope that the incoming members of the Cabinet are selected by mid-January so they may participate in the Cabinet Inventory Retreat in February.

 Friday night, the Core Team shared dinner with the Cabinet and met all day Saturday to look at strategic directions we will focus on in the upcoming year. Those strategic directions will continue to center around “The Big Three.” 1. Christ at the Center in Radical Discipleship; 2. Focus on the Local Church; 3. Lay and Clergy Leadership Development. It was not only a fascinating time of sharing but also a time of reviewing where we are as a Conference in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 Sunday I had the great pleasure and honor of preaching at Polytechnic United Methodist Church on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University. Together with a large crowd, we celebrated the end of the 125 year anniversary of Texas Wesleyan and the beginning of the 125th year of Polytechnic Church. In the early annals of the Christian faith, Tertullian asked “What has Jerusalem [meaning the center of religious life] got to do with Athens [meaning the center of philosophy and learning]?” Then and now, the answer is “Everything!” To quote Wesley, “Let us [continue] the two so long disjoined: knowledge and vital piety.”

 Monday morning was a time of fabulous learning. The Evangelism Summit was held at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church with its usual stellar hospitality and phenomenal worship leadership. Those great events alone blessed us all immeasurably. Addresses by Dr. William Abraham and Dr. George Hunter on the foundation of evangelism shaped a theology built around the kingdom of God and allegiance to Christ.

 Dr. Abraham reminded us at the heart of the gospel is the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. In particular he emphasized three crucial practices: preaching; catechesis (or Christian formation); and church planting. His focus was on our need to make or build disciples of Christ through a combination of teaching & preaching around the kingdom of God.  I could not help but to recall the sharing of a friend recently who commented that Jesus Christ didn’t come to give good advice but to bring good news.

 Dr. George Hunter followed Dr. Abraham with a deeply thoughtful lesson outlining the strategy for evangelism and giving concrete ways we move forward in the sharing of the faith and its connection with our greater work. Dr. Hunter built his lecture around the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi and how people become new Christians, noting that it takes place around a process with a chain of experiences. His witness moves us far beyond any mythical one shot conversion story but rather, in practical applicable terms, shared the holiness of conversations (many conversations!) and relationship in leading people to the faith.

 Rev. Olu Brown, lead pastor of Impact Church – one of the fastest growing new church starts in all of Methodism – built on Dr. Hunter’s insights with an intensely practical emphasis on building relationships through things like radical hospitality and witness of bringing the church to where people are. It was fascinating to hear him talk about holding various meetings, including Finance Committee, in a local restaurant and bar as a point of Christian witness and faith sharing. Our own Leah Hidde-Gregory brought a great day to a close with her talk on evangelistic Covenant Group formation, in particular the impact on clergy in sacramental groups on the local church. I believe this is a fundamental and primary way we recover an understanding of building ourselves as disciples even as we share the faith with others. The early Methodist movement emphasized the class meeting, and Rev. Hidde-Gregory’s work with sacramental groups calls us back in a profound way to the heart of the Methodist movement.

 Today finds me heading to Franklin, TN for a three day continuing education conference at the New Room. I was blessed in going last year to a place that was free of political talk about the future of the United Methodist Church and focused instead on missional outreach in love, justice and mercy combined with deep spirituality and evangelistic faith sharing. It should be a joy to attend this year as well. After all these activities, I have saved a week of vacation, centered around my wife’s birthday (the number shall remain sacrosanct!), and designed to spend my time chasing Simon, who knows me not as “bishop” but as “Papa.” He is the middle of three precious grandchildren Jolynn and I have been blessed with.

 Also today I am announcing today that Rev. Allen Goss has graciously agreed to fill in as Interim Executive Director for the Smith Center for Evangelism and Church Growth as Gary Lindley heals from injuries sustained in a terrible car accident. We give thanks to Allen for his willingness to step into this crucial leadership role on a part-time basis. His experience as a previous Director for Church Growth and Development for the Central Texas Conference make him the ideal person to lead in the interim. We also continue to pray for and look forward to the day Gary can return to the job full-time. He is dearly missed!

