A friend of mine first visited our church when his family moved here. He was terribly put off. No one spoke to him, he didn’t know where to take his kids, the building was confusing, parking was a headache, and he left vowing not to come back. Only years later, re-invited by friends, did he come back, get involved, and join. Now he helps lead us. He remembers that initial impression.
Our church is, by nature, generous about welcoming new people. This is not a place where you have to have been here forever to have a voice. We are curious who God is bringing our way. As many of you read in Desiring God years ago, “God speaks to the church by whom God sends to the church.” New people aren’t just marks for membership. They are a summons from God about what he wants from us, to be met with delight.
But my friend didn’t feel that way that day. We whiffed. It happens.
Our welcoming committee is committed to it happen as little as possible. Sandra Ammons leads this group, with staff wisdom from Andy Ellis, and muscle and creativity from Summer Hays, Katie Lineback, Bob Kroll, Phyllis Butler and others. Our ushers, headed by Johnny Carson, are also committed to welcoming all.
And so is our whole church. Our new mission language, is this: “Loving our community, and inviting all, to discover life in Christ.” Welcoming is the foundation of who we are. Our new values language includes several that touch on welcoming: “Everybody everywhere matters.” We are all created in the image of God, we are all souls for whom Christ died, we are all folks whom the Holy Spirit longs to clasp to God’s heart. “Get ready to do something” is another value that touches on our essential responsiveness as a church. When we see a need, we mobilize to meet it. What better place to see needs than through peering into someone’s eyes, grasping their hands, and telling them we’re delighted to see them? Our measures include this question: “When have I walked with someone not like me?” I worry for folks who don’t have the church. How do they get into relationships with folks different than them? As we grow closer to Jesus we grow closer to one another. Our measures also ask when we’ve invested in someone toward a life in Christ. How might we launch a new endeavor or two in evangelism around here?
Andy and Sandra and I recently met to imagine her committee’s work for 2014. We realized together how deeply our mission, values, and measures language can help in their work. They suggested we might connect recently joined people to those who visit. If there’s a retired couple visiting at 8:45 we can connect them with someone similar who has recently joined. So too if a widow visits Crossroads, or when college kids turn up to 11. We connect most easily with those like us, why not put those most recently enthusiastic about our church—our recent joiners—in relationship with folks visiting? I love it! Creative people pouring over our vision frame and taking action to fulfill our mission.
And that’s exactly how the new mission, values, measures, and strategy are supposed to work. We can place any issue our church faces within the four-sided frame. And in this case—how we welcome—two values, several marks, and our mission proper all applied. Folks doing that together saw stuff no one could see alone. And hopefully our entire life together with Christ will be enhanced.
The goal here as ever is not to get new members. It’s not to meet budget. It’s to introduce new people to Jesus. To meet Jesus ourselves all over again in who he sends to us. And to take part in his inching his kingdom slightly closer here in the high country.
What are some things you count?
We count what matters to us—or to avoid something we don’t care for. My grandfather apparently knew how many panels there were in the ceiling of his Baptist church. Not a good sign for the quality of the preaching . . . Lots of us count our retirement accounts carefully. Will there be enough? We all know how many children we have (even if I find it difficult to remember their ages—they change every year).
At church we naturally count attendance and money. In the ministerial resume-comparing world they count butts, budgets, and bricks—adding buildings to our big two. But some of our most creative folks have been asking what else we can count. Surely there are other signs of faithfulness besides just those two. Our visioning committee came up with some questions to measure our faithfulness. This is a very Methodist thing to do—from the beginning we have counted signs of faithfulness obsessively. Kelly Broman-Fulks’ group wants us to ask these questions as we consider whether we are successfully growing as disciples:
What did I do in response to God’s leading this week?
Did I apply scripture to a decision this week?
Where did worship send me this week?
Have I walked with someone not like me this week?
Am I praying for my friends and enemies this week?
Am I connected to church beyond Sunday worship this week?
When did I invite/invest in someone into a life with Christ?
Hard questions, if we answer them honestly. And more granular, particular, than simply money or attendance. These questions ask about the depth of our discipleship. Positive answers show we’re being successful as a church. Or even better: faithful.
