Monday, August 11, 2014

My memorable visit to Smith Island

Perhaps the most unique appointment in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference or maybe even the entire connection is the Ewell-Smith Island Charge, located on the Salisbury District.  This three-point charge (Calvary –Rhodes Point, Ewell and Union – Tylerton) is served by the Rev. C. Richard “Rick” Edmund, and he is beginning his 15th year there as pastor.  It is accessible only by a 45-minute boat ride and every week

          Pastor Rick goes by foot, by boat and by car to his churches, making the entire circuit each Sunday.  My husband Mike and I traveled there for a weekend in June and were joined by District Superintendent, Rev. Fred Duncan and his wife, Pat.  We were treated to some amazing hospitality.  These people are master chefs!  Imagine having crab omelets, Smith Island cake, maple-cured bacon, home-made rolls and peach ice cream!  

          Everyone there travels around by golf cart, and there is a general store, a museum, an elementary school (with only 12 students), a few bed and breakfasts, and a lot that has to do with the work of watermen.  The main business on the island is of course catching crabs and oysters.  Everywhere you look there is water and fields of reed grasses and cranes and gulls gliding over-head.  No city noise, no glaring lights here….just sheer silence and the voices of nature.

          Many generations have lived on Smith Island and everyone is like one large, extended family where people take care of one another. Each does what it takes to maintain the services and functions needed for simple and gracious living, be it collecting money for the light bill, picking up trash, working at the general store or running the boat taxi to and from the mainland. 

         Last winter the boat taxi, bravely transported a very sick woman, accompanied by Pastor Rick,  to the mainland in the middle of a blizzard with 70 mph winds.  The boat captain, Otis, said there was zero visibility and he depended solely on GPS to find the shore.  They were given a citation by the state for their act of bravery on behalf of the woman who needed emergency care.  It’s the kind of commitment that people have for one another on the island.

          My goal for visiting the Smith Island was to spend some time at the churches there, and I was not disappointed.  Early in Methodist history an evangelist named the Rev. Joshua Thomas sailed up and down the Chesapeake Bay preaching the gospel.  These churches were some of the fruits of his labors.  I was very impressed by the deep love for God in the hearts of the United Methodists there. 

         Ewell UMC begins its service each Sunday with a half-hour of praise and testimony.  One after another, people stand and tell others what God had done for them the past week, and they give thanks for the many miracles of healing and restoration in their lives after illnesses or trouble.   I wish all of our churches would do that, as testimony strengthens our faith.

          Throughout the morning services I attended people shared their faith in God during prayer time as well.  The man who took us by boat to the second service in Tylerton was a waterman. He told me earning a living by crabbing is hard work, and sometimes folks would predict a lean year. But he said, “God has never let me down, God has always taken care of me.” 

          Maybe that kind of trust is why churches on the island pay their apportionments in full each year.  Some pay before year’s end, even when they don’t know how the money will come in.  They trust in God to take care of their church, and they do their part.  I wish that for all of our churches, because it is not faith unless there is obedience no matter the circumstances.

          Each church had a choir whose members sang with all their hearts and a pianist who could roll out the gospel songs as well as any concert hall virtuoso.  On Sunday night there was another church service, led by the laity with more singing and testimony and even a poem or two read.  The church is the center of the community, where people gather to discuss community concerns as well as things eternal. 

          They have an active historical society, and after Hurricane Sandy the community lobbied the government for recovery funds instead of opting to receive state funds to buy out the residents.  Christians need to be living their faith in church and in the community, and these folks don’t draw the line between the two. 

         The weekend I visited the island there was a special treat: The Reminders, the local singing trio of John Thompson, Kevin Short and Ed Shockley, sang at each church and also performed an outstanding gospel concert in the afternoon.  They sang in the camp meeting pavilion where there is an annual week-long revival.  We sat on the long wooden benches and there was plenty of sawdust around our feet.  Among their many fine renditions the Reminders performed an original song, “The Waterman,” that spoke about the lives of people who live on the Chesapeake Bay. 

          “I am a Waterman, that’s all I know” was repeated again and again in the chorus of the song.  I would say the life of a waterman is enough to know….respect for God, nature, family and community.  If everyone would just know that the world would be a better place.  God bless the people on Smith Island and I encourage everyone to go over there and take a look.  You will come home well-fed: physically and spiritually. 

Take a look and listen at The Reminders singing “The Waterman."

