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Back in the Saddle Again

Part of being in ordained pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church is that every so often you move. In fact, at times, I’ve quipped with people that “I move for a living.”

My absence on this blog of late is largely due to that very fact: The Bishop appointed me to be pastor of a new congregation. Actually, since this church was started in the 1830s, new probably isn’t the right word… how about a different congregation. As of July 1, 2016, I’m now the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA.

So, I’ve been asked dozens of times, WHY do we United Methodist pastors move so often? After all, there are some churches that have pastors for 20 or 30 years.

The official answer is two-fold. One, because the Bishop decides to move us. And hopefully, he (and his advisors that we call the Cabinet), has actually heard God say it was time for that pastor to move before they make such a move.

But the deeper answer is because of our kind of church organizational system. Most churches have some sort of hiring process where they hire, or call, a person to become their pastor. Oftentimes, that process is referred to as a call system. Roman Catholic priests, Salvation Army officers, and United Methodist pastors are appointed by their bishop or superior officer. Similar to the United States military, we are informed where, and when, we will go elsewhere. That’s the way we work in the United Methodist Church. And we call that the “itinerant system” or “itinerancy”.

Itinerancy (also correctly spelled as itineracy), is the system where pastors are moved from place to place wherever they are needed next. In the old days (like REALLY LONG AGO) we itinerated by horseback. One week we would be at church A in town A and serve Holy Communion and baptize anyone ready for Baptism and encourage and help the lay people of that congregation as much as we could… because we probably wouldn’t see them for another 13 weeks. (That’s the origin of so many of our United Methodist congregations having a tradition of only serving Holy Communion once a quarter… about every 13 weeks). After that week in town A, we then moved to town B for church B… and we literally itinerated around a circuit of about 13 towns and churches. (That’s also the origin of the term “circuit riders”).

Now-a-days, instead of using horses, we use horsepower (in our cars). And many of us still have more than one congregation that we’re pastoring at the same time. Church A has an 8:00 worship service, Church B worships at 9:30, and then worship begins at 11:00 at Church C. Some, like me in this current appointment, only have a single town and single congregation, but have more than one worship service (8:30 and 11:00 here in Carmichaels if you want to visit!).

Officially, each pastor in our system is appointed for one year, although we are usually reappointed at least once or twice. Sometimes a pastor will stay in the same place for several years before a new appointment. It all depends on the needs of the church and the churches of the rest of the conference.

Francis Asbury statue- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-09622

Bishop Francis Asbury

In early Methodist history, Francis Asbury, one of our first two American bishops, was a stickler for short one or two year appointments. He believed being in one place for too long would compromise the pastor’s ability to speak truth to sin. The thinking was that if you’re living in and among the people of the area for too long, then you won’t just be the pastor but would start to become friends and be comfortable with the lifestyle of living there. And if someone become really good friends, then the pastor might become hesitant to address concerns and/or sins for fear of upsetting a friend or one of their relatives. And a pastor who didn’t identify sin they were aware of and then try to help people to repent and walk away from sin was unacceptable and considered (in today’s vernacular) unfaithful, ineffective, and unfruitful.

 

Another often heard explanation regarding the need to have pastors move occasionally uses the imagery of going to school as a child. You may have a great teacher in first grade that you like and who is great at helping you learn. But by your senior year you really should have progressed beyond that teacher from the past. As a pastor, I have gifts and strengths and skills which I hope are useful in ministering with the parishioners in my congregation. But if I have any pastoral or administrative or teaching skills at all, then you ought to be growing beyond what I can offer. And since I’m not perfect, you will eventually need pastoral leadership from someone who possesses other pastoral skills and gifts that I don’t have. Eventually, there will need to be a pastoral change.

In our system, pastoral changes usually take effect on July 1 of whatever year. However, when there is a missional need, a pastor could be moved at any point in the year. It seldom happens, although of my six appointments, only three started on July 1. The others were May 1, January 1, and September 1. Again, our system is driven by the needs and realities in the local churches.

