Monday, October 16, 2017

Domestic Violence Awareness Month


Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2

October is annually recognized as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”

Why? Because of some very shocking and disturbing statistics that more people should know and care about.

Every 9 seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten, according to www.domesticviolencestatistics.com, a website dedicated to educating the public about this terrible scourge.

It’s a worldwide problem. In the U.S., 1 in 4, but globally, at least 1 in 3 women is beaten, coerced or abused during her lifetime. And based on reports from 10 countries, from 55 to 95 percent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted police, safety shelters or non-governmental organizations for help.

Thus, this problem, this burden, is far more devastating—to women, to families, to communities, to our nation and world—than we know.

So, October is annually recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month to shine a light on a very serious, painful but often hidden crisis in our world. In fact, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) recommends this week as a “Week of Action” in the campaign to end domestic violence.

This problem is not limited to only women. Many men and children are also victims of domestic violence. Sadly, it also happens in clergy families and in the homes of countless lay people in our congregations.

When I served in a local church years ago I was made aware of a serious abuse situation in the home of a family that lived near the church. When I became involved in an intervention I was fearful for my life as well as the life of this young mother and her two small children.

Fortunately for this family there was a local shelter available to help. But I learned quickly that such resources to address this kind of crisis were very limited.

The Eastern PA Conference is forming a Domestic Violence Task Force that we hope will become an official conference committee in the future. The purpose of this task force is to educate our churches about this staggering, hidden reality and to refer people to organizations, services and law enforcement officials who can help.

This is a compelling burden for us all to bear. We encourage churches to have conversations about Domestic Violence and to ask hard questions when anyone suspects that someone is being or has been abused.

We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. So, we need to open the eyes and ears of our hearts and extend our hands and our voices to offer lifesaving relief.

Please search online for more information about domestic violence this month and learn what you and your church can do to shine the light of truth and healing on this widespread problem. And please let us know what your church is doing or plans to do. Thank you.

NOTE: Hopewell UMC (852 Hopewell Road, Downingtown, PA) will host Strengthening Families throughout the Faith Community, “an engaging conference for church ministers, staff and lay leaders,” on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 1:30 to 6:30 PM. This experience will educate concerned participants about ways churches can connect with community resources to support domestic violence survivors and their children.

The Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (DVCCC) will facilitate the seminar. The cost is $15, and participants will receive three useful resources:
  • DVCCC’s The Faith Community Response to Domestic Violence Toolkit
  • The FaithTrust Institute’s Community Resource Inventory Map
  • The Phoenixville Community Health Foundation’s Help Book 5
Please register online today. For information call Courtney, of DVCCC, at 610-431-3546, ext. 134. (0.4 CEU certificates are available.) Download the flyer.

Also, here are links to other recent articles and a video about challenging and helping the church, and men in particular, to offer a faithful response to domestic violence:
United Methodist Men take on domestic violence by Julie Dwyer (UMNS)
The leadership of the Commission on United Methodist Men recognizes that ending violence against women begins with men. The United Methodist general agency is partnering with AMEND Together, an initiative of the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee dedicated to ending violence against women and girls. The partnership features an eight-week group series aimed at United Methodist men (that)… aligns perfectly with United Methodist Men’s mission to support spiritual growth among menLearn more…
NBA Star Asks Men To End Domestic Violence  Former pro basketball player Shan Foster has seen acts of violence around the world. He now works to end domestic violence by creating safe spaces for men of all ages to learn about healthy manhood and to discuss their emotions. AMEND Together, a program of the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, and the United Methodist Men have a new partnership that is providing an 8-week group series that will teach men to recognize, respond to and prevent violence against women. Learn more…
Domestic Violence Awareness Month by Susan Greer Burton, UM Church and Society 
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To understand domestic violence, we have to begin to look in — into our behaviors, into our families, into our churches, into our communities and into the policies that impact women and familiesLearn more…
Domestic violence: We want our churches to be talking about it by Joe Iovino (UMNS)Introducing a webinar slideshow presentation that church leaders can download for free and use with their congregations. “Articulating our Theology: Domestic Violence” explores ways United Methodist churches and individuals can work to eliminate domestic violence and minister to victims and survivors. Learn more…

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sighs too deep for words


There is a line in the musical Hamilton that says “I’ve imagined my death so many times that it seems like a memory.” 

