One of the great longings at our church is how we can help the poor in our area. We live in a place of greater than average wealth and greater than average poverty. Many of us here at Boone Methodist are closer to the wealth end of the bell curve than the other. We know Jesus’ warning that “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Lk 12:48).
But how do we help the poor without simply lending to bad habits, like substance abuse? How can our generosity become part of someone else’s empowerment rather than increasing dependence?
Circles is one answer to this question. It works to help eliminate poverty by empowering the poor with what we middle class folks already have: social capital. If we don’t know how to do something (our taxes, say, or changing the oil, or getting a job after graduation), we pick up the phone. The poor don’t have the social capital to pick up the phone that the rest of us do. So Circles puts them in, well, circles: relationships with one another and with middle class folks who can help them negotiate the maze out of poverty. How do I make a budget? Save for basic necessities? Negotiate with a creditor? Circles works by placing folks in disciplined small groups who learn together how to get control of their lives and to take their own steps out of dependence and into a sustainable economic life. It’s beautiful.
And it’s coming to Watauga County. If we can make it happen.
Susan Jones and Nancy Reigel, one longtime leader of our congregation and one relatively new-coming leader of our congregation, are deeply committed to Circles’ philosophy and determined to see it here. They have received a grant to help bring it. They need further funding—not a ton, but some, several thousand dollars worth to start. I want to see it happen too—we need more relationships with poorer folks to leaven the loaf of our congregation’s life. We cannot rightly be friends with the poor if we know no poor people. We are all hungry for all people to find a home at Boone UMC. This is a way for us to open our doors wider to people less like us. It is also a way to balance our wonderful commitment to international missions with local mission that helps poor people in our own zip code.
But where do we get the money?
JJ and Jennifer Brown and their marvelous boys Cooper and Tucker joined our church a year or so ago. JJ is dean of students at App, Jennifer a teacher at Bethel. And JJ has trained marathoners before. We have plenty of runners at our church and JJ was willing to train them and some newbies. But toward what end? Amidst simultaneous conversation with Nancy and Susan we realized the end: Circles. Some of us will run, others will sponsor, and we will give the proceeds to launch Circles. JJ amidst a frenetic schedule has coached us to prepare to run the New River Half Marathon this Saturday, May 4. He has sent notes, coached distances, met us with Gu and gels and water and encouragement, and made our lives better (or at least more athletic) but pushing us farther than we thought we could go. This initiative is in line with some others devoted to physical fitness at our church: yoga, Monday night basketball, fitness boot camp, Western Youth Network. One recent meeting of a local community fitness initiative realized that every single board member attending was a recent joiner of Boone UMC! What is God calling us to in this area?
So Saturday a gaggle of us will be out running at Todd. You can support us and Circles with a check to Boone UMC, memo: “Marathon.” The money will go to help poor people help themselves and to pushing our church further toward a health both physical and mental. We’d love your presence in Todd Saturday as well. More thanks than I can count to Susan, Nancy, JJ, and to all of you. Our church is only as strong as your prayers, for these initiatives and in all things.
April 2013 – Missions Celebration
One of the great strengths and great tensions in our wonderful church is that many groups think their thing is the church’s only important thing. I love this! The folks who run the Bazaar, our Sunday School classes, the UMW, our Disaster Relief Team (this list could continue) all think their activity is the most important one in the church. And here’s the little secret: they’re all right! All tied for first, that is.
The missions committee has a similar fire in its belly for the gospel and to change our church and our world. I am so proud of the work its coordinator, Luke Edwards, and this committee have done in preparation for this year’s Mission Celebration. In the committee’s decade or so of expanded work at Boone Methodist this group has come up with a way to raise serious funding for missions here in Boone and around the world. It can seem gimmicky to some, manipulative to others. I saw it as a challenge and an invitation to participate more deeply in God’s quietest and most important work in the world. Here’s the way to view it I think: a passionate group wants to share its passion with others. I’m so glad they do. Here’s why.
Mission is usually stereotyped as a “conservative” interest in the church: they are spreading the gospel, trying to convert people and grow the church on its edges. Fictional accounts of missionaries like Michener’s Hawaii (with its blatant inaccuracies) and The Poisonwood Bible (which raises more accurate and troubling questions) made this view common, almost commonplace. But this reputation is unfair. More balanced scholars have shown that it is missionaries who have preserved local languages by the hundreds. Why? Because they want to translate the bible into folks’ mother tongues. International business has no interest in preserving local languages spoken only by a few thousand people. For the church, those few thousand people are inestimably precious to God, their language a fitting vehicle for the Word Made Flesh. Missions has also been an empowering agent for women and children around the world. You could hear this last year in our mission celebration keynote speaker, Peter Pereira, describing his work in India. It is often women, children, and the poor to whom Christianity has special appeal. Jesus’ good news to all (Mt 28:20), Pentecost’s promise that the Spirit is poured out on all flesh (Acts 2), Paul’s promise that baptism makes us all one (Gal 3:27) is especially good news to those relegated to second class status in their societies.
When I worked at Christian Century magazine I realized the category-bending quality of missions. The Century is a flagship liberal Protestant publication, but its news coverage is almost entirely focused on America. Christianity Today, by contrast, is a flagship conservative Protestant publication. But its coverage is consistently global. Why? Because they have the missions emphasis. Evangelicals have to be concerned about, say, banks in Cypress, because they affect mission in Cypress and beyond, whereas liberals’ humanitarian interests often don’t push them to be as internationally minded.
Last Sunday at the 11 AM service as we watched the video promotion for Word Made Flesh (https://vimeo.com/63405926) I started to tear up. It’s not only that I’ve come to love All Sons and Daughters’ music. It’s that I love Chris Heuertz. He is a friend I got to know while working at Faith & Leadership at Duke. I traveled out to Omaha to write this feature on Chris’s work: http://www.faithandleadership.com/features/articles/the-side-hope I fell in love with Word Made Flesh’s combination of Wesleyan evangelical zeal with Mother Teresa’s work among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. Seeing the faces of children WMF works with on our screen at BUMC, while sitting beside Madeline Hays and Julia Handley and giving thanks that their lives are not like that, imagining Chris preaching from our pulpit to my church here that I love so much, almost overwhelmed me (I’m glad the sermon was over!).