In each appointment, the Cabinet and the Bishop discern where they believe the Lord is leading each pastor and each church, but then they call the individual pastor and inform them of what they believe is God’s will. They pastor learns about the new congregation and the setting (community, parsonage and living arrangements, and such). The pastor then gets a chance to pray as well and can ask for a reconsideration, although there’s never a guarantee that it will change. The next step is a member of the Cabinet (the District Superintendent for that area) goes with the pastor to meet representatives of the new congregation (known as the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee). Unless there is some huge red flag that goes up,then the District Superintendent will confirm that the appointment will happen. A red flag might be a situation like a handicapped pastor who is being considered for an appointment that has a very accessible church building, but then she or he discovers the parsonage has a multitude of steps. That appointment just isn’t going to work.

Ultimately, it is the Bishop that will “set the appointment”, although he or she has been in on the whole process up to that point, so we pretty much know before they publicly read the appointments.

They tell me that in the “old days” the two steps in the middle of this process, where the pastor gets to pray and then the meeting with the new church, didn’t usually happen. Rather, the pastor (always male at that point in our history) went off to Annual Conference sessions each June, and while there would learn IF they (and their family) would be moving and where to. The wives would wait near the telephone to await a phone call from their husbands to discover if they needed to start packing for a move before July 1. (I REALLY like the system the way it works now a lot better!)

I’ve heard pros and cons about the call system and about the itinerant system. I LIKE the fact that with our itinerant system, no church is ever without a pastor. My predecessor stopped being the pastor here in Carmichaels on June 30, and on July 1, I became their new pastor. Many call system churches, I’m told, go months and sometimes even years with no pastor while they’re trying to decide who to hire. Likewise, after leaving my old congregation on June 30, I didn’t become unemployed just because I left that church. That next day, July 1, I started as pastor of this congregation. There are many pastors, I understand, who are in the call system, who go months and sometimes years before they are “called” by another church.

One downside of our itinerant system is of course that we move every so often. Also, the pastor get to decide where they will live and work and the congregation doesn’t get to decide who they will hire as their pastor. Neither does the congregation get to fire the pastor when he or she preaches something they don’t like or offends someone, nor does the pastor get to just decide they want a different appointment when things get uncomfortable. Instead, the congregation and the pastor have to look to Scripture to see how Jesus talked about resolving conflict and building reconciliation as much as possible, because even if there will be an appointment change, it won’t be immediate.

I’ve only ever been in this United Methodist system, so I’d appreciate hearing how things go in the call system… or if there are some other ways that churches and pastors are brought together.

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Francis Asbury statue- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-09622 . Downloaded from http://www.thearda.com/timeline/persons/person_79.asp
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Expectations for a Change

In January 2002, my family traveled cross-country. We deliberately stopped to see sites like the St. Louis Arch, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, and Disneyland. However, we also had several unplanned stops as well. Three different times our van broke down and we were stuck wherever we happened to be until the nearest garage could get us up and running again. And then, after finally arriving home three weeks later, we had to replace the transmission.

We had really thought we were ready for that trip. But we didn’t understand the differences of how to care for our van when you’re traveling 7000 miles instead of the 20 & 30 mile trips we were used to. We operated our van as if we were traveling at home, but we were pushing it hard, with six people, and LOTS of luggage, at expressway speeds. That poor van couldn’t keep up with our expectations… because we hadn’t properly prepared our own expectations for the change in the way we were traveling with our van.

As I’ve been thinking and praying over our upcoming pastoral transition here, I keep finding myself coming back to that trip… and our relationship with that van. You could say that our congregation, as well as both the Mix family and the Stump family, are all embarking on transitional “trips.” And ministry together is different in times of transition, just like our use of our van was different during that long trip… and it took its toll. And living as a family in the midst of packing or unpacking boxes is SO different than normal family life.  We need to be intentional during a transition, and try to have clear expectations.

Our Presbyterian cousins are the ones who probably have the best understanding of how to handle these times of transition in the life of a church. Any time there is a major transition in the church, they expect that there will be an interim pastor in place to lead the congregation through the ‘in-between’ time. That transition might be something major like the death of the previous pastor, a scandal among the leadership, some sort of trauma that affects the church, or even something positive like having a long-term pastor (eight years or more). All of those are indicators that there ought to be a time of having an interim pastor.

