Monday, September 4, 2017

Call to prayer for the Dreamers

Elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) federal policy is being considered, and a decision to end it may be announced by the Trump Administration on Tuesday, September 5.  I ask that we as the people called United Methodist, and others, pray for our country and for the fate of nearly one million anxious young people who, as immigrants, are part of our American family.  

Please pray that the ten state attorneys general who have threatened to sue the administration over DACA will end their threats and instead support the U.S. Congress’ Dream Act of 2017. The bill, which is still pending in Congress, would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented young people who were brought here by their parents as children. 

Our United Methodist Social Principles affirm the rights of immigrant people: “We urge the church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.  We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children; and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”

These are tense and difficult times for young people who have never known anything but a life in this country. Please pray, speak and work for people who need your voice.

As difficult and divisive immigration issues loom large in the halls of power, many lives hang in the balance, especially the lives of young people who had no say in coming here to live but who now contribute to our culture and society as vital threads in the rich, diverse fabric of our nation. Let their dreams be our dreams.

I invite you to pray this benediction from Bishop Woodie White and to know that no matter the outcome, our burning thirst, our quest for justice, mercy and righteousness, in the name of Jesus Christ, must not end:

And now, may the Lord torment you. May the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the lonely, the rejected and the despised. May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence. May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst for justice and righteousness.

May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make ours a better world, to make your community a better community, to make your church a better church. May you do your best to make it so; and after you have done your best, may the Lord grant you peace.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Labor Day: To praise and protect workers

According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and wellbeing of our country.”

Numerous municipalities and states began observing Labor Day as early as 1885; but it did not become an official national-wide observance passed by Congress until 1894. In the early days there were street parades and recreation for workers and their families. There were speeches by prominent leaders and addresses by union leaders.

In 1909 the American Federation of Labor convention declared that the Sunday before Labor Day would be called “Labor Sunday,” and the spiritual aspects of the labor movement would be observed. So, there is a spiritual side but also a social justice side to the labor movement.

Collective bargaining and workers’ rights have long been a part of the spiritual DNA of the people called Methodists. Our Social Principles state:
“We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. 
In order that the rights of all members of the society may be maintained and promoted, we support innovative bargaining procedures that include representatives of the public interest in negotiation and settlement of labor-management contracts, including some that may lead to forms of judicial resolution of issues. We reject the use of violence by either party during collective bargaining or any Labor/management disagreement. We likewise reject the permanent replacement of a worker who engages in a lawful strike.” 
(Paragraph 163. IV.B of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline)
I am proud that the history of Methodism has long encouraged collective bargaining and worker’s rights. My own grandmother, born in 1885, was a victim of child labor practices. She had to quit school at the age of 8 and work in a cotton mill in Savage, Maryland, for pennies a day. Our social justice interest in protecting workers had something to do with the change in these child labor laws.

In the history of Eastern PA there was a tragic labor dispute in the Lattimer Mines near Hazelton, PA on September 10, 1897. The history of the Lattimer Massacre recounts a coal miner’s strike in which 19 unarmed miners—mostly of Polish, Slovakian, Lithuanian and German backgrounds—were shot and killed by a county sheriff’s posse.

These miners were subject to harsh conditions in the mines and low pay. It was estimated that 32,000 miners had lost their lives in the late 19th century in these coal mines. By the fall of 1897 some companies were forcing their workers to lease their homes from the mailing company and to see only company doctors when injured.

The September 10 workers strike advocated for better working conditions and pay. After the massacre, the United Mine Workers had a large upsurge of members, and the union became powerful enough to win increases in wages and many safety improvements for the workers. Methodists applauded the labor union movement in that day.

Still today, we need to speak out when workers are not getting a living wage and when companies thrive on the backs of their workers who do not benefit fairly from profits. Safe working conditions, respect, time off and fair wages are important to everyone’s advantage.

As we celebrate the American worker this weekend, through Labor Day, September 4, we need to celebrate the God-given joy of meaningful work and know that all people—workers, management and society—benefit when human rights are guarded and economic justice is promoted.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eclipse 2017: A moment in time


If you haven’t heard we are expecting a “Great American Eclipse” on August 21. The moon will pass across the sun in such a way that the sun will be blocked for a short time. All that many will see is the corona, or crown, of the sun peaking out behind the moon.

This will occur across the continental United States, where we will be able to see varying degrees of darkness, depending on where we live. Those residing in areas along a diagonal path that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina will be able to witness this phenomena in its fullness, with the moon blocking the sun completely. In the Northeast, our view of the eclipse will occur in the afternoon.


A solar eclipse to this degree has not occurred in the United States since June 8, 1918. But there have been many other eclipses through the years.

According to The Scientific American (August 11, 2017), an eclipse is a great opportunity for scientists to study the sun by examining the corona as the moon passes by. That radiant crown is described as “ethereal wisps of superheated plasma.” It can best be seen during an eclipse, although scientists can study the sun at other times as well.

During this brief window of opportunity, “eclipse scientists” will examine the magnetic field of the sun, test next-generation technologies, create thermal maps and learn about the chemistry of the corona and what makes it heat up. All of this must happen in a short span of time. They must be prepared and use their time well.

