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Christ and Culture in Today’s Chaos, Part 2 ©

Near the close of John Ortberg’s delightful book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, he tells the story of Robert and Muriel McQuilken.  An accomplished college President, Robert left his job to care for his wife Muriel as she slowly slipped away under the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  Dr. McQuilken has written fairly eloquently about “how much his wife taught him, even with the disease.  (John Ortberg,  Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them,  p. 226).

As he cares for her, he reads an article in the newspaper one day about a person who ended their relationship with a spouse “because it wasn’t meeting my needs.”  Ortberg reports Robert reflecting on the “eerie irrelevance” of such criteria.  Ortberg quotes Robert writing in response to the article:  “Eventually he decided that he could not remain president of his college and care for Muriel.  When the time came, the decision was firm.  It took no great calculation… ‘Had I not promised forty –two years before, “in sickness and in health … till death do us part?”’”

Dr. McQuilken writes of being surprised by people’ reaction to the announcement of his resignation.  “It was a mystery to me, until a distinguished oncologist, who lives constantly with dying people, told me, ‘Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their woman.’  Thoughtfully Robert goes on to comment, “It is more than keeping promises and being faith; through.  As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life’”  (John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, p. 226).

The contrast between “it wasn’t meeting my needs” and “in sickness and in health” highlights the clash of values and commitments between our current culture’s excessive love of personal fulfillment and the deeper commitments of a Christian marriage.  The clash of following Christ or following the dominant culture collides at the deep seated level of values.  Furthermore the value clash is more than just individual.  It exists on a communal level as well.  For example, Christians may well debate with each other about how to best provide healthcare coverage for the hungry, homeless and hurting.  What is not up for debate as a Christian is the basic commitment to care for the hungry, homeless and hurting.  Christian values as transmitted by Christ commend that we take care of the sick (“I was sick and you took care of me.” Matthew 25:36.)  Our Lord teaches us “when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me”  (Matthew 25:40).

Christian faith, belief and values to some degree exist in a constant contrast and clash with cultural values.  Cultural values, however good, lack the compassion and depth of care that the Christian faith practices and teaches.  Our current age (the second decade of the 21st century) is awash in a philosophical naturalism that promulgates human pleasure and self-aggrandizement above the greater spiritual good of obedience to the Lord and faithfulness in service to others.

Well over half a century ago (1949 to be exact) the great Christian theological and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr wrote a justly famous book entitled Christ and Culture. In the book he categorized five major ways Christians relate to the culture of their time and age.  A brief summary is as follows (with a special thanks to Pattie Wood helping with background research):

  1. Christ against Culture

Christ has sole authority of us as Christians and rejects what the culture pulls us to join. This school of thought can be countered by Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Niebuhr writes, “Though there is no statement here that the Christian is obliged to participate in the work of the social institutions, to maintain or convert them, neither is there any express rejection of the state or of property as such” (H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 49).

  1. The Christ of Culture

Jesus was a part of the society of his time, and the forgiveness, grace and love He offers shows us that we should be fully immersed in the culture of the day. This school of thought does not see the tension between living as Christ directed and the culture in which we live. We are directed to follow Christ’s example, but we are not directed to live “like everyone else” where the sins of culture are fully acceptable. Niebuhr writes, “Jesus Christ is the great enlightener, the great teacher, the one who directs all men in culture to the attainment of wisdom, moral perfection, and peace. …But whatever the categories are by means of which he is understood, the things for which he stands are fundamentally the same – a peaceful, co-operative society achieved by moral training” (H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 92).

  1. Christ Above Culture (“Synthesists”)

As humans, we cannot attain full unity with Christ, who is above what we as Christians can achieve. Fully aware of this, synthesists affirm humanity, sin and free will while striving to meet the One above humanity. “…when he affirms both Christ and culture, he does so as one who knows that the Christ who requires his loyalty is greater and more complex in character than the easier reconciliations envisage. Something of the same sort is true of his understanding of culture; which is both divine and human in its origin, both holy and sinful, a realm of both necessity and freedom, and one to which both reason and revelation apply” (H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 121).

  1. Christ & Culture in Paradox (“Dualists”)

Dualists believe the problem is not between God and culture but between God and humans. God’s grace and act of reconciliation in Jesus is understood, as is human sin. They function in paradox: sinful and righteous, doubting yet believers, insecure and yet assured of salvation. “The dualist knows that he belongs to that culture and cannot get out of it, that God indeed sustains him in it and by it; for if God in His grace did not sustain the world in its sin it would not exist for a moment” (H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 156).

  1. Christ the Transformer of Culture (“Conversionists”)

With a more positive outlook than dualists or synthesists, conversionists believe in the distinction between God’s work and the work of humans. They try to remain obedient to God as savior and redeemer and try to live out the work of the Lord in our society. They hold a view of creations working in the created world under Christ; of the Fall as an act of Humans corrupted; and of God authoring all things and humans responding.

(For further information see https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2015/02/25/christ-and-culture-an-overview-of-a-christian-classic/ .)

Niebuhr’s classic typologies are helpful in clarifying our thinking.  They challenge the thoughtful Christian to ask…where do I fit in?  Do I live in a basic rejection of human culture and society?  Or perhaps, I envision the way Christian values and Christ fit in with my current cultural values?  Am I primarily withdrawn from culture appreciative of culture but standing above it?  Perhaps I hold to the notion of Christ and human culture in irreducible paradox that must be tolerated but not embraced.  Or maybe, just maybe, I hold fast to the conviction that as followers of Christ we must be constantly engaged in transforming human culture for the better.