I cannot beg you enough: come hear All Sons and Daughters. Come hear Chris Heuertz and our other speakers, including some of our own dynamic and creative missional leaders in our Saturday afternoon sessions (Dale Williams from Samaritan’s Purse and Eric Heistand from Campus Crusade for Christ, among others). This is a feast of a program, a delight for the heart, please do not go spiritually hungry next week!
Another local connection to Chris Heuertz is our own Wade Grimes. Wade quickly became my closest friend when we moved to Boone in 2011. We ran together, joked around, dreamed big dreams, watched our wives and children play. My worst day since I got to Boone was the day I learned Wade and his family were moving. I still think about and grieve his move daily, even as his family thrives in Charlotte.
Wade and I realized the day we met we had a common friend in Chris. “No way, you know Chris Heuertz?” he asked. “Way,” I responded (sorry, we grew up in the 80s). Wade had traveled to India with Chris, where WMF opened the first pediatric AIDS care clinic in all of South India. Wade spent months there working with the destitute and dying in Mother Teresa’s famous Home. Wade actually met Mother Teresa and seriously considered staying in India to do that work. At the same time, Wade had met a young woman named Jen Hill at Asbury College. In these pre-email days Wade and Jen were faxing letters back and forth to one another. One kind of love won out over another, thankfully, giving us the Grimes family and their bevy of redheaded kids, Sarah, Molly, and Elliot. Just to bring things full circle, Jen’s parents, Dan and Lavonne Hill, soon moved to Boone and began the Mission Celebration at one Boone United Methodist Church.
See how things come full circle? Please come this weekend, hear Chris and All Sons and Daughters, and be changed. Jesus has something special in store for us.
Our lives are run by a series of different schedules. These are sometimes conflicting. As a parent, the school year runs my family’s life: when is spring break? How long is summer vacation? These questions determine our lives. As a sports fan our lives are run by games. I love it, especially this time of year. Those are two powerful schedules that determine who we are.
The church also has a calendar that determines who we are. And this week is the height of that calendar. Holy Week is the summit from which we look down on and evaluate all the rest of the year. And do we ever have a Holy Week planned for you. I want to encourage all of you to take part in all of Holy Week. It’s the week where we walk with Jesus down a lonely road to Golgotha, called “Skull Place,” to die. And yet that death is not the end.
All week please be specially attentive to scripture and prayer. One approach to Holy Week would be to read the passion stories in all four gospels. It will take a while, but it will help you live into what Jesus experienced with his betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and his end-that-was-not-the-end. As a church we will gather on Wednesday of Holy Week at 5:30 p.m. in the chapel during the time when we normally celebrate the Eucharist. This week we will celebrate a foot washing, where Jesus, the greatest, takes the role of a slave. Please wear shoes you can remove with relative ease (hard this time of year when it is not yet warm, I realize!). We will remember who our Lord is, and what it means to serve him, as we wash one another’s feet.
Thursday we have our dramatic representation of the Last Supper, “Is it I?” directed by Paul and Diana Haas. This has become a mainstay here in the High Country. We invite you to experience it again or for the first time. Twelve men in our church become the disciples on the night of Jesus’ last meal. We learn what each is thinking when Jesus announces that one will betray. And we learn a bit about each of the twelve and how their lives ended as powerful witnesses to Jesus. It has been said that the best “proof” we have of the resurrection is this sorry lot of losers transformed from deniers and betrayers into those who would give their lives in martyrdom for what they had seen and heard. The best “proof” Jesus has now is your and my life. Sobering thought, isn’t it? Enough to make you and me get ourselves to church, isn’t it?
On Friday we will begin our celebration with The Stations of the Cross, portrayed by Dr. Cynthia Taylor, followed by the seven last words that Jesus says from his cross: “Father, forgive,” “I thirst,” “It is finished,” and more. Our preachers are seven of our leaders at this church and beyond: Carrie McClain, our own pastor Jeff’s wife, herself a seminary graduate and aspiring pastor; Caitlin Tremper, a graduating senior at App bound for divinity school; Renee Choate, longtime leader at our church and at others; Eric Heistand, campus minister with Cru at App, Austin Eggers, seminary graduate and from a long-standing family at our church; Chief or Buddy Price, longtime pastor of Banner Elk Christian Fellowship (now in his 90s!); and from my staff Dana Holden, director of our preschool, and a seminary grad and leader in the church herself. Each preacher gets all of 3 minutes, 180 seconds (we won’t go over an hour!), to illumine her or his portion of scripture. These are some of the most gifted preachers we have, people who love our church, please come and support them and worship on Friday night at 7:00 p.m.
On Holy Saturday we will have an Easter Egg hunt and other children’s activities at the church from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30a.m. All the world waits on Holy Saturday for what’s to come.
Easter Sunday will begin early, 6:30 a.m., while it is still dark (John 20:1), when the women first came to the tomb. We will worship in the chapel. Our first sunrise service in some time will include music, preaching, communion. Our regular worship services at 8:45 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and Crossroads at 10:55 a.m. will be full of visitors. As we worship the newly risen Lord that day be sure and greet and welcome and speak to those not normally in church. What a gift that God sends us angels in the form of visitors on these holy days.
And what a gift to serve a crucified and risen Lord together in these mountains. Blessings for Holy Week.
“We think every rupee is as precious as every child.”
So claims Chris Heuertz, founder of a terrific mission agency called Word Made Flesh, and our missions celebration keynote this spring. I so hope everyone can participate all weekend, April 19-21. He is the best of Wesleyan evangelicalism (a graduate of Asbury College) with Catholic care for the poorest of the poor (he spent months at Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Kolkata). Word Made Flesh founded the first pediatric AIDS care home in South India. They treasure children. And they strive to treasure their funding just as much.
We do too here at Boone UMC. Last fall seemed to be shaping up like a hard one for us. We made budget plans for 2013 on the assumption that money would be even tighter than in 2012. We have since had several pieces of good news.
One, we finished 2012 in the black financially. This was due to some remarkable giving by each of you. Some of you told me “I dug deep, did we make it?” We didn’t make what we budgeted, but we did cover what we spent. Our future work here is to spread our giving out over the course of the year so we no longer have to pray for a “Christmas miracle”!
Two, we have been working to refinance our mortgage. Harold Tilley, Jennifer Whittington in my office, Jason Triplett and others did the work to put our loan out for bids and four banks came back with terms that would all have improved on what we were paying. We decided to refinance with Wells Fargo, since they offered the best rate and the most flexibility we could get. Our new rate will free up thousands of dollars in monthly cash flow. Harold gave this happy news to the administrative council this week. Let me reiterate what I said then: let us not say that finance committee is always the frowning body of “no”!
