Friday, June 22, 2012

Annual Conference - Tuesday Report

We began the day with a rousing worship service led by Bishop Woodie White.  Bishop White was an African American pastor in the segregated Central Conferences before the walls of segregation were broken down in 1968.  He risked his own life for justice no numerous occasions.  He told the story of trying to visit one particular white Methodist Church in New Orleans in the early 60s.  The ushers turned him away.  When he explained he was a Methodist pastor and simply wanted to join them for worship, he was arrested and thrown in prison for three days until the $1,000 fine for trespassing and disturbing worship were paid.  However, as a mark of how far we have moved, when Bishop White returned to New Orleans as a Bishop recently, he choose to preach in that very same church.
Bishop White preached on the disconnect Christians sometimes have on the issues of mission, seeking justice and evangelism.  He indicated you need to do all three to truly follow God.  All too often we do one or two of those three and thus we live out an incomplete Gospel.  Some highlights of his sermon-
“It’s not good enough to know the scripture and recite scripture.  You must do it!”
“I’m struck by the number of people who love Jesus, but don’t like what he taught.”

“Definition of prophetic preaching-  Saying the right thing at the right time in the right way in the right place.”
“I often wonder how God’s heart must break when He sees how is children treat one another.”
In concluding his sermon, Bishop White altered a traditional blessing with the following words:
“May the Lord torment you, may the lord disturb you, may God keep the faces of those in need in front of you.  Only after you have done your best to do God’s will may God give you peace.”
Are we bold enough to believe and follow a God who will constantly agitate us to grow in grace?  After the good Bishop’s address, I think many of us were.
The day continued with some business sessions and the episcopal address.  Bishop Hopkins indicated they were going to focus on several bright spots and the type of leadership that is necessary to bring ideas and dreams into reality.
In the Canal district, a lay person, Dave Catrell, started a ministry with skate boarders.  Many in the church had complained about kids using the parking lot to skateboard.  Dave, who had skateboarded a lot as a youth, saw them in the parking lot and thought the proper response was to invite them in.  He formed a bond with the youth and began driving them to skate parks throughout NE Ohio.  While the kids still skateboard in the parking lot at times, they have also been introduced to Jesus and often attend church.  Dave indicated that the most important thing was to connect to the youth right where they are.
In the Mahoning Valley district, one pastor shared about the life of his church by talking about all of the individuals who had been transformed.  He told us about Victor- a man who had recently been incarcerated and was living in transitional housing.  One day, Victor made a decision for Christ and came to the church wanting to join.  He know takes it on as his ministry to be the first one to greet everyone as they come in the door for worship.  
Judy had confessed that though she always went to church, she had never personally heard from God.  (I think many of us can echo that!)  She prayed to hear from God and felt strongly that God was calling her to lead mission trips.  No one in the church had been on a trip before, but Judy and her husband Jerry began organizing them.  In the few years since, they have led 16 mission trips with hundreds of members of the congregation.
Sue came on Christmas Eve, made a decision for Jesus and now leads the recovery ministry and works in the food pantry.
George and Nancy never had children of their own but adopted the children of the community and now serve breakfast to them each and every Sunday.  Joe started attending small group in 2004 and has now been the director of 4 of the Alpha classes and leads the prayer team.  Through these many individuals and their leadership, the church has come alive.  
A church in New Washington committed themselves to seek to serve the people that no one else wants and no one else sees.  The pastor said that they want the folks who have been abused and the people who are abusing.”  They have committed themselves to live radically in community with those who are hurting so they can be part of God’s transforming love.  
Church of the Savior, in Cleveland Heights, discussed their Upward Basketball program.  They have launched a basket ball league in the community where each game starts with devotions and bible study and testimony is offered at half time.  Of the hundreds of people who have participated, 31% have had no church affiliation and several have since joined the church.  
All of these churches have the following in common-  they saw a need, prayed about it, and had many lay people come together to launch new ministries that their pastors supported and blessed.  This is the type of leadership that is necessary for real transformation.
In the afternoon, the district superintendents and the bishop announced the new appointments and “fixed all the pastors in place” for the next year.  I was officially appointed back to Independence UMC.  
Other Notable appointments-  
Orlando Chaffee will be stepping down as DS.  After his personal leave, he will become the pastor of Bedford and Maple Heights United Methodist Churches.
Peggy Streiff was appointed as superintendent for the North Coast district to replace Rev. Chaffee.  She served as DS in the Mid-Ohio district for 6 years prior to retiring in 2011.  Her husband is the pastor of Norwalk First United Methodist Church.  For the first time, the cabinet will have an equal number of male and female District Superintendents.
Sade Davis-Reynolds retired but has been appointed back half time to Seven Hills UMC for the next year.
Prior to announcing the appointments, the bishop indicated that many people ask “How are appointments really made?”  He invited Karen Oehl and Jim Winkler, the two newest district superintendents, to give their thoughts on the issue.  They said-
Karen Oehl- Consultations matter.  The meeting the SPRC has in the fall and shares in their hopes, dreams and goals really matters.  That information is what we then have about the churches and how we make the appointments.
Jim Winkler- Consultations matter.  It is our job to get to know our pastors well.  We want to know who they are, what their hopes and dreams are as they have served faithfully.  We try to faithfully and accurately profile each pastor as we seek to find the right appointment for them.
The bishop and the cabinet spend considerable time praying about each appointment. The cabinet prays until they make a unanimous decision about which pastor should be appointed.  The pastor is then taken to meet the SPRC committee and the appointment is then confirmed.  It is then announced to both the departing and receiving congregation on the same Sunday.
For dinner that evening, I had the privilege of attending a presentation but on by the East Ohio Board of Church and Society.  The presentation was focused on the issue of Modern Slavery.  It is estimated that there are move people held in slavery today than at any time in our history.  There are currently 27 million people held in slavery, included an estimated 800,000 people right here in the United States.  Tina Flores, a slavery survivor from Toledo Ohio, gave a presentation talking about how vulnerable individuals are taken by force, fraud or coercion to perform labor or sex acts against their will.  It is difficult to summarize this important topic in a paragraph, but if members of the church would like to learn more, please contact me.

Our evening concluded with a service of Commissioning and Ordination.  The highlight of the evening was the sermon by Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  She preached about just how difficult it was to be a Christian in a society that celebrates glorification.  She said that “we are sinners serving sinners following a Lord who took on the sin of the whole world.”  All too often, Christianity is reduced to a “Name it and Claim it theology” in which all the world’s problems are wrapped up neatly through prayer.  However, we experience too much tragedy to proclaim such a glib understanding of God.  The truth is that we follow a crucified savior in a fallen world- this results in considerable pain and requires deep commitment.  All too often, we want the benefit of faith without any of the sacrifices it requires.  “The cross comes not to relieve this tension, but to highlight it as we realize just how far we have fallen and how far we need to go” as individuals and as the church.    The real question that challenges us as Christians is this:  “Is it possible to stand with the marginalized, even those marginalized by the church, and still sing hallelujah?”  I firmly answer yes- but only with considerable effort and faith.  We have to give up our desire to seem and project perfection and instead just try to hold on to each other and the hurting in the world with love.

With that challenging and yet inspirational message, we concluded day 2.

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