Most of us, when given a choice, at least verbally ascent to some version of the last choice – with Christ, in obedience to Christ, we are committed to transforming human culture along the lines of a Christian vision.  Then again the allure of the other options is far stronger than we typically realize.  Furthermore, even in agreement, the goal to live with Christ transforming culture opens us to the greater debate of just how our modern culture is to be best transformed.  Today’s chaos continues to swirl around us.

More in the next blog.

Christ and Culture in Today’s Chaos, Part 1 ©

“Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” (Romans 12:2)

Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives.” (1 Peter 2:11)                   

Since its inception, the Christian faith has lived in an uneasy tension with the culture that surrounds it.  For the earliest Christians living in a hostile Roman Empire highlighted the deep tension between Christianity and culture.  They held fast to the core conviction that Jesus is Lord (and not Caesar!) reading the Holy Scriptures which reinforced the conviction that Christians were called to be “in the world and not of it.”

In a ground shaking book published in 1989 Duke Professors Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (later to be elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church) noted the deep changes going on in American culture and the ongoing tensions with Christian values and conviction.  The book entitled Resident Aliens struck such a nerve that it was read by almost every Methodist pastor then serving.  Provocatively, Professors Hauerwas and Willimon noted the old Moffatt translation of Philippians 3:20 (“We are a colony of heaven.”  In the new Common English Bible translation – “Our citizenship is in heaven.”) and went on to comment, “The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another”  (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens, p. 12).  Profoundly they went on to elucidate; “Christianity is more than a matter of a new understanding. Christianity is an invitation to be a part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ” (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Alien, p. 24).

We have lived through a long era where American culture has been closely attached to Christianity as the dominant religion of our nation and of so-called western civilization as a whole.  In the chaos of our times, fundamental societal-wide assumptions  – philosophical, political, and moral – are up in the air.  The dreary and depressing cacophony of our present political disputes (both in Washington and Austin, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof) provide all too much evidence of today’s chaos.  Like it or not Christians living in our present culture face the inevitable tension between Christianity and culture.  The earliest Christians instinctively knew what we often struggle with; namely that biblically faithful Christian give a higher allegiance to Jesus as Lord.

They had it right.  To be Christian is to live in tension with the culture around us.  Struggling Christians of our age (which includes all of us who profess Christ whether we are United Methodist or some other variation of the great universal Church) irrefutably call us “to be in the world but not off it!”  We might all benefit by getting up in the morning and repeating Romans 12:2.  “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.”

And yet …. We live in this culture in what is euphemistically called a post-modern (and by some post-Christian) world.  To be Christian is to be engaged in the world.  The Bible does not teach an indifferent response to the world but a Christian witness under the Lordship of Christ that prays regularly, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Presciently one scholar has written:  “The legacy of this is that it is way too simplistic to reduce the church’s current problems to a “progressive” vs. “conservative” struggle. That struggle is there and shouldn’t be ignored, but that is not the point of this article. My point is that all Christian movements in the West have struggled with the transition to post-Christendom. We have reacted in different ways: The mainline churches have said, “let’s accommodate the church’s doctrine to the latest cultural social demands and maybe they will like us again.” [Surely an oversimplification.] The evangelicals have said, “Let’s preach part of the gospel, downplay the negative, costly side, and keep our services lively and entertaining, without a lot of demands.” [Again, Surely an oversimplification.] But neither “solution” is sustainable. We need robust Christian identity, transformed lives, and a kingdom vision for society, all linked with a deep commitment to catechesis. The “bar” must be raised, not lowered”  (Timothy C. Tennent, Post-Christendom and Global Christianity (Part I), posted June 9, 2009).

Despite the oversimplifications of such differing viewpoints, the essential thrust of the comment is accurate.  Regardless of where one is positioned on the social and theological spectrum of current Protestant Christianity, we are deeply engaged in a struggle between Christianity and Culture in today’s chaos.  We are a people of the cross, the graves, the skies.”  (How do we both reject a cultural sell-out of Christianity to the present age and stay deeply engaged with the culture and society we called in the name of Christ to transform?)

Roughly a century ago William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, famously commented, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”  Surely Dean Inge is correct and yet … We must in the name of Christ engage our present age.  Christian retreat from the chaos of our times is neither faithful nor helpful.  It is at this critical juncture that the Wesleyan version of biblical Christianity speaks again to our time.  It is at this crucial temporal and eternal crossroads that the Wesleyan vision of holiness of heart and life address the moral and ethical anarchy of our time.  We are not married to the values and outlook of the present age.  Simultaneously in the name of Christ, at whose name every knee shall one day bow, we choose to engage our morally chaotic world.  Furthermore we recognize that good faithful Christians will differ in viewpoint even as they wrestle appropriately together with how we go about “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

To be continued next week.