Note: Having completed my recent leave, I will be visiting the United Methodist Church's East Congo Episcopal Area from August 12 until August 22.  Please keep me and the people there in your prayers.  Contact Amy Botti at if you need assistance from my office.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

From meditation to mission: Postcards from the heart

               May your summer be filled with rest, Sabbath, inner discoveries and engagement in different kinds of ministries.  Summer is often a time when churches have a slower pace, or perhaps just a different pace.  The same is true for my calendar in the coming weeks.  I will be taking some of the summer off as a renewal leave. 
               During that time I hope to dedicate much time to prayer and contemplation.  During part of the renewal leave I am scheduled to be at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, Md., for a silent retreat.  I appreciate your prayers for my discernment, wisdom and a closer walk with the Lord.
               During another part of the summer I will teach a course on “Disabilities and the Church” at three of our United Methodist Women's “Mission U” gatherings.  “Mission U” is the new name for what used to be the School of Christian Mission.  Two years ago I was contracted  by the United Methodist Women to write the text for this study, and I am happy to say that a study guide was added to it.  The “Mission U” participants will have an opportunity to study how we as a church can do a better job in ministry with people with disabilities. 
               There are over 54 million people in the United States and as many as 200 million people in the world with disabilities.  It is one of our most under-served populations, and the gifts and graces of the disability community are our un-mined precious gold.  Christian education, when it is done best, results in personal and missional transformation. Please pray that our various schools each bear fruit, "fruit that will last." (John 15:16).  There is still time to sign up for Mission U in Pen Del (July 17-19) and in Eastern PA (July 25-27). Do yourself this favor.
               Finally, I will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo in August to complete an exchange of episcopal visits with the East Congo Area of the United Methodist Church.  Bishop Gabriel Unda Yembe was the preacher at our May Annual Conference in Eastern PA.  I will travel with a group of general church agency leaders and other bishops to tour this newest episcopal area of our Church.  
We will be on hand for the dedication of the bishop's office and residence and several university classrooms.  We will also visit a number of UM mission sites, including: health clinics, educational institutions, a sustainable agriculture program and homes with foster parents for orphans dislocated by war and disease. 

               The people called Methodist in East Congo are strong and resilient in spirit and faith. I ask for your prayers for this pilgrimage, for those who will welcome us, and for more needed resources to help the many people who are experiencing extreme poverty, health risks and deadly political unrest. In some areas that unrest has forced people from their homes and into refugee camps. 
               I will be praying for you as well, as unforgettable sights, sounds and sensations of my African journey are imprinted on my mind like postcards to share with you when I return.
               May you have many postcards to share from your summer activities as well.  In all that we do, may we follow the leading of the God's Spirit and keep our missional goals ever before us, as we tell more and more people about the love of God experienced abundantly through Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Happy Father's Day

I was visiting Doylestown UM Church recently and Pastor Mike told me that there had been a request by a father in the congregation to have a baby changing table in the men's restroom.  I was happy to hear that. Diaper changing can be done by both mothers and fathers.  

I was flying to St. Louis earlier this week as a dad and his little girl sat behind me.  For the entire two-hour flight this father entertained his child in loving ways, telling stories and playing games. He was immersed in his relationship with this lively daughter. 

Fathers are doing many practical acts of parenting in these present times.  I remember my own father was from a generation that did not change diapers, nor was he present in the labor room. Times were different then, but my dad did some great parenting in other ways.  His wisdom was a precious gift.

I remember there was a stream behind our house, and my sister and I spent hours trying to dam up the stream with piles of bricks and logs.  Somehow we thought we could stop the flow of water by our own efforts, but time and again the water would eventually pour over top of our finely crafted barricades and continue to flow downstream.  

My father took note of this and decided to teach us a lesson.  Instead of a barricade he built us a bridge.  It was a passageway over top of the stream.  The stream could keep doing its thing, and we could come and go on either bank using dad's bridge.

That was a lesson in life for me about managing fast-moving water, and later about managing conflicts.  Sometimes barricades do not work.  Sometimes they're not supposed to.  Dad's wisdom, taught with wood and nails, was this:  It is often better to build a bridge to cross over to the other side or even to meet in the middle, than to erect a barricade and try to stop a moving force of nature.  

This is a good option when conflict and confrontations prove to be fruitless.  Building bridges of understanding is the high road; a road I saw my dad take many times in his life.  He modeled bridge-building in many of his interpersonal relationships.  Romans 12:18 reminds us: "As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Happy Father's Day to all our fathers and father-figures!  Be nurturing, be wise, be role models for your children, for all children.  Build bridges for them, or with them.  And the lessons you teach by your good example could live on for a lifetime--indeed, for generations.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Hope is seeing young people answering the call to missions

Nothing gives me more hope for the future of the church of Jesus Christ than to see young people be involved in mission work. 
Becky Parsons is commissioned
by Global Ministries as a Church
and Community Worker in 2009
Last week I had breakfast with Rebecca Parsons.  She is a Church and Community Worker with the General Board of Global Ministries.  She works in Roanoke, Va., where she is the director of four after-school programs for low-income children.  They feed the children a hot meal, help with homework, engage in a number of educational programs and also have fun. 
Rebecca coordinates more than 250 volunteers, writes grants, sends kids to summer camp, visits her supporting churches, arranges transportation and helps families in need.  She says that mission work sometimes means standing with a fire marshal and listening to a list of what is wrong with a building so you can make the place safe for kids.  It is also about creating a place where there is singing and clapping and messiness and the church being signs of God’s love in the community. 
Brittany Abdullah of Tindley
Temple UMC, is a mission intern at
Rock Bonfim Ministries Athens, GA
        I also celebrate Brittany Abdullah, a young adult from Tindley Temple United Methodist Church. She works in Georgia as an intern with Rock Bonfim Ministries in Athens, GA.  This is a United Methodist ministry that sends its interns to Brazil, Cuba and Israel to minister to people there. 
They also work locally putting together mission trips and revivals.  Brittany says, “I see people’s lives being changed all the time; and after this internship I hope to be in full-time ministry in The United Methodist Church so I can continue to do what God has called me to do.”
Bishop Johnson with 
Chelsea Spyres
       In the Peninsula-Delaware Conference we have Chelsea Spyres, now one of our newest Global Mission Fellows.  She will be working in the Philippines and also in Detroit with homeless people in the Noah Project. We look forward to the ministry she will be doing globally to share the good news, and we hope she will keep in touch with us about her ministry. 
     The church is in good hands with these young people.   They are the church of now and of the future.  I hope you will support them and also encourage other young people to step out in faith and answer the call to mission work.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Education for Girls