Three, we have received a significant gift from a bequest of a church member, Bette Hodson, who died in 2012. She loved our church, our children’s ministry, and our life together pursuing Jesus on this mountain. This is a game changing gift for our church. For now we will use it to pay off our smaller mortgage, provide funding for the visioning process and the creation of a capital reserve fund. The rest will be placed in our endowment fund to bless future generations.
Just to be clear, the giver of this gift wanted no part of it to go to regular operating expenses. She was wise to stipulate that. We need to cover our own bills through the spiritual practice of giving and investing in God’s work in this church and community. What the gift does do is set an example of the way one member’s giving beyond her death can bless her church for years to come. She did not have to ask her family to sacrifice to do it—on the contrary they made out far better than they would without this investment. Please see me or Jim Deal in our endowment committee for more about how you can do likewise.
Final note on our finances for now: with the recent arrest of a community member for embezzling from another local church, it is a good time to say that we have practices and people in place to prevent this here. We have two check signers for every check that goes out. Two people have to count our Sunday offering together (only one can be a staff member and they cannot both be check signers, or family members). We hire an external accountant to go over our expenditures. Our finance committee is moving us toward a full audit of our finances. We are bonded against any potential embezzlement. What happened is terribly sad. No one should be so naïve as to say “it couldn’t happen here.” But we have practices in place to make it exceedingly difficult. If any of you would like to discuss anything about our finances please see me or Harold, our finance chair, we can tell you more than you’d ever want to hear.
Let us all move toward treating children and dollars as the treasures they are.
A lay leader here whom I trust deeply recently came to me with some advice. “You ask a lot of us,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt to thank us, say ‘attaboy’, every now and then”.
He couldn’t be more right. I spent oceans of words and worry last fall on our finances. Y’all heard about it, I lost sleep over it, it hung over lots of our conversations, in worship and far outside. I honestly felt last fall sometimes like the wheels were coming off. I know we have a history of catching up at the end of the year with our giving, but what if this is the first time we don’t? On my watch? (sorry to overpersonalize these matters…).
Then we did catch up. Money kept coming in into 2013 (apparently you can give well into January toward the year before and get tax benefits. Who knew?!). One noteworthy gift came from our own Preschool, which sent a gift of $2,000 to the church, bless them. And we realized in our accounting that $50,000 we set aside for repair was being counted as an expense, when it’s still in our hands, waiting to be spent (we removed it from our profit and loss sheet). So with an avalanche of generous year-end giving we met our expenses for 2012. I still can’t believe it when I think about it. Several of you have come to me and asked, “Did we make it? Our family stretched, dug deep, and did all we could.” I can’t say this enough: thank you. That end of the year giving is not to be presumed. It took all of us digging deep and giving generously—in response to a God who gives us everything in Christ.
Another of you suggested I more often give thanks for folks in lay leadership, serving on committees, stretching our church in mission (do you see a common theme in the feedback I’m getting?!). I told her I hesitate to thank people because no one is serving for me. Any service, any giving, any time offered, is done out of love for God, the church, and our community. For me to say ‘thank you’ hints that I’m the recipient, and I never am. She corrected me: “It’s not for you, sure enough. But you’re the leader of our church. Your thanks means something.”
With this first round of committee meetings at our church in 2013, with eager new members and wise longer-time participants, I’m staggered at the level of creativity and hospitality offered in leadership in our church. I hear stories about the elbow grease and skill with which we rebuilt our church building after the fire in 1982. Lots more of our leaders are around who built this current site in 2000. We have more community leaders than I can count, in all sectors of society, who are part of our congregation.
And we have real needs. One group is talking about what our vision as a church should be. They talked before about our financial situation, our debt, our long term financial prospects, and possible need for a capital campaign. Another group is working on our welcoming practices. We have a confusing building, hard to read for outsiders, leaving, say, parents with kids who turn up to church 15 minutes late unsure where to take their kids, where to find worship, where they left their car. Another group is trying to tend to a building that is aging and having expensive repair problems to HVAC’s. Another wants to make our prayer space more beautiful, on the way to attracting more participation in our prayer practices. Others spend all their time and effort in designing creative and exciting ministry with our children, our youth, in missions in our community. Still another is launching new endeavors in mission internationally and locally and among the poor. If you count the hours and the worn shoe leather and the chewed up pencils you’d run out of time.
This church is such a gift. It is offering its life to God, who offered his life to us first in Christ. The kingdom of God inches slightly closer when we do these things. As leader of this church on its behalf I say, thank you, more profoundly than I can ever articulate on my own. And as your friend and fellow church member, your fellow sinner being saved by grace, I say “Let’s get back to work.”
I was struck by a story Will Willimon shared with us while he was here and so want to share it with you who weren’t there that Sunday afternoon. He had a meeting with Cal Turner, founder of Dollar General, a fabulously successful businessman and loyal Methodist. Turner asked the Methodist bishops what they thought Dollar General sells. Consumer products? No. They sell hospitality. ‘We imagine a single mother of two. She’s been treated like dirt all day as she works two jobs to try and make ends meet. When she comes in here we want her to feel treated like a queen. We want to get her whatever she wants and we want to remember her when she comes back.’
Sounds not a little like what the church is trying to do, doesn’t it? Among public speakers like me they say an audience will remember you best not for what you said, but for how you made them feel while you were speaking. So it is with church. Those who honor us with their time by visiting us will not first remember what I or anyone else said or did, but how we made them feel while they were with us. Would that they would feel like angels, like Jesus himself, because biblically speaking, that’s what our guests are (see Genesis 18, Matthew 25, Hebrews 13).
My family and I ran into this difference on a recent trip. We stopped to eat at a national chain and were told it would be a 20 minute wait. We noticed the place was unclean, that waiters were bickering at one another openly, the server wasn’t at her station, and when we found her she said it would be another 30 minutes. “The wait staff is just overwhelmed,” she explained. I don’t blame the wait staff for this—clearly someone in management hadn’t hired enough of them, trained or treated them well enough. It was clear we weren’t wanted, so we left.
At another national chain we found ourselves attended to, joked with, welcomed. “What do you want, baby?” the waitress asked. As she left Jaylynn said hearing herself called “baby,” after our last experience made her feel like a star! We not only stayed, tipped more than was reasonable, and enjoyed, we’ll go back.
