Monday, April 16, 2018

Let us rejoice in our United Methodist heritage

United Methodist Heritage Sunday this year falls on May 20. That is also Pentecost Sunday, giving the day a double-heritage significance, since that is when we celebrate the birth of Christ’s church.
Speaking of births, however, I invite us all to begin our United Methodist heritage celebration a month early, on Sunday, April 22, in order to commemorate the birth of our denomination from merger and reorganization 50 years ago. That labor-intensive birth happened on April 23, 1968. But it came after nearly a decade of prayerful negotiations, General Conference legislation and prevenient mergers of racially segregated annual conferences—like ours—until the glorious day of delivery when we finally became The United Methodist Church.
The Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church—both denominations being offspring of earlier mergers themselves. The new denomination abolished Methodism’s Central Jurisdiction, created in 1939 to unify and segregate annual conferences with predominantly black churches and members across the nation, like our former Delaware Annual Conference.
So, in 1968 and in the years that followed, after a history of divisions and dubious mergers, we finally got it right, for the most part. Getting it right meant reorganizing churchwide agencies and creating legislation and special commissions to monitor our still-unfinished journey toward racial and gender equity and denominational inclusiveness. For that same journey and others, it also meant creating special programs and funds, Special Sunday offerings and eventually, missional priorities.
It meant—and it still means—living into our divine call to manifest integrity, generosity, grace and other bedrock Christian values, as we strive to become what our own annual conference approved as its vision statement in 2017: United in Christ, Committed to Transformation.
We are 50 years old as a denomination this year, and we have made much progress. But there is much more to be done. I pray that our life expectancy, our arc in history, is long, with no end in sight, and that it will forever bend toward justice, in James Russell Lowell’s famous words.
The year 1968 was one of emergent change, not only in our church, but across our nation and throughout society. There was turbulent racial conflict, violence in our streets, war, protests and questions about the relevancy of the church. 
The Rev. Dr. Albert C. Outler, a prominent theologian at the time, cast a vision for the Uniting Conference in his address on the morning of our merger ceremony.  He called for the new church to be steadfast in unity and committed to ecumenism and evangelism in word and deed. He also stressed the need for the church to reform itself from being an insulated institution to actively demonstrating the presence of the living Christ.
In order to reform, he said, we needed to be “…a church united in order to be uniting, a church repentant in order to be a church redemptive, a church ‘cruciform’ in order to manifest God’s triumphant agony for mankind (sic).” When he finished, the 10,000 people at Dallas Memorial Auditorium gave him a prolonged standing ovation.
Dr. Outler’s call is still with us today as we celebrate 50 years of United Methodism.  If each one of us would take to heart these principles of unity, ecumenism, evangelism and reform, we could become the church that our founders envisioned many years ago, as they sought to spread “scriptural holiness” across the land. 
“This is the day the Lord has made,” said Outler. “Let us really rejoice and be glad in it—glad for the new chance God now gives us.”
Indeed, for the next month, from April 22 through May 20, and for months and years to come, let us really rejoice and be glad in this faithful, if not faultless, heritage we share as United Methodists. Let us clothe ourselves in love, seeking always to be transformed as those redeemed through grace.  And let us be glad for our unity in a Christ who “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). Yes, glad “for the new chance God now gives us.”
Please read and share these recent accounts, resources and ideas to help celebrate our United Methodist history, as we celebrate 50 years together. Also, be sure to view the compelling, 11-minute historical video that shares diverse views on the in 1968 merger of the EUB and Methodist denominations and related concerns.
Also, UM News Service will publish a story at this week on the end of the segregated Central Jurisdiction in 1968, and later a story on the creation of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). They will finish their UMC 50th anniversary series on Monday, April 23, with a story about people who were at the 1968 Uniting Conference. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Native Americans and the Church: Past, present, future

Sunday, April 15, is “Native American Ministry Sunday” in the United Methodist Church. I hope that every church will take a special offering to aid Native American seminary students and the many wonderful ministries that are happening in our Committees on Native American Ministries (CONAMs). More importantly, I hope on that Sunday people will learn something about this vitally important part of our church’s witness to its past, present and future.

At our 2016 Annual Conference session we engaged in an “Act of Repentance” for the sins committed against many indigenous peoples of the world by invaders who conquered, colonized and oppressed them, often decimating their populations and societies. In our country indigenous people were treated shamefully for the most part and the church was too often complicit in that mistreatment.

To this day the wounds of discrimination and genocide live on as a part of their historical trauma. The good news is that as we repent and partner with our Native American brothers and sisters, much healing and good can come. We need each other to survive. We as a church are not whole unless all are included and empowered for ministry and mission. Healing comes as we repent and then do the works of repentance. Let’s keep this before us!

Two key events focusing on Native American struggles and losses, as well as culture and contributions, will occur in our conference this weekend. Our CONAM will celebrate Native American Ministries Sunday, April 15, from 4 to 6 PM, at Camp Innabah (712 Pughtown Road, Spring City), with a festive and informative gathering for worship, a fellowship meal and first-person accounts of UM persons and churches serving God in mission among Native peoples. All local church CONAM representatives are urged to attend for information and networking. Please learn more and try to attend.

On Saturday, April 14, Lititz UMC (201 Market St., Lititz) will host CONAM’s presentation of the Loss of Turtle Island exercise (from 9:30 to 11:00 AM). It is a dramatic, interactive, multimedia demonstration that teaches the history and impact of Europeans' conquest and colonization of Native peoples in the Americas and the Church's complicity in that history. I participated in this same activity last fall, when CONAM presented it at Camp Innabah. It is powerful. Learn more and share the event flyer.

Young people from Oneida United Methodist Church, who attended the Peg-Leg Flamingos youth leadership conference in September, present a tribal flag to water protectors at Standing Rock. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin

And during the first weekend of May the “Peg Leg” empowerment youth camp will welcome a gathering of young people who have Native American heritage. They will be at the West River Camping and Retreat Center in the Baltimore Washington Conference. Many leaders of our conference and others around the country will participate in this movement to strengthen young people for leadership.

I will participate in the closing worship there. In preparation for the event, I spoke to the Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, a Native American District Superintendent in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. She and Ragghi Rain Calentine from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference are working together to make this a deeply spiritual experience for the participants.

Dr. Lakota Eastin said to me that they are emphasizing two things: prayer and activism. As we pray, we are called to go out and “do” the work of God. That is a good word for all of us. Pray and do!

I look forward to the world that our young Native American people will bring to us as they engage in this work of God. May we find ways to partner and open doors for their giftedness to shine.