God loves to count. But he sure counts differently than us. He knows the number of hairs on our heads—so he counts more better than we do. He counts one sheep as more precious than 99. God counts the years of eternity—thousands times thousands. And in the book of Numbers (1) God counts the number of everything about the Israelites. We Methodists, when we count carefully, are only doing what the bible already does.
Our staff has brainstormed what we can count as signs of faithfulness. I love their answers. Colette suggests we count teachers stepping in on the Sunday School wing in a pinch. Jennifer suggests we count utility use (much up this year). Andy suggests we count midweek attendance at church functions, not just Sundays. Brandon and Lindsey suggest we count conflict and lament—in real community not all is rosy. Jeff suggests we count the kinds of prayer requests offered. Are we going beyond health ailments and asking for prayer for spiritual needs as well?
Some of my favorite lines in hymns include God’s way of counting. Matt Redman’s “Bless the Lord,” a contemporary worship song, includes this line, “For all your goodness I will keep on singing, 10,000 reasons for my heart to find.” And Amazing Grace’s concluding stanza includes these immortal words, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.”
Friends let’s join these leaders of ours as we stretch what we count as marks of faithfulness. Money and attendance matter. So too do 10,000 other things.
One of the treasures of Boone is King Street. I love walking downtown, eating well, people-watching, seeing our folks who do business down there, hearing the music—even if hula hoops and drum circles are a bridge too far. Our downtown has a unique vibe and helps make our town a special place.
King Street used to be the hub of Boone’s churches. Now First Baptist remains, while we and First Pres have left, for good reasons. Memories of when our church worshiped downtown are still strong at Boone Methodist. The psychological space from the university is now light years away from the days when students and faculty could walk to church. It was right to move (a unanimous vote confirmed this in 1997), but we lost some things that were precious to us.
What if we worshiped downtown again?
For the past few months, Luke Edwards, our fantastic director of community engagement, has been meeting with interested folks to ask what worship downtown might look like. He is meeting with folks I think of as “Black Cat” folks (Espresso News, Bald Guy, Our Daily Bread—any number of other businesses would work too). Anytime I’m in Vern’s favorite burrito haunt I remember a restaurant slogan from my hometown of Chapel Hill: “A sunny place for shady people.” This is a demographic that is often aggressively anti-institutional, unsure what to do with their lives deeply in school debt, often socio-economically vulnerable, but full of ideals.
You know them. Some of them are your kids, siblings, friends, or baristas.
Wouldn’t you love to see them in church? Wouldn’t you love for our church to benefit from their worldview?
For all their suspicions of church, these folks are not uninterested in matters spiritual. Just look at the stores hawking spiritual wares on King Street. They are also not uninterested in Jesus. Truly, in their deepest selves, they want to be in relationship to him through his church. They just don’t always know that yet.
What would it look like if we offered worship they might like? Or even better, if we asked them to help us build a worship service that would appeal to them and their friends?
Luke, a new leader named Elizabeth Reese, and a handful of others have been meeting with their friends over food, poetry-readings, and worship at the chapel at the Wesley Foundation. They will invite others of us to join them at some point. They feel like God is doing something in their midst—they’re just trying to figure out what, and join in. Our Methodist district and conference have taken notice. The Appalachian District, with the strong support of our DS Lory Beth Huffman, has offered them a $10,000 seed grant. The conference will consider a pitch soon for a much larger grant.
We are tentatively calling the thing King Street Church. Similar efforts in our conference are in Winston-Salem (newstorychurch.org) and Asheville (haywoodstreet.org). Our conference recently reorganized to move money out of administration and into mission—we are the sort of congregation that has a capacity to lead that effort.
Our congregation has a deep history of responsiveness. We founded the Wesley Foundation and our preschool in the 50s. We started our contemporary service and relationship with Patzibal in the 90s. Crossroads and Blackburn Chapel emerged in the 2000s.
This may be our next step in responding to God’s grace. “Get ready to do something,” our value says. For now, pray. Soon, visit and offer input and advice and encouragement. Always, be on the watch for Jesus. He’s on the move.