In a Mirror Dimly ©

Lost in one of the truly greatest passages of literature ever written is the phrase, “now we see in a mirror dimly.”  It occurs in the famous love chapter of I Corinthians 13.  We all know how the 13th chapter, the 13th verse ends, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13, NRSV).  It is the verse just before this that is often lost, ignored or casually skipped over.  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12, NRSV).  Virtually without regard to background or conviction (Christian or non-, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, ethnicity or nationality, gender or gender preference, etc.) we members of the human race can ascribe to the notion and need for love to be ultimately triumphant and central to life.

It is the truth of verse 12 that trips us up.  Despite our best intentions and deepest convictions we see both truth and love in a mirror dimly.  What appears to be most loving is often lost in the cacophony of modern life and chaos of the politics of our time (including church politics!).  What purports to be a beacon of truth at best blinks through the shadowed fog of our present age.  The Apostle Paul wrote for us as well as for the Corinthian church.  We see in a mirror dimly.  Seeing dimly, we live in an age of anxiety.  Core values (both those in the culture and in the church) once again are caught in deep dispute and up for grabs.  William Butler Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming” once again rakes our nerves and jolts our deeper reflections.

The first stanza appears to be written for our time.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

One of the more memorable speeches I have heard was given by Dr. George Hunter at Community of Joy Lutheran Church back in the mid-1990s.  In the speech, Dr. Hunter introduced me for the first time to the disintegration of foundational enlightenment values (i.e. science reigned supreme and could solve our problems, an ethical consensus built on the centrality of reason and humanistic values supported by the world’s major religions held sway, with enough effort we humans could solve all our problems, human kind was/is essentially good, etc.).  The phrase which has stayed with me over a two-decade long period of observation and learning was that we are watching/living through the collapse of the enlightenment values and convictions.  Indeed, the center is not holding.

And yet, we who claim to follow Christ in all our widely varied differences come back again and again to the notion that Christ is the Center.  The great Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, gave a principled lecture on Christ the Center at the University of Berlin in 1933.  Published posthumously through a reconstruction of his notes in a book of the same title (Christ the Center), Bonhoeffer begins simply.  “Jesus is the Christ present as the Crucified and Risen One” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, p. 43).  In a time plagued by Hitler’s theories of the master race and convictions of “might making right,” Bonhoeffer stepped courageously into a seething future anchored on core orthodox truth.

We who see in a mirror dimly need his advice and example for our time.  Yet precisely because we at best see only dimly discerning the correct outlines of such truth, this will not be easy.

The New York Times called Allan Bloom’s famous book The Closing of the American Mind (published in the late 1980s) “That rarest of documents, a genuinely profound book.”  Bloom’s opening posits the issue which is before the church as well as the culture to this very day.  “There is one thing” he writes, “a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative” (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, p. 25).

It is just such a debate which is sweeping across present day Christianity.  As I have written in an earlier blog this year, the claim of “alternative facts” challenges the very conception of the Christian faith regardless of our political persuasions. To deliberately reiterate:  If, as some assert, truth is relative (without, we might carefully add, any notion of relative to what!) and radical equality of thought parades itself forward as the Zeus of modern intellectualism, then what pray tell is the center?  Put differently, we are struggling to discern the outlines of what it means to say one is a Christian.  This debate is sharpened between the polarities of a vague theism and a high Christology.  The debate itself rests on an understanding of the authority of Scripture (a least for those who claim to be the inheritors of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura) and historic claims of precisely what constitutes Christian orthodoxy.

While we in the United Methodist Church are swept up in the larger cultural debates of our time, we nonetheless as Christians hold to some faith distinctives.  The earliest creedal claim that “Jesus is Lord” is declaration of who rules us as a people of faith over and above the politics, culture and tumult of our time.  At our best, it is this deeper struggle which lies behind questions of Christian morality including same gender weddings and who may be appropriately ordained elder, etc.  Furthermore, this same debate, at least for Christians, decisively shapes (or ought to shape) our convictions about health care coverage and the appropriate response to terrorism, etc.

Over the coming weeks I hope to write on some of the Wesleyan distinctives and the way they might impact our best thinking and motivate our deepest praying.  I hope to do so in a context of asking careful questions about our relationship and witness to secular culture in the wider framework of what it means to be Christian.  I make no pretense to being able to resolve the current moral debates which wrack both our society and our church.  Rather, I hope to add a modest voice which might encourage deeper reflection.

I start this writing venture with a deep sense of hope.  This, the United Methodist Church, is the Lord’s church and not ours!  Maybe Yeats’ marvelous closing to the his great poem “The Second Coming” best offers us hope as the centers cannot hold and we can only “see in a mirror dimly.”

   Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats)

Conference Core Team Focuses on the WIG ©

Sunday afternoon, February 26th, the Central Texas Conference Core Team gathered to continue our work determining the WIG for the Conference’s future. I have written briefly on the concept of WIG before. The acronym WIG, in this instance, means the Wildly Important Goal. It is based on the seminal work of Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling and published in their book, The Four Disciplines of Execution.

Pause for a moment and think: What is the one wildly important goal for your church (and/or the Central Texas Conference) to accomplish in the next decade What one thing, if you do it well, will make a strategic and major difference for the life of faith and witness for your church (Conference) in continuing pursuit of the overall witness of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?” It seems like an easy exercise, but in fact, it is not. Typically, as soon as we select one item/strategic goal, we are convicted of some critically important objectives that are left out. In most cases, our list of important strategic objectives quickly grow to five or six items – if not more! Each of those items is important. Each is worthy of attention and ministry. Each has a strong biblical foundation. Narrowing the list of WIG(s) to one (ideally) or two strategic objectives is hard!