                   Our hearts were kidnapped on April 14th along with nearly 300 Nigerian School girls who are being held captive by an Islamic militant organization known as Boko Haram.  The world is crying out for their release and there have been many protests, and cries from the leaders of all major countries are putting pressure on the Nigerian government to do more to bring them home.
                Why were they abducted in the first place?  The term “Boko Haram” means “Western Education is forbidden.”  This group believes that girls should not be in school but should get married instead.  They teach that Western education corrupts the moral values of Muslims, especially girls.  

                Not long ago in October of 2012 a Pakistani teenaged named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban extremists who had banned girls from attending school.  Amazingly she survived the ordeal and addressed the United Nations at a youth conference last year.  She said “I am here to speak up for the right of education for every child.  I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists. (
                How sad that young girls receive an education at the risk of their lives in many parts of this world.  This basic right to education that we take for granted here in the United States is deemed a dangerous thing by many in oppressive societies.  It is “dangerous” because education opens the minds of people and equips people for advancement and independence. 
                I am proud to be a United Methodist where some of our earliest international mission work involved the establishment of schools for girls.  Faithful 19th century women missionaries started schools in Singapore, India and Korea.  Still today many of these institutions continue to thrive as the health of any nation depends on the empowerment and advancement of all people, including the women.  I am happy to see United Methodists speaking out against the abduction of these school girls and keeping this issue in front of our legislatures as part of our social witness.
                Those of us who have had education need to find ways to pass that gift along to others through our time and treasure and we should speak out for those who are unable to attend school and are being persecuted when they do.  As Jesus said “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32).  Let us work for the liberation of the minds and souls of people. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Honoring Mothers by ‘Heeding God’s Call’

                The words of Jeremiah 31:15 came to mind when I attended the “Heeding God’s Call” Good Friday Procession and Vigil:  “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children.  She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
 A group of about 150 people gathered in Sister Clara Muhammad Park to raise a cry on behalf of mothers and fathers who have lost their children and loved ones to gun violence in Philadelphia this year.  There were over 200 T-shirts displayed around the park, one for each of the slain, many of whom were children and young people.  They stood in a silent witness to us as a number of speakers shared their stories.
            One mother explained about her 18 year old son, who was shot to death by mistake when there had been an argument at a party.  She said that this senseless killing has caused her and her family to rise up and do something to encourage citizens and lawmakers to get drugs and guns off the streets. 
Another woman shared that her son had been killed 25 years ago and she still attends rallies and speaks at schools and gatherings wherever she can to help people understand the importance of everyone doing their part to change things not only in Philadelphia but the entire nation.  Still another mother called on people to stop talking and start a movement that will make a difference. 
            Afterwards I spoke to one of the mothers and she said to me that she “hears” the voice of her deceased son calling her to keep working for a better world and that she, as a Christian, feels it is her calling from God to keep pushing forward.
            It should be the concern of all Christians, not just the parents and loved ones of victims, to speak out on this subject.  We can be talking to our political leaders, writing letters, calling for gun shops to follow the code of conduct, advocating for gun safety, and supporting gun buy-back programs. 
We can all do something to help create a more just world where drugs are not the solution to poverty so that 30,000 people do not have to die each year in our country from this kind of violence.  This is a very good way to honor mothers on Mother’s Day. 

                                                 Picture by Rev. David Tatgenhorst

Note:  The next Murder Site Public Witness  will be on Mother’s Day, May 11, at 3:30 pm, in the Lawncrest Neighborhood, in cooperation with Lawncrest Ministerium.       
The Lawncrest neighborhood experienced six gun murders at three separate locations in January and February of this year. In cooperation with the Lawncrest Ministerium, Heeding God's Call will hold a public witness at one or more of those sites on Sunday, May 11, Mother's Day.
The Ministerium has already responded to the murders with a prayer circle at a Lawncrest Community Association and a letter to the Northeast Times about healing and peace in the community. They are joining the Murder Site Witness as part of their continuing effort as communities of faith to be a healing presence in the community at large. Heeding God’s Call will need the help of members of the Northeast Philadelphia chapter of Heeding God's Call to make the May 11 Public Witness a strong statement of support for the mothers, families, and neighborhoods affected by gun violence.