Are we ready to follow?
One day last week I arrived at church to find it jammed to the gills with children. Hundreds of K-8 students from Hardin Park School had taken refuge in our church. There was a bomb threat in our county, and Boone Methodist is the emergency sanctuary for that school a stone’s throw from our door. Several teachers and administrators thanked us for being a safe place on a scary day. One child told our own Wendy Lawrence, a fourth grade teacher, “This is the safest place we could be.” I love that every child at HPS, whether religious or not, had a place that day to take refuge.
I hope you are as proud of that as I am.
This is just another example of what our visioning team is teaching the rest of us to call our responsiveness. We have a history as a church of seeing a need and then mobilizing to meet it. This is a recent gift—our Crossroads service recently celebrated its 5th birthday. We saw a need for a less intimidating church service for those put out with traditional church and responded. It is an older gift too: we saw a need for a preschool in the 1950s and are still meeting that need. The Wesley Foundation at Appalachian State began in our basement in that same decade. This gift of responsiveness is visible on multiple continents: our sister church La Esmirna Metodista in Pazibal, Guatemala can attest to it, as can recipients of our mission dollars around the world. So can other churches in our neighborhood: we helped launch FaithBridge in Blowing Rock and have taken Blackburn’s Chapel in Todd under our wing. Our own 8:45 contemporary service was a similar risk when we launched it. When it comes to planting new worshiping communities, we have been all action and no talk.
Well we need to talk about our responsiveness again. We have a value that names this responsiveness now, about which you’ll hear Vern and I preach on September 8: Be ready to do something. Faith requires a lively response from us. Are we ready?
Sometime in the past, before our present group of trustees, we agreed to be an emergency evacuation location for Hardin Park. My guess is it was an obvious decision, we probably didn’t even argue over whether it was a good idea. We all just knew it was. Years later, on Tuesday, the fruit of that willingness to be responsive was born. We were a good neighbor in our community. Others will remember.
What kind of responsiveness are we called to in the future? In one way we can’t answer that question. Who knows what our community’s needs will be in the future? In another, we can. We know our community will need the gospel preached, the hungry fed, entrepreneurial initiative taken, the lonely befriended. And we know we’re good at that. Some proposals on the table at present are for a worshiping presence back downtown on King Street under Luke Edwards’ guidance. We are certainly going to roll out a series of small groups in the fall under Pastor Vern’s leadership. Perhaps the trail we are digging up Howard’s Knob could, in the future, have a worshiping presence on it. We have invested in the Circles campaign to help our more economically vulnerable neighbors help themselves.
God is always doing a new thing. And it sure looks as faithful, as interesting, as good, as the acts of faithfulness God has always done in our midst.
I have been pleased how much the visioning group has learned about our congregation during the last six months. You will hear a lot more about our mission, values, strategy, and measurables over the next months. Two of those values are these: “Get ready to do something.” Ours is a church responsive to the needs around us and willing to take risks. Looking back over the last 15 years or so, every 2-3 years we plant a new faith community. We began our own 8:45 service in the mid-90s when “contemporary” services were risky. We helped plant FaithBridge UMC in Blowing Rock. We took Esmirna Metodista in Patzibal under our wing. We launched our own Crossroads service. We made Blackburn’s Chapel part of our church. We found new communities well, we just don’t speak of ourselves as if we do it well. That is what visioning is for—giving language to who we are at our best.
Another example of this is our Faith Promise missions program. Dan and LaVonne Hill came from another UM congregation that did Faith Promise and helped introduce it here. It was a risk, high-demand and with some chance of failure, and it has worked beautifully to increase our church’s responsiveness to God.
Another value is this: “Everyone everywhere matters.” Every time we see another person we should bow.. That is an image of God, walking around, reflecting God just by being human. This is why local and international missions are not separable from one another. Everyone matters. Go on one of our mission trips elsewhere and see if you can ignore local poverty. You can’t.