The Apostle Paul speaks about time in Ephesians 5:16. He encourages us to “be very careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

Indeed, time, like the eclipse, flies by us, and we must not delay in doing the things that God has called us to do while we have the chance to do them. We do not always get a second opportunity to do that act of kindness, make that contribution, encourage a friend, or share our faith with someone who is struggling. Every delay can lead to more delays, and every lost opportunity is a lost blessing.

What have you been putting off that needs to be done? Who is God nudging you to contact? Don’t put it off. As Jesus said, “As long as it is day, I must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4).

Make the most of your gift of time and precious opportunities today!


How to look at the eclipse without burning your eyes


Sunglasses are not nearly strong enough. Filters made from food wrappers and other household materials? Also a bad idea. Even masks designed for gas welding are not going to cut it.

For the millions planning to watch the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, ophthalmologists say proper eye protection is essential. Staring at the sun — even when three-quarters of it is blocked by the moon, as it will be in much of Pennsylvania and New Jersey — can damage eyesight. Read more

Monday, July 31, 2017

All I need to know about life


A number of years ago there was a book titled All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. It highlighted some of the basic life lessons many of us learned as children, such as: share everything; play fair; don’t hit people; put things back where you found them; be aware of wonder; hold hands and stick together; and so on.

I would like to say that all I need to know I learned from United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries in the Philadelphia Area. In the Eastern PA Conference we have Carson-Simpson Farm Christian Center, Gretna Glen Camp and Retreat Center, Innabah Program Center and Pocono Plateau Camp and Retreat Center. In the Peninsula-Delaware Conference we have the Pecometh Camp and Retreat Ministries.

All of them teach essential lessons that lives of faith can offer. In the Christian community modeled at our camps people—especially young people—learn:
  • how to share, both in giving and receiving generosity; 
  • how to respect people and value diversity; 
  • how to seek fairness and reject violence; 
  • how to appreciate and care for our bodies, our souls and all of Creation; and 
  • how to “hold hands and stick together” even with people who may think and feel differently from us. 
Campers learn about the wonders of nature as they share time in the woods, in a lake, at the river, on a mountain. Campers hear Jesus Christ’s wonderful words of life and are invited to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Some, like many before them, receive and accept their call to serve in ministry and mission at camp. It is a place where we learn all we need to know.

This summer I was privileged to visit three camps. I got to see the wonderful Grandparent and Grandchildren Camp at Innabah and the Day Camp program at Carson Simpson, where sign language was taught and Deaf visitors who attend Lighthouse Fellowship UMC in Glenside came to see the young people sign songs.

I also took part in a new camp at Pecometh where Deaf children and their parents came for a family retreat, as well as a weeklong Deaf Adult Group Home camp. All of these camps were full of joy and activity, of people learning and sharing with one another, valuing diversity and appreciating who they were and whose they were.

The giftedness and grace of campers, along with selfless volunteers and staff, can create in these special settings, during these special times, personal and community wholeness. Experiencing worship and learning stories of Jesus here can change lives and reach the hearts of young people who may not otherwise attend our churches on Sundays.

This is really important ministry; and I urge all of our congregations to support our Camp and Retreat Centers generously with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your enthusiastic witness. They are God’s special place apart, where we share the life and light of Christ to make disciples and transform lives.


Monday, July 17, 2017

‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’

There was a song a long time ago by Bobby McFerrin that goes like this:
            “Here is a little song I wrote
            You might want to sing it note for note
            Don’t worry, be happy
            In every life we have some trouble
            When you worry you make it double
            Don’t worry, be happy.”
This might seem a bit simplistic or na├»ve or maybe even impossible, but these words are also a message from Jesus. 
On the “Sermon on the Mount” he says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matthew 6:25).  We do worry because some things in this life make us fearful and often seem to challenge our very existence. 
Looking around this world, it does not take long to have concern about the endless wars in the Middle East, North Korean long-range missile testing, senseless mass killings, deaths of so many people of color caused by law enforcement officers, and deaths of law enforcement officers, global warming, and Congressional efforts to eliminate healthcare safety nets.
Even our denomination’s fractious conversations about unity versus separation can cause distress. The list of things to worry about seems endless, and indeed, when we worry that list seem to double.  
Did Jesus know all of this when he told us not to worry about our lives?  Some very bad things happen in life that do not get fixed up with happy endings like in the movies. 
But Jesus takes us up on a mountain, above the sorrows and struggles of life, and tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) This is the bigger picture that goes beyond our present moment and lives on into eternity.
Jesus knows about our sorrows. He was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and he promises to be with us in our suffering.
As we keep our eyes open, seeking first the kingdom of God above all else, even our hard times can be used for good. We can help others who are walking along our journey of suffering, by offering them the empathy and support that only those on the path can give. 
We can look to the promise of heaven where all things are made right and justice prevails. This is our ultimate answer when the things of life cannot bring restoration and healing. We can work to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God while we are still here. Then as we do, we will find true meaning and purpose in life, and we will be sustained in hope.
It all comes down to faith. Faith is that which we cannot see but the substance of which gives us full confidence.  Faith gives us the patience, peace and hope for the future, despite the fearful conditions of this life.
“God is with us, and God is faithful.” You might want to sing that song, that blessed assurance, note for note. Jesus reminds us not to worry like the Gentiles (or like those who don’t know God). So, believers, “Don’t worry, be happy.” 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Pastoral Transitions


This is the week in most annual conferences in the United States known as “transition week.” Pastors who are moving to another assignment typically begin on July 1. There is a period of welcome and adjustment to a new environment, a new group of people, a new place to live and all the million things that go into a move.

