Wednesday, August 26, 2009

September Newsletter Article

Each month I write a article for my parish's newsletter and, beginning with this post, I will publish those articles here.


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

As I think back over the last couple of weeks I am struck by the blessings and curses of 21st Century technology. For example, think back to that terrible tragedy of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Yes, news organizations rushed to get the news out and, if you are a certain age, we fondly remember the words and emotions of broadcaster Walter Cronkite. Many Americans got the chance to see the memorial train that took his body to Washington DC and everyone has probably seen the wonderful and moving picture of John Jr. as he saluted his father at the funeral service. While all the news organizations worked hard to bring the nation the stories, we weren’t inundated constantly with it. And anyone who had an opinion about the President’s death could only voice it with family and friends, at the water-cooler, or with a letter to the editor (which may or may not get published).

Now flash forward to this morning’s news that his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, died overnight as a result of his brain cancer. While it is not the only news on TV, Radio, and the internet, there does seem to be too much of it. Every “talking head” has to spout their opinion on Sen. Kennedy’s influence on the Senate and the nation and what may happen now that he is dead. Conservatives, while not exactly gloating, are looking forward to the next several months because the Democrats will only have 59 votes in the Senate and not the filibuster-proof 60. And, while I haven’t listened to any, I’d be willing to bet that the conservative radio talk shows (think Rush L.) are just brimming with callers rejoicing at his death. The same is probably happening at conservative blogs (blogs = web logs or diaries that anyone can read and reply to). Modern technology in communication has given us an explosion in ways in which all people can voice their opinions and opposition, and many of them do.

That brings me to last week’s vote by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to allow church to call as their pastor a gay or lesbian clergy who is in a “life-long, committed, same-sex” relationship. This article is not about whether I support or reject the decision made. What upsets me the most is the ugliness of the arguments on both sides. Do an internet search on “gay clergy ELCA” or any similar phrase. Go to the articles that the search found and read them. More importantly, read the comments below the articles. It is saddening to think that people are writing some of these things. Some of it is hateful. Much of it is disrespectful. Everyone quotes the Bible. And no one tries to have a minimal understanding of the other side.

In James 1:19-20, the writer says, “You must understand this: . . . let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” In verse 26 the writer says, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” Our quickness, as a society, community, or church, to go to the extremes in voicing and defending our views ultimately will be our downfall. Jesus, who stands in the middle and opens his Table to all, calls to all to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (or as God has loved us).

Peace in Christ

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vote of the ELCA (one last link)

Here's one last link. Pastor Justin White writes about all people coming to the Table of the Lord in "Open Hearts? Open Doors? Open Minds? Open Table?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vote of the ELCA (cont.)

I am still looking for centrist reactions to the vote on Friday, August 21, of the ELCA to allow churches that so desire to call clergy who are gay or lesbian in "life-long, committed, same-sex relationships". There is a great sermon by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber who serves a church called "House for All Sinners" in Denver. (What a GREAT name for a church!) Their ministry in the Denver area is to the GLBTQ community (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Queer). Her sermon, despite the fact that she openly supports the decision, was decidedly centrist with her main theme being that Jesus stands neither at the green mike (those for) or the red mike (those against) but instead stands at the center. The Bread of Life (John 6 - the Gospel text for the last five weeks) is for all people.

Here is the link: Sarcastic Lutheran

Maybe we can stand between, in the midst, and with all people as did Jesus.

Peace and Blessings

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Vote of the ELCA

As you have more than likely heard and as have been widely reported (NYTimes, LATimes, StarTrib) the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted yesterday at their General Assembly to allow congregations that so choose to call gay and lesbian pastors who may be in "lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships." As reported, there were many heartfelt arguments and biblical quotations on both sides of the issue.

The ELCA took a five step process to the final vote starting with voting on a 50 page Social Statement on Human Sexuality. All the news reports after the adoption of the statement focused on the 2 pages that dealt with homosexuality and ignored the 48 pages that dealt with human sex trafficking, sex abuse, sex trade, pornography, and many other sex issues of our times.

Prior to the final vote, which happened around 6 PM on Friday, August 21, Presiding Bishop Hanson asked for calm when the vote was tallied and then lead the assembly in a prayer. It was surprising to me just how calm the assembly was when the vote was announced (I watched the proceedings on the ELCA's webcast). I also appreciated the words of reconciliation given by Bishop Hanson immediately following the vote.

Since the purpose of this blog is to talk about ministry in the rural setting, the question to be asked is, "How does this affect STAR (see this blog's banner) churches?" My general feeling is that most rural churches and their members, both denominational and non-denominational, are conservative in life and theology. Some rural ELCA churches may contemplate leaving the denomination. Rural churches who are not ELCA may wonder what is happening and how a denomination can leave the historic and (some would say) scriptural stance of Christianity. (Please note, as stated above, both sides of the issue quoted scripture to bolster their understanding of God's call to faithful living.)