I’m hesitant to draw on consumer experiences for talking about church. We’re not a chain competing with rivals, we’re the church of Jesus Christ, cooperating with other churches in preparing for a Kingdom that God is bringing. But such analogies can be useful. It is hard to greet unfamiliar people. I’ve done it before and been embarrassed to learn the person had been at our church 20 years! Yet greet we must, and not only that, we must befriend, notice, get to know, pray for and with people. One church consultant wisely says “People are not looking for friendliness. They’re looking for friends.” And we have that to give—for God has made us his friend in Jesus Christ (John 15).
One of my favorite scenes in all the movies comes at the end of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, where Samwise Gamgee refuses to let Frodo Baggins go on his quest alone. “I made a promise Mr. Frodo, and I intend to keep it,” Sam explains. He is not going to let his friend face the fires of Mt. Doom alone. Friendship makes courage possible.
I am still in a bit of a fog from our administrative council meeting last week, at which we approved a budget for 2013 that makes severe cuts in all ministry areas, including youth, children, missions, and music—by 20% or more. It also freezes our salary package in ways that may cost us current staff members who need raises to stay with us.
There is no ogre behind this budget—our Finance Committee did the hard work to project how much revenue we can reasonably expect in 2013 and cut to that level. Our only unfixed costs are salaries and programming. We have taken in more money in 2012 than we had at this point in 2011, but we budgeted still more than that increase.
I honor Finance’s work. There is a difference between faith and wishful thinking. We have brought in new families recently who I trust will be contributors. But we cannot budget on what we hope might happen.
We should not waste a good crisis. We should all be open to new ideas for saving and raising funds. In the next year we need to assess precisely what our mission is and then plan on how to give to that. This strain will remind us, as a missionary friend in India says, “every rupee is as precious as every child.” This should bring us to reconsider everything we spend and how it advances our mission.
Nonetheless it is hard for pastoral staff to hear their budgets will be cut. Youth, children, missions and music are areas in which we bring in new people and get them involved in our church. Budgets are moral documents, and in our 2013 budget we honor our commitments to our mortgage, to our current salary levels, but we do not to our ministry areas. This is not fat we are trimming. These are vital organs.
We do give at a generous rate compared to other churches our size. The fact that our giving is relatively consistent from 2007 to now means we’re all giving more with less household income. We have sacrificed to give to our beloved church as an exercise of our faith in a God who always provides, who honors sacrifice and longs for us to be generous.
There is no one to blame for these cuts. It’s just where we are. To use a dismal cliché, we will all have to do more with less.
Here is where friendship kicks in.
We are all in this together. We are at what we can hope is the tail end of a recession. We are not facing anything churches, governments, non-profits, businesses and others have not also been facing. In a way it’s remarkable we have not seen these cuts until now. This is a difficult moment in our journey together.
But let us remember the journey we are on: it is a way of the cross. The church of Jesus Christ has survived persecutions, famines, plagues, our own catastrophic sins. And it has always thrived more under hardship than under ease. It is no solo journey. It can only be made with friends, who make each other courageous and refuse to let one another fail. I ask that we stay together, like Sam and Frodo, like the saints, on this way. It will be harder to look up in the coming year. But when we do, we see the One leading us with a cross on his shoulder, and an empty tomb over the horizon.
There’s an old saying in the church: “God doesn’t always come when you want him, but he’s always on time.”
I’ve been thinking lately about the way we arrive on time (or not) for church. I hesitate to write about this because I don’t want to feel like a scold. But I do think it needs addressing.
When we begin worship at 8:45 it often feels like nobody is present. By the time 9 rolls around the sanctuary has filled up nicely. I understand this is a longstanding pattern. In staff meeting once we imagined whether we could one day move our 8:45 service to 8:30, and I was told by those with longer memories than mine, ‘You can claim it starts whenever you want, but people will turn up at 9.’
This is a problem for several reasons. One, our visitors don’t know this pattern, so when they arrive at church the place looks embarrassingly empty. Two, those with assigned tasks often also arrive late. It is hard not to stumble out of the gate in worship when acolytes or ushers or greeters aren’t here and ready and greeting and leading with smiles and contagious energy. Three, scrambling in late leaves us personally unready for worship. We haven’t prayed in advance, haven’t greeted neighbors and strangers and friends, haven’t asked God’s blessing on the worship and presence in the building.
I understand all the reasons for arriving late. My role requires me to turn up early. When my family tries to get ourselves or our kids rolling early on a Sunday it’s hard. We often end up bickering at each other and then try to turn up wherever we’re going acting like it was effortless to get there, relatively dressed and relating well to others. To leave and arrive even slightly earlier would be a great challenge. It helps me that I can come at 8:15 by myself, not dragging a family, focused on my work that day. As I tell people who apologize for not coming to worship more: “I can’t judge you: they pay me to show up.”
This complaint doesn’t apply to everybody of course. Robert and Gudrun Ohlen are often here 15 minutes early, handing out bulletins even when it’s not his turn to usher. Bruce Simmons is often here to listen to the band warm up. George and Nellie Wellington are often here early to visit and sit and be. Sam Wotherspoon is often either directing parking or greeting. The band members are themselves here preparing to lead us in worship. The signers are often here getting ready for their portion of worship. Jennifer Greer and Mike Carson from our staff are here after having unlocked the building and turned the lights on. Barbara York and Jeff Nichter are in the sound booth. Mae and Buck Robbins are in the office, dressed to the 9’s. There are others I’m missing. These folks inspire me. They love being at their church and want to welcome others who come, whether for the first or the ten thousandth time. Christ the Lord gathers his church, and it is a delight to see who he brings and to learn why.
I’d like to ask the rest of us to follow their example more closely. The request is not just to be bodily present. It’s to be present in the Holy Spirit—to pray, to prepare for worship, to spend time with those who need help adjusting to the building, to encourage the musicians. Worship is an active thing, more like a musician performing or an athlete playing than a movie-goer consuming. I know this is asking a lot. But it will enhance your experience of worship and enable our church better to receive the guests whom Christ sends our way.
The church should gather with an air of expectation, ready to be surprised again by what the Holy Spirit will do in our midst. That air of expectation requires prayer in advance, bodily presence, readiness for the task at hand.
