Tag Archives: United Methodist Church

What Happened at Church This Morning…

A few days ago, a young man stepped into my husband’s office. It’s not unusual. Our church stands on the edge of a city. Many people approach him for help. But this young man didn’t ask for money. He asked to be baptized.

He’s going to be baptized this Sunday, my husband told me excitedly.

We were so excited. Of course we were! We love baptisms! We love it when babies get baptized, and my husband carries them through the congregation to meet their new church family.

But as beautiful and special and meaningful as infant baptism is, it’s the parents who request that for their babies. When a grown man walks in off the street and requests that for himself, you simply know that God is at work in powerful ways.

But would he actually show up? I wondered if he would be brave enough to come, early on Sunday morning. Continue reading

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. And the Children…

It’s the first time there’s been no room for me to sit on the steps with the children as they gather to hear me read.

I look around, at all those little ones peering up at me, and somehow, it feels totally appropriate to kneel, in front of them, under the cross and flame. You’d think, with all those children, I’d be in a huge United Methodist church, perhaps in the big city of Grand Rapids. But I’m not… Continue reading

The Church in the Middle of the Cornfield

It’s Sunday. l’m in the car early on this October morning. I leave the city and all the traffic behind and pretty soon I’m by myself on country roads, heading to this little church where I’ve been invited to share in a special Children’s Sunday. I’m happy to do it… children’s ministry is my passion.

I don’t really know what to expect when I get there, but I’m thinking that that this place won’t be packed. There probably won’t be many kids. But that’s okay, I remind myself. After all, some of Jesus’ most powerful conversations that would result in transformed lives were shared one on one, rather than in the crowd.

I keep driving, and driving, past peach farms and fruit trees, and nothing else, until I arrive at the railway tracks that have no lights. I obediently stop and as I do, I see a faithful little sign beyond, trying its best to stick up importantly out of the grass. It bears a cross and flame. I know that logo.

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Chapel Hill United Methodist Church 1/4 Mile that faithful sign announces, with a little arrow to guide me just in case I get lost. After all, the road I’m on does seem to stretch into nowhere.

But I’m on the right path. And exactly one-quarter of a mile down that road, I get my first glimpse of the church. It’s little. And cute. It looks welcoming. It’s in the middle of a cornfield.

As I pull into the parking lot, I note that there’s even parking spaces ‘reserved for visitors.’ I try not to think about just how many visitors might come here. But the point is, this church is prepared.

It’s just that I’m not… I’m not quite prepared for what I experience that morning…

because inside those doors, something is happening, fueled by the undeniable and inextinguishable presence of the Holy Spirit.

Every pew is full. And there are children… lots of them. The worship is high energy as we gather to celebrate the launch of the re-envisioned Kidz Konnection. And I have to admit this is just not what I was expecting.

So much work, and thought, and planning, and prayer, and preparation has gone into this that I am overwhelmed… and so proud of this little church and all it is achieving.

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And when we make our way up to the altar rail for communion, I get the biggest piece of bread I have ever seen, because, as the pastor says: who wants a little bit of Jesus? Don’t we all want a big hunk of Jesus?

Yes, yes, yes! This little church in the middle of the cornfield is offering a big hunk of Jesus to all who step though its doors. And that is a wonderful thing.

And I guess it doesn’t matter what size our church, whether we’re in the city or the country, as long as we’re preaching the Gospel and welcoming children as Jesus did.

As long as little children return from the communion rail grinning from ear to ear clutching a piece of bread so sodden in juice that it has turned pink, while others kneel at the communion rail, their eyes closed and their hands held high in prayer.

And when I leave that morning, I look out, beyond the cross, over to the cornfield and I watch the giant stalks blowing in the wind.

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I think about that huge field of corn, and all the work and preparation that went into it. Of how a farmer must have planted those seeds, and nurtured them, and fed them, and proudly watched them grow, all the while anticipating a harvest.

And that’s just what this little village church is doing… planting seeds, and nurturing them, and faithfully fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

There will be a harvest.

To the Newly Ordained Pastors….Why I’m Afraid For You.