Discipleship as Spiritual Formation

Last Fall Bishop Ken Carter, The Florida Conference, wrote a series of blogs on “Fresh Expressions of the Church.”  Taken as a whole they are outstanding and well worth reading.  As a part of my own recent writing about deeper discipleship centered on allegiance to Christ, I reprint, with his permission, the 9th of those blogs entitled Discipleship as Spiritual Formation and Mentoring: The Heart of Fresh Expressions of Church.” – Bishop Mike Lowry

The Bishop’s Blog

(Ninth in a series of reflections on Fresh Expressions of church, the Florida Conference and United Methodism, and our relation to the “Nones,” “Dones” and the “Spiritual but Not Religious.”)

If we are listening to God’s call in the present moment, in increasingly non-churched and de-churched environments, we may discover that we are being led back to a fundamental experience—an encounter with the living Jesus. We encounter him in the gospels, even as he is anticipated in the Old Testament and as his message is embodied and proclaimed in the later writings of the New Testament. The encounter is always one that calls us into deeper relationship, which we call discipleship.

Discipleship as Spiritual Formation
So how do we become a disciple of Jesus?

Becoming a disciple or apprentice of Jesus is a cumulative process. It involves small steps and giant leaps of faith. It is like swimming against the stream and riding the rapids. It is unconscious and intentional. It is planned and spontaneous. It is work and at the same time a gift.

1.  As a cumulative process, discipleship is a daily spiritual practice: reading scripture, sending a tweet about a passage of scripture or a God-sighting, memorizing a verse, offering an intercession, acting with kindness, writing in a journal.
2.  Discipleship is also a weekly activity: an hour of worshipping God, a meal with a mentor or with friends, reflecting deeply on the neighborhood as a context for mission, encouraging a small group of Facebook friends, contributing money to God’s mission.  Note: While the Christian life may begin as an individual search, it can only be sustained and supported through participation in a small group, where we are loved, blessed and held accountable. The contribution of the Fresh Expressions movement is that these groups are not confined within our local churches, although they may happen there—this is the “mixed ecology.” And, as we have noted, this is deeply embedded in the practices of the early Wesleyan Christian movement (class meetings and band meetings).
3.  Discipleship as a sustained habit might include monthly experiences:  a day of silence and prayer and deeper scripture reading, meeting with a spiritual director, reading a book/spiritual classic, a deeper act of service in the community, serving in a leadership role.
4.  And discipleship as a more reflective and long term way of life might include annual practices: an extended pilgrimage or retreat, a mission trip, an evaluation of financial giving to God’s mission.
5.  Discipleship is a lifelong process; in Eugene Peterson’s language, it is a “long obedience in the same direction.” It will help to document your spiritual formation; for some, there are life-changing events, and for others, the process is more gradual and even generational. In the Wesleyan tradition we have called this sanctification.

The Bible itself can be read in this way:

  • it is the journey of God’s people from slavery to freedom;
  • the passage of Jesus from baptism and wilderness to suffering, death and into resurrection;
  • the experience of the disciples who follow Jesus, listen to his teaching, witness his death and resurrection, receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and are sent into all the world.

For the non-churched (nones), the language of becoming a disciple is entering a new world of practices, habits and relationships. For the de-churched (dones), the path of discipleship requires a detachment from negative experiences of church in the past and a turning toward the gift of new forms of church. And for leaders, lay and clergy, there is the essential and lifelong basic work of spiritual formation. At our best, we will be most effective and faithful as we accompany each other into the future that God is preparing for us.

Making Disciples as Mentoring
Once we are on the path of being a disciple, we soon discover that we are also called to invite others into this way of life. Thus, we want a simple method for making disciples or mentoring friends to be closer followers of Jesus.   So how do we mentor (or make) new disciples?

1.  Listen to the other person. This may happen in a meeting, perhaps in everyday life and in planned or unplanned ways, or over a succession of conversations. In a culture that is cynical about faith, it is not wise to rush this step. Listening is a lifelong activity!
2.  Reflect back to the person that you are wanting to get to know and understand them. For many persons, this is a rare experience to discover that others are listening to (honoring) their stories.  Note:  These first two steps are essential and cannot be bypassed.
3.  Connect their story with your own story and a part of the gospel. This assumes that we know the gospels (the importance of daily reading) and can access the presence of Jesus in most any human situation: fear, loss, anger, poverty, betrayal, confusion, pride. You may share an experience where the power of Jesus helped you to overcome an obstacle. This connection is not about institutions or denominations, but is instead about relationships and the spiritual journey.
4.  Ask how you can be in prayer for the person. And ask if the other person will pray for you. This places you together on the same level.  Note:  Here you will want to be as humble as possible, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through the gospels and the act of prayer. At this point the action is more important than the response, which you cannot control.
5.  Seek to connect the other person to your community. In our time, the basic steps will be a group that meets outside the church (say, in a coffee shop) or in a context of mission and serving, or in a new group in formation. Don’t worry if you get stalled here, but don’t hesitate to name your own worshiping community. It is a relational process.
6.  Stay in touch with the person, and continue to develop the relationship, no matter the response. You are investing in the friendship for the sake of the other person, and not for any congregational or institutional gain.
7.  Continue to pray for the other person each day, and occasionally let the other person know you are doing this.

