Author Archives: sheofferedthemchrist

Do No Harm


Methodism has three General Rules, and the first is “By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind” (The Book of Discipline 2016, page 78). The Book of Discipline goes on to list some of the “most generally practiced,” naming specifically “returning evil for evil” and “railing for railing.” If we feel hurt, wronged, or made to suffer, then we are not to seek vengeance by becoming the one who perpetrates evil so that the other feels our pain. Jesus did not come to make us feel pain, but take pain upon himself that we might be freed from the cycle of sin and suffering to live a new, holier way. Railing is complaining in the extreme, protesting strongly and persistently. This can be the more insidious of the two, because we are not trying to cause physical pain, but using our words to bring about emotional pain in another, defaming them in some instances, and continuing to nurture the brokenness brought about by the original painful event against us.

What does any of this have to do with Called General Conference? Yesterday was a painful reminder that unchecked suffering, anger, and pain can lead good Christians to do harm to other Christians. It was a long day, and kicked off the business at hand with parliamentary procedure on full display. It culminated after the lunch break with multiple votes in rapid succession to determine what order the petitions would be heard on the floor of those already submitted. The vote was literally about high or low priority from each delegate’s perspective. Then the results were shared showing that the first item the delegates wanted to hear and address was the pensions. This unleashed many snarky comments in the stands, social media rants, and people wondering if it was all about the fiances rather than the faith of the United Methodist Church. Perhaps the delegates wanted to get that over with first. Maybe they wanted to ensure that no matter what they helped those like myself who are already invested in the denominational pension system feel better about our future, knowing that our money would be safe and secure when the time came and we needed it. I honestly do not know what the delegates were thinking, and I cannot exactly ask all of them. Then again, neither can anyone else.

The second item would be the Traditionalist plan, the least change to the tone and tenor of the current language of human sexuality and inclusion in The Book of Discipline, and setting up a higher system of accountability for those who disregard The Discipline around issues of human sexuality. Again, maybe the delegates wanted to hear and pass this most, but maybe they wanted to hear it, and then move on, but show the global church that they considered things as they are now before moving in a new direction. I have no way of knowing exactly what they were thinking, and I will never have the chance to ask over eight hundred voting delegates what they intended with that vote. Nor will anyone else.

Right after the results were shared with the Conference, a group of those who were against the Traditionalist plan gathered together in the walk way where the observers like myself are seated, and began to make decisions and plans to disrupt the Conference proceedings. They started to loudly chant “Hate divides, love unites.” They chose to do this even when the presiding bishop attempted to lead the Body together in prayer. Seated in the second closest row, I could not hear the bishop’s prayer over the disruptive behavior. It brought back all the horrible feelings and memories of intimidating behavior and yelling I encountered from protesters at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. For my fellow Methodists to prevent us from praying felt like a violation of our fellowship, not to mention rudely insensitive. I, and most of those gathered, have no voice and no vote. We did not hurt anyone, and no one should assume they know how we think or feel based upon a vote to prioritize discussion that did not include us. We may be feeling sorrow and pain, too. We may be confused and undecided. We may be struggling along side those that protested.

I recognize they feel pain. Some feel personally attacked and hurt, others feel the pain and suffering of their loves ones. I do not deny them that state of suffering, but we are called to a different response as Christians. We are not to lash out, strike back, or seek to make others feel our pain, so that they might suffer as we suffer. We are shown first by Jesus himself that his response to unfathomable, unjust pain and suffering in his passion and crucifixion was to pray for his enemies, going so far as to ask for forgiveness for them (Luke 23:34). This radical response in the face of pain and suffering is echoed in the account of the martyrdom of Stephen in the Book of Acts: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died” (Acts 7:59-60). This is the model the Bible offers to us, because to react in the first human way only fuels the fire of pain, continues the destructive downward spiral of suffering, and further divides us from one another.

What I have not been addressing in my posts is that from the first morning we gathered here, there have been several protesters stationed across the street, with vulgar signs, and amplified hate speech towards us. They say abhorrent things, and verbally attack anyone they see and suspect is part of the Called General Conference. Their goal is to disrupt and dishearten. They have not done so, because they do not know us, and they are at enough of a distance to make us feel safe from physical harm. Yesterday’s protesters were us, other Methodists, and well within what we thought was our safe space from angry words meant to wound our hearts. The outside protesters were never able to disrupt all the prayer we enjoyed and experienced on Saturday. Inside the Conference center, we were blissfully enshrined in our sacred space where we worshiped and prayed in peace with one another. But yesterday that peace and safety was violated such that even prayer was denied to us.

I found myself thinking, “What would I do if someone walked into the Sanctuary at my church, and tried to shout over my lay liturgist or myself while we led communal prayer?” We would be hurt, threatened, concerned for our safety, and deeply sad, but I would not turn around and shout at them, nor would I allow anyone else to do so. I would ask for our peace, look for another way to hear them, address their concerns, and seek to find a different way. But to violate the means of grace that is prayer is not all right.

