When God said to Moses and Aaron, This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you (Exodus 12: 2), the powerful and enduring Passover tradition was born. In the Methodist tradition, July 1 marks “the first month of the year” for us. New pastoral appointments begin. Continuing appointments are affirmed. In some churches, lay leadership teams discover new levels of giftedness and service to Christ. All of this is in God’s time and purpose.
What rituals do you practice around this Methodist “New Year?” When serving church & community as a pastor, I announced and celebrated my re-appointment each year as an opportunity to keep the itineracy in sight and to remember that our life together is framed by God’s purpose.
On an individual level, in the weeks after each year’s New England annual conference I spend some time with the ordination service bulletin, remembering and reexamining, reliving and recommitting to the covenant I entered in 1998. The “General Examination” (found in the ordination service liturgies) offers a rule of life for ordained UMC pastors. Reexamining it annually always surfaces things I’ve let submerge and affirms others I’ve held fast. It begins with the declaration of collaborative ministry that I hold dear:
My kindred, sisters and brothers in Christ, as commissioned or ordained ministers, you are to be coworkers with bishops, elders, deacons, local pastors, provisional members, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, home missioners, supply pastors, and all the people of God.
What a powerful group of co-workers! The words that bind that group together and help us become more like Jesus each day are found later in the liturgy in an invitiaotn to commit to what gives us life:
Will you give yourself to God through the order or fellowship,
in order to sustain and build each other up in prayer, study,
worship and service under the rule of life set forth in the vows you take this day?
It is absolutely vital that our fellowshipping include these practices: prayer, study, worship and service, if we are to become more like Jesus than we were when we began so that the world may be transformed into God’s full vision of love and justice. And isn’t that the point of discipleship? And isn’t that the point of the Methodist movement? We are seeking to grow as disciples whose lives will do nothing less than change the world around us. Perhaps this new year is good time to review and renew the practices of your covenant group, Sunday School class, or other discipleship group.
In this year’s ordination service, the General Examination was preceded by a powerful solo performance of Song of the Open Road (setting by Mark Miller).
Allons! The road is before us
It is safe, I have tried it
My own feet have tried it well
Be not detained
Whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.
I did not know I held so much goodness!
Congratulations on whatever beginning or re-beginning you are part of in July 2017. May the goodness God gives you grow and flourish.
Your Partner in Christ, Karen
This little guy has been on my desk as a blessing from Beverly since I began last July 1. As I pray up churches, extension ministries and pastors preparing for new beginnings, I remain grateful for the good work that preceded me and joyful for the good work that will, someday, follow me. Each of us is given specific ministry purposes in God’s good time.
I’ve thought a lot about purposeful ministry this past year. It’s not that ministry is ever aimless, but the essential role of context has become more apparent than ever. “I was trained not to change lives but to produce church members.” Blake Bradford shared this comment from one of his workshops with Board of Ordained Ministry Leaders at last fall’s quadrennial training. That was the context of church I grew up in. We had what Bishop Janice Huie calls a “pipeline” that moved people from birth/baptism to camp to confirmation to college to committees to leadership so that Christ’s good news could saturate our communities. Somewhere along the line the pipeline developed leaks. It’s time for a new metaphor, that of ecosystem, rather than pipeline, she says.
“So that” is a biblical statement. (Ex. 25:8; Mt 5:16, John 3:16…) Bearing Fruits, by Tom Berlin and Lovett Weems emphasizes this phrase’s power to move us into more purposeful use of the gifts God gives us in the context where God has placed us. I love the way Lovett’s article this week in Leading Ideas connects that sense of contextual purpose with the power that we have as leaders.
The third source of a leader’s authority comes from the calling of the context. Leadership is finally about real people in actual circumstances. Proverbs says that “when the righteous are in authority, the people flourish.” Paul speaks of authority being used for “building up” and not for “tearing down.” People may give us a leadership position, but the authority needed to lead must be worked out among the people with whom we serve. An essential element of authority comes from the credibility a leader establishes with the people the leader works with most closely. James Kouzes speaks of credibility as “credit-ability.” People analyze our credibility all the time just as a bank might assess our credit worthiness. Indeed, credibility is the working capital of the leader. A leader draws from the account of credibility to make change possible.
Church leaders share a calling from God, experienced in each of our lives. We share a calling from the church expressed in our forms of ministry. We share a calling of context in our local and global communities yearning for hope and healing. This is where the power and integrity of our ministry lives because it is where the Spirit is moving, recreating the ecosystem of human life in God’s creation.
So! May your ministry in this new season be blessed as you live into the peculiar, propelling, particular call that will nurture and challenge you to be a gifted agent of God’s grace SO THAT all God's children actually experience God's purposeful love.
I had the pleasure of sharing Pentecost with North Sebago UMC’s music and prayer dynamos. Who’d a thought a little ‘ole church could incubate such melody and witness to Christ’s presence!? Rev. DanaBeth Wells Goodwin got me thinking with the challenge, “If we want the Holy Spirit to help us by interpreting, we have to give up the obstacles that keep us from hearing.”
“They must be drunk!” (Acts 2:13)
What’s your brush off for irritating words or behavior? I think we all have default thoughts that put someone in their place (at least in our own mind, golf foursome, or Facebook page): “they must be”……dumb, wrong, evil, silly, old, young, liberal, conservative, uneducated, brainwashed,“ from away. But starting to listen, not just hear, requires that we recognize our own barriers and lower them.
“Listen,” Peter said. (Acts 2:14)
We now live in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance. Even acting with good intentions, we fear offending. We see so much, hear so much, and can make sense of so little. What’s a fact, what’s a lie, what’s a perception? We are uncomfortably challenged to re-examine politicians we trust, to rethink images and identities of beloved entertainers, to recognize our own implicit bias, to admit benefits and privilege from choices made long before we were alive, to examine what facts are trustworthy. It’s disorienting. What forms of knowledge can we rely on? Do we really know anyone……? including ourselves? Can we really trust anyone…? including ourselves? I find it easy to develop defensive reactions and fall into the relatively comfortable spaces of like-minded people. There’s a reason this paragraph is full of questions not answers. Open questions are a movement toward listening. And without listening, there is no understanding.
In Peter’s original Pentecost sermon, he spoke to people whose reality was rocked by death at the hands of the empire and resurrection in the hands of God. Peter’s words were not high handed judgement but a straight forward naming of reality. I wonder how I’d react if God spoke that directly to me today. What questions would I be able to voice? Would I duck and cover or open my arms? Would I blow frantically against the spark trying to ignite my heart, or dance with the flames?
This is the scripture text of Peter’s long ago, fresh today sermon:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
Those sons, daughters, young and elderly are prophesying today. Sometimes they are shouting out loud in the public square. Sometimes they are quietly repairing tears in creation’s fabric and hurts in human hearts. The Spirit is being poured out and is re-forming God’s people. And God is speaking: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20
Now is the time to listen, to ask, to dance, to fan the flame, to re-member what it means to be a loving disciple who offers to walk with others in repairing the world and talk of Christ’s good news rather than coercing them to imitate us. Now is the time God is re-forming our faith communities in ways that feel threatening if we hold onto our fears, confusing if we try to carry too much of the beloved past with us. Today is the day that God’s quiet clear voice can overcome irritation and open our ears and hearts, our doors and our hands.
In God’s Grace, Karen
PS We'll return shorty to reading "Bearing Fruit!"
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.