This is a tough issue with many passionate advocates on both sides, but there are no easy answers. The vote of the ELCA leaves room for churches to live out their understanding of scripture and tradition. Those churches that believe that gays and lesbians are called by God to serve as clergy are now free to call them. Those churches that take the opposing view are free to not call gay and lesbian pastors. I believe that most STAR churches will not be calling gay and lesbian pastors.

Finally, the conservative blogs are probably all over this vote and deriding the ELCA. I am also fairly certain that the liberal blogs are praising the action. I will do some searching but I wonder if there are some middle of the road blogs who are discussing the vote. Too many people see issues only in black and white. Can we ever come up with understandings that remain faithful to God and Jesus Christ without alienating or shutting out people from the family of God?

Update: Blogs and columns with a balanced view.
1. David Gibson at Politics Daily
2. Clerical Whispers
3. Patrick Condon at Associated Press
4. Gregory Jackson at Ichabod, the Glory Has Departed

A good argument from the left: Faithful Progressive (esp. comment #7, the longest)

If I see a good argument from the right without vitriol I'll post it.

I found one: The Three-Legged Stool

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Kind of Church?

Dave Nichols in his blog here discusses Len Sweet's description of three kinds of churches: undertaking, care-taking, and risk-taking. Which one is your church (or my churches for that matter)?

Undertaking churches are simply waiting for the last person standing (and walking) to turn out the lights and close the doors. They may not be interested in anything such as turn around strategies and evangelism and growth. Many Small Town and Rural (STAR) churches are undertaking churches. They need dedicated, faithful pastors to care for them until the end. These may not be the exciting churches many pastor want to lead but they still need pastors who are compassionate and willing to listen.

Care-taking churches are those that only care for those who are "in". The only way in is through marriage and birth. While they are cordial to outsiders, members can be cool to anyone new and the new person will get the message quickly. Evangelism is not on their radar either and their membership may remain stable over the years. Eventually they will become undertaking churches. Pastors who serve these churches, also described as "family churches" need to understand the dynamics of the leadership which is usually a matriarch or patriarch who may or may not be on the Church Council. They desire a pastor who will not rock the boat too much and will reward the pastor who works with them understands their style of church. Many STAR churches are care-taking church.

Risk-taking churches are willing to try anything and everything to bring the gospel to everyone. They need a pastor who is willing and able to tap into the energy of the church and bring them direction. These churches are able to accept failure and try again. When a ministry succeeds they are willing to start other ministries to be there when the first begins to decline. These churches often don't worry too much about the funding of a ministry because they trust God and the membership to fund what God desires. I am sorry to say that my impression is that there are not too many STAR risk-taking churchs. Why is this?

So, what church is your church? Is it possible for an undertaking or care-taking church to become a risk-taking church? I think it is because all things are possible for God. Unfortunately, it is a difficult and scary task, but it can be done.

Peace in Christ and God Bless,
Pastor Gary

Licensed Pastors in Ministry

So, what impact does being a Local Licensed Pastor (see blog on August 11) have on rural ministry?

First, my impression is that the majority (vast majority?) of LLP's are appointed to Small Town and Rural (STAR) churches throughout the denomination. Here in Minnesota approximately 10% of the appointed clergy are LLP's. Half of those are full-time and half are part-time. Of these 35 pastors only a couple of them are serving in metropolitan or suburban areas. All of the rest are serving STAR churches. This is not a bad thing but I do wonder why the District Superintendents and Bishop have it skewed in this direction.

Secondly, the LLP track for ministry is designed for those entering ministry in their later years and who do not want to take 3 years out of their lives to attend seminary (see 8/11 blog). (Of course, there are many LLP who have gone to seminary and choose to serve the denomination as an LLP or have not yet met some requirement to become a commissioned provisional elder and are serving as an LLP until they are commissioned.) Those entering ministry in their later years are often coming from other careers or have retired from a career. I was a music teacher and a bookkeep/accountant prior to becoming a pastor. This, I believe, brings a positive attribute to ministry: life experience! Think about it - we who come to ministry in our later years have often raised a family, gone through the joys and heartaches of relationships with spouse, children, in-laws, and neighbors. We have worked with our hands and minds; been subject to good and lousy bosses; made mistakes at home and work and lived through the consequences; and had successes in those same places and felt the personal satisfaction. This doesn't necessarily make us better clergy then young people who go from high-school to college to seminary to an appointment. It is just that a longer life experience brings us different perspectives.