Many pastors have spouses and children who transition with them, so it is not just the pastor who has many adjustments to make. Churches too have new things to get used to as they welcome new pastors. And there is often a bittersweet mixture of “good-byes” and “hellos” in the hearts of church members.

I ask that you do the following things listed below. (These suggestions are based on concerns that come up every year during transition week.)
  1. Pray for those in transition: pastors, families and churches
  2. Churches need to welcome their new pastors and new families with as much hospitality and love as they can muster. 
  3. Pastors need to leave their churches when they leave their churches, and not continue to have pastoral ties with families in ways that interfere with the ministry of the new pastor. At least a one-year window of absence from all contact is requested, unless one is invited back by the new pastor for some reason.
  4. Parsonages need to be left clean and repaired. 
  5. Pastors should attempt to learn about the new church before changing the worship style and things that people are used to doing. There is plenty of time to make changes, once people get to know the pastor and everyone understands each other. 
  6. Contact the district superintendent if there are any concerns about salaries or promises made at the pastoral take-in. They are there to help. 
Remember to pray for our retired pastors who may not be assuming a pastoral assignment in retirement. They are starting a new journey of life and need our support as well.

The itinerant system of moving pastors is not perfect, but it has many advantages. The gifts of pastors vary greatly. With pastoral changes churches get to enjoy a variety of expressions of worship and styles of ministry that can bring health, strength and imagination to our congregations.

The most important thing is to keep the goal of preaching the gospel and making disciples as the driving passion of the church. God will lead both pastor and church into new, potentially exciting opportunities for spiritual growth and outreach.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

To love and welcome all


Bishop Johnson (right) with the Rev, Herb Snyder
I had not planned to attend the Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 18.  Even though it was mentioned in one of our annual conference resolutions as a place that the church should be present, I imagined it to be a secular and not very sanctified event.

Since I was leaving to travel to Pittsburgh for an NEJ College of Bishops meeting that day, I was sure that time would not permit me to join the parade. However, God had other plans for my day. 

My husband Mike was asked to preach at Historic St. George’s UMC in downtown Philadelphia that morning. A member of the church told us the Gay Pride Parade was in walking distance of the church, and it would begin just around the time church service was over. Down 4th Street and onto Market Street we went with our faithful church member, who served as both our walking guide and our interpreter about the LGBTQ community. 

What I saw was much of what one would expect: a colorful, Mardi Gras-like celebration with much dancing, music, beads and candy tossed to onlookers.  What I did not expect were the many floats and marchers who were there as support groups that offer health care, education, family resources, counseling and yes, spiritual guidance--practicing what we so often preach.

There were people of all ethnicities, ages, and abilities present. A number of churches and interfaith groups were marching in the parade, including several of our Eastern PA Conference churches. Their message was about being welcome and sharing the love of God with and for all people.  I am so glad that the Church—our Church—was present there proclaiming this embracing, life-giving message.

I respectfully acknowledge, with every ounce of my bishop’s heart, that there are Christians of goodwill in our conferences who do not agree about issues around homosexuality and gender identity. Nonetheless, we are mandated by our Discipline to be in ministry with all people, and all means all. 

All means all 
All people includes this part of the world’s humanity. God makes the Judgment call at the end of the day, whatever that will be; so it is not our job. For far too long we have been arguing over particulars, authoring and amending resolutions, and speculating about a church schism. But all we are asked to do is simply to love and welcome all people. 

I encourage all our churches to exercise our denominational mandate to be inclusive. There is grace to be found when you meet and listen to the stories of people who are different from you. Be willing to stretch beyond your “comfort zones” and go there to listen and connect with them.

Christ calls us to invite and welcome folks—different folks—into our churches and activities. It means we need to go into communities and engage people where they are—where they live, celebrate, suffer and struggle daily to gain dignity, human rights and loving acceptance.


Editor’s Note: At the Eastern PA Annual Conference June 15-17, Resolution 2017-11 encouraged all churches to practice Radical Welcome to LGBT persons. It explained that, “practicing radical welcome can be defined as holding or participating in special events in June (Pride Happenings) and October (Coming Out Happenings) to let LGBTQ people in our churches and communities know that they are welcome in our churches, and by offering special prayers for the LGBTQ people and their families in our churches and communities on a special Sunday in the months of June and October.

The resolution further recommended “that the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference invite the Reconciling United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania and other interested churches to represent the Conference as a welcoming presence at Pride Parades and Outfests in their communities in June and October 2017. Presenters withdrew the resolution after efforts by some conference members to amend it with deletions during debate.