Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving in all circumstances

Altar design by Karen Barkowski. John Coleman photo.

The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” was written by a Lutheran minister, Martin Rinkart (1586-1649). We sing it often during this season of Thanksgiving in praise of our “bounteous God.” But the backdrop of this hymn writer’s life was filled with death, looking nothing like a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting. 

Rinkart penned the words of this hymn during the Thirty-Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics. He was one of four parish pastors serving at that time in Eilenburg, Saxony, located in East Germany. But when the war continued to rage on, one pastor left, two died and he alone was left to serve the people.

Eilenburg was a walled city. So, it became a place for refugees, and thus, there was a great shortage of food. Then the plague set in, and scores of people died from this dreaded disease.

Rinkart performed 40 to 50 funerals a day, including his wife’s funeral. It was estimated that he buried more than 4,480 people.

After the plague came an invading army of Swedes demanding that tribute be paid. The besieged pastor served as the negotiator with the Swedish army; and he paid them the tribute with his own money. When the army refused to leave the town, he gathered the people for intensive prayer. Miraculously, the Swedes departed in peace.


Through it all, Martin Rinkart faithfully gave thanks to God. Indeed, this hymn was an expression of his grateful trust in God despite the extreme hardship he and others were experiencing.

We, too, are called to faithfulness despite, and in the face of, life’s trials. I doubt many of us have ever experienced the depth of tragedies that happened during the time this beloved hymn was penned. But all of us face difficulties and suffering.


The Apostle Paul tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) 


May God continue to help us recognize and give thanks for the unmistakable, abundant blessings in our lives, even those forged from the burdens life imposes on us. And when we look back later, may we reflect on God’s steadfast providence and goodness to us, through it all. 

History source: hymnary.org

Learn more about Martin Rinckart and this favorite hymn on the UMC Discipleship Ministries website article, History of Hymns: “Now Thank We All Our God.”









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Friday, November 10, 2017

Strength for Service to God and Country


As we prepare for the annual observation of Veteran’s Day, November 11, I would like to call to your attention a wonderful resource produced by our United Methodist Men: Strength for Service to God and Country.

This inspirational book comes in two versions. One is for military service men and women. A second version is produced for local emergency service personnel, such as first-responders, police, fire fighters and medical professionals.

This resource can be purchased through our General Commission on United Methodist Men at www.StrengthforService.org.

Originally distributed during World War II and the Korean War, it was revisited by a Scout named Evan Hunsberger, whose advocacy for the book’s republishing was his Eagle Scout project in 2002.

How wonderful it would be if our churches could purchase copies of these devotionals and distribute them to our community servants as well as our men and women in the military. It would be a wonderful way to show honor and appreciation this year during and after our Veteran’s Day observance.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Bishop calls for action against PA gambling expansion



November 8, 2017
On October 26, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 109-72 to approve a significant expansion of gambling in our state, House Bill 271. The bill was approved by the state Senate the previous day. Four days after the House action, Governor Tom Wolf signed the legislation into law. The legislation was quickly moved, taking only 18 hours between its introduction and its passage in the House. In fact, lawmakers had only two hours to read the massive 939-page bill. This stealthy rush through the General Assembly minimized scrutiny. Obviously, public input was thwarted.

This new law will create 10 mini-casinos in regions without a casino, allow some truck stops to operate video gaming terminals, regulate fantasy sports and online gambling, legalize online gambling portals at casinos and airports, permit the state lottery to sell tickets and offer games online, and legalize sports betting (if Congress allows it nationally). Proponents of this legislation hope to open gambling to new markets, especially younger players.

Only Nevada exceeds Pennsylvania in commercial casino revenues. This law marks the biggest expansion of gambling in the state, since it first legalized casinos more than a decade ago. Pennsylvania now becomes the fourth state with internet gambling and the first to allow both casino and lottery games online.

But, this is not the end, there is still a way that the public can respond. A provision in the new law allows municipalities to opt out of this gambling expansion. Local governments may pass a resolution prohibiting a "mini-casino" within the boundaries of their municipality. Such a resolution must be sent to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board by December 31, 2017. County governments have the same option regarding truck stop gambling. Many lawmakers, who voted against this legislation, are recommending such action. There is not much time.

