March 5, 2014
Ash Wednesday: Basic Needs
Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly. Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. – Isaiah 58:6-8
Lent begins today, with Ash Wednesday. Whether you mark it attending a service at a place of worship, by the imposition of ashes, or with some other practice, we join in this season of the Christian Year where Christians all over the world focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.
As you begin to carve out that space in your life to grow closer to the Divine, start by asking:
What are the basic needs in my community? How might I participate in meeting those needs?
Share with us through word, photo or video by posting on social media, what it is you discover in your community, your neighborhood, your place of worship, school or work.
Several months ago, Adam and I were cleaning out and organizing our space in the Conference Center in Charleston when we came across this book:
I tucked it away in the back of my head, wondering if there would be a way to repurpose the drawing on the cover.
We don’t have many images that say who we are here in the West Virginia Conference. But this hand-drawn piece of cover art created in 1976 by Mary Jane Brown for the book, “The Ministers of the West Virginia Conference,” was intriguing. It includes Garrett County, Maryland, and it illustrates our history as Methodist people.
I love the cross and flame logo that identifies the larger United Methodist Church worldwide, but this drawing brings it home. That’s why we have chosen it as a new logo for our print and digital media publications - which will fall under a new name: The Mountain Circuit.
The Mountain Circuit will be a quarterly journal that records and reports on the spiritual life of the West Virginia Annual Conference. It will be the place where we stretch creatively. There are many of you who write beautiful long-form pieces - sermons, liturgies, blog posts, etc. The Mountain Circuit will be a place those pieces of connection for our conference can call home.
In addition, we will also print a newsletter 10 times per year that contains the “nuts and bolts” information that people in the conference need to have to plan the church year. This month’s edition is the SeptCircuit, the issues that follow will be named for the month in which they are published.
Both of these publications will be available as digital pieces as well - to anybody who wants them. All we need is an email address to send them to you.
For years, The West Virginia United Methodist has faithfully recorded the life of our conference. We will honor that publication’s history in the first edition of The Mountain Circuit, which stands proudly on its predecessor’s shoulders. Look for the first edition at the end of 2013.
The communications team has put a tremendous amount of prayer, thought and discussion into our new direction.
We are building the bridge as we walk on it, but are confident that with God’s help, and yours, these changes will serve the common good that is the West Virginia Conference.
Blessings and Peace,
Best church billboard: 2.13.13
I admit it. January and February are tough months for me. Appalachian winters can be dark, stark and maddening. It’s not uncommon to go for days without seeing the sun.
And yet, winter can be beautiful, too. The day I snapped this photo was a day that started with a meeting in Beckley, with more meetings waiting on the other side of my drive.
For years, I’ve driven past the Plum Orchard Lake exit on I-77. On that day, a busy day that felt jam-packed with no time to spare, I decided to stop. As my little Honda Civic worked its way down a road it was not designed for, I wondered about my choice.
At the end of the road, a small lake appeared. I wandered around for a good 20 minutes, snapping pictures of ice and rocks, and I caught the sun looking a little like the moon.
The purpose of my stop was to simply remember that there’s more to life than task check-offs and endless email. Social media can wait just a few minutes. Really. It will still be there when I get back. All the stuff I do that gives me the illusion that I’m in control is a haze that keeps me from the source: Yahweh, Almighty God, my Creator.
Lent begins today, and my Internet research brought me to this definition of the season:
"In our busy world, Lent provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon our patterns, to pray more deeply, experience sorrow for what we’ve done and failed to do, and to be generous to those in need."
For me, Lent this year will be a time to reflect upon the pattern of constant work. I will take time to be attentive to my prayer life. And, I’m going to do more than I have been to help those who are in need.
I wish you a blessed Lent. May you find deep connection with God during this holy season.
Laura Harbert Allen is director of communications for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“We share with many Christian communities a recognition of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith, the confession that our justification as sinners is by grace through faith, and sober realization that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal.”
- The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, pg. 44
This sentence means we should be in a state of flux, always ready to change to meet the current needs of sinners in order to bring them into the Kingdom of God. How long has it been since the church has changed? I am not talking about change for the sake of change! The change we should make is to reach our friends and neighbors for Christ. Change to reach young adults and youth who are bored to tears if found in our worship services. How do we change to be attractive to this segment of our communities? An important change we need to make is to be authentic. Many young people feel we are hypocritical and not living our lives in a manner that is a reflection of Christ.