Counterintuitively, the research is clear. If you have more than one or two goals, the possibility of accomplishing the goal(s) goes down exponentially! Why? Because good ideas and goals get lost in the day to day “whirlwind” of activities and survival. McChesney, Covey and Huling state “the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity” (The Four Disciplines of Execution, p. 25).  They go on to write, “The greatest challenge you face in narrowing your goals is simply that it requires you to say no to a lot of good ideas. 4DX [i.e. the Four Disciplines of Execution] may even mean saying no to some great ideas, at least for now. Nothing is more counterintuitive for a leader than saying no to a good idea, and nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes” (The Four Disciplines of Execution, p. 28).

As the core team wrestled with this concept, we tended to jump to tactics without really focusing on the precise WIG. This exercise required deep discussion and hard choices. Clarity is king; actually Christ is King and clarity is the handmaid of faithful ministry in his name.

A second piece of focus on the WIG is the ability to know whether or not we have reached the goal. A simple formula is to be able to say “we will move X to Y by When, with X representing the measurable strategic objective; Y being our goal; and When being our target completion date. The level of specificity challenges our focus. It forces us to move beyond the vaguely theoretical.

As the Core Team wrestled with the WIG, we focused on one specific wildly important goal:  To increase the market share by worship attendance plus professions of faith (which includes those who come in a restored relationship). If this takes place, lives are transformed by and for Christ! The X to Y by When = the Worship Attendance market share (which is currently 1% of the population) to 1.25% by 2026 (our ten year target goal).

No matter what we come up with, some will accuse us of trying to save a dying institution. It is a bogus or false argument. Gone is the day that attending worship is simply culturally appropriate. To worship today is a counter cultural activity. Lives will be transformed in Christ-centered discipleship if this WIG is to be reached.

Worship and professions of faith are foundational ways we measure what it means to be a disciple. Are they the only measurements? Absolutely not! Are they cardinal measurements?  Absolutely!! The distinction is crucial. Is worship more than Sunday morning? Quadruple absolutely!!! Thus measuring worship in new faith communities is crucial. In fact, the denominational measurement for worship attendance has included a wider dimension than merely Sunday morning since before 2012.

Professions of faith, which should include those who joined a church on a restored relationship to Christ and his church, is an additional, crucial part of the WIG. Combined with worship attendance, the two make up a critical measurement of discipleship formation. For someone who is coming back to the Christian faith as an adult, becoming a part of the church on a “restored” relationship is a life-transforming event. In a radical way, Christ is confessed anew as Lord and Savior!

But just know that the key is that local churches will decide for themselves how they will reach their goals. The Conference Core Team and the conference staff exist to energize and equip the local churches, not dictate strategy and tactics. We know that you know your congregations and communities best. So, this isn’t about pushing programs or policies. This is about keeping Christ at the center and focusing on the local church and a combination of lay & clergy leadership together. So stay tuned!

Conclave and Kenya ©

Like many of you, my year has begun with a full slate of ministry activities.  It began January 3rd with a day and a half in the office to answer emails and plow through paperwork accumulated from the Christmas – New Year break time.  The afternoon of January 4th I drove to Austin, Texas for the twice yearly South Central Bishops Conclave.  The Conclave is a gathering of the active (i.e. residential or non-retired) bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church under the sponsorship of the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF).  It is an invaluable time of learning and sharing.  Using the Harvard Business School case study approach, we wrestle together with leadership challenges facing us and the church as a whole in our work.  Often we have a special presentation on a critical subject or issue facing the church.  We engage in this time of significant learning and sharing under the guidance of Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant for TMF.  His most recent article on Courage is a seminally insightful document about leadership in the Protestant Church in America during the second decade if the 21st Century. The Conclave is one of the most valuable times of learning that I have.

 I arrived home from the Bishops’ Conclave on Friday evening in time to finish packing for a Saturday morning flight to Kenya (via Dubai).  For the second time it is my great privilege to take part in an ongoing ministry the Central Texas Conference has (along with about 10 other U.S. Conferences and teams from Germany and the British Methodist Church.  Many churches and individuals from across the Central Texas Conference (CTC) have been involved in this God-honoring ministry.  Dr. Ken Diehm, then Senior Pastor of First UMC, Grapevine, Texas helped pioneer this work.  On this trip, under the leadership of Rev. Dawne Phillips, Director of Missions for CTC and Dr. Randy Wild, Executive Director of the Center for Mission Support, we have joined a key group from the Oregon-Idaho Conference led by Rev. Jim Monroe and Rev. Sue Owen.  Jim and Sue have served as pastors and District Superintendents in Oregon and more recently as missionaries at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya.

 Bishop nThombura asked that we come back to share in teaching clergy along with engaging in other critical mission ministry.  Jim Monroe and I have spent the two previous days teaching a seminar on the Bible and Preaching for pastors in the Methodist Church of Kenya (MCK) at Kenya Methodist University (KeMU).  It was an exciting and challenging time of teaching.  Some of the Pastors have seminary degrees from Schools of Theology in Kenya, England and the United States.  We dealt with a question related to the controversial “Jesus Seminar” and I had a challenging conversation with a graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary in DC.  Other pastors have very little education and almost anything we can share is greeted with appreciation. We will be heading to Nairobi, to repeat our two-day seminar there.  Overall, we will have addressed approximately 350 to 400 pastors.