Jonathan and Stephanie Allen embody these values beautifully. These friends of mine inspire me with their day jobs in school psychology and financial management. They chaired our mission committee and now they’re boldly going where they have sent others, in their case to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. It is also a place where the church is growing rapidly, as it is elsewhere in the Pacific rim. Below are the Allens’ words:
Boone UMC has a long standing partnership with the International Leadership Institute (ILI). You might remember that our efforts have been highlighted during our Missions Celebrations over the past several years, including visits from leadership staff such as Wes Griffin, Peter Pereira, and most recently Norival and Christina Trindade. ILI works to accelerate the spread of the Gospel through the development of leadership skills in local leaders from countries all over the globe. ILI conferences train and mobilize more than 10,000 leaders each year with the eight core values of the most effective Christian leaders. This year, BUMC is partnering with ILI to sponsor the first ever training in the nation of Indonesia. This particular conference is specifically designed for young leaders (18-30 years old) of churches in Indonesia and surrounding nations. Some of the participants in attendance will be traveling from closed countries. The opportunity for training, renewal, and fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters will be an incredible blessing for them. There are five national faculty and twenty-eight participants registered for the conference.
Your contributions to the Faith Promise Missions Account are making this event happen. BUMC will provide $8,000 to ILI, which will cover most of the cost for the conference attendees. We are very excited that our church can be a part of accelerating the Gospel in this part of the world.
Jonathan and Stephanie Allen will be traveling to Indonesia to assist with leading the conference. Here are some other ways you can help:
1) Pray daily leading up to the conference, and fervently during the conference, which runs August 13-18. It is being held on the island of Java, about two hours outside the city of Jakarta.
2) Remember your Faith Promise pledge. The gifts you give today will go towards future ILI conferences as well as many other mission efforts (such as the Justice family and Boone Area Missions) of our church.
3) Look for daily updates about how the Holy Spirit is impacting the progress of the conference on the church website or Facebook page.
Get ready to do something. Because everyone, everywhere matters.
One of the longtime values of our congregation is our deep responsiveness. When we see a need we move to meet it. We don’t make “the way things have always been” into an idol. We know we must change to stay faithful.
For example, every few years this congregation has helped start a new community of faith. In the mid-90s it was our own contemporary service—risky for the time. In the late 90s it was our move out to New Market. In the early 2000s it was the launch of FaithBridge UMC in Blowing Rock and of La Esmirna Metodista in Patzibal, Guatemala. In the late 2000s it was our own Crossroads service and our merger with Blackburn’s Chapel in Todd. We have muscle memory around innovation. In fact, we’re about due to throw off a new faith community or two again.
The thing is, we don’t often talk about this gift of innovation. We don’t speak of ourselves as a launching, founding, innovative congregation. But we are. When it comes to launching churches, we are all action and no talk.
A new opportunity for us to respond to God is in Amy and Blake Justice’s call to the mission field. The Justices are uprooting their family from Boone, selling their house, leaving a community where they have extended family, and moving to a new place, all because God has called them. They are using their gifts as educators and in health care provision and in building excitement for Jesus to lead in a foreign place.
Amy has a deep patience and joyful attentiveness about her. Blake has a frenetic energy that comes from a live wire to the Holy Spirit (he’s the kind of sermon listener who is nodding even before Vern or I get to our point). Their girls, Gracie, Heather, and Molly, have a fierce and tender openness about them. You may remember Molly giving witness in church to the fact that she had asked Jesus into her heart. Praying that prayer wasn’t enough. She wanted the microphone so she could tell the world about her new step in faith.
Blake and Amy will be going with TeachBeyond, an innovative missionary sending institution for educators. They will be teaching at the Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany (near Freiburg), a school whose purpose is to teach missionary children. Parents of these 280 missionary kids are serving in over fifty countries all over the world. In other words, without the Justices and BFA, hundreds of missionary endeavors around the world would come to an end, since missionaries, like the rest of us, prize the education of their children.
One difficulty of the Justice’s specific call is where they are going. Germany! A place where the church is 1000 years old and declining fast. If they were going to help starving children in the emerging world they would have tapped into a well of support already. If they were going to a risky place where Christianity is forbidden they would tap into another kind of support. But Germany?!