I do not hate those that intentionally stripped us of our prayer together. I am disappointed that they would think it is all right to rail at their perceived enemies, and return what they feel is a painful slight by causing pain in retaliation, but that will abate. It is embarrassing to hear the chants in the live stream, and have people question how we can treat each other this way during prayer. It is devastating to think this is what we show to the rest of our denomination watching, and the world looking on.

Yet even now I have hope that we can all choose a different way. That the protesters of our Family of Faith will return to a position that can honor prayer time, and the leadership of our bishops in their office during this difficult time to navigate. I have hope that we can use our words to explain, rather than lash out. That we can lodge our complaints in a way that reflects our desire for reconciliation, not vengeance. I have hope that we can hear their pain in their words, and honor their experience, so that we can all come together in prayer. I wish no one felt harmed, but I know that many do, both of those present and those in our fellowship. Christ gives me hope that we can all speak without seeking to transfer our pain to others. Sometimes people have a bad day, and things happen they might never enact again. Perhaps we can make space for that, so we can look for ways to continue to strive for a way forward together. It will not be easy, or any easier now, but no less vital, important, and our duty to God and one another. We have to try, and hope demands nothing less.


Signs of Hope


Perhaps some might say it is too early to be hopeful for the United Methodist Church.  Others would say it is too late.  As people of the Living God revealed in the Old and New Testament, we should never limit hope to our conceptual timelines, because we are actually putting God in a box.  It would be hubris to think God is constrained to our expectations.  The opposite is true: our expectations are unrestrained due to God.  Hope is not optimism, but the gift of God for those who know God, love God, trust God, and believe that the promises of the Scriptures can and shall be fulfilled.

We prepare ourselves for that fulfillment by nourishing hope through intentional contact with God.  Nurturing our relationship with our Lord through worship, personal devotion, fellowship in the Body of Christ, and, of course, prayer are crucial to this.  So I was thrilled beyond words to have spent yesterday doing all of these things.  The bishops carefully and thoughtfully planned the first day together at the Called General Conference to be just that.  Over six hours of prayer together yesterday, led by our spiritual leaders of the highest office in the Church.  Those of us who gathered were privileged to experience this in person, and were blessed beyond measure.  Our concerns melted away, even if it was just for that sacred time together.  Our spirits were soothed by the comfort of Christ in our midst.

I consider myself an optimistic realist.  I hope for the best, but make practical plans for whatever outcome.  I, like so many, have had my moments of doubt and despair about this Called General Conference, but with so many unknowns, making practical plans seemed impossible.  As a single parent, I am used to triage, making long term plans around safety nets, and living with caution, because I have another person for whom I am responsible, another being in my trust.  As a pastor of a mid-sized church by Methodist standards, I do this as part of my ministry to order the life of the church to which I have been appointed, the congregation I hold in trust for the Virginia Annual Conference.  Whenever I felt the need to make a back up plan, just in case, I felt this nudge from the Holy Spirit to lay that burden aside.  It was a burden, and one no single person can bear alone.  There was a tension that perhaps I was relying on hope in God to the point that I was failing to make back up plans, and so failing my congregation.  All of that dissipated yesterday.

I am not alone.  There were so many who came to St. Louis like me, not in an official capacity, but crashing because we just had to be here.  We looked down at the floor where the delegates were seated, and saw over eight hundred other Methodists sharing in this profound love for our denomination, care of our Church, and the burden of leading us into the future.  We watched as the bishops from around the world offered prayers, words of hope, celebrations of our faith at work transforming communities, and their commitment to lead us.  One of the great blessings of General Conference is to experience bishops from outside of the United States.  Their people experience difficulties and suffering most of us in the United States cannot fathom, much less will ever have to experience for ourselves.  Yet these same bishops erupt with hope.  They have seen miracles.  They have witnessed what God can do in the midst of strife, war, violence, extreme poverty, and death.  They know that God can and will not only help God’s people, but do what we think must be impossible.  Their testimonies and prayers reminded me that my American perspective often is centered around political and ideological conflict, when God has transformed physical and deadly conflict in their ministerial settings.

As the Conference starts back up today, the work on the proposals and plans will earnestly begin.  Our day of prayer and abiding presence yesterday has prepared and reminded us that we have hope.  What needs to be restrained is our assumptions, our desires, and our will, so that God’s plan for us can be revealed.  This is not a time to resort to the same worldly approach of politics and legalism, but the time to fully embrace Holy Conferencing.  If over a dozen years in pastoral ministry has taught me anything, it is that God can do anything when we open ourselves to God’s will.  Jesus tried to instill that in every believer by teaching us to pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10b).  How many times have we prayed that without paying homage to what we are asking, praying, and needing to do?  We lay aside ourselves, that God may be revealed.

My grandfather, a deacon in the Southern Baptist Church, would have recognized “Thy will be done.”  While I prefer the New Revised Standard translation, the core remains the same: God’s will, not mine.  My will cannot fathom all that is, all that God can see, and all divine wisdom encapsulates.  So if my will is an obstacle to what God wants and what God can do, then it is my duty to lay that down, and make room for something that perhaps we have not yet seen, heard, or even thought for the glory of God is that God is too big to truly comprehend.  God’s hope is just as massive and beyond our full grasp.  So let us cling to that hope, the icon of which is the cross, and only then shall our wills align with God’s, for God will then have overshadowed our good, but often misguided, intentions and our unintentional sin, letting grace and glory wash over us.  Hope is not just a sensation, an emotion, or an esoteric concept.  Hope is the gift of our faith to spirits that abide in a world of sin and suffering, yet desire the Kingdom to Come.  Hope is our light in the darkness, our inheritance in Christ.  Today I have hope bigger than my fear, more solid than my doubt, and more holy than myself.  That is what I choose.  What about you?