The senseless slaughter of innocent lives in Las Vegas this week (which left 59 dead so far and over 500 injured) once again thrusts us into an unimaginable image of what it would be like to be in the midst of a mass shooting.  Sadly, it is happening so often in this country, it is beginning to seem like a memory or a repetitive bad dream.

We must pray at this time.  Pray for the families of the victims and the family of the perpetrator.  Pray for those who have been injured and their loved ones.  Pray for all the people who witnessed this scene of terror first-hand, who have nightmares or even survivors’ guilt.

Pray for the first-responders and the people who wish they could have been there to help or hold the hand of a loved one in their last minutes of life.  Pray for all the counselors, pastors, teachers, and parents who are trying to help people get through this tragedy.

When we don’t have the words, we call on the Holy Spirit’s aid. 

Romans 8:26 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

We also need to search our hearts for something we can do. Mass shootings will continue in this country as long as we have a culture of violence and hatred. We as a church need to be teaching people ways of solving problems peaceably.

We can learn how to recognize signs of alienation and desperation in some persons described as “lone wolf” types. And we can reach out to them in healing ways so that perhaps some tragedies can be prevented. We can promote the inclusion of more mental health services that can be available to all and lessen the stigma that prevents people from getting the help they need.

May we live to see the day when such senseless killings are a past and not present memory in this world of ours.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Always Present—Wind, Rain, Earthquake, Fire



It seems like a week has not passed lately without a catastrophic disaster of nature. There have always been such things since the dawn of time, but scientists are confirming that the force and breadth of these events have been more severe than usual.
Humanitarian crises result, and it all leaves us unsettled, sad and finding ways to alleviate suffering through the collection of flood buckets, health kits and donations to the UM Committee on Relief.  There is hardly a person who does not know someone who has been displaced or adversely affected by hurricanes, floods and fires in our region.  
Yet, the devastation from hurricanes, mudslides and earthquakes in countries around the world has left even more peoples’ lives destroyed due to their fragile infrastructures and the poverty many of our global friends must suffer and struggle through.
As we prepare for World Communion Sunday on Sunday, October 1, let us remember all people around the world who are suffering and the rescuers who rush in to aid those in need with great sacrifice and love.  May we continue to collect offerings to offer them our help.
But may we also remember to support the efforts of many diverse United Methodists who, through higher education and training for leadership, are preparing their hearts and minds to relieve suffering and improve the lives of their churches and communities. Our United Methodist World Communion Sunday offering supports many of them with scholarships and grants, thus helping to prepare the next generation of leaders among us.  
As we give to this Special Sunday offering, may we plant seeds for a brighter future of principled leaders. Leaders who will be able to guide the church into the days ahead, when we will likely see more storms but also more heroic Christian acts to rescue victims and aid survivors.
The love of God in Jesus Christ is passed on into the future through Christ’s devoted disciples and servant-leaders, as we help prepare those leaders with quality education today.
Please feel free to use this suggested “Great Thanksgiving” Communion liturgy, prepared by the Rev. Michael Johnson, on this World Communion Sunday or any appropriate Sunday during these trying times. May God bless you and your faithful ministries.
In remembrance of Christ,
Bishop Peggy Johnson

Monday, September 4, 2017

Call to prayer for the Dreamers

Elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) federal policy is being considered, and a decision to end it may be announced by the Trump Administration on Tuesday, September 5.  I ask that we as the people called United Methodist, and others, pray for our country and for the fate of nearly one million anxious young people who, as immigrants, are part of our American family.  

Please pray that the ten state attorneys general who have threatened to sue the administration over DACA will end their threats and instead support the U.S. Congress’ Dream Act of 2017. The bill, which is still pending in Congress, would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented young people who were brought here by their parents as children. 

Our United Methodist Social Principles affirm the rights of immigrant people: “We urge the church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.  We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children; and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”

These are tense and difficult times for young people who have never known anything but a life in this country. Please pray, speak and work for people who need your voice.

As difficult and divisive immigration issues loom large in the halls of power, many lives hang in the balance, especially the lives of young people who had no say in coming here to live but who now contribute to our culture and society as vital threads in the rich, diverse fabric of our nation. Let their dreams be our dreams.