There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between becoming a disciple (spiritual formation) and making disciples (mentoring). We often learn best by teaching and leading; and at the same time, our lives are shaped, formed and enriched by deep friendships.

It is also true that where spiritual formation and mentoring are not present, our Christian life can become stagnant and rigid. How do we break this cycle?

If we are stuck, we might seek out a spiritual director, pastor, coach or guide.  This person is likely less appealing to us because of credentials and more through an authenticity and depth of faith.   Note:  A word about generations. Many younger adults have a strong need to live in relationships with persons who are older (not of their generation). At the same time, many younger adults have a great deal to teach older adults. This is sometimes called reverse-mentoring. There is a need for both mentoring and reverse-mentoring in our church.

By definition, Fresh Expressions “come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.” And, so, our first priority is not to create Fresh Expressions of church; instead, we listen, serve, and become incarnationally present and discipled. In our time, this will take the form of spiritual practices that shape us, and intentional relationships that empower others.

What two or three spiritual practices or habits would strengthen your life as a disciple of Jesus? What happens weekly, or monthly, or annually? And, is there someone near to you who might be open to your spiritual mentoring?

-Bishop Ken Carter, October 26, 2015

Recovering the Methodist Movement ©

A while back a friend called my attention to a March 2013 article by David Brooks entitled “How Movements Recover.”   A part of what grabbed my interest is the often repeated comment about the “Methodist” movement.  Movemental growth in the church for a justice cause or evangelism or mission impact or spiritual growth etc. is an indwelling and outreaching of the Holy Spirit.

In brief summation, Christian movements are periods of revival or reawakening to the original mission of the faith.  Commonly, “Methodism” is referred to as a movement in the Christian faith (a great element of spiritual revival and vitality).  By way of contrast, movements are different from institutional advancement.  They focus on the primary mission and contain strong elements of growth reaching out to new groups. [Allow me to emphasize that both!! institutional advancement and movemental engagement are needed.  If movements are not ultimately institutionally shaped, they dissipate and ultimately amount to little beside a passing fad.  If, on the other hand, movements are choked out by institutional rigidity, desperately needed renewal is lost.]

At any rate what intrigued me about David Brooks Op Ed piece in the New York Times was the way he connected the recovery of the Christian faith as a movement (not just an institution) to reaching out to embrace the world in all its messiness- rather than seeing the church as an ark closed off from the rest of the world, riding out the storms.  St. Augustine “reacted against any effort to divide people between those within the church and those permanently outside.”  Brooks continues, “His ideal church was firmly rooted in doctrine, but yearning for discovery.”

Brooks writes from a predominantly Roman Catholic perspective but there are deep insights for us Methodists in his work.  He points to the witness of Pope Francis commenting, “It’s hard not to be impressed by someone who says he prefers a church that suffers ‘accidents on the streets’ to a church that is sick because it self-referentially closes in on itself.”

We do well to listen and wrestle at this juncture.  How do we hold tight to core doctrine and yet remain open and engaged, yearning for discovery?  Rigid self-righteous boundaries are not only unfaithful; they will surely kill us.  Conversely, a lack of boundaries leads to meaninglessness and ultimately will also just as surely kill us.  Many of my colleague bishops speak of the need to be an outwardly focused church.  The four focus areas of the United Methodist Church (new places for new people/new faith communities, ministry with the poor, leadership development, and Global health – Imagine No Malaria) are vibrant expressions of an outward focus which seeks to recapture a movemental character.  So too are attempts to recapture a holistic holiness – holiness of heart and life that is both social and personal.

