Monday, October 28, 2013

Covered with Silver

The Methodist Episcopal Church in American began in 1784 at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. This meeting was planned at Barratts Chapel in Frederica, Delaware. There is a star on the floor there that reminds us of the famous meeting of Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke.  A new organized denomination of the Methodist movement of John Wesley in England began from that small beginning.  In 1884 the Methodist Episcopal Church in America celebrated its 100th anniversary.  At that centennial celebration Bishop Matthew Simpson of Philadelphia was one of the leading bishops, though he was near death at the time. A coin was minted for the occasion that had the face of Francis Asbury on one side and Bishop Simpson on the other side.  These coins were souvenirs of this wonderful milestone in Methodist history.

One hundred years later I was a young United Methodist pastor serving a 4-point charge in Frederick, Maryland in 1984.  I had only been ordained for 3 years when American Methodism turned 200. My husband was serving a 3-point charge at the same time and we had two small children.  Life was busy and full.  The General Conference of the United Methodist Church would be held in Baltimore that year and we brought our church members down on school buses to see that great musical extravaganza in the Baltimore Civic Center.  There was a souvenir coin minted for the bicentennial as there was for the centennial.  We bought these heavy brass coins  and put them in our pockets and remembered the grand and glorious celebration of our church’s rich history.

What a surprise to receive a little box from my father  that year with a necklace inside.  Dad was an antique collector and had somehow run across an original souvenir coin of the 1884 centennial.  He realized how precious this was given the celebration we were having for the bicentennial.  He had the coin dipped in silver and made into a necklace with a long silver chain. I remember showing it to church historians at the time and everyone agreed it was the real thing and that it was indeed a collector’s item.  The silver did not make much sense to people but it made a lot of sense to me.

My father had a friend who he knew for many years who was a silversmith.  Ray covered things in silver and polished silver and made silver jewelry.  Dad always loved silver and when he would find some antique or unique thing he would have Ray dip it in silver.  It was shiny and beautiful and made something drab and plain become something rich and valuable.  He often would find items that were silver that had tarnished from years of not being polished and he would recognize it for what it was and get Ray to polish it up and it was transformed into a glittering prize.  That is the kind of person my Dad was.  He saw the good in everyone, even the tarnished souls of life and was always willing to give and help and give people a second chance. He saw silver in everyone even covering them with the silver of forgiveness and dignity when necessary.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ordinations online?

It has come to my attention that some of the people in our United Methodist family have gone on the internet and purchased ordination certificates from a number of websites.  Lay people as well as local pastors with limited sacramental privileges are getting these certificates.  Some have performed weddings and consecrated communion using the authority of these ordaining bodies.  Some have seen it as a way to qualify for tax exemptions. The process is very simple and it requires no seminary training, interviews or screening.  Literally anyone can become ordained and hold ministerial credentials using this method and some sites do not even charge for this service. 

This is not in any way condoned by the United Methodist Church, the Philadelphia Area, the bishop or the cabinets.  The process of ordination in the United Methodist Church is rigorous and intentionally thorough in order to protect the church and its people from those who could potentially do harm by a lack of training, theological grounding, experience and supervision.  The integrity of our process and Wesleyan heritage is diminished when people purchase ordinations for the sake of convenience.  I urge anyone holding such ordinations to go online and remove themselves from these organizations immediately.  I ask pastors and lay leaders to teach about the process of ministry and why our system, with its many requirements and standards, needs to be regarded as sacred, respected and non-negotiable.  It is an affront to those who have worked hard, studying many years in seminary, spending much money, making many personal sacrifices when others, maybe unknowingly, seek ordinations in an easy, anonymous way. 

Furthermore, anyone who has an ordination certificate has joined another denomination and is no longer a member of the United Methodist Church.   The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2012) reads as follows:   “If a pastor is informed that a member has without notice united with a church of another denomination, the pastor shall make diligent inquiry and , if the report is confirmed, shall enter “Withdrawn” after the person’s name on the membership roll and shall report the same to the next charge conference.” Paragraph 241.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for the continuing journey of faith we have in which we hold one another accountable in love.