This is where we need to think more carefully. Missionaries helping the most vulnerable of the world’s poor have their kids in school in Germany. Others preaching the gospel at risk of life and limb have their kids in school in Germany. To support the Justices means we can support many kinds of missionaries at the same time.
As if that were not enough . . . Amy will be leading teacher workshops in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in her spare time. These are terribly fragile countries, filled with gifted people dragged down by institutions and leaders who have failed catastrophically. The CAR and DRC need countless hours of patient rebuilding from servants like the Justices.
This is the first time in memory our congregation has sent a missionary into the field. We support countless others through our support of the general church’s various boards and through Faith Promise. But the Justices have come from among us, responded to our preaching and served and led us and our neighbors and kids. Now they go forth in our name. We’re not used to digging deep to support a missionary from our own zip code.
Now is our chance to be responsive again. We’ve done it before. Let’s do it again.
Friends, I’d like to turn my space in “Totally Byassee’d” over to my friend and colleague Lindsey Long, our pastor at Blackburn’s Chapel. Lindsey is a Duke Divinity grad and also a longtime friend of my family—she babysat my kids when they were infants and she was a kid herself! She has served in Todd for a year, and has also led our effort in the Blackburn House, an intentional Christian community for those trying to discern a call to ministry. Our community in Todd has been a laboratory, an experiment in rural ministry, in multi-site church life, in following Jesus in a place many of our grandparents moved away from but some are now moving back to.
What have we learned in our laboratory this year?
Blackburn House: How I Learned to be a Real Friend
Last week was Kristen’s last with all of us. She moved out on Saturday, off to new adventures and new opportunities. To mark her last meal with us, we prayed for her and each took a chance to speak about how our lives had been different this year because we had known Kristen. We shared how she had shaped our community’s every day rhythms and intentional practices. And as I watched these four women, together in this capacity for the last time, love on each other and share how they had been transformed by living with each other, I was struck by how far we had come together.
The fact of the matter is this particular community will never be replicated. Something will be missing without Kristen. And something will be missing as Lindsay, Lauren and Erin each move out throughout this summer. Each of us mean something for the DNA of the Blackburn House; for the DNA of life together. But I would be lying if I didn’t say it has been a long and difficult process learning to love the community we have and not the community we imagine. We all moved in last August with an idea of what intentional community means. As five women moved in together, five different ideas of intentional community filled the imaginary space of the house. We struggled to fit each other into molds of other intentional communities we admired, we placed expectations on each other that we hadn’t even named to ourselves and we attempted to program ourselves into the “correct” version of intentional community. We even went so far as to question whether or not we really were an intentional community.
In so doing we looked past each other to some ideal community. And to be honest, it was a lot easier to nurse our separate resentments and foster our imaginary ideals of community than to actually look at each other and ask, “What does it look like for me to love you well? What does it look like for me to be the body of Christ with you?”
Ephesians 2:19-21 is a familiar verse to many of us, “. . .you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of this household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” This is the ideal community: the community that becomes one household because it is built on the foundation of Christ. This is hard and messy because we are all humans, not imagined ideals. But the only way to avoid being foreigners and strangers to each other, the only way to be members of one household together, is to love each other as Christ loves us: loving our real selves, right where we are, just the way we are. Bonhoeffer puts it best in his book, Life Together when he says, “[the person] who loves [their] dream of intentional community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.” If we want real community, we must have real love: Christ’s love that envelopes us, warts and all. It doesn’t mean we don’t strive to be better and do better together, but not at the expense of loving our real community.
As our time together came to a close, we huddled around Kristen, prayed for her and handed her a small pin in the shape of a dove. One of our commitments this year has been to be “open to the improvisation of the Holy Spirit.” As we’ve twisted and turned and been transformed by each other and the Holy Spirit working through each of us, we’ve learned to love better and be better friends. The movement of our learning together has kept us steadily, if sometimes unknowingly, moving toward each other. It has kept us steadily, if sometimes unknowingly, moving toward Christ.
Thank you, Blackburn House Ladies of 2012-2013
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).