The Beauty and Blessing of Methodism


My travels here to St. Louis did not go as planned.  In fact, one might say they went dreadfully wrong.  Right after I checked in to the first airport and made my way through security, I discovered my flight had been delayed, and I would miss my connection.  I waited patiently in line to make new flight plans.  I stood there and smiled, willing myself to embody hope and the intention to take this hick-up in stride.  While smiling, the young woman in front of me turned around and struck up a conversation.  We joked, laughed, and wished each other luck when her turn came first.  We departed, her heading to meet her boyfriend in Denver for a vacation skiing in the mountains, and me heading to meet my fellow Methodists for a work conference in St. Louis.

The airline staff were able to make a shift for me, but now I would have a four hour layover in Charlotte, and not arrive until almost midnight in St. Louis.  I smiled, thanked her, and remained committed to taking all of this as part of the journey.  I finally got on my first flight, and the steward came up to me and asked if he could take a picture of my furry, pink moon boots.  “Sure,” I laughed.  It started a conversation with my previously silent neighbor, and she and I enjoyed the hour we had together.

Then I found a perfect little place to enjoy some food and wait out my layover in the Charlotte airport.  I sat at the bar, and made three more friends.  Laughing, getting to know one another, and wishing each other the best of luck with our remaining travel, I felt better about being waylaid.  Then I headed to my gate to make my final flight to the temporary Methodist Mecca of St. Louis.  Once on board my flight, my next neighbor and I struck up a conversation and managed to chat away an hour before I discovered to my surprise that one of my Methodist family was on the same flight.  Lori and I once worked at the same church.  We have had lots of laughs, heartaches, and celebrations together over the years.  Suddenly Methodism made this world much smaller, more intimate, and manageable.  We hugged, promised to carpool to our hotels, and laughed at the irony of being on the same flight.

That is when it occurred to me: Methodism is not just another Christian denomination.  It’s a blessing, a gift that makes this world brighter.  It makes friends out of strangers, and family out of friends.  It lets me adopt an outlook of thriving when I would otherwise barely survive the trials and tribulations that come my way in the course of living.  Methodism has given me an identity: I am a beloved child of God, of sacred worth, forgiven, loved, and free.  That is what makes it possible for me to smile when others frown, be nice when others yell in anger, make friends when others withdraw, and keep going when other give in, give up, and go home.  Methodism makes me better, and that makes it possible for me to do what Methodists do: strive to make this world better for others.

This is what is at stake over the next four days.  We cannot let Methodism suffer because we are frail, fallible, and fraught with discord.  We cannot allow our differences become the wedge that breaks such a beautiful manifestation of holy community, God’s grace, and what is means to see the world as a blessing rather than a burden.  I realized just how much Methodism makes me who I am, makes me better than I was before, and will make me better still in the days ahead.  This flawed, imperfect denomination is just that: flawed and imperfect, but it is mine, and millions of other Methodists’.  If we commit to it as it has been committed to us and generations of other Methodists across time and the globe, then it will bless others for generations to come.  Perhaps we are here to recommit ourselves.  Maybe God has allowed of this to happen so that it culminates in us recognizing how much we love Methodism, and how much it has loved us into the disciples we are today.

St. Louis may not be Mount Sinai, the holy site where God and the people of Israel made covenant with each other, but it is here on the banks of mighty Mississippi River, the closest the United States has to a holy river, like the River Jordan in the Promised Land.  Not all of the tribes were willing to cross the river and enter into a new phase in the relational journey God invited them to travel.  Those that crossed over discovered that there were still trials and tribulations.  There was still sin and mistakes.  There was never going to be a perfect nation, but a perfectly loved people of God.  I do not know what God has waiting on the other side of river, but I know that God will make a path for us to traverse, dry land where we are safe from the waters of chaos.  This has been God’s way, and I suspect God’s will all along.

So today I am hopeful, because I know how much I am willing to fight, strive, and commit to the United Methodist Church, and I know that some of the best Methodists the denomination has to offer are here, not just in person, but through prayer.  We can only rise above our differences with the help of God.  It will not be human design, but God’s that will show us how to continue the journey of the people called Methodists.  May our prayers be for God to do what God has done in the Scriptures, in Church history, and promises to do now and in the days ahead: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:14).  Let us stand still, firm in our commitment to God and one another in this glorious Church of Methodism.

“So She set out from the place where She had been living…” (Ruth 1:7).


