Tag Archives: Carmichaels (PA)

Whose Job Is It?

Back home, in my home church, the Shinglehouse UMC, the bulletin each week listed the pastor, the organist, and then listed: “Ministers: All The People.”

That basic idea is also one of Methodism’s foundational beliefs: that everyone who follows Jesus is a “minister.” And a few of those ministers are asked to be pastors as well.

That little church had captured that. The pastor is there as servant, administrator, and preacher, but most of the ministry of the church actually comes from the lay people who sit in the pews each and every Sunday.

In John 13:3-17, we read how Jesus got up from the table and took off his outer clothing. Kneeling down like a servant, he washed the feet of all the disciples.

Now, this is the last night before his crucifixion. The Twelve still don’t ‘get it’ that he’s about to die, so he tries one more time to remind them of key lessons. He chooses this idea of serving and ministering to others as one of those keys. And Jesus goes about it in a way that they cannot forget. He, the leader, the master, the teacher, the KING, starts acting like one of the lowest of slaves. He gets down and washes their feet.

HE serves THEM!

Verse 4 reads: “so he got up from the table…”  and he washes their feet. Later in verse 26, he is back sitting at the table and dipping the bread. Jesus shows them, and us, that service can sometimes be inconvenient; maybe even in the middle of a meal. Now, this was arguably the most famous meal in history (The Last Supper). Yet, by his own example, we see that even a meal is no excuse to keep us from serving others.

When I was growing up, my Grandma Mix really demonstrated this. I remember the big Sunday dinners  when she was up & down, back & forth, throughout the meal; making sure there were enough potatoes or meat or beverage or vegetable. If she saw that one of us needed something, especially my Grandpa, she would drop her fork, with food still on it, to go get whatever was needed.  Then she would return to her plate.

That’s what Jesus did here. Even though it’s the middle of the meal, he stops eating and takes off his outside coat, rolls his sleeves up (so to speak), grabs a towel, and starts washing feet.

Sometimes service as His disciple will be equally inconvenient, yet still necessary. Yet how many times do we say, ‘Sure, but just wait for awhile, I’m busy now.’?

ALSO, notice that he washes Judas Iscariot’s feet too. They sit down to the meal, Jesus gets up, washes feet, and then goes back to the meal. That’s when he says that the one who will betray him is the one he gives the bread to, and then Scripture even records Jesus talking to Judas. There is no question about it: Judas was there when Jesus washed feet.

How many times do we say we want to serve Christ, but then refuse to serve some just because they’ve  hurt us in some way?  Unfortunately, we are more likely to say something like “If that’s the way she’s going to be, then just see if I ever try to help her again!” Yet here is Jesus, who already knows what Judas is up to and what he’s about to do, and he still serves Judas!

And lest we think that this is just a message for just the “church leaders” on how to serve their church and their God, look towards the end of this passage in John 13:

15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

ANY of us who call ourselves followers of Christ are his disciples and are called to follow his example.  We are to be involved in service; through the local church and as individuals. How has he equipped you to help this church serve those around us?

Throughout this month our Nominations & Lay Leadership Committee will be recruiting people to serve on the 2017 Ministry Team. Where does God want you? Has he called you to a specific ministry?

It reminds me of the story I once read about “Who’s Job Is It?”

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. (author unknown)

Jesus is our example here. We are to serve. We are to serve even if it’s inconvenient. We are to serve even those whom we don’t like or who hurt us. But how we serve speaks of how we love our Lord.

(Adapted from the Sunday morning sermon on September 18, 2016 and used as the pastor’s letter for the Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church newsletter, October 1, 2016)

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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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Running Through The Thistles

On Palm Sunday, our District Superintendent, Allan Brooks, announced that I will be appointed to the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, (Greene County) in the Washington District, effective July 1, 2016. That’s left me, and my whole family, as well as the church congregation, thinking and planning for a time of transition.

One of the key lessons in this area, for me, came in the late ‘90s as I prepared to say goodbye to my first charge. My superintendent at the time gave me a small booklet called Running Through The Thistles by Roy M. Oswald.