And yet, our cultural and denominational obsession with immanence as both the locus and focus of ministry suffers from a lack of transcendence.  A full blown doctrine of the Trinity with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit active in our world as subject (not just object) is desperately needed. The theologian David Bosch (as Alan Hirsch reminds us) has rightly written, “discipleship is determined by the relation to Christ himself not by mere conformity to impersonal commands” (D. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 67; taken from Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).  Hirsch himself goes on to comment, “Apostolic movements make this a core task, because when we really think about it, this is perhaps the most strategic of all the church’s various activities”  (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).  He [Hirsch] goes on to reference Mother Teresa, “We must become holy not because we want to feel holy but because Christ must be able to live his life fully in us.”

As much as I resonate with David Brooks’ correct insistence on an outward focus in to the world in love-induced mission, by itself it is not enough.  There must be an upward dimension as well for the enterprise to be sustained.  The work of Kenda Creasy Dean and others on “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” warns us of the desperate need for both immanence and transcendence, for both parts of the cross.  The apostolic genius of the original Methodist movement reached out to the world in love and reached up to God in holiness.

A Great Work of Justice ©

One of great ministries taking place in the Central Texas Conference is Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) under the leadership of Rev. Brooks Harrington.  MJM is an outgrowth of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.  Their website (http://methodistjusticeministry.org/) offers the essentials:

“The Methodist Justice Ministry was founded in 2006, first to protect indigent women and children from domestic violence, neglect and abuse; and second, to help them to new lives free of violence, abuse, fear and self-loathing.

The MJM is thoroughly faith driven. Its legal director, Brooks Harrington, is an ordained United Methodist minister as well as a licensed attorney. Our scriptural motto is: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

Since the MJM began, we have represented in court the interests of hundreds of women and children from low income households. We have not only obtained but also enforced court orders for protection, for custody, for denial or restriction of visitation by the abusers, and for child support and medical support. And we have counseled with more than 1,000 individuals desperate for help.”

Recently an illustrative story of MJM’s ministry highlighted this great work of justice. A young woman, 30 years old, named “Bella” (not her real name) with children aged 14, 11, 8 and 7 came to MJM for help getting out of an abusive marriage. Bella could neither read nor write. Her abusive husband had left her for a younger woman and threatened her if she disputed custody of the 4 children.

Traumatized and depressed, she found love and support from the staff at MJM. They agreed to not only “take the case” but also to provide support and a future of hope. MJM won the case helping her to retain custody, but there is more to the story. They are arranging and paying for adult education classes so that Bella can learn to read and write. They set up two licensed professional counselors plus a case manager to work with her in putting life back together. They are helping her develop skills to earn a living for her family.

This is a great work of justice. In sharing the story Rev. Harrington adds: “I would like to tell you that Bella’s story is unusual. But it isn’t. We have handled dozens of cases like Bella’s over the ten plus years the MJM has been in ministry.  Even so, people like Bella are deep in the shadows. They are too scared and alone to ask for help, or to know whom to ask, or to believe that help exists or that they deserve help. We’d very much like to see and help more Bella’s. We’re praying for that. Lord, send us more Bella’s.”

Vital congregations are engaged in ministry with the “Bellas” of this world.  They are reaching out in ministry with the poor – offering the love of God in help and hope.  Their ongoing ministry includes something in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 calls every week from people seeking help.  The caseload is growing.  It takes special technical expertise to work in MJM.  This is ministry with the poor, one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.

There are many other examples of ministry with the poor spread across the churches of the Central Texas Conference.  My challenge for every congregation and Christian is to get involved.  In the words of the Apostle James, “faith without action has no value at all” (James 2:20).  Pray to be led as individuals and as a congregation, and the Lord will guide you into a great ministry of justice!

Beware of Nostalgia ©

Two pieces of reading and variety of reflective conversations with a wide and extremely diverse collection of people have caught my attention recently.  As he commonly does, Gil Rendle offers insightful reflections on the challenge a nostalgic longing presents to the church.  Almost simultaneously, I have been reading Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism.  Dr. Levin forcefully notes that much of our current political malaise (and dearth of leadership) stems from being “blinded by nostalgia” through looking back on mythic ideal age in America (the late 1950s –early 1960s for liberals and the early 1980s “Regan era” for conservative) and trying to somehow recreate that age (which can’t be done!).