It truly was an amazing Ordination Service.

Hundreds of United Methodists, a great cloud of witnesses, gathered together to honor and celebrate those who had bravely stepped forward to answer God’s call on their lives and enter ordained ministry.

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It was such a powerful and moving service that I wouldn’t have been surprised if a white dove had descended from the ceiling. Because the Holy Spirit was surely present… hovering, and filling, and moving, and working. Everyone there could feel it.

In the Bishop’s hands as she knelt to wash the feet of those newly ordained, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the songs we sang. and the music we heard, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the babies and children who clapped their hands, the Holy Spirit was there.

In those who watched from the balcony, who heard God calling them into ministry too, and who made their way up to the altar in tears, the Holy Spirit was there.

It was the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the chaos of creation; the same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus 2000 years ago in the River Jordan; the same Holy Spirit who showed up powerfully thirty years ago, when my husband was ordained.

Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of ordained ministry? the Bishop asked.

I do so believe came the unanimous response.

I do so believe that too.

I believe that God called each of you.

I believe that each of you who knelt before the Bishop have already knelt before God’s throne.

I believe that each of you who had hands laid upon you in prayer already have God’s own hand powerfully laid upon your life.

I believe that for every person who hugged and clapped and cried for you, there are already a thousand angels singing for joy for you.

Because I know that you, like my husband, have been called, and set apart and sent for God’s Holy work, and you entered the ministry because you have a yearning to mend broken hearts, and bind up the wounded, and try to make a difference in this hurting world. I know this.

But I’m afraid for you.

I’m afraid lest you become one of the wounded. I’m afraid that as you rise to your feet and leave that spirit-filled sanctuary behind, the world and (dare I say it) your churches might steal your joy, and cause you to question your call.

And if that day should come, I pray that you can find your sanctuary again, that you will remember that it is Almighty God who has called you, that you will still be able to feel God’s Holy Spirit strengthening and sustaining and upholding you, and that when you hear words that discourage and deter, the truth of God’s words to you will be louder in your ear and stronger in your heart….

you are my child whom I dearly love; I find happiness in you.

It was a privilege to see you ordained. May God bless you every day and fill you with the Holy Spirit as you seek to make disciples, preach the Word, and answer that wonderful call on your life.

You are brave.

And you will make a difference in the world.

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Why Your Church Needs to Celebrate Children’s Sabbath

She could have been at home, watching cartoons or playing outside.

She could have been out shopping with her mama, or enjoying a pancake breakfast in the restaurant on this Sunday morning.

But instead, she’s here, this little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow. She’s here, breaking the bread, and smiling, holding it out at arm’s length well before we’ve even reached the altar, as if it’s really important, as if to say:

Come and get this! It’s just for you! Its special!

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And it was.

In fact, my whole morning was special.

It was Children’s Sunday in this United Methodist Church, a special day set aside to celebrate the children in our midst.

Everything about this service said: We love children. Children are special to us.

From the bulletin cover,

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to the Call to Worship…

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From the prayers of blessing,

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to the benediction…

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everything involved children, and told them, over and over again:

You’re important here.

And so it’s not really surprising is it, that the little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow should be here at all? Because isn’t this the place where she knows she’s welcomed, and loved, and needed, and important?

I’m watching this little child.

I notice how she crouches down to one who is smaller than her.

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I see how she fixes her eyes on one who is older than her.

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And when it’s my turn, she gives me the biggest smile and tears off the biggest piece of bread, and she tells me, quite confidently and with no doubt in her voice:

 Jesus loves you.

I don’t know how many people received communion from this little girl.. but she managed to make me feel like I was the only one who mattered that morning.

I don’t know how she did that.

But she did.

No wonder that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

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Eight easy ideas to include in Children’s Sabbath:

  1. Have a child design the bulletin.
  2. Use the Call to Worship included in this post.
  3. Have children read the scripture.
  4. Invite them to extend their hands during prayers of blessing.
  5. Have children lead the benediction, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ in sign language.
  6. Let children serve communion.
  7. Decorate the altar with balloons and toys.
  8. Before the service begins, hand musical instruments out to every child and invite them to play along whenever music is heard.