While focused on a pastor’s departure from a congregation, Oswald actually starts with a story from his own childhood. He and two older boys would walk to school (back in the one-room schoolhouse days) barefooted. But there was a short cut through a field that took out a lot of travel. But there was a catch: you had to go through a briar patch if you went that way. Otherwise, it was no savings of time.

Oswald relates that they would usually just simply go around the long way to and from school. However, a few times, when the fish seemed to almost call to them and nothing stood in their way of going fishing once they got home, they would decide to take the shortcut through those thistles. He then explains how they would gather their courage, and then run as fast as they could until they got through those thistles.

The problem, he writes years later, was that once they hurried and got through them, was that they had to then sit down in the field and one by one, painstakingly, remove each and every prickly thistle… and it actually took longer than if they had simply gone around the barbed barrier.

His point in relation to departing pastors is that there are two choices of how a pastor says goodbye to a church and a church bids a pastor farewell. One is to do the hard work of celebrating relationships, reconciliations, and forgiveness; much like Oswald’s  long way to school.

The other is to hurry and just ‘get outta there’ as fast as you can. That’s like running through the thistles. When we try to separate ourselves from the experience so that it ‘goes faster’, we actually leave a legacy of pain and hurt, distrust and hesitancy. Thus, when we meet the people in the next church or try to welcome the next pastor that comes, we’ll start with the same issues and concerns we thought we had left behind. We’ll be years trying to pull out the thistles, and those thistles will influence every relationship in the context of church from then on.

So, I choose to take the long way out. I want to celebrate the ministry we’ve been able to do together and grieve for the ones we’ve had to say goodbye to during our time together. Already, there are some who have tears in their eyes as we talk about what’s yet to come. Others, not so much.

And for the sake of both groups, and for me and my family as well, this is STILL a time to seek reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and restoration. After all, we’ve been praying in worship for some five years together asking that God forgive us only as much as we have forgiven others. (“forgive us… as we forgive…”). When we feel offended or hurt, our response is like a requisition asking God to treat us the same way whenever we fail, mess up, and sin. And God has been listening all these years.

So how about it? Let’s take the longer, healthier path as I draw closer to my departure in June. Let’s make sure that there is nothing left for us to have to deal with years from now. Let’s talk together, let’s pray together, let’s forgive one another, let’s celebrate what we were able to do together in ministry… Because this isn’t the last time we see each other. Every single one of us is just one missed heartbeat away from eternity. And as ones who believe in Jesus, our plan is to spend all of eternity together with each other in his presence. Let’s get any unfinished business taken care of here, now.

The Staff-Parish Relations Committee will be working on celebrations for us as we prepare to leave and for the Stump family when they arrive later on. Meanwhile, because of Annual Conference and the move ahead, my last Sunday in the pulpit will be June 5th. Please plan now on joining us in worship that day.

(to view this as it appears in the Clarks Mills UnitedMethodist Church newsletter… click below.)

N2016-04

“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all…” (Romans 1:8a, NKJV)

 

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Augustine: Without Humility

Augustine Day By DayIn 1998 I picked up a little daily devotional book called: Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.: 1986). I’ve used it as an everyday companion a couple different years, but I just happened to run across it again a couple of weeks ago and started reading some of the entries on which I had made notes. One of the first ones that caught me was titled “Without Humility Pride Will Win.”

This Augustine quote was the entry for January 8th and was drawn from Letter 118,22:

“Grasp the truth of God by using the way He Himself provides, since He sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility.

“Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”

This has been a good reminder during this last week for me. On Saturday, my wife and I met with the Pastor-parish committee of the new church I’ll be moving to in June (First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA). The District Superintendent was there to introduce us and at one point he’s reading off a list of qualities, about me, that had made the bishop and his cabinet believe I might just be the right next pastor for this church. I can’t list what they were, I wasn’t taking notes. But I remember thinking as he finished, “Man, I’d like to meet THAT guy!”

Did he exaggerate? No. But I always see my flaws, my overweight body, and my list of things I want to do better. Augustine’s warning to do self-examination with “first, … humility, second, … humility, and third, … humility” is good counsel!

Now if we could just infuse our presidential candidates with a little bit of humility… !

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