Today is the day when I depart for Called General Conference. I am leaving the place I have been calling home for the past two and half years since I was appointed to Crozet United Methodist Church. I am leaving my family, my pets, my home, and my church to be with my people, my other people. All my bags are packed. I am ready to go. Soon I will be leaving on a jet plane. Yet I know when I am coming back again: the day after the close of Called General Conference. It will be a six day journey, and one where I will not be with my church for Sunday worship. That in and of itself is a huge sacrifice. One that never sits well with me. I want to be with my church for worship. Perhaps deep down I recognize that I need to be for my own well being. So today has me mindful that come Sunday, I will be missing them, and that means that prayer will be our connection over this distance.

I will have some time today before, during, and in between flights to stop and pray. I have been praying continually for many months now about this epic meeting of Methodists. Over the course of the next four days, our legislative body of over eight hundred delegates from all over the world, half laity and half clergy, will bear the heavy burden of making a decision about how the United Methodist Church will handle human sexuality and inclusion. After decades of pleas, requests, demands, protests, arguments, motions, and questions, the legislative body of the global church is ready to call the question. Thousands of other Methodists will be crashing the Conference, like me. We have no vote, and technically no voice to be heard from the floor. What we do have is presence and prayer.

In our current context of social media in the digital age, the concept of no voice seems outrageous. How can one be voiceless when there are so many platforms, websites, and apps not just allowing, but inviting and encouraging our voice? Even if we were rendered mute in real life, our written and typed voice can scream volumes about our perspective, our view, our opinion, and our thoughts on any and every topic. Yet in this instance, it is not our voice that the Church and the world need to hear. It is the Word of God. The struggle for every individual Christian and every denomination in the Church Universal is to discern God’s Word so that we can know and follow God’s will.

Now more than ever our lives are filled with sounds, noise, music, words, commentary, reports, etc. It may be making it harder to hear God above the cacophony. Hearing God is not about silence, but intentionality. We are repeatedly called through the Scriptures to hear God. The deeper we journey into our personal spirituality, the more we discover that hearing God hinges upon engaging God. Our relationship with our Lord enables us to not only hear God, but understand what God is saying. God’s grace is what enables us to fulfill God’s will. We cannot do this on our own, not as individual disciples or as a denomination. The Father created us together (Genesis 1:26-28). The Son called us together (Matthew 18:19-20). The Holy Spirit holds us together (Ephesians 4:1-6). Trinitarian theology is about being united, in the Godhead, in the Church, and in each person’s mind, body, and spirit.

The glory of the Gospel is that it tells us that God’s love has made grace available to us through Christ Jesus. Grace becomes the glue of holy community. It binds us, bonds us, and brings us together when our own humanity threatens to tear us apart. It speaks, through the Holy Spirit, in sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Perhaps that is where the power of presence and prayer is revealed. My most profound prayers have remained unspoken; so deep, so raw, and so personal that they could not have been uttered out loud. My prayers for my beloved United Methodist Church are no less poignant if they are not heard by another person, written out, or read by others. My presence is no less important, if I am not an official delegate. I am an official member of the United Methodist Church. I am an officially ordained Elder, clergy person of the Virginia Annual Conference. It is not just my voice, but my ministry of presence that marks my place in the Body of Christ. This journey is about that aspect of my Methodism.

Whether you will be in St. Louis or not, you are no less present through the miraculous power of prayer and the uniting power of the Holy Spirit to bridge gaps between people and geographical distance. The Apostle Paul testified to this power in his second letter to the Church in Corinth: “as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11). “The blessing granted through the prayers of many” is precisely what the delegates and presiding bishops at Called General Conference need of each and every one of us. Prayers to unite, uphold, console, encourage, and yearn towards God’s will being done in and through the United Methodist Church. So here is what I am praying throughout the day:

God of All,

We lift our prayers to you, in union with myriads of others.

Bonded together by our love of you, commitment to our Church, and hope for tomorrow,

We entrust ourselves into your hands.

Let your will be done in us, that your purpose will be revealed through us.

Guide us in this time of restlessness.

Heal the wounds we have made against others, and those made against us.

Perfect us by your love, that our love and service will be perfect for others.

Lead us to one another, so that we may journey forward into your Kingdom together.

You are our hope and stay, all else is fleeting and sinking sand.

May we trust you, hear you, and follow you.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray.


Planning, Packing, & Praying


There is nothing more Biblical than looking back over our journey and paying heed to how far we have come, what we have overcome, and where we started.  Last night, I started out by getting the final things together for my trip to St. Louis, and more specifically, Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  It began as a practical endeavor.  I opened my luggage and looked over the carefully packed outfits, supplies, and necessities.  Then I started to get my carry-on bag in order, and that is the precise moment when things shifted.  I grabbed some of the gifts I have been given for this journey: a blinged out notebook and matching pen, a hand woven bracelet, a picture frame with my son’s picture, and a set of markers for making visual statements on poster board I will purchase when I am in St. Louis.  Each one is a thoughtful gift, but also a talisman of the giver, a small piece of them embodied in their thoughtfulness for me.