Our Appalachian State women’s basketball coaches told me of an adage they teach their players: If you’re ‘on time,’ you’re really late. And if you’re ten minutes early, you’re on time. Overhearing, one of their players said, “And if you’re late, you’re in trouble!”
Let’s follow their advice and imitate their excellence in worship Sunday and beyond.
“One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” – Psalm 145:4
One of the greatest things about the church is also the most difficult: how are we to be a community together across vast stretches of age?
Brad Farrington, the Wesley Foundation director at ASU, tells his students that the glory of the local church is this: where else in our culture does a 70-year old sit down beside a 7-year old? He’s right. But it’s also what makes for difficulty. The world has changed immeasurably between the 1942 birth date of our 70-year old and the 2005 date of our 7. Music styles, cultural assumptions, ways of communicating and more—these have all changed several times in those two generations. How do those from Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” relate to their children, the Baby Boomers, and how do each relate to my generation, Generation-X, and how do all of us relate to those younger?
One thing that has made this question more difficult is our tendency to segregate in worship by age. This is an unintentional side effect of a good thing. It is a great gift in our church that one can worship in a contemporary, classical, or emerging style without having to choose another congregation. The side effect is that our 11 AM service tends (not exclusively) to be made up of Greatest Generation folks, our contemporary of Boomers, and Crossroads of Gen-X and younger. This makes sense—each musical style is crafted for folks of a certain age. The Boomers’ rock & roll once grated on the ears of their parents—now guitars are “church” music! And both Greatests and Boomers tend to think that Crossroads is too loud. Our separate services help everyone to approach God in their native language. The danger is that we can then neglect to do the hard work of learning to be church together. Our 70-year old and our 7-year old rarely actually sit together.
Phyllis Tickle is a great church leader in her 70s who points out that Greatest Generation and Gen-X folks tend to get along well. “They have a common enemy,” she jokes: “Boomers.” The Greatest Generation defeated fascism and built the world’s strongest economy. Boomers experienced the tumult of the 60s and anguished questions over race and war—and often elbowed their elders out of the way in their passion to make the world better. We X’ers and younger? We haven’t done much yet. Amidst the War on Terror and the worst economy since before the Greatests’ day, it’s hard to make our mark in the world. I keep thinking here of the Scottish preacher Ian McLaren’s adage, “Be kind—everyone you see is fighting a mighty battle.”
I remember my dad telling me how hard it was when his physicians became younger than him. He pointed out that a 90-year old operated on Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia. “I know why that is. No one wants some kid cutting on them,” he said. I’ve noticed this too, as various professionals with authority over me now leave me asking, “What are you, 8?”
So being church across generations is one of our greatest gifts from God, as Psalm 145, quoted above, makes clear. It’s also one of our greatest difficulties. So let’s all pray: that we would all grow closer to Jesus, and so to one another. The pride of our elderly should be to watch a new generation grow up and meet Jesus. The joy of our young should be to learn wisdom in the lap of our elderly. And us in the middle—we can all pray for wisdom, which only comes with patience. I’ve told you before the quote from Kathleen Norris: “Start practicing now to be a sweet little old lady, because you’ll need all the time you have left.”
I visited with 96-year old Ruby Arnold recently, who was born during the Woodrow Wilson administration. Two of her older brothers fought in World War I. She would have known Civil War veterans. Imagine what they would have made of the teenagers who sit near Ruby text messaging each other during worship?! In one way they have nothing in common. In another they have the only thing in common that matters: Jesus, who is both the Ancient of Days and eternally the babe in Mary’s lap.
Dear BUMC Family,
I’m delighted to introduce to you a new member of our church staff. Lindsey Long has accepted the SPRC’s offer to join our staff as the pastoral leader of Blackburn’s Chapel and the abbess of the Blackburn House. Her work as pastor will be paid for from Blackburn’s own offerings and her work as abbess will be supported by the recent $150,000 grant Blackburn received from The Duke Endowment. I can’t wait for Lindsey to share her prodigious talent as a preacher, musician, and person with Blackburn’s and with all of us at Boone Methodist.
Lindsey just graduated from Duke Divinity School with her Master of Divinity degree. She volunteered during her three years at Duke as a youth worker at New Creation United Methodist, a multi-racial church in the heart of the city where she especially used her gifts among Latino youths. She spent a summer internship serving in Kenya and took a class hosted in Raleigh’s prison with half inmates and half divinity students. She fell in love with the mountains while serving with Appalachian Service Project during her summers at the University of Illinois. She learned there how to be in relationship with people in deep need, especially poverty, without showing up and claiming to be the expert. Such experience will serve her well in Todd. She hails from the Chicago area and is delighted to serve in a creative form of rural ministry. The subcommittee of the SPRC that interviewed her and several other fantastic candidates was especially impressed by her experience at such a young age (25) and by the synergy that will be generated between her work in church leadership and her work a mentor to younger women pursuing ministry. We will also help her on her next steps toward ordination in her own Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Her work for us will partly be succeeding Jeff McClain in leading Blackburn’s as a preacher and scheduler of preachers and musicians. It will also be to lead a group of women (each of whom I will introduce to you in a future column) who will live in intentional Christian community in Blackburn’s old parsonage. They will cultivate a life together of prayer, worship, service, and study on the way to considering a call to ministry in the church. Some of this work will be invisible, such as writing a covenant and learning how to fail and forgive one another. Some will be quite visible, such as the 1/3 of an acre garden from which they’ll feed hungry people and sell produce as an expression of love of God’s creation and their plans to play music together on their beautiful wraparound porch. The Blackburn House is like many similar projects around the country that are trying to tap the best wisdom from ancient Christian monks and nuns while living into mission in a new time with biblical creativity.
This project is the culmination of years of dreaming by many of you who’ve preached, led music, and prayed at and for Blackburn’s, initiated by John Fitzgerald and culminated with Kathy McGuire’s stellar grant writing. The Duke Endowment found our proposal to be an innovative approach to rural ministry and showed it with their award. Everyone at Boone Methodist and our Blackburn’s campus ought to feel proud (in a biblical, humble sort of way) for this accomplishment.