 Meanwhile the combined team made of folks from both Conferences have been holding a medical clinic out in a remote area of Kenya that does not have regular access to medical treatment.  Sharing with schools (a deworming clinic, supplies, etc.), the ongoing historic work of Methodism in education is bearing rich fruit in Kenya!

 While the outlying clinic work is taking place, half of our combined group has been rotating in and out working on a project high in the hills.  Through the great ministry of Maua Methodist Hospital, a single mother of four (including a three month old infant) with AIDS (from the Father of the infant who has disappeared) was living in a shack (barely standing) made of two wood walls and two plastic sheets.  It is poverty and desperation at its worst and lowest.  Additionally the elderst daughter (11 years old) also has AIDS.  A Christian neighbor brought her tremendous need to the attention of the hospital and working together hospital staff, the local village and our mission team have built a house for the family (two rooms; the kitchen is outside and the “restroom” is about 15 feet behind the house) in one short week!  Frank Briggs, Jim McClurg, Randy Wild, and Tom Larson (from Bend, Oregon) left before dawn over nearly impassible roads to finish the house building before the 11 am community wide celebration and dedication of the house.  It was a Kenyan version of an emergency “Habitat” house build!

 Tomorrow I have been asked to preach and assist Bishop nThombura in the installation of a new Synod Bishop in Thaarka, Kenya.  A Synod Bishop is the equivalent of our District Superintendents.  (Bishop nThombura is called the Presiding Bishop.)  While I am there, the rest of the team will be spread out preaching at other churches in the area.  We are tired but phenomenally blessed by this ongoing shared ministry.  The CTC and its member churches should be deeply gratified to learn that the ministry so many of our congregations have taken part in is continuing to share the Word and Way of Christ.  Together we are sharing with Christians around the world in building a vibrant Christian witness in Kenya! 

 I must give a special shout out to Grapevine UMC in closing.  There is a “Guest House” (the Kenyan version of a Retreat Center) in Meru, Kenya (the center of Methodism in Kenya) named after Dr. Ken Diehm.  I had visited it two years earlier and after our Pastors School presentation I got to stop by for a brief visit again.  The work continues to go forward.  Most of the 2nd floor is now finished and initial construction is taking place on the 3rd floor.  For those who are from the CTC, think of the Diehm Guest House as their Glen Lake.  I learned that follow-up teams from First UMC Grapevine have continued to come and work on the Guest House.  What a tremendous blessing of faithfulness!  This is truly a work of the Lord.

 We will land at DFW the afternoon of January 22nd after a 6 hour flight from Nairobi to Dubai and a 14 hour flight form Dubai to DFW.  After a day of sleeping and recovery, I hope to be back in the office on Tuesday, January 24th.  We have a Cabinet meeting coming up on January 30th.

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.

Deep Discipleship ©

While we wrestle with deep divisions about much in The United Methodist Church these days, we are in strong agreement that our collective mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Such a great grand mission erupts from the Great Commission of Christ given in the closing paragraph of St. Matthew’s sweeping Gospel (Good News!).  “Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

As I have shared in Episcopal Addresses both to the Central Texas Conference and to the South Central Jurisdiction, “Jesus doesn’t want fans.  He wants committed disciplined followers.”  The dilemma for us is that over the last ½ century plus we have been a low demand church with a high commitment theology.  The two don’t mix well.  Now we find ourselves struggling to move from cultural attachment to the church to deep discipleship to Jesus.

In my recent readings, I’ve been working through Deep Church Rising  by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry.  In chapter 8, “Deep Transformation: Recovering Catechesis” (which is worth the price of the book alone) the authors note, “living as a Christian in modernity and post-modernity is quite different from living as a Christian before the Reformation.  The sacred canopy of a Christian culture is now virtually gone and the social structures that made Christian belief and lifestyle plausible are no longer in place.  It is harder to believe than it used to be – not because there are better arguments against Christianity than there used to be but simply because the plausibility structures are not in place.  If we want to be conformed to the image of Christ, if we are serious about spiritual formation and discipleship and the plausibility of Christianity in the modern West, then going to a church meeting for a couple of hours a week and having a five-minute ‘quiet time ‘ each day is hardly going to do the trick”  (Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising, p.132).

A part of what fascinates me about Walker & Parry’s detailed insistence on the recovery of catechesis (religious instruction for baptism, confirmation, and life-long discipleship) is the way it dove tails with so many other writings on discipleship.  The importance of deep discipleship training is strongly emphasized in Kenda Creasy Dean’s marvelous book Almost Christian.  It is echoed in the writing of people like Mike Slaughter.  And the list could continue to include many solid authors and Christian leaders across the theological spectrum.  Taken together they point us in the direction of a serious recovery of adult discipleship and training.  This is no small task but rather one that necessitates great commitment and a move away from a simple 6-week curriculum approach.  Walker and Parry note that “According to the Apostolic Tradition, catechesis was a journey that lasted for three years.”  They added:  “catechesis functioned as a kind of decompression chamber that took those seeking entry into the church on a transformative journey, climaxing in baptism and full entry into the Christian Community” (Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising, pp. 133-134).