The idea of an interim guiding a congregation through a time of transition has been compared to the idea of going from one gear to another in your car. Perhaps going from first to second gear isn’t a big deal, but to get from first gear to fourth gear requires some interim steps. If you don’t transition from one to the other correctly, you might just find that you’re grinding your gears or doing damage to your car in some way. Many of our cars today will do that transition automatically… however, churches, and pastors, don’t.

We’ve had five years together, but prior to that Pastor Jay was here for eleven years. We didn’t have a transitional interim pastor, although I did try to address some of the transitional issues with our church council each month in that first year and also with the whole congregation through my sermons from the pulpit. But to this day, there are many who think first of how we did things when Jay was here or wish that Jay was back for this event or that.

And now, come July 1, another new pastor will come to walk together in ministry with this congregation. And I, like Jay did before I came, need to reiterate again, that in our United Methodist system, the departing pastor does not come back to do pastoral ministry. We love you dearly, and always will. However, come July, I will no longer be your pastor; Adam Stump will be. And pastoral ethics, as well as conference policy, say that I don’t get to come back to even visit friends. For in the long run, if I met you because I was your pastor, then our relationship is primarily a professional pastoral relationship. And that ends when I stop being your pastor. For me to come back to do something pastoral would be like President Bush telling President Obama that he’ll be commanding troops in Afghanistan since he was president when the war started.

The most important relationships when we’re talking about the church are with Jesus and the others in the pews; the women and men you call your brothers and sisters in Christ. You get to spend a lifetime with them. We pastors are just temps. We’re to help lead for just a while, and then God and the Bishop send us to the next ministry posting with a new congregation. I get worried when I hear about this person left when Pastor Someone left or they decided to come back after Pastor Someone Else arrived. That just shows that those particular people never really became a part of the church, but rather were more like a pastor’s fan club, or perhaps a pastor’s foe club. Folks, going to worship, or Bible study, or any other activity in the church shouldn’t be based on who the pastor is, but rather on whether or not God called you to be a part of this church, this congregation.

And if you DO want to be friends with a departing pastor, then after they have moved, YOU need to be the one to reach out to them at their new home, not for something pastoral, but just because you want to remain friends with them as a family. That changes the relationship from pastoral to personal. You can seek us out… but we cannot come back.

To do so would be a huge undermining of Pastor Adam’s ministry.

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This was my pastor’s letter in the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church’s monthly newsletter “The Flame.”

To read it as it appeared there, click on this link: N2016-05

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Clergy Peer Groups

A few years back, our bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton, stated a goal of having pastors be involved in small groups together to encourage each other, help each other get better at what we do, and to help hold one another more accountable in our journey as pastors. It was a great idea and a horrible one as well.

GREAT! because we clergy need to stop being the ‘Lone Rangers’ out there… We need each other, we need someone to help encourage when the world gets overwhelming, and we SURELY, like ALL Christians, need someone to boldly ask how our own spiritual walk with Jesus Christ is going.

HORRIBLE! because any time something is arbitrarily decided FOR us, and we then have to live it out on our own, feels like just one more ‘GOTTA’ in a whole BUNCH of gotta’s. Which tends to wake up the rebellious teenager from my past that says ‘I shouldn’t have to’ and ‘You can’t make me!’ (I suppose there’s a chance that I’m not alone in those feelings and responses…)

I was already meeting occasionally with a friend who is also a UM pastor in my conference but was a friend from years before as well. But that didn’t count.

I have since participated in three of the clergy groups (where I was living determined where I attended). All three just sort of stopped meeting… without any decision to stop meeting (that I’m aware of).

So it was interesting to me to read this article from the Center for Pastoral Excellence on “When Clergy Peer Groups Don’t Work ( & Why).”

I was disappointed in that it came from the negative side only. (I ALREADY know A LOT of things that Do Not work… Now tell me some that DO!), but it was insightful and interesting none-the-less.