Lindsey will also attend staff meetings here at Boone UMC and will occasionally lend her talents here in worship and service. In addition to her gifts as a dynamic preacher, she is also a songwriter and musician with a penchant for bluegrass. We look forward to seeing how her gifts will bless all of us in ways we cannot even now anticipate. She will move to Todd this summer and we will look for a way to welcome and bless her at Boone Methodist and to send her and the other residents of the Blackburn House out in ministry here in the High Country. Would you please send Lindsey a note of welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m delighted to introduce you to a new pastoral staff member at Boone United Methodist Church. Jeff McClain joins our staff on June 1 as director of congregational care. No one could replace George Naff’s particular constellation of gifts, but Jeff will be responsible for pastoral care in George’s old slot. He and George will both work the month of June so Jeff can pick George’s brain and get off to a running start. Jeff’s work will be to be the point person on pastoral care, to see that all of our most vulnerable people, especially in hospitals, nursing homes, or a situation of crisis, are visited and attended to by their church. He won’t be doing this work all by himself—he will be seeing that it is done, often by others on the staff, often by lay people caring for one another. And he’s going to be dynamite at it.
The staff-parish relations committee (SPRC), in choosing Jeff from among three strong candidates we interviewed, was impressed partly with his corporate experience. His former employer in software development told me the sky would have been the limit for Jeff had he stayed in that field. But Jeff was always more interested in people than in computers. SPRC was also impressed with his breadth of pastoral experience. He’s served chaplaincies at a hospital in Chicago and at a Methodist retirement home that will serve him well in this work with us. He has also been part of leadership in churches in Olympia, Washington, Denver, Colorado, and in his home, west Michigan.
I remember how I learned about Jeff originally. I hadn’t even gotten to Boone yet when Fred Jordan sent out an email about a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago who was moving to Grassy Creek. I had taught at North Park while living in Chicago and admired the school. It features the best of the mainline churches’ tradition of critical inquiry with evangelicals’ zeal for Jesus and for social justice. I called some professor friends of mine from NPTS and they raved about Jeff: “Hire that guy right now, he’s the cat’s meow,” one said. I didn’t know at the time Jeff graduated with his Master of Divinity from North Park with high honors. He previously studied at the University of Michigan, which in most of the world draws “oohs” for being one of the country’s top public schools, but in Boone draws a response of simply, “34-32.”
Jeff and his wife Carrie met at North Park. They moved to Grassy Creek after graduation with their one-year old Emma to help her family run their Christmas tree farm. He’s spent this past year serving as a pastoral leader at Blackburn’s Chapel, so some of you may have heard him preach at that campus or perhaps when he guest preached at BUMC earlier this year or played St. James in our Maundy Thursday play. He has offered terrific leadership in Todd, helping that community approach the Duke Endowment for a grant for innovative rural ministry, scheduling speakers and musicians, and often leading worship himself. He has already been a gracious presence in our staff meetings at BUMC. His colleagues on my staff are eager to work with him in this new role.
Jeff’s church membership is in the Evangelical Covenant denomination—a Swedish pietist group with strength especially in the upper Midwest (North Park University is their flagship, and only, school!). They have only a handful of churches in North Carolina, and Jeff is considering joining the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC, with encouragement from our DS’s and the bishop. The Covenant broke off from the Lutherans as we Methodists did from the Church of England and for similar reasons. The irony is that as Jeff helps steward new members toward Methodism he’ll be contemplating moving toward our denomination himself!
Friends I’m delighted Jeff will be joining our life together in Christ for this year, 2012-2013. Will you send him a note of welcome, to email@example.com. Most importantly please join me in prayer for this new step of faithfulness as we attempt to do what Mr. Wesley prescribed for us: to “watch over one another in love.”
We have a spectacular opportunity coming up at our church the weekend of May 5-6 that I don’t want you to miss. One of the most important leaders in Methodism over the last generation, the Rev. Dr. John Ed Mathison, will be with us the whole weekend. He will preach at our 8:45 and 11 AM services, and teach in the chapel in our Sunday School hour on the topic of “Does God need the church?” We will also host a dinner for John Ed on Saturday night at the Appalachian House at 6:30 PM, where he will discuss with us the topic, “God’s future for Boone UMC.”
The idea for inviting John Ed had two sources. One, Ralph and Rickey Jacobs, longtime pillars at BUMC, were members of Frazer for a decade during its torrential growth. Two, the Methodism Task Force, chaired by Maggie Tilley, has sought to bring voices from a variety of perspectives within our Methodist family to our church, including Bishop Goodpaster and Randy Maddox from Duke. The goal is to lean back into the Methodist revival that powered the church to proclaim Jesus and to explode in witness and service in 18th century England and the 19th century US South. It is to be the church God wants us to be in these mountains—one that is more deeply like Jesus Christ.
Sometimes a contemporary United Methodist congregation leans back into that tradition in which the Holy Spirit descends on us with new power and grace. When John Ed arrived at Frazer in Montgomery, Alabama, he preached his first Sunday to a congregation of 266. He stayed at Frazer 36 years (see! Methodist ministers can stay a while!). And in that time Frazer grew from 400 members to more than 8,800 at his retirement in 2008. At one point in the mid-1980s Frazer was the fastest growing church of any denomination in Alabama. Of course growth is never merely numerical. Frazer’s generosity grew to the point that it gave away a staggering 1/3rd of its budget to missions. It had eight Sunday morning worship services: three traditional, three contemporary, one Hispanic and one Chinese. In 2006, The Church Reporter magazine recognized Frazer as the 25th most influential church of any kind in America.
How did this growth happen? Members like the Jacobs’ speak of Mathison’s accessibility, his refusal to take himself too seriously, and his homespun and direct sermon style. He had a regular breakfast with the church’s business leaders. He loved Alabama sports. He piloted the church through repeated building projects and capital campaigns with the right combination of wisdom and risk-taking. He would be the first to say this growth was not his work alone or even primarily. He had lay leaders who were committed to the church’s mission with their talents, wisdom, and of course money. They grew by making church membership not easier, but more demanding. And they all together received the blessing that God sometimes decides, in his whimsy, to dole out on us. The result was a church that is a model for all of us.
The goal of this visit is not to imagine Boone UMC as another Frazer. Boone is not Montgomery, we are not that congregation, and I am no John Ed Mathison. It is, rather, to thank God for what has happened in Montgomery and for the church we love here in Boone. It is to borrow from Frazer what will work in our context, to learn from it how to be more of what God is calling us to be, on the way to being the church Jesus wants.