I invite you to pray this benediction from Bishop Woodie White and to know that no matter the outcome, our burning thirst, our quest for justice, mercy and righteousness, in the name of Jesus Christ, must not end:

And now, may the Lord torment you. May the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the lonely, the rejected and the despised. May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence. May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst for justice and righteousness.

May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make ours a better world, to make your community a better community, to make your church a better church. May you do your best to make it so; and after you have done your best, may the Lord grant you peace.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Labor Day: To praise and protect workers

According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and wellbeing of our country.”

Numerous municipalities and states began observing Labor Day as early as 1885; but it did not become an official national-wide observance passed by Congress until 1894. In the early days there were street parades and recreation for workers and their families. There were speeches by prominent leaders and addresses by union leaders.

In 1909 the American Federation of Labor convention declared that the Sunday before Labor Day would be called “Labor Sunday,” and the spiritual aspects of the labor movement would be observed. So, there is a spiritual side but also a social justice side to the labor movement.

Collective bargaining and workers’ rights have long been a part of the spiritual DNA of the people called Methodists. Our Social Principles state:
“We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. 
In order that the rights of all members of the society may be maintained and promoted, we support innovative bargaining procedures that include representatives of the public interest in negotiation and settlement of labor-management contracts, including some that may lead to forms of judicial resolution of issues. We reject the use of violence by either party during collective bargaining or any Labor/management disagreement. We likewise reject the permanent replacement of a worker who engages in a lawful strike.” 
(Paragraph 163. IV.B of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline)
I am proud that the history of Methodism has long encouraged collective bargaining and worker’s rights. My own grandmother, born in 1885, was a victim of child labor practices. She had to quit school at the age of 8 and work in a cotton mill in Savage, Maryland, for pennies a day. Our social justice interest in protecting workers had something to do with the change in these child labor laws.

In the history of Eastern PA there was a tragic labor dispute in the Lattimer Mines near Hazelton, PA on September 10, 1897. The history of the Lattimer Massacre recounts a coal miner’s strike in which 19 unarmed miners—mostly of Polish, Slovakian, Lithuanian and German backgrounds—were shot and killed by a county sheriff’s posse.

These miners were subject to harsh conditions in the mines and low pay. It was estimated that 32,000 miners had lost their lives in the late 19th century in these coal mines. By the fall of 1897 some companies were forcing their workers to lease their homes from the mailing company and to see only company doctors when injured.

The September 10 workers strike advocated for better working conditions and pay. After the massacre, the United Mine Workers had a large upsurge of members, and the union became powerful enough to win increases in wages and many safety improvements for the workers. Methodists applauded the labor union movement in that day.

Still today, we need to speak out when workers are not getting a living wage and when companies thrive on the backs of their workers who do not benefit fairly from profits. Safe working conditions, respect, time off and fair wages are important to everyone’s advantage.

As we celebrate the American worker this weekend, through Labor Day, September 4, we need to celebrate the God-given joy of meaningful work and know that all people—workers, management and society—benefit when human rights are guarded and economic justice is promoted.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eclipse 2017: A moment in time


If you haven’t heard we are expecting a “Great American Eclipse” on August 21. The moon will pass across the sun in such a way that the sun will be blocked for a short time. All that many will see is the corona, or crown, of the sun peaking out behind the moon.

This will occur across the continental United States, where we will be able to see varying degrees of darkness, depending on where we live. Those residing in areas along a diagonal path that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina will be able to witness this phenomena in its fullness, with the moon blocking the sun completely. In the Northeast, our view of the eclipse will occur in the afternoon.


A solar eclipse to this degree has not occurred in the United States since June 8, 1918. But there have been many other eclipses through the years.

According to The Scientific American (August 11, 2017), an eclipse is a great opportunity for scientists to study the sun by examining the corona as the moon passes by. That radiant crown is described as “ethereal wisps of superheated plasma.” It can best be seen during an eclipse, although scientists can study the sun at other times as well.

During this brief window of opportunity, “eclipse scientists” will examine the magnetic field of the sun, test next-generation technologies, create thermal maps and learn about the chemistry of the corona and what makes it heat up. All of this must happen in a short span of time. They must be prepared and use their time well.