I was caught unaware by this wave of sadness that washed over me, even as I smiled at the precious artifacts in my hands.  I was getting ready to leave on an airplane that would take me to a city where a pivotal moment in United Methodist history would occur.  I am excited to be there in person.  I am anxious about what may happen.  I am hopeful that God will make a miracle for my beloved denomination.  I mourn that we Methodists find ourselves at this place where we know that hearts will be broken, fractures may become permanent, and some will choose to walk away from our family of faith.  The reality of a Body of Christ comprised of human beings is that no matter what we do, someone is upset.  Someone will leave.  That is not a statement about this issue of human sexuality and inclusion, or even how we have handled it to this point, but the reality of living in community, even a Christ-centered one.

I have been planning this pilgrimage since it was announced after the 2016 General Conference.  I knew that I would need to be there, to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, and experience with my person the atmosphere of spirituality or its lack thereof.  United Methodism has a concept of Holy Conferencing, when the Body of Christ gathers to be in prayerful discernment together, not just individual discernment while sharing same space.  We believe that the Holy Spirit moves in a unique and powerful way when we come together to seek God’s will and word for us in this manner.  I have seen it before.  I have been part of it since becoming clergy.  I know that it has a distinctive feel from any other gathering, meeting, or governing body.  We have to engage and work at it, but there is nothing so powerful as God guiding one of the largest denominations in Christendom.  I want to testify that it did occur.

So here I am, all packed and plans confirmed, and there remains so much prayer to be done.  Countless Methodists, and I suspect Christians from outside our formal membership covenant, are praying about this gathering.  I hope we are not praying for our desire, our wish, our way, but God’s will.  I hope we recognize that human will is powerful and can be manifested by our sheer willpower.  Perhaps that too reflects the divine image in which we were all created (Genesis 1:26).  Yet the challenge is to set aside our will, and create space first in our being, and then in the Church for God’s will to overshadow our own.  That is what I envision happening when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she became the bearer of the Christ-child (Luke 1:35).  If we, as the United Methodist Church, are to bear Christ to the world with our unique and vital theology of grace, then we must be willing to be overshadowed, so that God may be fully embodied.  That is the hard part, but no less necessary.

Last night, after checking all my packing one more time, I unpacked the one thing I do not need: my will.  It was so heavy and burdensome.  I did not realize how much so until I set it aside.  Then there was all this room for the truly important and Godly things!  I had all this room for hope for the future, openness to receiving God’s word, assurance of God’s providence, and the peace that no matter what does or does not happen at Called General Conference, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).  Now I am truly ready to journey to a place where my brothers and sisters of Methodism will converge from all over the world, and seek God’s will and way together.  Now all my planning, packing, and praying have culminated in a heart ready for anything, because God is once more my everything.

My Pastoral Response to the Tragic Events in Charlottesville


To my family of faith in Crozet,

As I sit here in Pennsylvania, having presided over a worship service of Holy Matrimony less than six hours ago, I am struck by the juxtaposition of that celebration of love with this day of suffering and hatred in our neighbor, Charlottesville.  While I am not with you in body, I have been joined with you in prayer, and am with you in spirit now.  I have too many words.  There are words of anger and outrage at the suffering of an entire community.  There are words of sorrow and mourning for those who lost their lives and those who have been harmed in the course of events that escalated because of hatred lived out in violence.  Mostly there are words of prayer and supplication, as I cry out to God for relief from the kind of human sinfulness that can only be satisfied by hate-filled words and causing public fear.  My heart breaks for our community.

I am not going to sit here and offer some form of analysis for what went wrong.  We do not need that, because I think it is obvious: what we experienced was sin.  It is a sin to hate another person.  It is a sin to use violence against another person.  It is a sin to make another human being feel anything less than the beloved child of God that our Lord created them to be.  It is a sin to strip another person of the dignity with which they were endowed by our Creator while they were still in the womb.  Those that gathered in Charlottesville to proclaim their hatred and cause fear sinned, and brought evil into our midst.  It literally crashed into our lives, our peaceful community and caused death.  I do not need anyone to decry that.  It is obviously wrong, a sin, and evil to murder another person.

There is no excuse, no other side, and no option to ignore what happened.  We shall not.  We shall not forget what happened when human beings decided to give into their hate and cause hurt.  Hatred never stays a feeling, a harmless sentiment.  It eats away at us, poisons our minds, and perverts our hearts until it has no where left to go internally and ruptures into our world, often in words and acts of violence.  We saw this today.  So our work as people of faith and servants of Jesus Christ has only begun.

We must now ensure that we have seen what unchecked and unquestioned hatred can do.  Are we aware of our own prejudices?  Are we actively working to eradicate it in our hearts and in our beloved Crozet?  Do we prefer people who look like us, sound like us, dress like us, and live like us?  Are we willing to turn a critical eye internally and see where our words reflect that we see some people as other while our Scriptures tell us that in Christ there is no distinction?  If the Apostle Paul were writing his letter to the Galatians today, then I have no doubt it would read:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer native or immigrant, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer black or white, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer heterosexual and non-heterosexual; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

It is a sin to hate a person God loves, and just because you might temper that word “hate,” do not think that God is fooled.  We are all sinners.  We are all in need of the grace that only Christ provides.  We can all be transformed from sinners, and liberated from our hatred.  So we start with ourselves, and we no longer let each other speak the language of prejudice that makes hatred of another person socially acceptable.  Change starts with us, and Christ has freed us for this very purpose, this holy cause.  We need to raise the children in our homes and in our community to love as God loves, and reject the sinful divisions humankind has created to reinforce a false hierarchy that raises some up by forcing others down into the depths of an unholy social prison.  In this country, people have the right to hate, but we are not building an earthly kingdom of legalism, we are building the Kingdom of God, and there is no room for hatred here.  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.