Such deep discipleship formation training (catechesis) is a far cry from an invitation to come down and commit or recommit your life to Christ at the close of the worship service and possibly take a one to four hour class on Methodism and the church.  [As an aside, one can make a case for coming forward and making a public commitment/ recommitment to Christ and His Church which includes a follow-on commitment to join an extensive class in Christian formation and discipleship after such a public commitment.]

I am reminded of two quotes that Dr. Dean carefully places in the forefront of her book:

“An almost Christian … [chiefly] is one that … is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart.”  — George Whitefield, “The Almost Christian” (1739)

“The Church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ.”  — John Wesley, “The Almost Christian” (1741)

Reflecting on all this and the concomitant need for small groups (ala the Class Meeting) in deep discipleship formation, the Holy Spirit guides me to one of the towering challenges facing the church of today.  Put bluntly, no matter where one is on the spectrum of church dividing issues (holding fast to current Disciplinary language with regard to LGBTQI questions all the way to being in favor of completely opening the Discipline up with regard to ordination & same gender marriage; or for that matter any other divisive issues – abortion, war, racism, theology, Bible, the role/power of the laity, etc. etc.) deep discipleship is desperately needed.  Casual Christians cannot meet the cry of our divided, terror driven world.  Almost Christians will not answer the Great Commission of Christ to go to “all the nations.” (The Greek word translated in Matthew 28:19 is the root for our word “ethnicities” or ethnic.)  Fans for Christ will not suffice to heed the challenge of advancing the Kingdom of God in love, justice and mercy.  We need committed disciplined followers.

The Lord calls for deep discipleship from ourselves and others.  A new and deeper form of discipleship formation or catechesis is a requirement.  Together we need to recreate the deep discipleship training which the early Christian movement so instinctively embraced.

THE COURAGE TO MARCH ©: Part 1

Central Texas Conference Episcopal Address given June 6, 2016 by Bishop J. Michael Lowry

PART I – “A New Thing”

 I am mindful what day today is as I stand to speak to you. This is the day is the 72nd anniversary of what is commonly known as simply “D-Day.”  Historically the reference is to the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6th in 1944 hurling back the forces of evil as represented in the scourge of Nazi Germany and most particularly in the Holocaust.  The horrors of that day, especially on Omaha Beach, have been duly documented and even highlighted by the opening scenes from Saving Private Ryan.  What cannot be doubted from the distance of time and space which history gives us is the role of courage in establishing a new future.  A free Europe and free America and much of the rest of the world’s freedom exists because to their sacrifice.  We are the beneficiaries of their courage and must humbly offer our gratitude.

I start at this grim juncture in no way to offer some misguided glorification of war.  Those who have valiantly served in combat know full well that its horrors are not to be wished on anyone.  Rather I pause to remember on this special anniversary because we too as Christ followers must summon up the courage to march.

Audentes Fortuna Iuvat, the Roman phrase variously translated from Virgil means “fortune (or history) favors the brave.” It is no mistake that biblically often the first word from the Lord is “fear not.” It is the angelic message ringing out to the shepherds in their field on Christmas Eve. “Fear not” is the clarion call of the risen Savior at Easter Sunrise. “Fear not” is the word the Lord speaks to us this day.

The Greeks had a saying: “When Cicero spoke we said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke we said, ‘Let us march.’”[1] Friends, the risen Christ stands this day and says again to us, let us march! “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[2]  He commands.  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”[3]

We live in the fading twilight of Christendom. We know this truth. With some notable exceptions, young people are not flooding into our churches. Public opinion regards religious truth claims falsely as vague matters of private truth.   Large swaths of the American culture have dismissed the Christian faith as an antiquated set of opinions to held by the terminally pious.

While the damn is close to breaking over the fragile unity of “mainline” Methodism, simultaneously something remarkable and remarkably good is taking place. God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is at work!  Verses 19 and 20 of Isaiah 43 springs to mind.  “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.”[4]

You will no doubt remember the context of this famous passage.  Israel has been defeated.  The leaders are scattered into exile.  It is hard to imagine life getting worse let alone getting better.  Yet in the darkness before the dawn the Prophet speaks of God doing a new thing.  Do you recall the introductory lines of verses 16 & 17 of Isaiah 43?  “The Lord says—who makes a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and battalion; they will lie down together and will not rise; they will be extinguished, extinguished like a wick.”[5]  Allow me to suggest that something like this is again taking place under the Lord’s presence and power through the Holy Spirit.  We are experiencing a new spring of faithful orthodoxy and congregational vitality bubbling around us.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I think the United Methodist Church as we know it (the phrase “as we know it” is a towering qualifier) is slowly collapsing around us.  This slow motion collapse may take a long time to play out and then again it may hit a tipping point and cascade rapidly downward.  Either way, it will be painful, and cause heartache and much anxiety. But this is not the real story.  The real tale we gather to take note of is referenced in the Isaiah 43:19-20.  “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.”[6]  The decaying Christendom bureaucracy (which I too, to a very real degree, represent) masks the beginnings of a remarkable rebirth of the Christian faith and church involving a healthy Wesleyan Christian Orthodoxy at the heart of its expression.