The Apostle Paul speaks about time in Ephesians 5:16. He encourages us to “be very careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

Indeed, time, like the eclipse, flies by us, and we must not delay in doing the things that God has called us to do while we have the chance to do them. We do not always get a second opportunity to do that act of kindness, make that contribution, encourage a friend, or share our faith with someone who is struggling. Every delay can lead to more delays, and every lost opportunity is a lost blessing.

What have you been putting off that needs to be done? Who is God nudging you to contact? Don’t put it off. As Jesus said, “As long as it is day, I must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4).

Make the most of your gift of time and precious opportunities today!


How to look at the eclipse without burning your eyes


Sunglasses are not nearly strong enough. Filters made from food wrappers and other household materials? Also a bad idea. Even masks designed for gas welding are not going to cut it.

For the millions planning to watch the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, ophthalmologists say proper eye protection is essential. Staring at the sun — even when three-quarters of it is blocked by the moon, as it will be in much of Pennsylvania and New Jersey — can damage eyesight. Read more

Monday, July 31, 2017

All I need to know about life


A number of years ago there was a book titled All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. It highlighted some of the basic life lessons many of us learned as children, such as: share everything; play fair; don’t hit people; put things back where you found them; be aware of wonder; hold hands and stick together; and so on.

I would like to say that all I need to know I learned from United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries in the Philadelphia Area. In the Eastern PA Conference we have Carson-Simpson Farm Christian Center, Gretna Glen Camp and Retreat Center, Innabah Program Center and Pocono Plateau Camp and Retreat Center. In the Peninsula-Delaware Conference we have the Pecometh Camp and Retreat Ministries.

All of them teach essential lessons that lives of faith can offer. In the Christian community modeled at our camps people—especially young people—learn:
  • how to share, both in giving and receiving generosity; 
  • how to respect people and value diversity; 
  • how to seek fairness and reject violence; 
  • how to appreciate and care for our bodies, our souls and all of Creation; and 
  • how to “hold hands and stick together” even with people who may think and feel differently from us. 
Campers learn about the wonders of nature as they share time in the woods, in a lake, at the river, on a mountain. Campers hear Jesus Christ’s wonderful words of life and are invited to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Some, like many before them, receive and accept their call to serve in ministry and mission at camp. It is a place where we learn all we need to know.

This summer I was privileged to visit three camps. I got to see the wonderful Grandparent and Grandchildren Camp at Innabah and the Day Camp program at Carson Simpson, where sign language was taught and Deaf visitors who attend Lighthouse Fellowship UMC in Glenside came to see the young people sign songs.

I also took part in a new camp at Pecometh where Deaf children and their parents came for a family retreat, as well as a weeklong Deaf Adult Group Home camp. All of these camps were full of joy and activity, of people learning and sharing with one another, valuing diversity and appreciating who they were and whose they were.

The giftedness and grace of campers, along with selfless volunteers and staff, can create in these special settings, during these special times, personal and community wholeness. Experiencing worship and learning stories of Jesus here can change lives and reach the hearts of young people who may not otherwise attend our churches on Sundays.

This is really important ministry; and I urge all of our congregations to support our Camp and Retreat Centers generously with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your enthusiastic witness. They are God’s special place apart, where we share the life and light of Christ to make disciples and transform lives.


Monday, July 17, 2017

‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’

There was a song a long time ago by Bobby McFerrin that goes like this:
            “Here is a little song I wrote
            You might want to sing it note for note
            Don’t worry, be happy
            In every life we have some trouble
            When you worry you make it double
            Don’t worry, be happy.”
This might seem a bit simplistic or na├»ve or maybe even impossible, but these words are also a message from Jesus. 
On the “Sermon on the Mount” he says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matthew 6:25).  We do worry because some things in this life make us fearful and often seem to challenge our very existence. 
Looking around this world, it does not take long to have concern about the endless wars in the Middle East, North Korean long-range missile testing, senseless mass killings, deaths of so many people of color caused by law enforcement officers, and deaths of law enforcement officers, global warming, and Congressional efforts to eliminate healthcare safety nets.
Even our denomination’s fractious conversations about unity versus separation can cause distress. The list of things to worry about seems endless, and indeed, when we worry that list seem to double.  
Did Jesus know all of this when he told us not to worry about our lives?  Some very bad things happen in life that do not get fixed up with happy endings like in the movies. 
But Jesus takes us up on a mountain, above the sorrows and struggles of life, and tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) This is the bigger picture that goes beyond our present moment and lives on into eternity.
Jesus knows about our sorrows. He was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and he promises to be with us in our suffering.
As we keep our eyes open, seeking first the kingdom of God above all else, even our hard times can be used for good. We can help others who are walking along our journey of suffering, by offering them the empathy and support that only those on the path can give. 
We can look to the promise of heaven where all things are made right and justice prevails. This is our ultimate answer when the things of life cannot bring restoration and healing. We can work to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God while we are still here. Then as we do, we will find true meaning and purpose in life, and we will be sustained in hope.
It all comes down to faith. Faith is that which we cannot see but the substance of which gives us full confidence.  Faith gives us the patience, peace and hope for the future, despite the fearful conditions of this life.
“God is with us, and God is faithful.” You might want to sing that song, that blessed assurance, note for note. Jesus reminds us not to worry like the Gentiles (or like those who don’t know God). So, believers, “Don’t worry, be happy.” 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Pastoral Transitions