When the painful reality of human sinfulness makes us suffer, we get down on our knees and lift up our prayers to the highest heaven.  Together let us pray:

Merciful and mighty God,

We come to you, our refuge and our redeemer,

Crying out from the aftermath of hatred in tangible form,

Poured out in our lives from human vessels.

Save us from this sin, Almighty God.

Protect us from this insidious evil that has taken lives,

And continues to cause pain, suffering, and bring forth violence.

We know that we have work to do to purge this sinful hatred from the world.

It begins with each of us taking on the heart of Christ,

Which rejects hatred and prejudice against any other person.

It means that we can not harbor hatred in our own hearts,

And we cannot allow it to be spoken and lived out in our community.

We seek your strength to do this,

Your guidance to help us accomplish this holy purpose.

We are not willing to accept hatred as a reality any longer.

We are people of faith, hope, and love,

And you proclaim that greatest of our attributes is love.

Let it be so, in accordance with your will.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

We pray.


Taking Its Cue from Christ, The Church Goes On


Back in April, I was invited to be part of the journey to ordination known in United Methodist Church as the Provisional Process.  Ironically, I had just been there and done that, but as a Provisional Elder myself.  I just celebrated my one year ordination anniversary last month, and about six months into my first year I was being asked to be present with and mentor to those who were beginning their journey in the process.

Like most of those called by God in the Bible, I felt fear.  I wondered if I could, if I was worthy, even capable.  I thought that surely there were others more qualified than I.  Then, as God always does, God settled my fears and whispered into my heart those words that have brought me into service countless times in my life: I am with you.  My mind had a snarky reply: You’d better be!  Of course God was, is, and ever will be.  I serve a local church where God permeates everything, even the physical space.  God is manifest in our worship, our love for others, our service in the name of Jesus Christ, and our intense desire to reflect the grace by which we have been saved.  No amount of sin, failure, or mistakes can stop Christ from being at work in the Church, or those of us who call the Church our home.

I have been plagued by the thoughts and fears of what might happen to the denomination that has been a part of my life from the very beginning of it.  The United Methodist Church has finally called the question on human sexuality, and will convene a special called General Conference, that global meeting of Methodists, usually reserved for every four years, but will now take place in February 2019.  Many of us wait with bated breath to see what will happen.  There are fears of breaking, splitting, fracture, and dissolution.  Considering how much I love the United Methodist Church personally, I am keenly aware of those fears, feeling them myself.  Yet I give thanks to God that no fear can stop the work of the Church.  As God says, “I am with you.”

Yesterday I gathered with fifteen clergy for their first Provisional meeting since being commissioned during worship at the Virginia Annual Conference in June.  They vary in age, reflect a range of seminary and educational experience, are diverse in ethnic and gender, and yet are all equally committed to this call from God to serve the Church in the specific role of clergy.  They refuse to let fears and talk of a denominational break stop their servant leadership, even when their ordained colleagues speak of it incessantly.  Thank God for that kind of fearless commitment to the journey, to the Church, and to Jesus Christ.  They reminded me that God is with us, not just in the presence of the Father in our consecrated, sacred spaces, or as the Son when two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, or even in the movement of the Holy Spirit, but in those who bear the mantle of clergy to serve the Church, and ultimately that parish known as the world.

My life experience has countless examples of God reassuring while my spirit was assailed by fear, and God providing what I needed to move from merely surviving to thriving with confidence in the exhortation of Jesus not to be afraid (John 14:27).  My Lord who refused to be stymied by disciples who could not comprehend his messianic mission, fell victim to fear, and fled in the face of the suffering and death at the cross.  I cannot help but think that by creating the opportunity to be on this faith walk with these Provisionals, God has once again given me a stronghold and gift of assurance to carry me through this time of prayer and waiting to discover the future of my cherished United Methodist Church.

You may not be physically present with us when we gather, but believe me when I tell you that God is doing something there for the good of Christendom, and no threat to my beloved denomination will prevent God’s will from prevailing.  God still calls good and faithful servants to lead.  God still nurtures them into the servant leaders we need.  God will not abandon us, and God remains greater than any denomination.  If like me you call yourself a Christian, and seek to fulfill your call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then trust me when I proclaim that the future looks bright indeed.  I have seen it in the faces of those who will lead when I am gone, and my heart is not just warmed, it burns with gratitude to God.  There’s no room for fear, as it has been replaced with greater faith in Christ.

And I Cried.


Yesterday was a painful day.  I was following the events of General Conference, that world wide gathering of United Methodism which takes place every four years.  It is a time of holy conferencing and communion of the Wesleyan faithful from all over the earth.  I was once blessed to attend the gathering in 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas with my mother.  It was an experience I will never forget and always treasure, so I was devastated to read the news reports and accounts on social media yesterday which relayed the extreme strain and real possibility of a potential break in the denomination.

