Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keeping the Covenant

First I would like to express my thanks for all of those who have been faithful to what they believe, during this difficult time of the church trial.

Keeping the covenant is very important; and when we don’t it weakens the unity of the church. But the covenant is not always kept; and it causes pain to those who feel betrayed.  The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church says that every United Methodist Church shall have a chartered fellowship of United Methodist Men (Paragraph 256.6).  Some pastors and laypersons believe that they can break the covenant and not follow this part of the Discipline.  They feel strongly that they should be free to break the covenant for the sake of their understanding of their local church’s call to ministry.  This action weakens the work of the United Methodist Men and, some believe, also the future of the United Methodist Church.

We also break our covenant when we give lip service to open itinerancy, but then a church refuses to receive their next pastor, who happens to be a woman or someone from a different racial ethnicity or someone who speaks English as a second language.  We break the covenant when we don’t make accommodations for persons with disabilities, who need accessible accommodation in order to participate in the life of the church.  We United Methodists, through our General Conference, say that we are a church that will offer Holy Communion in our worship at least weekly, and every week a person seeking this means of grace should be able to find it at our worship service.  But too often local-church tradition trumps the desires of the General Conference. 

The Bible reminds us that the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. The course we are traveling where we pick and choose those parts of the Discipline we want to keep is problematic. People often get into trouble when they break church law. It is why Martin Luther was excommunicated, John Wesley was shut out of pulpits and Martin Boehm was dismissed from his church for shaking hands with Phillip William Otterbein.  Diversity of opinion is never easy, but no matter what we personally believe, and I hope you believe passionately in what God has revealed to you, we are called to behave like the children of God.  We should not call fire down from heaven on those with whom we disagree.  We are to love the people with whom we disagree because we are on the same journey and that journey is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

We are a divided church, but Christ calls us to unity.  It was his last prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and he knew the power of a united front as the church was born in the world.  We need to get quiet before our God and listen and learn how to love each other like Christians in the face of our diversity.  I am sorry that our United Methodist system of church trials forces us to harm each other and break one of the oldest tenets of our tradition: “Do no harm.”  May we find ways of solving our differences in peace.  May we keep the whole covenant, and the heart of that covenant is Love.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Find Your Own Sand Creek

At a recent meeting of the Northeast Jurisdictional Committee on Native American Ministries at Drew Seminary in Madison, NJ the president, Cynthia Kent charged the group to “find your own Sand Creek.”  Sand Creek was the site of a tragic massacre of Native people in Colorado on November 29,  1864 at the hands of a group of US soldiers, led by a Methodist preacher, Colonel Chivington. This atrocity was one of the events that was mentioned at the “Act of Repentance Toward Healing of Relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” that was an important highlight of the United Methodist General Conference in 2012 in Tampa, Florida.  Next year there will be more moments of remembrance and repentance as the 150th anniversary of this tragedy draws near.
When Cynthia called the people of the NEJ CONAM to “find your own Sand Creek” she was encouraging people to study their own local histories and discover things that happened that people need to remember for the purposes of reconciliation. Only as we revisit history, repent of the wrongs done and do the work of reconciliation can peace happen on this earth.  This is not only with Native American (American Indians, First Nation) people but all those who have suffered at the hands of majority culture people and experienced dehumanization, marginalization, rejection and even violence and death.
According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission there was a heinous crime committed against Native American people in Conestoga, PA in December of 1763.  A group of colonists known as the Paxton Boys (who came from the Harrisburg area) traveled to Conestoga and burned their homes and murdered six Indians.  Those who had not been killed sought refuge in Lancaster where the people of the city locked them in a workhouse, hoping they would be kept safe.  Two weeks later the Paxton Boys hunted them down, broke into the workhouse and murdered 14 more Indian men, women and children.  Early in 1764 this same band from Paxton traveled to Philadelphia in an attempt to kill even more Indians.  Historians tell us that Benjamin Franklin himself convinced the Paxton Boys to return home without any further violence.  This they did but none of them were ever arrested or tried for the evil deeds inflicted upon these innocent people. 
That is our “Sand Creek” and as December approaches we need to remember and ponder this and other acts of evil done to innocent people in this world.  As we prepare for the coming of Christ as Advent approaches we sing about the Prince of Peace who is coming into the world and wonder what part can we play in peacemaking in this world today.  Start by finding where there is hurt and take time to listen, to be present and to find ways to make peace and reconciliation. 


Brands, H.W. The First American: The Life and times of Benjamin Franklin, Anchor Books, New York. 2000

Brubaker, Jack. Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paton Boys in Lancaster County (PA). The History Press. 2010

Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford University Press. 2009.