This is the week in most annual conferences in the United States known as “transition week.” Pastors who are moving to another assignment typically begin on July 1. There is a period of welcome and adjustment to a new environment, a new group of people, a new place to live and all the million things that go into a move.

Many pastors have spouses and children who transition with them, so it is not just the pastor who has many adjustments to make. Churches too have new things to get used to as they welcome new pastors. And there is often a bittersweet mixture of “good-byes” and “hellos” in the hearts of church members.

I ask that you do the following things listed below. (These suggestions are based on concerns that come up every year during transition week.)
  1. Pray for those in transition: pastors, families and churches
  2. Churches need to welcome their new pastors and new families with as much hospitality and love as they can muster. 
  3. Pastors need to leave their churches when they leave their churches, and not continue to have pastoral ties with families in ways that interfere with the ministry of the new pastor. At least a one-year window of absence from all contact is requested, unless one is invited back by the new pastor for some reason.
  4. Parsonages need to be left clean and repaired. 
  5. Pastors should attempt to learn about the new church before changing the worship style and things that people are used to doing. There is plenty of time to make changes, once people get to know the pastor and everyone understands each other. 
  6. Contact the district superintendent if there are any concerns about salaries or promises made at the pastoral take-in. They are there to help. 
Remember to pray for our retired pastors who may not be assuming a pastoral assignment in retirement. They are starting a new journey of life and need our support as well.

The itinerant system of moving pastors is not perfect, but it has many advantages. The gifts of pastors vary greatly. With pastoral changes churches get to enjoy a variety of expressions of worship and styles of ministry that can bring health, strength and imagination to our congregations.

The most important thing is to keep the goal of preaching the gospel and making disciples as the driving passion of the church. God will lead both pastor and church into new, potentially exciting opportunities for spiritual growth and outreach.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

To love and welcome all


Bishop Johnson (right) with the Rev, Herb Snyder
I had not planned to attend the Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 18.  Even though it was mentioned in one of our annual conference resolutions as a place that the church should be present, I imagined it to be a secular and not very sanctified event.

Since I was leaving to travel to Pittsburgh for an NEJ College of Bishops meeting that day, I was sure that time would not permit me to join the parade. However, God had other plans for my day. 

My husband Mike was asked to preach at Historic St. George’s UMC in downtown Philadelphia that morning. A member of the church told us the Gay Pride Parade was in walking distance of the church, and it would begin just around the time church service was over. Down 4th Street and onto Market Street we went with our faithful church member, who served as both our walking guide and our interpreter about the LGBTQ community. 

What I saw was much of what one would expect: a colorful, Mardi Gras-like celebration with much dancing, music, beads and candy tossed to onlookers.  What I did not expect were the many floats and marchers who were there as support groups that offer health care, education, family resources, counseling and yes, spiritual guidance--practicing what we so often preach.

There were people of all ethnicities, ages, and abilities present. A number of churches and interfaith groups were marching in the parade, including several of our Eastern PA Conference churches. Their message was about being welcome and sharing the love of God with and for all people.  I am so glad that the Church—our Church—was present there proclaiming this embracing, life-giving message.

I respectfully acknowledge, with every ounce of my bishop’s heart, that there are Christians of goodwill in our conferences who do not agree about issues around homosexuality and gender identity. Nonetheless, we are mandated by our Discipline to be in ministry with all people, and all means all. 