Third, our older age at entering ministry means we come with more health issues. Churches and parishes where we are appointed will experience more absences as we see our doctors more often, get more medical tests, and are out more often with injuries and illnesses that younger clergy don't get. That, of course, means that our conference health insurance plan will have higher costs to bear which drives the cost of insurance up for all churches. This impacts STAR churches at a disproportionate rate as they struggle to balance their budgets and pay their pastors. Pay packages for full-time pastors typically include: salary, health insurance, retirement, continuing education, professional expenses, mileage, and the use of a parsonage or a housing allowance. These costs are often 60 to 80% of a small church's budget.

Finally, many STAR churches cannot afford a full time pastor and cannot or will not share a pastor with 1 or 2 other churches. There are many reasons for this situation which can be discussed at a later date. Fortunately, in the United Methodist Church these churches can be served by a part-time LLP. Because the pastor is licensed by the bishop to fully serve the church, the church does not lose having the sacraments of baptism and communion being offered to them. Part-time LLP's have many reasons for not wanting to serve the church full-time therefore the paring of these STAR churches and part-time LLP's is a wonderful solution and keeps the UMC presence in rural communities alive.

Of course, the majority of STAR churches, at least here in Minnesota, are served faithfully and successfully by full-time ordained clergy, both young and old. United Methodist rural ministry is rich and varied and can be a personally satifying ministry to all who choose to serve.

Peace and Blessing,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Is an Associate Member?

As I was reading the "About Me" side bar, I was wondered if anyone was wondering just what was an Associate Member of an Annual Conference? In the United Methodist Church, and the Annual Conferences (which are the regional bodies of the UMC) there are two ways of becoming an appointed clergy. The traditional route is for someone to declare their interest in becoming a clergy, attend college and seminary, take a few psychological and emotional surveys, jump through a few Board of Ordained Ministry (BoOM) hoops, receive a commission to serve, receive an appointment to a church or churches, jump through a few more hoops, survive a fairly intense interview by the BoOM, and then, after 2 to 4 years of being a Provisional Clergy, be ordained and become an Elder.

The other way is the route I took or at least the route I should have taken. A person who becomes clergy through this process is called a Local Licensed Pastor (LLP). It is designed to encourage persons over the age of 35 who doesn't want to go through seminary to become clergy and serve in a local church or churches. It is also possible to follow these steps without leaving a job or moving a family. After declaring an intention to be a clergyperson, someone attends a 2 week Licensing School (I went to Dubuque), take the psychological and emotional surveys, and receive an appointment to a local church under the supervision of the District Superintendent. The bishop "licences" the person to serve only the local church to which they have been appointed. Following the appointment, the person then has to begin attending "Course of Study" (COS) at one of the UMC seminaries. The full COS is 20 classes in 10 modules designed to give the student a quick yet intense seminary study. Each module is typically two weeks long, although seminaries have started modifying the ways COS is offered. A LLP who is serving full time must complete the 10 modules in 8 years. A part-time LLP must complete them in 12 years. In the UMC, a LLP is not guaranteed an appointment, but they also are not itinerate.

There are a few variations to these routes to ministry. For instance, someone who has gone through seminary but doesn't want to go through all the requirments for ordination can be a LLP and not attend COS.

Now, to answer the question posed at the top - an Associate Member of the Annual Conference is what I call a "glorified LLP". After I completed COS in 2007 I applied to the BoOM to become an Associate Member. I redid the psychological and emotional surveys, had a physical done by my physician, wrote a sermon, recorded the preaching of that sermon, wrote a biography (which was not short) about my physical and spiritual life, and answered the questions for ordained ministry listed in the Book of Discipline of the UMC (22 double spaced pages), and survived the BoOM interview. (BTW, these are many of the hoops that Provisional Members must jump through to be ordained.) I was then received as an Associate Member of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church by Bishop Sally Dyck in 2008. The only difference between an AM and a LLP is that I am now guaranteed an appointment but I also agree to be itinerate.

Hopefully, this answers any questions.
God Bless and May the Peace of Christ be with you.

Google AdSense

I have just signed up for Google's AdSense program to maybe generate some income. Click on an ad or not as you so desire. Right now the ads may seem random but as I generate more content they will become more relevant. If you see an ad that seems inappropriate or offensive let me know. I will try to do something but Google may not be the easiest to work with.

Peace in Christ!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Just a Beginning

Hello Anyone Who Stumbles Upon This Blog,

This is my first foray into blogging. I am an appointed clergy serving in the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I serve two church in central Minnesota: Peace United Church in Long Prairie and Grey Eagle United Methodist in Grey Eagle. More on these two church later.

My intention for this blog is to discuss my understanding of rural ministry. Some blogs may be reactions to issues that impact, positively or negatively, the church outside of metropolitan areas. I don't think that the blogs will be daily but I hope weekly.

God Bless and the Peace of Jesus Christ be with you.