Check it out! I’d love to hear about clergy peer groups that really HAVE worked (and why/how).

http://www.cpx.cts.edu/home/blog/pastoral-excellence-network/2013/04/22/when-clergy-peer-groups-dont-work-and-why

 

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Three Simple Rules

“Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” — Jesus, Matt 7:17, 20 (NIV)

Our bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton, recently told a story of being at a particular Council of Bishops’ meeting when a fight broke out. OK… it was only a conversation but there were several different points of view. Whatever you call it, there were various opinions being expressed over how they (the bishops) could help get our people, and our churches, to be more unified as United Methodists.

It seems that we have learned how to debate well and disagree often. But if we are going to bear the word “United” in our name, ought there not be something about which we agree?

So, the Council of Bishops was trying to formulate some plan, or statement, or idea that could help us refocus on our unity… on what it really means to be “Methodist” in our heritage and “United” in our practice of being the church. And there were apparently a lot of ideas that took a L O N G time to discuss.

But then Bishop Bickerton shared that the conversation sort of settled into silence as one of our older bishops, Bishop Reuben Job, stood up and reminded everyone that we already had a statement, an idea, a plan that ought to be uniting us and identifying us as Methodist… And it was summed up as Three Simple Rules.

Dating back over 250 years to John Wesley himself, the “General Rules of the Methodist Societies,” already addressed these issues and, in essence, were part of the covenant every one of us United Methodists vowed we’d keep. While the wording is old-fashioned, the truth is still there… and still do-able.

In the official text (from the Discipline, ¶103), we are introduced to the rules thusly:

There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.

Basically, if you have repented of your sins and Christ lives within you, then you are welcome to “join” us Methodists. BUT, we also have an expectation that IF that’s really true, then people around you (inside AND outside of the church) will be able to tell that you have Christ living in you.

With that in mind, the Methodists agreed that any of us who really had Jesus in our hearts, would agree to show it in three ways:

“First, By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind…”
“Second, By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all me…”
“Thirdly, By attending upon all the ordinances of God…”

Bishop Job reworded those three General Rules, for today’s United Methodists, thusly:

1. Do No Harm,
2. Do Good, and
3. Stay in Love with God.

To this day, the “General Rules” are printed verbatim in our Book of Discipline. They are meant to be a part of the daily lifestyle of every person who is a part of the Methodist heritage.

We deliberately watch out so that we don’t cause harm to others with our words, our actions, or our silence.

We consciously look for ways to do good to others any chance we get.

And we intentionally, (in a methodical way) practice what has become known as the spiritual disciplines… faithfully attending public worship, carefully reading and searching the Bible, purposely praying, thoughtfully reading Christian authors and devotionals, and regularly participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion and the remembrance of baptism.

Throughout this next year, we will regularly focus on ideas presented in this little book.

Let’s show all of Reynoldsville our fruit…

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They’ll Know We Are Christians, By Our …???

On April 3rd, I finally got so tired of people calling me and questioning me (and even a couple who wanted to take me out to lunch to talk) about what had, or had not, happened when I met with our bishop, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, that I wrote about it in a blog. I even gave my conclusions at the end that I believed he had NOT tried to be dishonest nor deceptive… but I felt, rather, he had simply misunderstood a situation and perhaps reacted differently than he might have if he had known more of the situation. As I reported then, the bishop personally apologized to me and I felt that “all was well.”

It was a very successful event in our common ministry, because we learned that we could communicate with each other… and that our common ministry and common brotherhood as fellow Christians and as fellow clergy was important enough to do the hard work of facing the uncomfortable conversations in order to clear the air… and ensure that misunderstandings didn’t come between us.

I believe we followed Jesus’ teaching that when you have something that bugs you about someone, you go to them personally and confront them, privately, face to face, and “alone” (Matthew 18:15f). If that doesn’t work, then you take someone else with you and so on… always looking for reconciliation in the relationship. Wasn’t it Paul that said that in becoming new creations, the old ways of the world were no longer our ways? As Christians, we’re different people, new creations, and “behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even the ways the world goes about dealing with conflict are not our ways.