All means all 
All people includes this part of the world’s humanity. God makes the Judgment call at the end of the day, whatever that will be; so it is not our job. For far too long we have been arguing over particulars, authoring and amending resolutions, and speculating about a church schism. But all we are asked to do is simply to love and welcome all people. 

I encourage all our churches to exercise our denominational mandate to be inclusive. There is grace to be found when you meet and listen to the stories of people who are different from you. Be willing to stretch beyond your “comfort zones” and go there to listen and connect with them.

Christ calls us to invite and welcome folks—different folks—into our churches and activities. It means we need to go into communities and engage people where they are—where they live, celebrate, suffer and struggle daily to gain dignity, human rights and loving acceptance.


Editor’s Note: At the Eastern PA Annual Conference June 15-17, Resolution 2017-11 encouraged all churches to practice Radical Welcome to LGBT persons. It explained that, “practicing radical welcome can be defined as holding or participating in special events in June (Pride Happenings) and October (Coming Out Happenings) to let LGBTQ people in our churches and communities know that they are welcome in our churches, and by offering special prayers for the LGBTQ people and their families in our churches and communities on a special Sunday in the months of June and October.

The resolution further recommended “that the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference invite the Reconciling United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania and other interested churches to represent the Conference as a welcoming presence at Pride Parades and Outfests in their communities in June and October 2017. Presenters withdrew the resolution after efforts by some conference members to amend it with deletions during debate.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A response to the opioid epidemic


When we hear the word “epidemic” we typically think of a disease like Ebola or some virus or infection that spreads rapidly and causes much illness and death. In the case of the current opioid epidemic, the disease is addiction and the results are as catastrophic as any killer disease.

Our country is currently experiencing a staggering pandemic of drugs that is taking the lives of millions and causes misery and sorrow to millions more family members and friends of the victims. The statistics are unbelievable. According to the health department, in 2016 there were 4,642 drug overdose deaths in PA (up by 37%); in Maryland there were 830 cases (up by 66%); and in Delaware 308 people died (up by 30%).

Nationally the number of overdose deaths in 2016 exceeded 59,000 (up by 19%). All are reporting increases in deaths happening in the suburban areas of their states. This epidemic is crossing all lines of class and culture. The Philadelphia Inquirer (June 1, 2017) reported that librarians are being trained to administer the lifesaving overdose antidote Narcan as part of their job. “Overdose drills” are as common as fire drills in public library facilities like the one in Kensington.

Recently I visited the Lebanon Women’s Detention Center and Chaplain Marilyn Nolte, with the Eastern PA Conference Cabinet. I met a number of inmates. Many of them are incarcerated because of drug offenses and have a history of drug addiction.

Most shocking to me was the large pink heart we saw on the bulletin board that was cut in two to indicate a broken heart. On the heart were the names of at least 100 women who had been in the prison, had done their time and gotten out, and had either committed suicide or died from drug overdoses. These are our young people, each one a precious daughter, wife or mother, trapped in the chains of this disease. I thank God that we have a UM chaplain there working with these women.

It is easy to throw up our hands in despair when we read these statistics and hear these stories. But as people of faith, every one of us can do something to light a candle of hope. The recent “UNITE Quakertown” anti-drug abuse rally, sponsored June 10 at a local park by Quakertown UMC, brought together interfaith partners, human service agencies and community groups, along with musical performers and speakers. All are helping to spread the word about this terrible epidemic of opioid abuse and offer some practical things people can do.

Here are some of the “take-aways” from this day-long community festival:
  • View addiction as a disease and not a moral failure. 
  • Decriminalize and offer more treatment options instead of prison time. 
  • Set up more Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery groups in churches and communities.
  • Teach elementary school children about the dangers of drugs. 
  • Offer after-school and summer programs for at-risk young people. 
  • Partner with hospitals to support drug-addicted mothers and their addicted newborns. 
  • Pray for and with addicted people and their families.
  • Promote laws and governmental policies that keep funding for health insurance and Medicaid that assists with drug addiction remedies.
At our Lenten Day Apart for clergy next February, in both the Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware annual conferences, we will have more conversation about drug addiction. The Rev. Dr. Barry Steiner-Ball will present some of his work in this area of community outreach and treatment.