I love this Church.  It is mine, and that of millions of Methodists.  It is the church of my birth, my childhood, my youth, my adulthood, and my pastorate.  I have joined it with all that I am, and served it with all that I have.  I have made great sacrifices personally to be Methodist clergy, and I expect to give much more during the course of my life.  Just the thought of it being rended caused me great agony, emotionally and spiritually.  So much so that I was overwhelmed, and I cried.

I cried tears the likes of which had not fallen since my first marriage failed, and my family dissipated from the promise made during the worship of Holy Matrimony.  I cried as if I was once more confronted with a brokenness that would never be fully healed in this lifetime, a failure from which no restoration would come.  I cried as if the feelings of betrayal that destroyed my family were once more tangible in the possibility of the loss of my beloved United Methodist Church.  There have been times in my life when the only thing I had was God, and God was readily available in the United Methodist Church.  No denominational break can take God from me, but I fear that this may not be the case for all.  What might the loss of United Methodism mean for others?

There are many who feel loss right now about their place in the United Methodist Church.  They wonder if their identification as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer means that they are denied God’s grace or the love of Christ’s Church.  They wonder if they can be welcomed into worship and the fullness of church life their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.  They have experiences of pain, suffering, rejection, and persecution.  They fight for inclusion.  Many of my beloved family and friends count themselves in these numbers.

Others feel like they are being portrayed as monsters for their understanding of Scripture, and their faithfulness to the current doctrine of the Church.  They feel villainized and unfairly depicted.  Labeled hate mongers and cast as the Judas of this drama, they feel as if they too are misunderstood.  They have loved this Church, tried to be faithful to the Bible, and just to the doctrine.  They have their own tales of struggle and suffering around this issue.  They are the counterpart to the first perspective, and no less in pain.

I cried for both sides.  I also cried for my own: another stuck between the two.  I thought the Church was where all can come before God, no matter their sin or state of being, and encounter grace.  I thought we all fell short of the glory of God, and were looking to grow beyond ourselves into reflections of Christ who died because we all sin.  The sins may differ, but the consequences are all the same: brokenness.  As one whose life was forever changed because of sinful heterosexual sex, I cried that my family of faith was threatened with its own form of divorce.  No one person, perspective, or side is right.  I suspect that there is truth to be cultivated from all sides.  There is no simple truth, no ready fix, no easy path.  However, I believe that the path will be dictated by the desire to walk together or away from one another.

I cannot change the events of General Conference, or the hearts and minds of those elected to represent me and the Annual Conference I serve.  So I turn to prayer.  I pray for God to overwhelm us all with grace, hope, and truth.  I pray that every United Methodist recall the pledge to the Body of Christ in our membership, not just our vision for the Church.  I pray we can hold fast to one another, no matter the side we hold to be righteous.  I pray for the leaders of our Church, both clergy and laity, to endeavor to model Christ as the denomination and the world outside of it look on with bated breath.  Many marriages like my own have failed because one party was all too wiling to walk away.  I pray that we recall our covenant before God to endure until we are parted by death.  There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  No sin can either.  In our collective imperfection, let us model perfect unity.  Let us love in spite of our differences in expression, identity, and perspective on any issue.  May God turn my tears of fear and sorrow into tears of joy, that the United Methodist Church will persist despite all obstacles and present trials.

I have no answers.  I have only prayers, and this incredible faith that God can do all things.  May God’s will be done in and through the United Methodist Church.  Amen.

Transition: The Trial and the Triumph


The Book of James tell us that God does not change: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 NRS).  Perhaps we can take comfort in the steadfastness of our Lord whose love never ends and grace for us does not waver.  Maybe we need to be reminded of that more than ever when things change in our lives.

I have been through much change in the thirty-five years of my life.  I have moved more than nine times, and am preparing for my tenth.  I have been married, and then divorced; a change I never would have anticipated.  Becoming a mother continues to be a daily encounter with change.  My life changed again when I unexpectedly met the man who would become my new husband, step-father to our son, and partner in ministry.  Now I am at the culmination of my journey to ordination and my first appointment as an ordained Elder.  This is change.  It means life in flux, and the transformation of self and circumstance.  I could be frightened.  Some might say I should be scared, but I am not.  I believe that God is at work in my life and my ministry, and God is active in this change.  Perhaps I am foolish to feel so at ease, or perhaps I have reached a point in my faith life where I am so grounded in God that nothing can shake me, unless I let it.

Change can be difficult.  I am deeply invested in my current congregation in Norfolk, VA.  I have been with them for eight incredible years.  They have been invested in me from the first stage of declaring my candidacy for ordination to its completion this June.  We have been through countless trials and tribulations.  We have experienced the fullness of human emotion together, and emerged stronger.  God has knitted us together for a time, and I have been blessed to be bound to them.  But now that bond is being severed.  I am being called to a new congregation, and there is much to mourn about this separation.