And in that very next verse, the very next sentence, we are presented with the instruction that since God “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…” that He has now “given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Tom Bickerton and Dayton Mix did that kind of individual, private, face-to-face reconciling work… and, I believe, we both walked away feeling like brothers… CHRISTIAN brothers… not the Cain and Abel kind. I felt we were reconciled. That’s what Jesus said we were to be about. That’s what Paul said was to be our ministry.

So I am at a loss why this keeps coming up in other people’s conversations, letters, emails, phone calls, and planning.

Then there were anonymous letters sent trying to prejudice lay people against the bishop. Being clergy, I didn’t get one, but I’m told that I wasn’t named in the letter, but the background of this situation was. What was included were misunderstandings and confusion… some pieces of true information… but because they’re out of context they are not accurate.

And for the record, anonymous letters have NO PLACE in Christianity. In both Scripture and in the history of the church, the ones who were truly led of God to “take a stand” and “defend the faith” always publicly spoke out. They wrote with their names attached… regardless of reprisal… even if it meant burning at the stake, or persecution, or excommunication. Those are the ones we look back to and honor them for ‘defending the faith.’

The times that so-called Christians hid behind the cover of anonymity were times of hiding under bed sheets and white hoods so that they could make a point about what was bothering them and so they created fear, division, and intimidation. Christians aren’t supposed to work like that. We’re supposed to do the hard work of standing up for what you believe and confronting someone who has hurt you in order to seek reconciliation.

Folks, the Ku Klux Klan mentality of anonymity is evil… it can never lead to reconciliation… it can never lead to spiritual healthiness of a church or its people. It is not Christian to attack… let alone anonymously.

Now, as we’re about to leave for our annual conference sessions where we supposedly gather to “discern” what God would have us do as a covenanted people who are all united to do His work together in this area, I received an email that thanked me for some information and the writer included a question:

“Thanks for the info. Now, how do we depose a bishop?”
WHAT?!!!!

Although there have been several bishops (and pastors and lay people as well) that I wonder how they ever made it past their own local pastor asking them the “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” and “Do you repent of your sins?” questions when they were first joining the church as lay people, THIS bishop is NOT one of those I wonder about. I believe him to be a good and decent man who loves Jesus as Lord and takes seriously his responsibility to shepherd the church.

Yes, he can be a bit of a politician too… in that he would like to do what he can to have EVERYONE be happy. I guess I don’t see that as horrible… Jesus himself calls us to be peacemakers. Maybe he made a mistake in how he tried to keep the peace. Maybe he would do things differently if he could.

Frankly, I would have made some decisions differently if I had been in his position… But then, in MY OWN LIFE there are MANY decisions I’d make differently if I could. Therefore, I MUST show a leader, even a bishop, that same graciousness that I would want to be treated with… and HAVE been treated with, by the people of God.

What happened to the Christians who pray for and love each other? In fact, wasn’t that the very definition Jesus used as to how you could tell a REAL Christian: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)?

For that matter, if you believe that there are some in our church that truly are “the enemy,” then why aren’t we praying for them and showing them overwhelming love like Scripture says (Luke 6:27-28)? If we consider someone to be our enemy, Jesus said that we were to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘go the second mile’ and ‘not resist an evil person’ (Matthew 5:38-42).

As for the issues that keep dividing us… war, abortion, sexuality beliefs & practices, particular doctrines, or whatever… I come from a background where we believed that the Bible taught that “whosoever would” could come to Christ and they could come as sinners “just as they are.” Sins and all… They could accept Christ and be a part of the family of God and still screw up occasionally… The question wasn’t ‘Are you without sin yet?’ but rather ‘Do you repent of your sin?’

And even then, we recognized that we all screw up… and need to repent again! In fact, last night before bed, I downed a huge bowl of ice cream with a large scoop of peanut butter and a chocolate candy bar… and I wasn’t even hungry to start with… I SINNED!!!! I had to repent of my sin of gluttony! And no one has kicked me out of the church yet…!