My thanks to Pastors Mary Ivanov and Erin Fitzgerald for these wonderful ideas, and for reminding me in powerful ways to whom the Kingdom of God belongs.

The Invitation

We welcomed new members today. Six people had decided to join our church.

They had faithfully attended the membership class a few weeks before, dutifully filled in the paper-work, learned about the holy sacraments we celebrate as United Methodists, and heard all about John Wesley, our founding father.

They were ready. Today was the day we would welcome them into membership.

My husband stood at the altar and called their names. They came forward, smiling. But before we welcomed them into our United Methodist family, my husband said these words…

Is there anyone else here today who feels like they would like to join our church this morning?

It was quiet. And still. Nobody moved. But he didn’t give up.

If God is moving in your heart, I invite you to come forward. We can deal with the red tape and paperwork later, he smiled. But if God is calling you, come and stand with us. 

And from behind him, a young woman came, followed by her husband, followed by an older lady who slowly made her way up to the altar, pushing her walker. It took her a long time. But she came. They came. They stood together. And suddenly, six became nine.

And you could just feel it, this whisper of the Holy Spirit, this mysterious murmur that happens when you let God work in the moment, in the quietness, in the heart.

And I’m sure it’s the same Holy Spirit who whispered in the wind on that Galilean beach so long ago, when Jesus said ‘follow me’ to four fishermen, who just dropped their nets and went. Because what could be more important than saying yes to Jesus?

And here’s the thing… I don’t think God cares if we’re ready. I don’t think God cares if our nets are mended or our classes are completed. No form-filling, no lesson-learning, no net-mending should ever come between us and God. God just wants us to say yes to the call, to walk up to the altar.

Because when we do, we invite God to be at work in powerful ways. The moment becomes God’s moment, and our church becomes that beach, where we can drop our nets in the sand, and let the ground become holy as we follow Jesus.

If God is calling you, come and stand with us. my husband said.

It’s the best invitation we could ever receive, the only invitation that truly offers us life.

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When Christianity Meets Atheism

I used to think that Atheism was a dirty word. I could barely say it. It would leave a nasty taste in my mouth.

But last night, I changed my mind. I met Samantha.

It was at an Interfaith gathering, hosted by our church in Grand Rapids. Over four hundred and fifty people gathered there, to celebrate unity in diversity.

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It was a beautiful thing: rich in culture, and color, and creativity. There was wisdom, and warmth, and wonder. It’s what happens when we humans manage to throw aside our differences, and focus on our similarities. It’s what happens when Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists actually talk to each other. But I didn’t think an Atheist would be there.

She limped up to the microphone as her dad held her hand. Samantha is ten years old. She is fighting a rare form of cancer. I couldn’t begin to pronounce its name. But she could. She said it loud and clear, right into the microphone, where her brave words rebounded off the walls and hung in the air as clear as a bell.

Hello. I’m Samantha. I have grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma. …..and I’m an Atheist.

WHAT?

I must admit to being stopped in my tracks. Right there. How could this sweet young thing, battling this rare and deadly illness, stand there and say that?

How could her dad, who used to be a pastor, stand at her side and not believe in heaven?

This evening has been wonderful, he said. We’ve so enjoyed all the contributions from varying faith traditions, seeing Hindu dancers, listening to Buddhist songs, hearing verses from the Quran and the Bible…..but we’re different. We’re Atheists.

And that, right there, must have been my problem. Samantha is different to me; Samantha’s dad is different to me. And wasn’t that what this Interfaith gathering was all about…to come together, to listen to each other, and respect each other’s differences?

And although I’ve never thought of Atheism as a ‘faith tradition’, what is faith, unless it is something you believe in? And who am I, to judge the atheist, for their beliefs?

Cancer doesn’t care what religion you are. said ten-year old Samantha.

Her words rang in my ears, and will be forever etched in my mind.

I am a Christian. I believe passionately in God. I know Jesus is real, and that one day, I will be in heaven.

