server

I was a really good waitress.

Every good waitress knows that the front of the house and the kitchen have to work in harmony together.  It is probably best that diners in fine restaurants are blissfully unaware of the heat and the unloveliness of the kitchen.  Good chefs make great meals.  Good waitresses serve up great meals while creating a sense that there is nothing but peace in the kitchen.

So now I am a parish pastor.  It is a job not unlike that of a waitress.  My desire is that people who worship at the church I serve can be undisturbed by the clank of the liturgical pots and pans that go into cooking up worship and life together.

I am glad I am in the front of the house in this ministry business.  Because truthfully, after three days of being at General Conference, I am not sure I ever want to enter the kitchen of the United Methodist movement again.

Today Rule 44 was defeated.  After hours of technical difficulties with voting apparatus and points of order and amendments and heart-felt testimony, it seems the people called Methodist are not willing to talk to each other.  We seem more inclined to talk at each other using Robert’s Rules as shield.

So it went.  I only wept once.

The rest of the day was spent in legislative committees.  That Book of Discipline that we turn to in the ordering of our life?  Every line of it is up for editing and polishing and so committees are digesting thousands of legislative petitions and after sitting on the floor of one of the break-out rooms (there was no room in the inn for the curious) I fled.

I admit it.  I got out of there.

It turns out I don’t have the stomach or heart for the work in the kitchen.  I am glad that others do.  I am glad that others can craft words that can somehow invite people to taste and see the goodness of our God.  I pray that inviting and inclusive and delicious words flow from this time.

As for me, I went out for ice cream.

Here is what I know.  I am blessed to serve a remarkable church in Rochester, MN.  My sense of doing church there is that the kitchen and the front of the house are all seeking to do the same thing:  we want to serve up grace to the hungry of soul.  I get to work with people who are huge of heart and excited by God’s stirring in our midst and I left the convention center today so grateful for my local church and my place in it.

Christ UMC in Rochester is where I am called to serve up the Body of Christ; in the midst of the hungry and the seeking and the hopeful.

I’m hoping I am still a good waitress.

 

light

Outside the sanctuary a bitter wind was howling. On this first Sunday of the new year the intrepid gathered to celebrate the power of light to guide us to new life. It was Epiphany Sunday.

We heard the story of how it was three wise men followed the star.

Most enchantingly, we heard the scripture read by young people. Both the prophet Isaiah and the writer of Matthew’s gospel were given voice by children and youth who call our church home. Their moms and dads had cell phones at the handy to record their young wonders and every person in the place leaned in and leant their breath and energy in order that the story might be told. Through the hearts and sounds of our very own beloveds the story was told.

The woman who directs the Little Angels children’s choirs – preschoolers who sing open-hearted beauty – shared a solo. Witnessing her singers watch their teacher bear witness with shine and beauty broke my heart open with wonder.

What is this glory that we share? What is this light we seek to follow?

On a wretchedly cold Minnesota morning the light of Christ drew us near and we bowed and offered our gifts. We offered the gifts of our presence and our intentions and our longings and our shine and we were warmed in the doing of it.

And the winter did not overcome it.

this year

I am United Methodist by choice. I wasn’t born into the tribe called Methodist. I found my way into the denomination through a church that lived piety and practice. It got my attention.

First United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh took my family in when we were far from home with two young children. They helped me learn a living faith.

It wasn’t because their choir was the best or their preacher the most eloquent. They taught me incarnational church because in a time when AIDS was becoming scourge they were willing to stand in solidarity with those physically and spiritually devastated by loss upon loss. The church was unwilling to practice willful disregard.

I want to unpack that. By “willful disregard” I mean churches who see pain or disruption of creation around them and do nothing to reach into that pain with compassion and care; even the elemental care of naming and noticing.

I became a United Methodist because I saw what church can be and always I long for institutional United Methodism to recall its roots and grounding. The Wesleys taught, among other things, that faith is a practice meant to be lived and willful disregard is not the way of the gospel and not the way of the people called Methodist.

This year I want the church be a place where we will name the ache of racism and generational poverty grounded in racism. I’m praying for a movement that names the despoiling of creation and the devastation that results from the pillage of the sacred in the bodies of women and children and men and the earth. I’m desirous of leaders who choose to use their gifts to work with their faith kin to build low income housing and feed hungry children and provide access to education.

I can’t give much more energy to the soul-sucking debate over full inclusion of GLBT folk. Really, Jesus and the grace offered through him are sullied by the pitched slug-fest over a paltry number of lines in scripture. To squander the gift of the gospel through the barricading of grace is willful disregard.

I want to lead a discipling center where people know that we are not there to play church.

Rather, we are mindfully grounded in the teachings and practices and wonderings of faith and because we trust the invitation of our God and our own foibled and hopeful selves, indeed all things are possible.

All things.

All things.

good news

 

The United Methodist Church is in the news these days.

We are not in the news for the ways we reach into places where typhoons decimate and poverty gnarls, though we could be.

We are not in the news for the ways we have fought for justice through a conviction that we are called to “be in ministry for and with all persons” (Para. 161F, Book of Discipline),  though we long to be.

Instead we are in the news for the ways our church polity trumps gospel imperative.

At Richfield United Methodist Church we have sought to listen deeply to the heart of the Holy.  In our discernment we have turned to scripture, tradition, reason and experience to lead us to the recognition that we cannot collude with the barricading of grace.  We desire to welcome all families into a transformational relationship with Jesus the Christ.  We want to provide a church community through which people are held and known as they move ever deeper into communion with a God who welcomes and sustains love in all its manifestations.

Jesus welcomed all to the table of grace.  We believe we are called to do the same; in fact, we feel powerfully blessed to be able to do the same.

Our conversations, prayers and deep listening prompted us to adopt the statement shared below*.