What has captured my immediate attention is how both point to the danger of being so enamored by the past that we have trouble addressing the present.  In one of my early workshops under the great Methodist leadership guru Lyle Schaller, I remember him saying, “The most important vote an Administrative Board [or Council] takes every year is to decide what year is next year.”  Schaller went on to explain that if you think next year is 1957 you will vote, act and commit your resources differently than if you think next year is 2017.

In a Texas Methodist Foundation, August 15th blog entitled “Nostalgia and Three Changed Questions“, Dr. Rendle shares how he has added the critically important word “now” to his “Holy Conversations’” questions.  [“Who are we now?  What does God call us to do now?  Who is our neighbor now?”] He goes on to comment:

“I have come to believe that one of our key challenges in the church is nostalgia.  An antidote to nostalgia is to keep reminding ourselves when we are (i.e., now).  I am an early baby-boomer and grew up in the church when it was strong, growing consistently and at the center of the culture.

“When nostalgia kicks in, I am tempted to conjure that image of the church and assume that with a bit more hard work, we could be like that again.  (By the way, I’m also tempted to think of myself as having more hair and energy as well as less weight and complaints.)  The problem with nostalgia is that it leads me to think that’s how the church is (or I am) supposed to be and that somehow the world is supposed to be like it was before, as well!”

I am captured by the idea that the first task of leadership is to draw an honest picture of the current reality, which in this case is a picture of the church no longer in the center of a changed culture.  Nostalgia doesn’t help, and in most cases reminds us of what we cannot have anymore.  Instead, we need to ask what we are going to do with what we do have.

We in the church and in the larger American society need to beware of nostalgia. The temptation to try to “turn back the clock” to an imagined better time is powerful for all of us! Various scripture examples abound. There is Mordechai’s proclaim to Esther, “But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family” (Esther 4:14).  The prophet Isaiah shares a word of the Lord.  “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?  I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19-20).  Perhaps greatest of all, there is the Lord himself proclaiming, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15).

God doesn’t need to get with our program.  We must enlist or re-enlist with the mighty workings of God.  In a serious of recent presentations, I have intentionally made a point of emphasizing what the Lord is doing now(!) in, through and around us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.   God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing!  We are called to ministry for such a time as this!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!

In the South Central Jurisdictional Conference Episcopal Address, I reached for this great truth.  I said, “Please, I bid you, step with me carefully into the new future God is even now leading us to.  This is not the stuff of Pollyanna dreams nor still an ostrich-like head-in-the-sands denial of reality.  It is the stuff of our faith.  Here we find our footing in these turbulent times on the solid rock of Christ as Lord and Savior (Matthew 7:24-25).  ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord’ (Jeremiah 29:11-14a).”

Beware of nostalgia!  It can call us away and lead us astray however well intended.  The Lord God is birthing a new church out of the old and in some places in the old!

Flood Relief for Our Neighbors ©

The pictures and news reports are graphic.  The flooding is historic in size and scope.  The impact has been described as “catastrophic” by The Central Texas Conference’s Coordinator of Disaster Response Rev. Laraine Waughtal.

Already the response by Central Texas Conference (CTC) churches has been tremendous!  Rev. Waughtal and a team of trained Early Responders have already delivered a 6×12 trailer full of supplies with more than 200 buckets of cleaning supplies plus many school kits and health kits. Well done you saints of the Lord!

LA flooding responseWhen I asked her what more was needed, Rev. Waughtal responded with a trinity of needs – Money, buckets and trained Early Response Teams.  The detailed instruction in the lead story of our conference website bears repeating by way of emphasis.

  1. Please cover everyone with prayer.  From emergency personnel, to churches, the people who have been directly affected, families who are still trying to reach loved ones and all those helping with the continued rescues and the start of recovery, etc.
  2. Please make more cleaning buckets!  Louisiana needs anything and everything you can make at this time. Flood buckets generally cost about $65 and contain basic supplies such as detergent, sponges and soap that allow flood survivors to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up. You can click here to see a list of supplies and how to build “flood” buckets. Once they have been built, please take your cleaning buckets to First United Methodist Hillsboro (315 E. Elm St. Hillsboro, TX) as this is where we store our CTC Disaster response supplies. The CTC Disaster Response team will make another run to Louisiana as soon as the cleaning buckets are ready and take them to the appropriate location.
  3. Please do not go to Louisiana at this time. This is at the request of the Louisiana Conference as well as state officials. They need to be able to focus on what is happening right now and keep visitors, even those with the best of intentions, to a minimum at this time. [Trained early responders can be of big assistance and should coordinate going through Rev. Waughtal.]
  4. If you feel led to give financially, please give to the UMCOR advance # 901670.