- Rich Shaffer
Rich is Lay Leader for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. You can read the sermon he preached at the training even for WV Conference ministry teams here.
The mad rush to get out the door was a little different at my house today. Both of my daughters were getting their red, white and blue clothing just right. The high school principal asked everyone to wear those colors today to remember 9-11.
As I watched my high school senior get ready, I went back to September 11, 2001. She was a first grader, just a few days into a new school year in a new school. The day unfolded, to my horror, while she was in school. Parents were asked leave their children at school for the day, and I complied.
I wasn’t sure what to do when she came home, or how much she knew. I was relieved to learn that the faculty and administration at Nutter Fort Elementary decided they wouldn’t turn the TV on in front of the students. My daughter stepped off the bus largely unaware that our nation had been shaken by unimaginable and unspeakable tragedy – and that no one was sure what would happen next.
Her mother, the leader of a United Methodist Church, was mostly unsure of what to do next. When the church administrative assistant asked what to tell people when they called, all I could say was tell them that to meet at the church at 7:00 pm to pray.
And, so we prayed together as a community for the next few nights. Miles and miles away from people whose lives had been turned upside down by death and destruction, we prayed for those who had lost, and for the innocence that we had all lost.
In the last 11 years, we seem to have outgrown our innocence as a nation. We went through our orange alert, hypervigilant days. We seem now to have become older and wiser – more mature about the dangers of the world and our responsibility in it.
Or maybe that’s just the way I see it, through the eyes of a mother observing a young woman who is a high school senior. I marvel at my daughter who has chosen the way of peace, who will go a few days after Christmas on a Mission of Peace. And, I pray that we will have the wisdom to follow the lead of these young ones who have lived through our most fearful days as a nation, and still seek to reach out to a world that God created and called good.
Rev. Amy Shanholtzer is the director of evangelism and congregational development for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. She was the pastor of Duff Street UMC on Sept. 11, 2001.
What’s your “elevator speech? Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball distills what she believes congregational development is in this 25 second snippet:
"Why wouldn’t you want to give another person life,” is the question the bishop poses at the end of her explanation.
She also talks about the church as “a dynamic network of faith communities.” Partnerships with other churches (United Methodist and otherwise), she believes, are part of how we reach people in our cities and towns for Christ.
I caught up with Bishop Steiner Ball during the School of Congregational Development (SCD) last week in St. Louis Missouri (next year’s event is August 15 - 19 in Denver, CO, btw). You can read more about SCD on their website - and in this article on GBGM’s website. GBGM, GBOD, and Path 1 co-sponsored the event.
I’ll be going through the rest of the interview all week, so look for more here soon. Adam and I are also working on the fall edition of theWest Virginia United Methodist this week. The cover story for this issue will feature Bishop Steiner Ball - and it will be released digitally first, in early September.
- - Thanks for reading and listening - -
"Church is not a what, it’s a who."
- Reggie McNeal
Reggie McNeal believes the church must change the way it measures success in ministry. He invited participants in his workshop at SCD to come up with some new metrics. Here are some of their ideas:
- how many people who had no other visitors in a nursing home were visited by someone in your church?
- the number of people who walk through your church parking lot every day and are welcomed by someone from the church.
- The number of marriages improved or saved by a ministry offered by the church.
“We have built a system that is based on church terms, we must get back to people terms,” said McNeal. “That’s how we change the scorecard.” Measuring community engagement, he said, is a good step forward. “Church is how we live…not just a place we go.”
Listen to the interview, below. And check out what is arguably Reggie’s most popular book, The Present Future
Tomorrow: More from the new bishop of the West Virginia Annual Conference, Sandra Steiner Ball
Reggie McNeal talking now about language and its importance. “If you think you are a church in the community, you don’t get it, you are a church for the community.”
I’m attending (and covering) the School of Congregational Development in St. Louis, Missouri this week, along with Rev. Thomasina Stewart and Rev. Amy Shanholtzer. The thing I took from yesterday’s opening plenary session is something I’ve heard a lot of in the past few years:
Changing the church happens one person at a time. It happens when we listen to the stories of those outside the church walls and focus on serving the needs we hear about.
We can’t do that well unless we are becoming better disciples every day. That’s the message I hear from a wide range of church leaders. How does that transformation happen? How do we become better disciples so that we can reach out?
Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Area) told me a story this morning about how one congregation shifted it’s perspective by reaching out to a single mom with a special needs child.
The audio is part of a story package I collaborated on today with my good friend and colleague, Melissa Hinnen. Melissa is the public information officer at the General Board of Global Ministries in New York, NY. You can also read our story on GBGM’s website.