The UM Social Principles state, "Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, [and] destructive of good government... As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the Practice... Organized and commercial gambling is a threat to business, breeds crime and poverty, and is destructive to the interests of good government. It encourages the belief that work is unimportant, that money can solve all our problems, and that greed is the norm for achievement. It serves as a "regressive tax" on those with lower income. In summary, gambling is bad economics; gambling is bad public policy and gambling does not improve the quality of life."

As bishop of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, I strongly urge members, clergy and conference agencies to act during this limited response period. Prayer followed by meaningful and effective action is an exercise of faith. We ask that you contact your local government councils, as soon as possible. Ask when the next meeting will be and ask to have this mini-casino prohibition put on their agenda. Plan for residents to attend these meetings and be ready to support this resolution.


Sincerely,
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Another tragedy, another reminder


Our country is still reeling from the recent incident in New York City where a terrorist brutally ran over and killed innocent people with a truck. Now we learn of another heinous, hateful act of unbelievable violence against innocent people. 

This time it is in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas. This time it strikes especially close to home. This time it is in a church, where unsuspecting members—children and adults—were gathered for worship.

Fifteen seconds of automatic weapon gunfire erupted in a horrific mass murder, the worst ever in an American place of worship and in Texas’ history, killing 26 people and wounding many others. This terrible act of violence has caused profound devastation and inconsolable grief. There are no words that can come close to healing such emotional and spiritual wounds.

The Baptist church’s pastor, the Rev. Frank Pomeroy, was out of town when these murders happened. But the words that he preached to his congregation the Sunday before may shed some light on the future. On a website known as www.heavy.com  (November 5, 2017) the pastor’s sermon was quoted: “God’s understanding is far greater, and there may be things that are taking place that you don’t understand. But you still need to do what God is calling you to do.” 

These prophetic words speak to us this day. As Christians, we are called to pray, to continue to speak out about how to live in this world in nonviolent ways, to examine our weapons laws for ways to be more protective, and to find ways to prepare our churches for the unthinkable. 

A final reminder is that mental health is often in the mix when people perform horrific acts of mass murder. Our country could and should be doing much more to provide for more mental health services. It is just as important as medical (physical) health care. 

Please remember that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not murderous or violent, and we as the church need to continually be about the business of ministering to this community with compassion and grace. 

NOTE: Church Mutual Insurance Company offers several risk control webinars and articles on its website that could be helpful to any church. Please check them out, use this valuable information and share it with other churches.
  • Armed Intruder
    Church Mutual has partnered with industry experts to keep your people safe before, during and after a violent attack. Firestorm, a nationally recognized leader in crisis management, helping clients minimize disaster exposure and plan for a crisis, and ALICE Training Institute, the number-one active shooter civilian response training organization in the nation, have come together to bring you this informative webinar series.
  • Protecting against catastrophic violence
    Although catastrophically violent events are not frequent, the consequences are tragic. With the recent rise in active shooter incidents, specifically, many organizations are asking questions about how to make sure they are prepared for such violent events.

    “There are several precautionary measures that can be taken,” said Ron Aguiar, director of safety and security at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., and author of Keeping Your Church Safe. “It starts with getting a group together to develop a plan.”
  • Pastors become chaplains after church massacre
  • Churches and Gun Violence: 7 Practical Preparation Tips
    The Rev. Derrek Belase, a former certified police officer turned pastor, with two degrees in criminology, is the Oklahoma Annual Conference's Director of Discipleship. His current portfolio includes coordinating the Safe Sanctuary Training.Derrek believes that you can’t completely prevent gun violence from erupting. Even with the best laid plans or the best legislation. Then what? How can a church adequately protect itself? Here are seven practical tips that can help any church prepare for the unexpected.
Also, the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm offers this training opportunity to Eastern PA conference churches: Bishop Johnson is asking for each of us to set up Active Shooter Training Workshops (“What churches should do”) on each of our Districts. The Rev. Mark Beideman will lead a South District training this Sunday, November 12, at 3 PM, at Downingtown UMC. Any district is invited to send folks to our training for now. Mark may be able to come to other districts to offer trainings at other times.