Willimon Road Trip?

The two general editors for the Wesley Study Bible (reviewed below) are Dr. Joel B. Green, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Bishop William H. Willimon, who is listed on the packaging of the Wesley Study Bible as “Resident Bishop of the Birmingham Area of the United Methodist Church” but who is, I’m pretty sure, known in Methodist circles as the Bishop of North Alabama. He is also a rather prolific writer and speaks often at churches in his conference.

One topic he will be speaking on is “Reading the Bible Like Wesleyans”.

This will be a discussion, led by Bishop Willimon, on the unique Methodist way with scripture. How does United Methodist “practical Christianity” inform our reading of scripture? Bishop Willimon will discuss the particular Wesleyan contribution to the study, interpretation, and embodiment of Holy Scripture.

This should be thorough (2.5 hours alotted) and informative conversation. I know some Methobloggers are discussing making the trip to Birmingham on the 7th of March, but I’m closer to Huntsville, and I’m thinking of getting a group from church together to make the trip on the 14th.

You can read more about the sessions and Bishop Willimon’s thoughts about the project at the North Alabama Conference website.

Twitter, the web and bad impressions.

Several UM conferences now use twitter. I know of three, West Virginia, Texas and South Carolina. These conferences are doing good work.

That doesn’t mean that I think you have to twitter in order to be an effective conference. Twitter does not make disciples, nor do good web pages, or great UM reporter inserts. However, it does show that you’re thinking about such things. It shows you are looking for ways to communicate.

Look at the web pages for those three UM conference: South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia. They all have current events, relevant links and great information. They present the conference the denomination and the church well. Now, go look at some other United Methodist conferences. Pick three. There are some really bad ones out there. I met one of the people I follow on twitter because he was noticing how bad some of them are.

I know our conference budgets are limited. Budgets are being scrutinized everywhere. Many conferences are probably using volunteer help and hosting for their pages. Fine, have a simple web page with phone numbers, links and a calendar. But do whatever you’re doing well.

If I go to your web page and get “upcoming advent celebrations!” what should I think? If you link me to another web page that doesn’t have anything to do with the link I just clicked, how long do you think I’ll stay on your site? If I email your pastors with a question or concern, how long will it take to hear back from them? I recently emailed a pastor with a comment: no response for six days and counting.

So what? I should do something. I’m complaining, but I can help. You can too. You’re reading a blog, so you’ve got more experience than others in the church. Maybe you can help proofread the website for you church. Maybe you can just make sure to check the conference website once a week and encourage the guy who works on it. We have good news to share, peace to proclaim. Christ is Lord! Let us share the news in a way that is worthy of the King of Kings.

The United Methodist Hymnal

I have come to appreciate the hymnal more and more over the years, finding it to be an important part of my devotional time. As one who enjoys singing, I have also tried to learn more about things like the metrical index and tune names.

I love the many prayers that are part of the book as well. The prayer below is from Charles Wesley and is on page 594. It is a wonderful prayer for illumination. It can be sung to two popular hymn tunes, Dix and Toplady, more commonly known as “For the Beauty of the Earth” (92) and “Rock of Ages” (361).

However, this takes a slight adjustment to the last line; “when thou comest on earth to abide” has to be sung more like “when thou comest on earth to ‘bide” or “when you come on earth to ‘bide” (to avoid the awkward comest).

Here’s the prayer (595 is another great prayer by CW)

Come, divine Interpreter,
bring me eyes thy book to read,
ears thy mystic words to hear,
words which did from thee proceed,
words that endless bliss impart,
kept in an obedient heart.

All who read, or hear, are blessed,
if thy plain commands we do;
of thy kingdom here possessed,
thee we shall in glory view
when thou comest on earth to abide,
reign triumphant at thy side.

Active church

(picture courtesy of flickr user tukanuk, under creative commons license.)

What image comes to mind when you hear the phrase active church? Hands working? Youth cleaning up the shrubs at the home of a shut-in? UM Women filling care packages? I wanted a picture to put with the phrase active church and with the Google image search, I got a lot of pictures of church buildings (although the deeper I went, the more people I saw). Granted, Google is not necessarily and indicator of what people think, but it is interesting.

People inside the church may see how active it is. We know that those folks visiting the nursing home are doing so because of the church, we know who is visiting prisoners or filling Thanksgiving boxes, but outside the church, it may not be so obvious.

I never really liked the UM “Open hearts…” campaign. I don’t know too many people who did, and I don’t know that it was the best use of the church’s money. The United Methodist church starts a new ad campaign next year, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

The subject of the campaign is “Rethink Church.” Some of the quotes in the article trouble me:

…the church population, institution and hierarchy will need to understand and embrace the idea that it is OK for “church” to start out as day care, a youth-group ski trip, a men’s basketball league or something that solves a secular need, such as Habitat for Humanity.

but overall, I think the concept is one that should even be good for people already in the pews. Church is living, breathing, a full time commitment, not just a place you go on Sunday. Hopefully (especially at the cost of $50 million) the campaign will strengthen us as we make disciples for Christ.