But I’m not here to judge.

I’m not here to convert.

I’m not here to convince.

I’m here to listen.

I’m here to love.

And even though Jesus commands me to preach the gospel to all the world, I’m going to try to do that through love. Because without love, my words, whether written or spoken, are nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

And who would ever want to listen to that?

This big old beautiful world is big enough for Muslim, and Hindu; for Buddhist, and Baha’i; for Christians like me, and Atheists like Samantha.

We love. We laugh. We live…together….

Sam and the Red Balloon

It’s Sunday morning, bright and early. I’m excited to be here, in Portland, Oregon, to meet my wonderful new granddaughter and spend time with her big brother.

Sam is not yet two and a half. He is utterly adorable, and utterly sweet. I didn’t realize quite how sweet he really is until I got to spend seven precious days with him.

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We arrive at Montavilla United Methodist Church and jump out of the car. It’s cold and rainy in Portland this morning. We pull our coats up around our ears, put our heads down and get ready to scurry inside.

But Sam has seen something. He pulls on my hand, makes a squealing sound and points upward. He can’t quite say airplane yet, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s seen.

We all turn to gaze upwards, and we see a tiny red balloon, floating far, far away, being carried on the wind through Portland’s cloudy skies. It’s only there for a moment, and then it’s gone.

Wow Sam! We say. Good job! You saw a balloon!

And that’s it. That’s my little story. Except I think there’s so much more to it than that. I’ve thought a lot about that tiny red balloon since Sam saw it, less that a week ago. And I got to thinking:

Why did he see that balloon?

How did he see that balloon?

He was the smallest person there. My husband is over six feet tall, my sons are taller still. But Sam is only two feet tall. You could argue that us grown ups were closer to the balloon, and therefore, shouldn’t we have been the ones to see it?

But we didn’t. Sam did.

And the only possible explanation, the only possible reason, is that he was the one looking up. And why would he be doing that, if he wasn’t expecting to see something… something surprising, and wonderful?

And that makes me think about God too.

We grown ups, we think we’re the ones closer to God. We think we’re the ones who know more, who read the Bible, who know how to pray, who study the scriptures.

But maybe, just maybe, our children are closer to God….because they are the ones looking up, the ones expecting to see God, the ones knowing that God will show up in surprising and wonderful ways.

Like little Sam, who looked up one Sunday morning and saw that tiny red balloon, as it floated across Portland’s cloudy skies and far, far away.

What Happens When You Let God Sit in the Teacher’s Chair, Instead of You…

So I’m sitting in the teacher’s chair at Central Michigan University.

It’s my first time here- at Mission u, an annual event sponsored by United Methodist Women, where people come together to explore the mission of the church in the current world context. My role is to teach the children about Latin America.

They’ve already discovered and labeled the Amazon River, the rainforest, and the mountains of Peru. They know all about the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas.

Latin America map

We’ve started to talk, a little, about how some of the children there have no homes, and no toys; how some have to work all day, and don’t get to play.

And now it’s time for the Bible Story. The children lie on colorful rugs at my feet.

Close your eyes as I read. I tell them. See the pictures in your mind.

I’m using a book authored by Barbara Bruce, a veteran Christian Educator who has written extensively about learning styles. The story we share is one of my favorites. It takes place on the hillsides of Lake Galilee when the disciples, in an effort to protect Jesus, try to send the children away.

So my little ones close their eyes. And lie. Their feet, adorned with the Caribbean jewelry we made, are still.

Take three deep breaths. See a hillside with many people. See Jesus sitting on the ground talking to the people….what does he look like? What does his voice sound like? See mothers come through the crowd with their children…how old are they? Are they quiet or noisy? Are they boys or girls?

Now hear some men yelling at the children to go away….how do the children look now?  Are they frightened?

Now hear Jesus say ‘Let the children come to me; do not stop them because the kingdom belongs to such as these.’

Now see Jesus take all the children in his arms, hug them, and bless them. How do the children look now? How do the men look now? How does Jesus look now?

When you are ready, open your eyes, and slowly come back to the room.