What makes my sin okay, or perhaps the sin of talebearing or gossip all right, but a bishop misspeaking, or a whole congregation that doesn’t seem to “get it” the way I believe on homosexuality, NOT acceptable?

YES, there are sinners in the church… and IT’S US!!!! We’re them! ALL of us…

I’ve been looking forward to conference for months and months and months. Not so that I can make a political stand or get my way on an issue… but because I’m a follower of Jesus Christ who follows John Wesley’s example of needing to ‘conference’ with my brothers and sisters. And yes, there will be unpleasant conversations at times and things might not always go my way, but if we’re truly Christian, then we’d better be about loving each other… including our bishop and our leaders… loving each other so much so that the people around us who watch us can recognize that we truly do love one another.

Either that or or we ought to quit calling ourselves followers of Christ…

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Inappropriate, Intolerable, & Embarassing

An article about a Pittsburgh centered Sexual Wholeness Seminar appeared in the March 2007 newsletter for First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh. Since I first learned of it two weeks ago, over two dozen people from around our Annual Conference have written, emailed, called, and/or met with me trying to understand and make sense of this article… especially since I am the chair of the conference’s Nurture Team. Even the bishop himself has been a part of that group wanting to have conversation in this matter.

In a matter of less than 20 days I’m scheduled to have major surgery… I can no longer afford to have large portions of my day spent addressing somebody else’s words and opinions. As a fellow friend likes to say regarding the work we all do on the conference level, “It’s important to remember that this isn’t our day job.”

While I am not trying to offer offense, neither am I trying to offer defense for other people’s words. Therefore, here, in one setting, is my “take” on the events and comments.

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BACKGROUND
So how did this all get started? I started as Nurture chair in September 2006. The day I was to go to my first conference council meeting I got word that it was cancelled. Someone at the conference center level of leadership stated that there wasn’t really anything important that we needed to meet for. The next month a conference center employee was buried in the morning, so again, the evening meeting was cancelled.

During that next month (November), I was contacted by one of the planners of the seminar, who explained that he had been directed to contact me by the conference center since it was my team who was entrusted with some monies for ‘other nurture initiatives.’ The verbal description of the event planned seemed to be both biblical and within the stated policy of the United Methodist Church, so I wasn’t too worried and agreed that his group was welcome to submit more details about their plan and we would consider the request at our upcoming meeting. I was particularly pleased to hear that the organizers had already met with the bishop and had a sense that he was ok with such a seminar as long as it wasn’t just an excuse to try to force reorientation on homosexuals. The leaders assured me, as they said they had the bishop, that this was NOT a goal anyone had in mind.

I contacted the conference steward to double check the accuracy of the claims I had just heard (about being refered by them) and discussed the availability of funds for specific projects such as this. I was encouraged in both.

The next day I wrote to all Nurture Team members that I had contact information for, alerting them that at our upcoming meeting there were budget requirements that we needed to discuss and that we had a request from a group asking for financial support. On November 27, 2006, the Nurture Team met. There were few people in attendance, but the conversation centered on the fact that our annual conference entrusted Nurture with funds to try and initiate ‘other nurture initiatives’ and it was great that someone wanted to actually do something. Yes, we could support that… although our specific financial help would basically be buying food and beverage for participants.

That evening, at my very first conference council meeting, when it was my turn to report, I shared the basics of what our team had discussed and specifically reported that we had voted to give $800 from the 2006 budget and $800 from the 2007 budget to this event scheduled for 2/24/07 on sexual wholeness.

Nobody said a word. No questions. No concerns. No discussion. Not even the conference staff representative. Not even the bishop.

When the brochure came out, I was particularly watching for the way the event was presented… to see if it honored the alleged request of the bishop. I saw nothing that suggested forced re-orientation for homosexuals and was impressed that the word ‘homosexual’ didn’t even appear. What the brochure called for was an equipping for those who minister to people who have experienced pain because of the sexual abuse, pornography, same sex attractions, or addictions.

