Thursday, October 1, 2015

Being true 'Christ-bearers' in search of peace

When I was a child in elementary school we proudly sang, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” There were assemblies and plays and words of praise for Christopher Columbus, who we learned “discovered America.” While the claim of discovery is a dubious one, he was indeed a brave explorer. He sailed west across an ocean that many believed would send one off the edge of a world that everyone knew was flat.

His name “Christopher” means “Christ bearer,” and part of his goal was to bring Christ to the lands he hoped to explore. He was an entrepreneur who was able to get funding for his expedition from the Spanish crown. He made not only one voyage but four, and he faced enormous hardship, dangers and political intrigue.

Much later in my life I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a mission work team that taught Bible studies at a Deaf School in Santo Domingo. While visiting the island we took a tour of the history museum that spoke much about the history of the island. There we saw evidence of much cruelty and sadness.

The Taino people, who were living in Hispaniola at the time of Columbus’ arrival, were forced into slavery. Over 98 percent of the nearly 3 million native peoples died from the labor regime and war of this time period. (History of the Indies, New York: Harper and Row, 1971). Sadly this was the lot of many indigenous peoples at the hands of European explorers who traveled to the Americas in the years that followed.

Human rights violations abound on this planet we live on. It is hard to go anywhere and not notice the abusive way humans treat each other, especially those who are deemed “less than” or different. Humans abuse one another for wealth, power and sometimes even for the cause of religious superiority.

Jesus called for us to love one another and treat our brothers and sisters as we would like to be treated. It is that simple. It is that hard.

As some prepare to celebrate Columbus Day on October 12, let us all be educated about the whole picture of global exploration across vast canvas of the world's history. Let us learn and acknowledge with repentance grievous sins committed against indigenous peoples and also live in such a way that everyone can have respect and dignity in this world.

Let us call that second Monday of October “Indigenous Peoples Day” instead, and as true "Christ bearers," seek to live and move gently on this earth in loving peace with all of God’s people.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Visitor from the Vatican and his Words of Wisdom

The long awaited visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia is almost here. In my lifetime there has not been a more popular Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church. He has won the hearts of the world because of his emphasis on the poor, his reforms for the church and his humble way of walking in the world. I celebrate his arrival along with millions of others and pray for a successful and faith-filled “World Meeting of Families” that will be happening next week. How good of the pope to visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility during this visit! He sets the tone for his theme “Love is Our Mission” by reaching out to those on the margins of life.

Recently Pope Francis called all of the faithful throughout Europe to help refugees fleeing from “death from war and hunger.” According to CBS News, he announced that the Vatican’s two parishes were taking in two families of refugees as a role model. Pope Francis said it was not enough to simply say, “Have courage, hang in there.” He encouraged every parish and community to take in one family.

His words are for us too. We need to reach out with support. According to Rev. Jack Amick, from the International Disaster Response of UMCOR we have sent nearly $2 million in grants and the UM Board of Church and Society is circulating a petition calling for the Obama Administration to increase the number of refugees that the US will accept. Many of our sister churches in Europe are giving aid to this overwhelming crisis of human need.

Please take a special offering for this at your churches so we might assist those who are providing such life-giving support. Funds can be sent to the conference treasurer and earmarked for “International Disaster Response Advance #982450. Let us honor the visit of the pope by being in ministry to the poor in Europe in a tangible way.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Healing Communities: A Journey into Prison Ministry

People ask me how I met my husband and the answer is simple: we met at Asbury Theological Seminary, in Wilmore, Kentucky, as incoming students in the fall of 1977. I was from Baltimore and he was from Texas, and we met at the new-students picnic.

What people don’t know is where Mike and I had our first date: it was at the men’s correctional institution in Lexington, Kentucky. What a romantic couple! We both volunteered to teach a Bible class at the prison, and since I had a car, I drove us.

Off we went to this forbidding-looking cement building with numerous layers of barbed wire fencing. I went with apprehension since I had never been in a prison before; but I agreed to do this because of the clear mandate of Matthew 25:36: “I was in prison and you came to me.” Going with this nice young man from Texas was an added bonus.

Deep emotional and spiritual pain

That night my eyes were opened to the vast need in this area of ministry.  The inmates were living in crowded conditions with limited services, and there was deep emotional and spiritual pain.  The visitation was as important as the Bible study class, because the inmates wanted so much to talk and have someone listen to them.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Life Abundant

United Methodists believe in life!  Our mission is to make disciples so that people might have a relationship with Jesus Christ and have abundant life and everlasting life.  Easter is our best day and every Sunday is a “little Easter” in which we celebrate the resurrection and our commitment to life.  That is why we as a denomination support life in all of its forms.