I barely finish talking when up jumps one of our youngest. He cannot contain himself.

I saw the WHOLE thing! He says excitedly. I saw every page!

Well tell us. I say, laughing.

Well I saw all these children, playing on the hillside……in Peru.

I’m confused. This is the moment when, as a teacher, you feel like a failure. This little guy is mixed up. The story didn’t take place in Peru. The story took place in Galilee. But I don’t say anything. (Thank goodness.) I just nod, and wonder where he’s going with it.

And so all these children just wanted to have fun in Peru. And all of a sudden, these men said  ‘you can’t play here. You can’t have fun here. Go away.’

And then Jesus comes.

Jesus comes and he says ‘no, that’s not right. The children can stay here. I want them to be here…because children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play. And Jesus hugs them. And that’s it. That’s the whole thing.

It’s quiet in the room. For a moment, I don’t say anything. The other children listening- they don’t say anything either. I look at my co-teacher as sunlight streams in through the window and we shake our heads in wonder…. at this eight year old boy, who has just demonstrated perfectly the upside-down kingdom of God, where a child becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the learner.

I am the one who is mixed up!

Don’t I know by now that Jesus is meant to be lifted out from the pages of the bible and moved from the hillsides of Galilee to the mountains of Peru? That Jesus belongs, not simply in a story, but in the streets of Haiti, and in the marketplaces of Mexico, and in the fields of Guatemala, where he yearns to welcome every child who comes to him?

‘Children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play.’

I’m back at home now, thinking about what I learned from an eight year old boy in the last few days. And I just can’t help but wonder…

When Jesus called the little children to him, was it really so that he could bless them, or instead, was it so they could bless him?

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The Hope for The United Methodist Church

I was fourteen years old, doing drugs with my friend, when a man knocked on the door. He had a microphone that he held to his throat. And in a strange, mechanical voice, he invited me to church.

This is how Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the aptly named Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, made me sit up.

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Not that I really needed to pay attention. No one who attended the West Michigan Annual Conference this year was snoozing when he was on stage.

Adam Hamilton founded the Church of the Resurrection in 1990 with just four people. Today, it is the largest United Methodist Church in the USA, with a staggering 18,000 adult members. We, who serve in leadership in the same denomination, know that we have much to learn from him.

Here, on stage, was a speaker, pastor, and preacher passionately in love with God, with Jesus, and with the denomination he serves.

Adam Hamilton believes that if there is one church that stands a chance of transforming the world then it is ours: The United Methodist Church– as we open wide our hearts, our minds, and our doors; welcoming ALL without judgment; struggling together through questions and doubts; and striving to lead authentic lives that reflect our faith.

But it wasn’t just his message that gave me hope for the United Methodist Church.

It was the man.

It is conference policy to collect and return visiting speakers to the airport. For several years, this has been my husband’s wonderful privilege…but not this year. Adam had requested that a young, newly-ordained pastor be his driver.

Sitting in the conference bookstore, I saw why. I was witness as he came in, with his roll-away suitcase, getting ready to leave. His young companion was by his side. Adam quietly took her over to the table where the many books he had authored were sitting; and proceeded, one by one, to pick them up.

Do you have this one? What about this? Did you get the companion DVD to this book?

That one is out of stock, the bookstore clerk replied.

Can you please order it for her? asked Adam quietly. And put everything on my account.

After making sure that his young companion had every book he had ever written, Adam then thanked the bookstore staff for being there. And left.

This pastor is someone who practices what he preaches; who kneels by his bed every night; who humbly and quietly follows Jesus. And who encourages me to do the same.

And I think about that man with the mechanical voice. The one whom God called to knock on Adam Hamilton’s door and interrupt him as he was taking drugs; the one who could have been at home lamenting the state of his health, but who chose instead to listen to God’s call on his life and to obey the voice that had him knocking on stranger’s doors.

I wonder if that man would ever know the enormous impact he had on that one, fourteen year old life, and how, because of what he did, thousands upon thousands of lives are being challenged, and changed for the better….including mine.

There is hope for the United Methodist Church.

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