The miracle of God is that even in the sadness and mourning, there is so much to anticipate with hope and joy.  I have been granted gifts and graces in ministry which are needed, valued, and desired.  God has moved hearts and minds to send me to Crozet, VA, not least of which is my own.  My hope is not at the expense of my current congregation either.  God has made sure to send them a new pastor with his own gifts and graces, and passion for ministry.  When he arrives, the Holy Spirit will begin to knit him and the congregation together, weaving the next panel in a tapestry of their identity.  While I am only beginning to know him, I know that we serve and honor the same Lord.  I can trust that the God who called me and upheld me, can and will do the same for him.  It is a blessing to fathom the graciousness of God in this time of transition.

This is the tale of only two churches in transition, but spring in the United Methodist Church is a time of profound change for many churches and their congregations.  The Body of Christ is being made and remade all over the world.  There are many who will be frightened of the future, and that is an honest emotion.  There will be others who will find this serene sense of God sweeping over them, and if we find ourselves in that category, then we are duty bound to share that comfort, while still allowing space for the ambiguity of change.  This is a time to draw near to God and one another.  It is an opportunity to cling to our faith rather than digging in our heels against inevitable change.

I am praying for all those who are in the throes of change.  My deepest prayer is that we can allow change to be a time of transition, moving from one state to another with grace and the preservation of human dignity.  God may be unchanging, but in the midst of change we just might see God in the most profound ways, and come to understand the claim God has on our lives.  May any change we experience be filled with tangible signs of God’s presence and providence.  May we stand firm in our faith, even when the ground seems shaky.

Change Over Time


(Image by Sarah R. Wastella)

I think those of who have been part of the Church for all or most of our lives can easily forget that transformation into a Christian and then into a disciple takes place over time.  I realize that many people have this moment when they are willing to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, but that is often proceeded by encounters with others of faith who inform and provide the necessary seeds for faith to take root by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even Peter, according to the Gospel account of Luke, first heard Jesus preaching to the people on the shore (Luke 5:1-3), then witnessed the miraculous catch (Luke 5:4-7) before he fell to his knees and pleaded with Jesus to withdraw from him because of Peter’s sin (Luke 5:8-10).  Peter was not ready to follow Jesus then; he asked him to leave!  But it was a turning point, the beginning of a dialogue and relationship that would EVENTUALLY lead to transformation of Simon Peter, the fisherman, into Peter, the fisher of men and women.

Have we so easily forgotten that the Twelve, who followed Jesus for the three years of his earthly ministry, were still confused and scattered at his arrest, trial, suffering, and death?  They started to follow at Jesus’ invitation, but they were not complete then too.  It would take years of encounter, experience, and witnessing the countless miracles (feedings, healings, and mighty acts) to be in a place to finally be transformed into the disciples we know as those who first spread the Gospel of Christ.  I think that Scripture prepares us to be part of the long haul of making disciples.  If we follow Jesus’ model, and I think we should, then we have to cultivate relationship and have a conversation that will last years, and not all of that with words.  While that same sacred text reveals instances when people immediately became believers, we have to recognize that profession of faith, declaring oneself to be a Christian, is not synonymous with becoming a disciple.  A Christian professes belief in Christ, but a disciple follows Christ and his teachings.  This world is filled with those who believe, but not all will follow.  Just as dozens came into Jerusalem with Jesus, believing in him, but only a faithful few followed him to the cross, while the others scattered in fear and self-preservation.  Many profess Christ in their hearts and even with their mouths, but are not willing to take the next step and profess him with their lives.  If every person who self-identified as a Christian lived that out, then this world would be a very different place.  Love of God and love for others would overflow tangibly.

So why it is that there is this pervasive expectation that we immediately condemn the sinful actions of others, expect them to convert to faith in Christ, and be instantly transformed?  While Peter self-identified as a sinful man, he did not stop his sin immediately, but he did immediately start the path by engaging with Jesus.  Peter would continue to sin, denying Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in suffering and death (Matthew 16:21-23), and denying Jesus himself (Mark 14:66-72), yet he remains an example to all those who would seek to become disciples to persevere over time.  Jesus did not begin his relationship with Peter by declaring Peter to be a sinner and demanding he repent.  Instead he asking him to come along, to be with him as he lived out his divine purpose.  As clergy, I cultivate relationship long before I can speak into the heart to evoke change.  I have to build trust, earn respect, and model what I preach and teach.  Only then do I stand a chance of being a vessel of God’s transformative love and grace.  Even then I am a part of a larger narrative of other faithful followers, disciples who bear Christ’s name and love in this world.

Jesus never modeled a love them and leave them ministry.  He entered into conversation, went to people where they were in their daily lives, and invited them to experience something wholly and holy other.  Some listened, some ignored, but those who chose to continue the dialogue stood the best chance of being truly and lastingly transformed.  But even we who have been a part of the Church for so long should be mindful that we have had instances of rejection of the Gospel, refusal to follow, and backsliding.  We are not perfect disciples either.  While I do not think we claim to be, sometimes our manner of interacting with those outside of the Church communicates a sense of superiority and exasperation with those who have not entered into our fellowship as full members.  We cannot expect everyone to immediately become Christians much less disciples, and we should be quick to engage rather than condemn.  Transformation is the goal of the Gospel and that takes time.  Are we willing to practice patience and invest it in the very people to whom Christ sends us?