Consider some of the antidotal (or narrative) evidence:

  • The Central Texas Conference showed a growth this past year in most categories of congregational vitality. Just this last week going over the April report on the Vital Signs of Congregational Vitality, I noticed that Alliance UMC showed a 27% gain in worship attendance; First Corsicana reported a 37% increase; St. Stephens in Arlington showed a 433% gain in professions of faith; both First Mansfield and Bethel in Waxahachie reported more than a 1,000% increase in professions of faith. There is a continuing rise in mission engagement with the poor both locally and globally. Extravagant Generosity is common. Our Connectional Mission Giving (CMG) or what is mistakenly referred to as “Apportionments” are the highest paid to date in 9 years, and we have paid 100% 8 out of the last 10 years. We think that is the best record in the United States. (With perhaps only the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference doing better.) I could go on but you get the drift.
  • Those pastors who have an orthodox coherent theology are showing far more fruitfulness than those who lean on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Put bluntly, the churches they pastor are the churches more likely to survive and thrive. [Carefully please note: I am not asserting that this is axiomatically the same as being theologically or politically conservative. Rather it is about an uncompromising gospel orientation that slices across our conventional labels.]
  • Methodist Justice Ministry, an off-shoot of First UMC, Fort Worth led by Rev. Brooks Harrington, is engaging in incredible work for those who are the most vulnerable among us – children. They are living out the great focus area of the church in ministry with the poor. So too is JFON, Justice for Our Neighbors. Their outreach among immigrants includes partnerships with the Texas Methodist Foundation and churches all across the Conference. You will be hearing shortly about the exciting launch of Project Transformation in the Central Texas Conference which combines ministry with the poor and leadership development. Project Transformation reaches out to connect children in need with college students in witness and service to churches in mission.
  • We are seeing signs of witness and creative evangelistic outreach in combination with radical hostility. Hamilton UMC has taken a food pantry and partnered with the local extension agent to offer a cooking class to those they serve in the food pantry. Members also take the class. Together, they share their faith in a non-pressured way at a common meal. New people have joined the church and joined the faith through this simple act of combining caring with an explicit witness. Olney UMC has started a Tuesday Night Boys for young post-high school men who don’t go to college. They teach each other life skills and share the faith in a natural setting. It has already brought 10 new young men into their faith community and faith in Christ.
  • We are beginning to see the results of strong reinvestment in Campus Ministry through our Wesley Foundations, which is resulting in a new lay and clergy leadership for the church.
  • The Vital Leadership Academy is developing a new generation of lay leaders built on in-depth discipleship growth.
  • The gnawing spiritual hunger which surrounds us (even engulfs us) is finding its thirst quenched at the fount of orthodox theology; especially orthodox Wesleyan theology. The fashionable Protestant progressivism of American high culture increasingly looks like an emperor with no clothes. Opportunities for in-depth spiritual formation and biblical growth exist in every (let me emphasize!) every church! People are hungry. Pastors, lay leaders, feed them!
  • The rise in interest for deep spiritual formation fed by groups like the new monastic movement (which is in part located within the Central Texas Conference, The Missional Wisdom Foundation, Renovare, the Apprentice Institute, and the works of Dallas Willard & Richard Rohr among many others offer a real sign of the inherent attraction of embracing once again a core Christologically centered and genuinely Trinitarian expression of the Christian faith embraced within the shell of modern United Methodism. (This includes some of those who at best only flirt with orthodoxy.)
  • The hunger and growth of interest in authentic seeking after God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as evidence by the popularity of Kevin Watson’s The Class Meeting, the continuing works of Eugene Peterson, and The Five Day Upper Room Academy for Spirit Formation (led in our Conference by Dr. Bob Holloway, Dean of the Cabinet) offer evidence of the reemergence of interest in deep discipleship. This is a nascent struggling movement but I submit that the careful observer can see a new budding of a deeply faithful expression of orthodox Christianity.[7] It is a natural outgrowth of the spiritual hunger around us and of our growing desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ. [Incidentally Dr. Watson will be our Conference teacher next year.]
  • All across the Conference, we are increasingly aware that attempts to split doctrine and practice (or orthodoxy and orthopraxy) are inherently destructive. When orthopraxy is split off from a deep connection to orthodoxy, the Christian faith is cut off from its life giving roots. The resultant expression of Christianity is emaciated and inevitably entering a death spiral. When orthopraxy is neglected then orthodoxy is a dead faith signifying nothing and essentially worthless. Remember the admonition of James, “Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all?”[8] The two must go together!
  • One kind of church is fading, the declining old mainline with its renewed emphasis on missional outreach largely divorced from an explicit gospel witness (which hence comes across as an advanced version of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). The other kind is an orthodox vibrant expression of the church lived out in outwardly focused orthopraxy; which can’t help but reach across ethnic and class lines. For an example, just catch the vibrancy of Harvest UMC, One Fellowship UMC in Waco, Rockbridge UMC on our southern border, Disciple Church (an evolution of the 7th Street experiment which is now a part of First Fort Worth) and Whites Chapel’s work with Path 1 out of Discipleship Ministries. All of them in various ways are combinations of both new churches and transforming partnerships with existing churches. We are seeing emerging churches passionately outwardly focused in ways that are evangelistically as well as missionally engaged with the growing non-Christian environment.