Frankly, I’ve known people who have suffered great pain because of their struggles with each one of those things… I thought it was well worded. Offering help for those who have had pain… but not offering condemnation for those who have not… just focusing on those who have struggled.

I called the conference center and verbally signed off on the event as nurture chair. And thought it was a done deal. The event was held. It was well attended. The food was great. The discussions and the presentations focused on compassion and how to minister to people who came to us with pain from their personal struggle. I thought it was remarkably well done! In fact, I’ve already blogged about the article I wrote for the conference newspaper. CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG ENTRY.

THE PHONE CALL
In the midst of all of this, there was another group that was asking for money from Nurture for a clinic on evangelism. This is already in the budget the annual conference had passed long before I stepped into the position, so, again, I wasn’t very worried about it. Following conversation with that group’s leadership, I was asked to see if the bishop would be able to attend, and if so, would he like a chance to speak.

So I called the bishop’s secretary and passed on the request. About a week later, I received a call back from her saying that the bishop would be unable to attend the evangelism clinic but would like to have conversation about it before the event occured.

I asked a couple of the leaders of the clinic if we had somehow missed a step and described the secretary’s phone call to me.

Within a few days, I had been contacted by several people asking if the bishop were upset about the evangelism clinic or was this some kind of residual from the sexual wholeness event. I assured them that the bishop’s invitation to meet was in regards to the clinic and I was certain it was probably going to result in some quote for me to read saying he regretted not being able to attend the clinic.

FIRST UMC: PGH REPORTS
The day before my scheduled meeting, a leader of the sexual wholeness event stumbled onto the newsletter I mentioned from First UMC in Pittsburgh… This is the article:

Sexual Wholeness Seminar
by Pastor Bob Wilson
A whirlwind of response occurred when our congregation learned of this seminar which included in its publicity the following sentence: “You are invited to a one day seminar that recognizes the pain in our pulpits and pews that results from sexual abuse, pornography addictions, same-sex attractions and sexual addictions.”

One result was the following e-mail exchange between Bishop Bickerton and Pastor Bob Wilson

Dear Bishop Bickerton,
As you can imagine, when our congregation learned of the Sexual Wholeness Seminar, I found myself coping with many varied responses. For most of those responses I can offer pastoral support and direction. However, I need assistance in regard to the inquiries I am receiving about the place of the Annual Conference in this event. The fact that the Conference Nurture Team has given seed money has significantly shaped the response of First Church people. . . .
Peace…
Bob

Greetings sisters and brothers at First Church,
I have been made aware of your concerns surrounding the Sexual Wholeness Workshop. I did not know until after the fact that the Conference Nurture Team had provided seed money and that the brochure had been sent in the Conference monthly mailing. Both actions were inappropriate and caused a degree of hurt that could have easily been avoided.

The Nurture Team acted in isolation from the Conference Council. I am very concerned about how we do and don’t hold each other accountable as we seek to maintain appropriate checks and balances in the implementation of the ministry of our conference.

The hurt this incident has caused to a significant and valued part of our body is intolerable and embarrassing to me as our leader. Please know that I remain committed to being a Bishop for this whole conference.

May God’s richest blessings be yours. Know that the congregation and the ministry of First Church are valued and appreciated as “The journey continues. . . ”
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton

As events unfolded, Tracy Merrick was invited by the Workshop Leadership to speak to all present. Tracy effectively communicated to the body areas of common ground and why dialogue is important and needs to continue. He concluded with a clear and firm statement that there are many, like himself and the congregation of First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh, who believe that homosexual orientation and relationships are not a sin, but rather a part of God’s diverse plan.

Both Tracy Merrick and Pastor Bob Wilson were present at the workshop. Either one is willing to share with you their reflections on the day.

THE MEETING WITH THE BISHOP
My world was jarred by reading the bishop’s words “The Nurture team acted in isolation” and that our actions were “inappropriate,” “intolerable,” and “embarassing.”

When I met with the bishop, he stated that he meant the ‘misunderstanding’ about the communication breakdowns were inappropriate, intolerable, and embarassing. Also, he said a major concern was the division that he felt came about because of this event. The hurt created was intolerable and embarassing.