It wasn’t long ago (this past June) when we were reaching out (with support for our neighbors in Louisiana!) to those suffering in the Central Texas Conference due to flooding. Once again we hear all call from the Lord to Christian service and generosity which echoes the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke10:25-37). The admonition of Christ lingers in our hearts and minds … “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).


Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, One Week Later from Louisiana Annual Conference on Vimeo.

On the Road Again ©

This week finds me on the road again for the greater United Methodist Church.  Last week I preached at Winters UMC for their 125th  Anniversary.  This last Sunday (August 14th) I had the joy of teaching the Warm Hearts Sunday School class at the Arborlawn UMC (where my wife is a member).  Both occasions were a joy for me (and I hope a blessings for Winters UMC and the Warm Hearts folks at Arborlawn). But early Monday morning, August 15th, finds me waiting in line for a flight to Jacksonville, Florida.

Monday to about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, I will be with a team of folks meeting at the site of a great Extended Cabinet Summit sponsored by the Council of Bishops (COB).  On behalf of the COB, I am chairing the preparation efforts for this event.  Together, District Superintendents, Lay Leaders, Conference Finance, Church Development, and Missions Directors along with Assistant to the Bishop folks, will be meeting in Jacksonville the first week in November to focus on a primary task – building vital congregations.  This will be more than just a cheerleading time.  It will be a time to help the United Methodist Church focus on our central task of building vital congregations who “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  There will be four other such “Summits” around the world to focus the global United Methodist Church on building vital congregations — 2 in Africa, 1 in Asia, 1 Europe (which might split into to a Northern Europe gathering and a Southern Europe gathering … that decision hasn’t been made yet).

From Jacksonville I’ll fly on to Chicago.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to spend time watching my beloved (AND MAJOR LEAGUE LEADING!!!!) Chicago Cubs.  Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday I will be chairing the United Methodist Church’s Path 1 Advisory Team.  Path 1 is the name of the great denominational effort to grow the number of new faith communities all across the United States and the world.  It is attached to Discipleship Ministries.  Significantly, this ministry is called Path 1 because the transformation and renewal of new churches and communities of faith is the vital first step in renewing the denomination as a whole.  A part of this great effort reaches into the life of existing congregations helping them grow in vitality of mission and ministry.

Thursday, I go down the street about 4 blocks (from the Path 1 meeting) and join the School for Congregational Development.  This great time of learning and sharing has been going on for about 12 years.  The focus is on both the transformation/renewal of existing congregations and the development of new faith communities.  Together with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area, we will be teaching a course entitled Developing a Conference Strategy for New Faith Communities.  I have immense respect for Bishop Jung.  He is one of the most creative innovators I know.  It should be a great time of learning!

Friday morning I will fly on to Dayton, Ohio where the Board of Trustees for United Theological Seminary will be meeting.  I have just been elected to serve on that Board and am excited about the opportunity to help shape a historically great seminary that comes out of the Evangelical United Brethren side of the formation of the United Methodist Church.  [A quick historical divergence.  Do you know why the Wright brothers came from Dayton, Ohio?  Their Dad was Bishop Wright, a leader of the Evangelical United Brethren (essentially German speaking Wesleyans) who was bishop of that area back when Orville and Wilbur were just getting going with their bicycle shop and heavier-than-air flying experiments.  The invention of the “airplane” has Methodist roots!!  A really cool replica of the original Orville and Wilbur Wright airplane hangs in the Seminary library!]

The Dean of United Theological Seminary is Dr. David Watson.  Dr. Watson did his Ph.D. in New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.  His parents are members of Arborlawn UMC.  All of which is by way of saying we are part of larger worldwide connection to which we properly give thanks and carefully nurture as stewards of God’s good work!  I am honored to serve on the Board at United.

My plane lands at 8:44 p.m. at DFW Saturday night.  Hopefully I’ll be home by 10.  I’ll need some rest.  I’m teaching the Warm Hearts Sunday Class next Sunday.

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