I could go on but I trust you follow my argument.  God is never left without witnesses.  There are signs of new life all around us.  What is both disturbing and hopeful is that this new life struggles to fit into the existing United Methodist Church culture.  In an April report on Congregational Vitality, the Central Texas Conference has increased to 29% in the number of vital congregations in the period from 2010 through 2014 – a 7% increase.  This is an excellent report but it is not good enough.  Why not a four year goal to have over 50% of our congregations listed as vital congregations?  (Incidentally that would make us the highest in the nation by a large margin.)  Christ as head of the church calls for our best.  The Savior and Lord deserves our best.  In Oswald Chambers inimitable phrase, “My[Our] Utmost for His Highest!”

 

[1]               https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Demosthenes
[2]               Acts 1:8
[3]               Matthew 28:19-20
[4]               Isaiah 43:19-20
[5]               Isaiah 43:16-17
[6]               Isaiah 43:19-20
[7]              see Deep Church Rising: The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry
[8]               James 2:20

Statement to the Clergy Executive Session

of the Central Texas Conference Of the United Methodist Church
Shared with Opening Plenary Session of the 2016 Central Texas Conference, June 6, 2016

As most, if not all of you are aware, the recently concluded General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon adopted a statement of action put forth by the Council of Bishops entitled “An Offering of a Way Forward.”  Among other things, it establishes a Commission to seek a way forward for the United Methodist Church which upholds the unity of the church amid our deep diversity and disagreement over issues of human sexuality.  Furthermore the statement calls for a Called General Conference sometime in the next quadrennium to receive the Commission’s report and act on possible recommendations.

Near the end of the adopted report is the following statement by the Council of Bishops: “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.”

It has been erroneously reported that this involves a moratorium on complaints and charges related to the presiding over same gender wedding. This is not so.  Please carefully understand the operative sentence.  “WE [the Bishops of the United Methodist Church] will uphold the Discipline.”  Should you choose to violate the Disciplinary provisions on same gender weddings, a complaint will be brought against you and if necessary charges will be filed.  Church law in The Discipline of the United Methodist Church has not been suspended. I will seek to live in grace pursuing meaningful just resolutions, but such just resolutions will be significant and have consequences.  I will up hold The Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

I ask all of us, lay and clergy alike, to pray for the church as a whole and all individuals affected (both those in favor of a change and those opposed). Together may we explore ways to “live in grace with one another.”

I commend to you strongly the We Are More campaign initiated by the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction (including myself) and the Communication Directors of the member Conferences (including our own Vance Morton).  We are more, far more as a church than simply wrangling about how we understand controversial social issues that confront us and society in general. I urge your careful attention to our #WeAreMore website and social media properties and the outstanding, life changing work of Jesus Christ in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

My friends, God is at work in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Lives are being transformed, disciples are being made and people are loved. Amid the clashing confusion of our time the Kingdom of God is moving forward!

Council of Bishops Letter to the Church ©

Bishop Lowry presiding over a plenary session at General Conference 2016

Bishop Lowry presiding over a plenary session at General Conference 2016

Members of the Council of Bishops delayed their leaving Portland, Ore. following the end General Conference 2016 by a day and came together to work on issues referred to us by the General Conference. In major part, we worked to share a common understanding with regard to the adoption of “An Offering for a Way Forward” – a statement from the Council of Bishops on Human Sexuality, which establishes a Commission on Human Sexuality based on action by the 2016 General Conference. You can read this statement at ctcumc.org/COB-awayforward.

It is important to faithfully consider the contents of the statement from the Council of Bishops, which was adopted by General Conference. My colleague, Bishop Scott Jones, resident bishop of the Great Plains Conference UMC, has written a useful summary, which I share with his permission below.

“Please read the statement carefully, and study it closely. It has many important sections about prayer, continuing conversation, and the unity we have in Christ. At the same time, there have been social media statements, which are based on misunderstandings of the document. The following key points will help you understand what it does and does not say:

  • We [The United Methodist Council of Bishops] are committed to the unity of The United Methodist Church and will seek to strengthen it.
  • We will lead the church in every part of the world in times of worship, study, discernment, confession and prayer for God’s guidance.
  • We are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other, rather than separation from one another.
  • We have heard that some believe there is “contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate language concerning human sexuality in the Book of Discipline.” However, no agreement about the truth or falsity of this claim has been reached, either by the Council of Bishops or by the General Conference.
  • The Council of Bishops will form a commission to study all of the paragraphs in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. The subject has been referred to this commission, which will be named sometime between now and Nov. 2, 2016.
  • The Council of Bishops may choose to call a special session of the General Conference before 2020 to deal with recommendations of the commission. No decision has been made about whether this is a wise use of the church’s money and time.
  • The Council of Bishops will have conversations about how the church can best live in grace with one another, including discussion about ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm.
  • The bishops will uphold the discipline of the Church while these conversations continue.
  • All provisions of the 2012 Book of Discipline on matters of human sexuality will remain in force until a General Conference changes them.”

We are more, far more as a church than simply wrangling about how we understand controversial social issues that confront us and society in general. I urge your careful attention to our #WeAreMore web site and social media properties and the outstanding, life-changing work of Jesus Christ in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally the Bishops have shared an open letter to the church which can be found at ctcumc.org/COBGC16letter.

My friends, God is at work in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Lives are being transformed, disciples are being made and people are loved. Amid the clashing confusion of our time the Kingdom of God is moving forward!

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