The root cause of drug use and drug abuse is pain. We experience physical pain, emotional pain and spiritual pain in life, and drugs may at first take away that pain. But with continual use and increased dosages it can easily become an addiction.

People of faith can come alongside people suffering pain, all kinds of pain, to offer healing, encouraging community support and helpful spiritual resources that no pain pill can offer. As followers of Christ and loving ambassadors of the gospel, we can bring the words of life to this drug world of death. Always offer people Christ and make your church a place of welcome and support.

Monday, June 5, 2017

June is Gun Violence Prevention Month




Violence is such huge part of our world right now that one can rarely listen to the news on radio or TV without learning of a new incident of horrific violence. We are still reeling from the recent terrorist bombings and mass stabbings in England, and attacks on other innocent people in our own country.

Gun violence is particularly prevalent in our country. I believe it is important for our churches to teach about this epidemic and promote healthy ways of preventing senseless harm.

The 2016 United Methodist Book of Resolutions encourages our churches to make “preventing gun violence a regular part of our conversations and prayer times.” It goes on to say, “Gun violence must be worshipfully and theologically reflected on, and we encourage UM churches to frame conversations theologically by utilizing resources such as Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities: Reflections on Gun Violence from Micah 4:1-4, produced by the General Board of Church and Society.”

(The 'Gun Violence Prevention' page on umcjustic.org is another helpful resource: www.umcjustice.org/what-we-care-about/peace-with-justice/gun-violence-prevention)

It also encourages us to “partner with local law enforcement agencies and community groups to identify gun retailers that engage in retail practices designed to circumvent laws on gun sales and ownership, encourage full legal compliance, and to work with groups like ‘Heeding God’s Call’ that organize faith-based campaigns to encourage gun retailers to gain full legal compliance with appropriate standards and laws.”   (2016 Book of Resolutions, page 394)

As a church we can also become politically active by promoting local and national level laws that prevent or reduce gun violence in some of the following ways:
  • universal background checks on all gun purchases;
  • ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty;
  • prohibiting from purchasing guns all individuals under temporary restraining orders due to threat of violence;
  • banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled; and
  • and promoting new technologies to aid law enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.  (2016 Book of Resolutions, page 395).
Finally, my word to you today is to consider anger. The basis for much of the violence we see in this world today is anger. Jesus speaks of anger against one’s neighbor in a dramatic way in the “Sermon on Mount.”   

He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)


These are strong words based on much wisdom. Anger gives birth to murder and violence. Churches are also a place where we can teach faith-filled ways of dealing with anger through conversation, mediation, forgiveness and restorative justice. 

Every one of us can do something to curb the violence in our world. Ask God to lay on your heart what you can be doing to promote peace and end this scourge of murder and mayhem in our world.  Use the month of June, which is “Gun Violence Prevention Month,” to make some concrete plans.  We are to be the salt and light of the world! 


Monday, May 22, 2017

Ascension Day – What are you waiting for?



Thursday, May 25th is Ascension Day. It is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember Christ’s ascension into heaven. It happened 40 days after the resurrection (Easter) and it is recorded in the Book of Acts.

Jesus was telling the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the ends of the earth. Then Jesus ascended and a cloud took him out of their sight. “While they were gazing into heaven two men stood by them in white robes and asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)

During the recent Council of Bishops meeting I had a conversation with Bishop Christian Alsted from Denmark. He explained that in his country Ascension Day is a national holiday. Some of the churches have torch-led processions around the church building to remember Jesus’ ascension and to officially end the season of Easter. They also bless fruits and vegetables at the churches, and people have an off-day from work.

It is interesting to me how little we observe Ascension Day in the United States in our churches, when truly, this is a day of great significance. The men in white, who spoke to those first apostles have a message for us as well: “Just don’t stand there looking up, get busy.”

Jesus is coming again and we need to be about the business of being witnesses for Jesus in our day and time. We need to be out of our church buildings and into the world blessing not only fruits and vegetables but the lives of people in our community and the world.

We have not fully completed our celebration of Easter if we are not making the church visible to the world by our witness of words and love in action. This is time-sensitive business. Jesus is coming again and unless we tell the story people will not know the good news of Jesus’ life-giving grace for all people.

So what are you waiting for? Tell your story, tell Christ’s story, and see how far the good news will spread.