“God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” -Romans 4:17
If holy week here at Boone UMC is anywhere near as wonderful as Palm Sunday weekend, I’m not sure I can take it. I’ve never been part of anything like last weekend. We gathered at the New River on Saturday to baptize 5 confirmands. I took some advice from a physician friend—when asked if you’ve done something before, nod and look confident, then figure it out. I had borrowed waders. A sermon sketched out. Some holy water from Thessalonica where St. Paul baptized (thank you Eli Stroud & family). And we had five 12-year olds who’d spent all year preparing to pass from death to new life, from slavery to freedom through the Red Sea. Try as I might to act like I knew what I was doing, I still ended up with river water pouring over the waist of those waders. Once water is inside those things do a great job not letting it out.
John Boitnotte’s baptism started us out. He came up gasping, not so much because of the cold I think, as from the Holy Spirit blowing through him in a new way. When it was Price St. Clair’s turn, the crowd parted so his great-grandmother, seated a little farther up on the beach, could see. Imagine being nearly 90 years old and watching a great grandchild joined to Jesus! A handful of our 22 confirmands followed those to be baptized into the river, stood knee deep, and got drenched anew as I told them to remember their baptisms and be thankful. All the work Colette and Dan Krontz and a legion of volunteers and very patient parents had done culminated in new life as we went “down to the river to pray.”
Then confirmation Sunday—Hayden Uzelac prayed a deeply heartfelt opening prayer, Price St. Clair and Josh Lamont played guitar beautifully, Sam Crabbe, Gracie Justice, Price St. Clair and Anna Selong read beautifully from scripture (including nailing Jesus’ words in Aramaic—way to go!). And as mentors and prayer partners and family and Colette and I laid hands on these 22 and asked that God confirm them as disciples in his church. I was struck by how much of the church it took to confirm these children—half the sanctuary emptied as those involved in confirmation came forward to lay hands on the confirmands. And Maddisen Robinson closed us beautifully with a benediction that was full of grace. I hope the newly-minted church members themselves remember how much their church loves them, that we will always pray for them, and that this is a significant step in their faith but not the last one. There is always more of Jesus to adore.
So now Easter week. I will teach on repentance in church history on Wednesday night at 5:30 PM. I’ve long heard about the drama we do on the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday at 7 PM, and am eager to see and participate in it by presiding over the Eucharist afterwards. We will gather Friday evening at 7 PM for a service on the Seven Last Words of Jesus from the cross. Each one is charged with the mystery of salvation, from “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to “It is finished.” Our preachers will include three of our Crossroads members (Brendan Byers, Patrick Madigan, Rachel Naylor), two from our 8:45 (Rodney Duke & Bobby Sharp—though Bobby often doubles up) and one from 11 (Gene Ammons–and for those of you counting at home—the seventh is my wife Jaylynn). We will have choral music from our choir and a guest choir from a neighboring church. I’m grateful to Ronnie Wise, to Paul and Diana Haas, and to all who are working to help all of us enter into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection this week.
It’s hard to wrap our minds around what Christ accomplished for us this week. Impossible actually. St. Paul’s words above give us a glimpse: God is the one who launches the worlds into existence and gives life back to Jesus. There is no grave now from which Jesus cannot bring resurrection, no corner of the universe so dark that God cannot raid it with light. I give God thanks for how he launched our holy week and look forward to entering deeply into Christ’s passion and tomb-exploding new life with each of you.
Friends I’m delighted to announce to you that the SPRC has offered Luke Edwards a position on the staff of BUMC as Missions Coordinator and that he has accepted. I cannot wait to see what God will do through this new form of Luke’s ministry among us!
Of course Luke is not new to us at all. You know him as the face of Boone Area Missions. Some of you have cut firewood with BAM, some have given to its mission efforts here locally in Watauga County, some have visited our elderly with it. The thing I’m most excited about regarding BAM is the way it is not content to do things for other people. It wants to establish and nurture friendships with others, to be with them, especially the poor, in our area. This is the difference between saying “Here’s a meal and some firewood” to a stranger who remains stranger, and getting to know and love someone who becomes a friend with us, our church, and with God. Naturally in such a friendship we will eat with and be sure our friend has enough heat.
Last fall Luke gave a brief missions moment in which he described BAM’s work with one local lady whom they’d been told was particularly “crabby.” They brought her food, fuel, repaired her home. By the end she wasn’t just fed, warm, safer, she was telling the young missionaries from BAM that she loved them. BAM’s priority is to tell their new friend they are there because of our church and because of Jesus. Sometimes, church, we get it right.
For some time, when new people have come to our church and ask us about our local missions work we say, “Well, there’s this guy named Luke.” This is appropriate—we are proud of Luke’s work among us to rally his friends and others to mission through our church. Yet this is clearly an insufficient answer for a church our size. A ministry can’t be synonymous with a single person or it will fizzle. All of us have to know what we’re doing in mission. All of us have to have opportunities to participate (whether we can wield an axe or not!). All of us, whatever age we are, have to know where to appear to serve and what shoes to wear. All of us want to serve Jesus through his poor and others in need. Luke’s work will be to help, facilitate, communicate, and make that happen. The Missions Committee will continue to do its truly remarkable work. Luke’s hiring will increase the importance and effectiveness of that work—not replace it.
Luke’s founding of BAM began in a class at Appalachian. He was assigned to learn about local poverty. And as he got to know local folks in poverty, as a Christian, he found he couldn’t just record information about them and leave. He had to come back. Befriend. Bring his friends from App back to get to know his new friends. All of this work revolved around Jesus. This is precisely how mission starts—with no grand intentions. Just a desire to do the small, right, and beautiful thing. When Luke gave our mission moment last October 31 (Reformation Sunday) we had our largest offering of the year. There is an enormous hunger to serve locally in addition to our already-excellent international work. Every time we talk about missions from the pulpit the church nods in agreement.
Now we want to move from rhetorical momentum (a good thing) to programmatic momentum (a better one) in our mission work. We want to move from Luke and BAM doing this work to all the rest of us doing this work. We want it to be obvious, intuitive, how we can better serve Jesus in his poor and others whom he especially treasures.
I can tell you precisely when I realized we should hire Luke. It was when we were struggling to make budget last fall. I just couldn’t continue to jump up and down and beg for money without recommitting us to mission and increasing our service to others. If you are going to give more money, then it’s my responsibility to see that more of it goes to those whom Jesus cherishes. This is part and parcel of salvation itself (reread Matthew 25!) and the flourishing of our church.