I’m also going to catch up with Bishop Steiner Ball, who arrived late last night. What would you like me to ask her about congregational development?
- Laura Allen
P.S. Thanks for your patience as I work on the soundcloud/tumblr interface. Can’t post without my pic showing up…ergh.
"I think God is in every person." - Erin Sears
Erin spoke with me last week about how she shares her faith with others. What we can learn from the young! I found Erin to be mature and wise beyond her years. She said her relationship with God deepened after her Mission of Peace experience this past year. “I hope I show people I’m a Christian by the way I act toward others, not just what I say about God,” she said.
Erin is the newly elected president of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM). Hope you enjoy this - and we are gathering these kinds of reflections and stories. How do we talk about our faith? What is your story as a United Methodist Christian? How do we follow Christ in daily life? Let me know if you are interested, I’d love to talk with you!
Preparing to process, ala cats with vestments.
“Ministry with traditional people is in the vein of the craft tradition of knowing.” Tex Sample opened his teaching at Annual Conference with this concept. He defines the craft tradition of knowing in this way: to know how to do something well, one has to participate deeply in a tradition, the practices, and skills of that tradition. It is a question of formation. Each of us is formed by particular communities and traditions that shape the way that we see, smell, hear, taste, and sense the world around us.
When it comes to ministry, we, as the Church, need to recognize the communities and the people which we serve and seek to reach. A natural tendency of the church in today’s world is to retreat into itself, to live in a withdrawn, Christian bubble. Why? Because it’s safe. Because it’s easy. Because we are afraid of being “corrupted” or “conformed” to the image of the world rather than God’s image. This, however, is not who the Church, the Body of Christ, has been called to be. Sample, citing John 1, reminded us that “The Word became flesh and pitched a tent (dwelled, tabernacled) among us.” In the same way, we too, are called to “pitch a tent” among the people we hope to reach and serve. We are called to live with them, love them, and engage in indigenous practices.
He told several powerful stories that described instances in which Christians pitched a tent and crossed barriers: from a man in a wealthy socioeconomic status who began to more fully engage in ministry with the homeless, to a pastor who spoke the language of country music to have a conversation around faith and grief with another man, to a weeping, trans-sexual woman being able to serve Holy Communion to her church family. In each case, these stories demonstrated the way in which the tradition of a community of faith shaped by the grace and love of God have formed those individuals. In these stories, the embodied the faith in which they have been, and are continuing to be shaped. As Sample says, “The Christian faith is not a view of life, it is a way of life.”
What does this mean for us? It means that we need to become students of our communities and of the people we serve. It means we need to learn to speak the language, the idioms, and the idiosyncrasies. It means we cannot retreat and remain withdrawn from our communities out of fear or self-preservation, or apathy. Instead, it means we need to know our neighbors. We need to spend time in our communities, and with people. The purpose is not to be like the world, but to engage the world in ways that can be understood and received by those outside of the Christian bubble.
This is certainly a challenge for all of us. It can be frightening to cross barriers, to build bridges, to leave the comfort of our church walls, and to pitch a tent among people who view the world differently. It can be confusing and frustrating, but also full of excitement and adventure. As one who is seeking to learn to do these very things in my own community, I can tell you that I have experienced each of these emotions (sometimes all at the same time!). Thankfully, even in the midst of my fear, I know that Jesus is the one calling me, and all of us, to engage in this work for his kingdom, and I take great comfort and challenge in knowing that our Savior, the Word of God, has already done all of these things when He came and pitched at tent among us! Thanks be to God!
WVWC’s Fountain…being put to good use.
My husband participated in the UMCOR 150. Fifteen cyclists biked the 150 miles from Charleston to Buckhannon to raise money for the disaster relief work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It was a very successful ride - no injuries, everyone finished, and a good time was had by all. All of that success came at the price of hard work and preparation. No one showed up on the day of the ride never having ridden a bike before. The participants trained, practiced and invested hard work and energy. Was it worth it? I imagine all of the riders would say “yes.” How often do we avoid starting a ministry in our communities because it would involve hard work? How often have you been in a meeting when it was said, “That’s too much to ask people to do.”? What do we expect? To run the race without the hard work? Do we expect to show up on race day, never having ridden a bicycle? Or even worse, do we expect to arrive at the finish line without peddling? The work is hard. It takes preparation and an investment of time and effort, but Christ guarantees that it is worth it! Start peddling!