Abortion is an issue that the United Methodist Church speaks about in our Social Principles in the 2012 Book of Discipline. We are not silent about this. Paragraph 161(J) states:

“The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence.  
While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers. 
We support parental, guardian, or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control. And we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics. 
We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. This procedure shall be performed only by certified medical providers. Before providing their services abortion providers should be required to offer women the option of anesthesia.”            
It goes on to say that United Methodists urge all Christians to a “prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause people to consider abortions in the first place.  We pledge to offer ministries that will reduce unintended pregnancies and to help women find feasible alternatives.”  

According to Susan Burton of the General Board of Church and Society, “As we work to end human trafficking, rape as a weapon of war, child marriage and domestic violence, we understand why United Methodists have said that women and girls need safe, legal access to abortion ... when violence has been perpetrated against them resulting in pregnancy, or (when) they have a health condition that necessitates immediate care treatment that would not be possible while pregnant (e.g. chemotherapy). We will continue to advocate for family planning, sexuality education and wellness care for women and girls, in addition to an end to sexual and gender-based violence in order to make abortions increasingly rare.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Please Celebrate Campus Ministry Sunday!

Episcopal Letter by Bishop Peggy Johnson for Campus Ministry Sunday

Please celebrate Campus Ministry Sunday on August 23 or before the end of September.  And please give generously to the special offering to support our outreach to college students in Eastern PA.

I have served on all sides of the equation that adds up to life-changing campus or collegiate ministry: as a student, a pastor, a campus minister and a supportive bishop.  And I can assure you that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  All of these roles together produce results that are indeed "Life-changing, Church-changing and World-changing."

My student experiences at Lebanon Valley College awakened me to my call to ministry and prepared me for discipleship and leadership in the church, as I sought to become a true change agent in service to Christ.  When I became the pastor of Christ UM Church of the Deaf in Baltimore, and campus minister at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and then a bishop in this wonderful church of ours, that preparation resonated in me each step of the way.

I saw first-hand how campus ministry at Gallaudet, a school primarily for the Deaf, was instrumental in developing principled leadership, one of the four mission foci of our church today.  And I saw how the fruit of that ministry benefitted not only students but also the church I served through their energetic, creative leadership.  That is why I am deeply committed to supporting campus ministry efforts and relationships in our conference and why I urge you to join me in that commitment.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dignity, Honor and Respect = Love

Chaplain John C. Wheatley, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and an Elder in the Eastern PA Conference, serves at the Dover (Del.) Air Force Base as a Family Support and Liaison Chaplain. He is part of the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Division at the base. Two Peninsula-Delaware Conference Cabinet members and I visited him recently, and we were greatly impressed with his extension ministry and the program there. 

Prior to this most recent deployment the Rev. Wheatley served as pastor of the Ono UM Church on the Northwest District. His current deployment at the Dover Air Force base will be a short-term venture, and we hope to have him back at Ono UMC to continue his ministry there soon.

The Casualty and Mortuary Affairs program opened in April 2009. It was designed to bring families to the base to help receive their loved ones who were killed while serving their country in any capacity. Since then there have been 1,900 dignified transfers, and the program has ministered to 9,275 families.

There are buildings that house family members who come from all over the country. And there is 24- hour assistance for them as they grieve the loss of their loved ones. A family meets the plane that is carrying the body of its loved one; and if the family requests, the transfer moments are recorded on video as a keepsake. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Happy 25th Birthday, Americans with Disabilities Act!

I was appointed to serve Christ UMC of the Deaf in Baltimore in 1988.  This was two years before the Americans with Disabilities Act became U.S. law.  Prior to the ADA law telecommunication for Deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans was difficult.  One of the most important parts of the law was equal access to communication. 

Deaf people have long had telephone devices that they used to type words into the phone, with the cradle of one of those old fashioned phones laying at the top of the device.  Through the wonders of technology back then two people with TTY’s (“teletype” as they were called) could communicate with English words back and forth using this device.  However not everyone had a TTY or a phone line and Deaf people could not talk to just anyone, like hearing people can.  That is where I got a lot of requests for “favors” from my members. I had a TTY, of course and this is how it went:

“Please call my dentist.  I have to be seen as soon as possible.”  So I would call the dentist and say “Hello, I am calling for Jane Doe and she is Deaf and needs to be seen soon.”  The dentist’s secretary would give me a date and time the next day.  I would call the Deaf person back and they would say “I can’t wait that long.  Please, I must be seen today.”  I would call back and negotiate a better time and it went on and on.  About 25 minutes and four phone calls later the Deaf person had a dental appointment. 

In 1990 when the ADA bill was signed into law a relay system was devised so that a Deaf person wanting to talk to a hearing person who did not have a TTY could call a special number, and a hearing operator with access to two phone lines would type for the Deaf person and speak for the hearing person. A process that used to take 25 minutes now took two minutes.