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. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pressing on in the race to end malaria

“I press on toward the goal," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, "for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 3:14) 

Indeed, the Christian life is like a race. The opportunity to do greater and greater works for God is ever before us. And we strive toward the goal of Christian perfection, fueled by our faith in Christ's promise.

The Imagine No Malaria (INM) campaign is pressing on toward a goal as well.  As United Methodists we have pledged to raise $75 million dollars to fund efforts that should effectively wipe out the disease of malaria in our lifetime! The Eastern PA Conference has given much toward this effort in the last 8 years.

In fact, you may recall that the original Nothing But Nets campaign that launched in early 2007 was inspired by the efforts of then-6-year-old Katherine Commale of Hopewell UMC.  Aided by her mother, her church and her community, she initially eventually raised more than $135,000 to purchase and donate insecticide-treated bed nets to protect children and adults in Africa from mosquitoes that spread malaria. Our conference responded by raising more than $250,000. 

United Methodists have not yet achieved our goal, but we are pressing on. So far we have raised $66 million. We are getting close. And it seems only right that we here in the Eastern PA Conference should finish what we started.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Where We Need to Witness

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied “it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:6-8

Jesus told the disciples that they were to be witnesses about the good news of salvation. The duty of a witness is to tell what they have experienced and seen.  In a court of law, on TV commercials and in our churches we look to witnesses to tell us their personal story in order to make a decision. We want a faithful witness that we can trust.  
When I am buying a car I always ask my mechanic, who day in and day out works on cars, what he has experienced in the repair shop with various brands of cars.  His experience is the key to his credibility.  Jesus’ disciples were credible witnesses because they had first-hand proof of the resurrection.  Jesus called on his disciples to simply tell what they had seen and heard.

Jesus wants us to do the same.  Christians, you have experienced the power of Jesus’ forgiveness and his Spirit that dwells in you for victorious living. That is what we need to share with people!  So where are we to witness?  Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth!

The disciples happened to be in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ Ascension and prior to the day of Pentecost. This was strategic because soon many visitors from other countries would be coming to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration of the Jews.  The disciples themselves were from Galilee. Some interpret the use of “Jerusalem” to mean to witness at home first.  Galilee is not mentioned.  Jerusalem is where the most work can be done for evangelism.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Wall

American poet Robert Frost once wrote:


“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast...
(“Mending Wall” excerpt)

Recently I visited Germany for the meeting of the Council of Bishops. The words of that poem were ringing in my head, along with the many cathedral bells we heard clamoring on every corner. 


We gathered in the city of Berlin, where we visited many of the historical sites of this diverse city during our break times.  Most notable to me was viewing the remains of the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 and torn down in 1989.  It separated the east (communist) and west (democratic) people of the same country.  The governmental control that was established in the aftermath of World War II gave Russia control of East Berlin and the United States, England and France control of the West.


During the era of the Berlin Wall there was much sadness and separation.  Whole families were unable to be together.  Many attempted to climb over the wall but were felled by fatal gunfire.  Tragically, even children were killed.  Hearing stories of daring escapes and the digging of ingenious tunnel systems were part of the tour of the Berlin Wall that we experienced. 

As the German tour guide led us past the many memorial sites of the wall on that sunny spring day I was struck by two contrasting sensations.  There was the stark horror of this wall’s dark history, but also the pleasant idyllic scene of the grassy lawn where we witnessed children playing and vendors selling souvenirs.  The wall made all the difference.  When there was a wall life was bitter with alienation and death.  When the wall came down life and community sprang forth. But not totally so.