We pray that through this United Methodist Church the wildly inclusive love of God in Christ will be proclaimed, lived, shared and celebrated by all.

We would like for that to be good news of great joy.

How else would we live the gospel of Jesus?

RICHFIELD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Commitment to Marriage Equality

As a church in the Methodist tradition since 1854, Richfield United Methodist Church’s ministries are grounded in Jesus’ call to love both God and neighbor. We acknowledge that we have often failed to extend the radical hospitality that God asks of us, even as we continually strive to do so.

In 2007—seeking to open our hearts, minds, and doors—we publicly welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families into full participation in the life and ministries of the congregation, and we continue to do so today.

We recognize that when two people come together to form a primary committed relationship, they often ask the church to bless their wedding. With due consideration, the church responds by celebrating, in the presence of their families and friends, the work of God’s Spirit in their lives.

We lament that in our time, so many courts, legislatures, and religious institutions still deny same-gender and transgender couples equal access to marriage and all the blessings, rights, and responsibilities thereof.

We rejoice that at this point in history, the arc of justice now bends toward equal recognition of marriage for all couples.

Today we affirm that God’s grace is open to all, and we witness to that grace through our commitment to justice and equality in our congregation, the state of Minnesota, the United Methodist Church, and the world. We will honor and celebrate the wedding of any couple, licensed in Minnesota, who seek to commit their lives to one another in marriage.

Approved by the Administrative Board of Richfield UMC

Signed on September 17, 2013 by

Sue Restemayer, Ad Board Chair, Nick Dewey, Trustees Chair, David Couillard, Lay Leader, and Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay, Pastor

*We are grateful for the work of Dumbarton UMC.  Our statement is patterned after theirs.

invisible

“When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game done with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul – and not just individual strength but collective understanding – to resist this void…and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard. Adrienne Rich

I have been blessed with powerful teachers in my life. One is a seminary professor who has written extensively and agitated consistently about the issue of language, particularly language used for the Holy. She is a part of the church community I serve. Amazing grace, that.

Her wisdom is with me as I write worship week after week because I know so very well the psychic disequilibrium that has been perpetrated against women through the ways we name God as male male male. The United Methodist hymnal – all three iterations currently in use – has perhaps a handful of hymns that name the sacred using feminine imagery or pronouns. This from a denomination that proclaims a desire to welcome all into transformational relationship with the Holy.

Parker Palmer maintains that “the soul is shy. It won’t show up unless it feels safe.” How can soul show up in a culture that asks it to participate in “a game done with mirrors”?

Every week this tension of finding hymnody capable of inviting embodied praise. Every week the realization that the soul crush of non inclusion is perpetrated in uncounted sanctuaries.

According to Adrienne Rich, it takes individual strength and communal understanding. As community, will we welcome those who stand up and demand to be heard? Can we unpack the depth of woman-demean that provokes disgust at the very notion of feminine divine?

I’m tired of psychic disequilibrium. I’m tired of trying to choose the least offensive hymns when song is meant to sing – not silence – the soul.

Words matter. Mirrors contort.

This is no game.

don’t know

I don’t know much about a lot of things.

I don’t know how it is governments can poison their own people (or any people).

I don’t know how it is children are victims of gunshot wounds at the hands of those who are barely out of childhood themselves who are armed with metal death.

I don’t know how as the planet continues to wobble in ways more and more dramatic there is a continued unwillingness to claim culpability for global warming.

I don’t know how it became politically incorrect to share sorrows and questions.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is Holy Heart beating in the midst of the pain.

I do know that when people come together to remember who they are the world breathes hope.

I do know that what I can do is “love from the center of who I am” (Eugene Peterson’s voicing of Paul, Romans 12) and trust that in so doing I am naming and claiming the source of life.

I do know that in our flailings we are not alone. We can chose love and resistance to thuggery and we can use the wonderings of our heart to get us out in the world in order that grace might be communal heart beat.

Is there any other way?

What would we live that does not have hope in it?

I don’t know.

This past week Minnesota United Methodists gathered for our Annual Conference. It is a reunion and a marathon of meetings and always Annual Conference stokes my desire for fruitful ministry to a fever pitch. I serve a church pregnant with possibility and sometimes being patient is teeth gnash.

This year’s conference, like those preceding it, was marked by a speaking of how it is the larger church is so very wounded.

There are some eighty clergy in the conference (myself included), and over 1,000 across the United States who have signed a document stating that we will joyfully offer services of marriage to same sex couples. In Minnesota, it is now legal! And, this offering of grace routine to heterosexual couples is against the polity of our church. Persons violating said polity can be disciplined for facilitating the speaking of love and covenant.

I feel such grief. I feel grief for the judicatories in our system who are tasked with upholding policies they may not agree with. We are compatriots in the preaching of the good news of the nothing-can-seperate-us-from-the love of God in Christ Jesus. And, there may soon come a day when polity trumps grace and preachers are exiled by their kin in Christ. Surely God weeps.

I feel such grief because the expanse of grace opened to us by Jesus seems so jealously guarded by fear and surely, God weeps.

I feel such grief because this mother is watching her children and their compatriots turn from the Body of Christ known as the United Methodist movement. They cannot understand a denomination that barricades from some the very grace said to be offered to all.

I feel such grief because there is so much work calling to the people of Jesus: poverty and racism and ecological devastation and the people of Jesus are called to respond and heal and bless and while we natter on about who it is who ought be united in marriage by our pastors, the world continues to be wounded and about this I know God weeps.

I’m a United Methodist pastor. While my church is pregnant with possibility it so very challenged by its being as a United Methodist Church. We are a people meant to welcome Spirit breath and life transformation. We want to live in the way of Jesus.

May the God who weeps hold us in this time.