When I outlined what I had done in trying to NOT act outside of the proper channels, I then asked what I did wrong… so that I could do it better next time. He looked at me and said, “you did nothing wrong.” And then he again referred to a ‘broken’ system where people don’t bother showing up for meetings and so people miss major pieces of information and then blame and accusation start to fly around.

I shared that in reading his comments to First UMC it sounded like he personally was taking me to task as the Nurture Team chair. He claimed he didn’t mean it to be and then apologized to me.

He stressed that there were so many areas of ministry that we could all agree on that we really should be focusing on those areas.

THE FOLLOWUP
I’ve waited to see how the bishop cleared this up with First church, but nothing at all appeared in their April newsletter. Meanwhile, as I said earlier, more than two dozen have called, written, or personally approached me asking if the bishop was simply lying or what? Was he caving in to political pressure? Was he betraying some hidden agenda? Was he really taking a stand against the Discipline and the Bible? Were the folks at First Church considered more important than the ‘rest of us?’ If so, then how could he claim to be committed to being bishop for the whole conference?

Some talked of letters to all annual conference laity and clergy members. Some talked of formal meetings. Some talked about general & jurisdictional elections… especially since the bishop has asked for ‘no politics’ in our deliberations this year in these areas.

MY CONCLUSIONS… THUS FAR…
I’ve tried to suggest that this probably isn’t so black and white.

I do not think the bishop was lying. I think that night when I was presenting my report about this event, I think his mind wandered. Apparently so did everyone else. Why would I have anything important to say? I honestly believe him that he didn’t hear anything about this from me.

I don’t understand the accusation of division… the event called for an equipping of compassionate outreach to those who seek us out and self-report their own pain and struggle. Where’s the division there?

As for only doing the ministries where we all agree…
–I’ve seen the national news show leaders of the general church United Methodist Women marching in a parade supporting all abortion with a banner flounting the United Methodist name… and that’s NOT our stand…
–I was in a meeting (conference council again) where our Witness Team bragged about $10,000 going to a lobbying group… and I know the disagreements created when those lobbying positions are formed…
–The facilities of United Methodist sites have been used for same sex unions and yet we don’t all agree on that topic…

In each of those situations I’ve been informed that we are a large and diverse church with many opinions and yet room for all… So why would this event be different? Exactly where is the ‘intolerance?’

I don’t think anyone seriously wants us to only support ministries where everyone agrees.

FINAL THOUGHTS FOR TODAY
All of a sudden, I seem to be the enemy of some and the darling poster child for others… and yet I do not belong to any church political faction. I’ve never been to an Evangelical Connection meeting nor to a Methodist Federation for Social Action meeting… although I share concerns with both groups. When Annual Conference rolls around, I don’t go to ANY of the factional groups… I just work with the conference secretary behind the scenes… I strongly believe that we can discern God’s will as a conference… not just as factions who push for our stand. God WILL reveal Himself through the assembled conference… but will we let Him? When Annual Conference meets (or General Conference meets) and discerns God’s will, can we then abide by that group discernment… or do we just go back to our corners and plot our strategy to get our own way next time? Is THAT the accountable way? Is THAT really allowing God to speak through the conference?

I have tried to be faithful to ALL who might have a concern… and somehow feel like a scapegoat.

I have tried to serve in this role as Nurture chair with integrity. I have made calls, written letters and emails, and done A LOT of driving over A LOT of miles to be faithful to be in accountable communication. I have even driven to the conference center (about 2+ hours drive from where I am appointed) for a conference council meeting in January of this year when it was cancelled and yet no one had alerted me. I am trying to ‘work within the system.’

Finally, I have struggled with this posting. As another friend likes to point out, I am an expressive who enjoys being at peace with people. I don’t like people thinking badly about me or disapproving of what I do.

But I cannot afford the time to have people keep calling to have me explain someone else’s words.

I simply need the facts to be out there so that I can on with my ‘day job’ and then focus on my own personal health.

Because the church has a mission… and infighting, accusation, and suspicion is not it.

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