Luke will be working part-time. We will look for the right moment to recognize Luke’s new ministry among us liturgically on Sunday. I want to ask you to pray for Luke and for all of us. As God has sent Jesus among us, so Jesus sends us into the world (John 17). May God multiply that work here among us. One day we will look back on Luke’s ministry and not say “Wow, wasn’t Luke great?” We will say “Wow, look at what God did through us all.”
“Our leader training made me feel so proud,” she said. She’s a committed member of our church: her kids and parents attend every week and tell me why they can’t when they have to be away. But this is her first committee assignment, the first time we’ve asked her to step into a position of leadership. She attended our leader training/Methodist revival and loved it. “It made me feel part of something hopeful,” she said.
This is the point of leadership in the church: to be part of a vast conspiracy of hope that God is hatching in the world. Those of us who’ve been in church meetings longer than we can remember can forget this. To be asked to lead through service in the church is to be honored: ‘my church wants my wisdom, my time, my ideas, not just my attendance and money.’ The reason people attend committee meetings is not that they’re dying to know the state of the budget or of the HVAC’s, important as those things are. It’s to see their friends, to check in on the state of one another’s souls, to pull closer to Jesus by pulling closer to one another. Nobody needs more meetings. Everybody needs more Jesus. My guess is committee members know that or we wouldn’t turn up. We should look for more ways to involve more people in this blessed sort of responsibility.
The end of our financial year in 2011 turned out well. We not only met our expenses, we made budget, which people ‘in the know’ had told me to expect not to happen even late into December. Charles Stanley had bet me we would make budget and we did, by the skin of our teeth, and I happily bought Charles lunch (he was merciful: asking for pizza rather than lobster . . . ). Given our current financial climate this means others of us stepped up where some simply cannot, whose industries have been disproportionately hit and whose incomes are a fraction of their 2007 level. I should add I hear reports of some of us being unhappy how often we discussed money the last part of 2011. I’m pleased by this, for two reasons: one, it’s hard to find a page of the gospels where Jesus didn’t talk about money. Why? As Billy Graham puts it, “You tell me what you think about money and I’ll tell you what you think about God.” Second reason: I felt if I didn’t hear some pushback as we talked about finances then I wasn’t pushing hard enough. We have a $1.8 million debt, a $1.1 million budget, no endowment to speak of, and no patron(s) with bottomloss pockets to bail us out. We all have to pitch in to make our church better, to achieve our mission here in the High Country, and to follow Jesus well, not just to pay the light bill.
Final note for now, church: I’m struck by how much momentum we have around missions, especially locally. Every time Luke Edwards speaks of Boone Area Missions’ work, every time we announce something that folks can participate in, we see nods, enthusiasm, giving, participation. God seems to be asking something new of us here. And we are trying to respond: we have added Luke Edwards more prominently to our staff as a Missions Coordinator (more financial and liturgical details on this to follow). His work will be to create opportunities for folks of all ages to serve, to coordinate various service work already going on, to offer us all another step up in discipleship and witness in our community. Another opportunity is our upcoming Missions Celebration in April, where we will bring missionaries from around the world to share word of their work with us. Another mission team is bound for Guatemala in March. Local and international missions are twins, they rise and fall together. God seems to be asking Boone UMC to care about the things God cares about, to have our heart broken by the things that break God’s heart, and to do something new in cooperation with his Holy Spirit. As ever when God makes a summons our response is clear: “Here I am, send me.” Praise God that we have said so so far: in leadership, in giving, in mission, and God give us the grace to say so again.
Happy New Year! While we in the church know that our new year begins with Advent and its memory of Christ’s first coming and looking forward to its second, we can join our neighbors in welcoming 2012, with its Olympics and its leap day and its (groan) election. The church long called January 1 the “Feast of the Holy Name,” and on that day celebrated the name of the Son incarnate: Yeshua, Jesus, which means “God saves.” That’s quite a name to hang on a newborn child, but then again, he is quite a child.
I want to tell you about a few things brewing at the church for 2012. Most importantly we want to recommit to missions here in the new year. We have a good deal of momentum around the desire to bless our neighbors, to reach out to them in friendship and not just benevolence, and we want to do more. Some Sunday School classes are finding creative ways to engaging in missions on Sunday morning. Luke Edwards, through his leadership in Boone Area Missions, is helping lead this effort. Please pray that we will follow God’s leading in this (and in all things!).
Two, I’ve gotten to know a dynamic art history professor at App named Lillian Nave Goudas. She wants her students to be producing art that reaches out to the community and asks big questions. This is partly inspired by her own Christian faith (her family are Presbyterians in Lenoir), but of course she wants her non-religious or otherly religious students to ask big questions and pursue beauty as well. She offered to let her students produce their final projects in the fall of 2011 for the sake of an art display here at BUMC. So during Epiphany we’ll display some of those projects under the theme “Strange Light, Unexpected Friends.” The inspiration comes from the story of the Magi, drawn by a star, offering gifts to Jesus even though the people of God aren’t “supposed” to have friends like them, Israel’s God is not “supposed” to receive worship from such foreigners. Professor Goudas will do some teaching around art and the church in our Sunday School hour and we will host a reception for the artists at some point in the new year. Hopefully during Epiphany, late January to mid-February, we’ll make some surprising friends and see some surprising beauty ourselves. And if we see some art that does seem “churchy,” all the better—these are unexpected friendships we’re after, in reflection of a God who makes friends with such sinners as us.
Three, a family that has recently been worshiping with us, the St. Clairs, want to offer us a gift of teaching. Scott St. Clair is a pediatrician, his family has long churchly roots in the High Country (his grandfather was the longtime pastor of Banner Elk Christian Fellowship), and Scott wants to tell of his own struggle to reconcile science and faith as he studied medicine. So he and I will teach together a class on science and faith, asking how we Christians can learn from and teach those working on such topics as evolution. If you want to read ahead we will work some from the work of Francis Collins and John Haught. The goal here is to think courageously about our faith and push one another toward Christ, source of all Wisdom, precisely where we disagree.
But of course that is not all. “We” will be doing whatever the Holy Spirit nudges “you” to offer of yourselves this year. In the church, “we” and “you” and “they” gets a bit blurry, since we’re all parts of the same body. We cannot guess in advance how God will work in our midst, but we can do our best to be prepared for when God’s Spirit blows so we might catch it, and follow God’s leading. So let me ask you to pray for us to do precisely that this year, and in all things.