Race and the church

I am part of a church that is mostly rich white people. We have some people who might be at the low end of the middle class, and we have had a few people of Asian descent, and one woman whose husband is black, but he’s a member of another congregation.

One group that I’m part of, the Ekklesia Project, is also mostly middle and upper class white people. We’ll be discussing some of the reasons when we meet this year at the gathering.

Another group that I’m a member of, though I’m not much of a contributor, is the Emmaus community, and it’s also mostly middle class white people.

And yet another group which I am involved in, which has no name other than coffeehouse theology, is middle class white men. In May we’ll be discussing issues of race as well, using this article by Dr. Gene Davenport as our starting point.

During Holy Week, our church hosts other churches for noon services. There’s a thirty minute worship service, followed by lunch. One of the CME churches in the area led the Good Friday service. Then we ate together, or at least we ate in the same room. A few of their members sat on the side of the room that was largely occupied by members of our congregation, but most from the CME church sat at two long tables. After the meal, we did more socializing, but eating was separate, and I’m not sure how intentional that was from either group. But it was noticeable.

There are members of each congregation that are old enough to remember separate fountains and movie theater entrances. The best hamburger joint in Tennessee (which happens to be here in Henderson) has a walk up window. It’s handy for ordering a quick milkshake, but I’m wondering if that was its original purpose.

I don’t know what to do about this. I have heard that there are efforts by the United Methodist church to work more closely with CME and AME churches, to help us all figure out why we’re still so divided by race and economic circumstances. Locally, I’m going to do what I can to connect Methodist congregations in the county (regardless of whether they’re United, Christian or African) so that we’ll all be aware of one another. Maybe the Holy Spirit will help us to pray together, worship together and eat together a little more often.

Annual Conference changes

I’m sure every UM Annual conference is looking at some changes this year. I would guess that whenever General Conference is held, more changes are suggested at Annual conference, but I could be wrong. The “transition team” for the Memphis annual conference has suggested many changes. Several of them are available for viewing at the Memphis conference page. I’ll save you the ridiculous clicking lens noise of that site by direct linking them. I’ll also try and scan the brochure provided by the team and post it sometime this week.

Transition team PowerPoint

Transition team final revision.

Structure Diagram

Conference differences

At the same time that I rail against the bureaucracy of the church, I also get angry about lack of good technology. Do I contradict myself? Of course.

Compare and contrast:

The Memphis Conference webpage

The Tennessee Conference webpage

And, the Tennessee Youth Conference page

and Memphis Youth Conference Page (yes, it is in fact, 5 years old)

Don’t build ugly sanctuaries.

The building that our church worships in may be the prettiest church in the county. If it’s not, I have no doubt that the prettiest church in the county is another Methodist church. We’re lucky. We have no competition in that regard. There are no high church Presbyterians, Episcopalians or Catholics to outrank us. We don’t even have a Lutheran church, so we’re the only ones who think in terms of pretty when we build.

I know the “If it looks Catholic, we shouldn’t do it” protestant history of why my Baptist and CofC brothers and sisters worship in such plain surroundings, but I don’t think their rationale holds up. And I know there are pretty Baptist churches out there, just not in this county.

There are some issues with having a pretty sanctuary. I know that, but I don’t see how having an ugly one is the alternative. My preferred alternative would be NO sanctuary.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m not sure what to think about new church starts. Part of my hesitancy is because it seems like all new church starts come with a mortgage. Granted, because Methodists believe that the sacraments should be given by an ordained elder, it would be difficult to have new Methodist churches that are cell groups of 10 or 15 people, but does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

The words kyriakon and ekklesia have both come to be “church” but it seems to me that despite our “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…” type hymns we still are tied to the buildings almost to the point of idolatry. I suppose that’s why some make ugly sanctuaries, as a way of fighting that, a way of making the space less attractive, more utilitarian.

Cell churches, house church, “new” monasticism all intrigue me. They seem to help emphasize the people of God rather than the house. Maybe they’ll help us all to be less tied to our buildings, whether they’re pretty or not.

I love Google.

I know that it may be a problem, but I really love Google. I shouldn’t. It’s the big guy, the heavy-hitter, the Goliath of the internet. But they can do amazing things.

Try it. www.books.google.com.

Play around with it a little while. See what you can find. If you have a google account, you can add books to your library, much like Library Thing (which I also highly recommend) except with bookmarks to full texts of some books.

Do you have a copy of the 1905 Methodist Hymnal? Congratulations, you do now. You can download it, print it, do whatever you want with it. Want to read about Wesleyan conferencing prior to the 100th anniversary of Methodism? Help yourself.

I know, I’m totally geeking out on this, and there are certainly other ways of coming up with these books, but this really is an example of the good things of which the internet is capable.