Monday, January 26, 2009

World Service Apportionments Paid in Full in 2008!

Congratulations to both Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula Delaware for paying their World Service Apportionments in full in 2008.  Eastern Pennsylvania paid their apportionments in full for the first time in many years in 2007.  Peninsula Delaware has paid 100% always.  I am thrilled that both conferences have paid this year given the difficult economic times of this past year.

The apportionment funds do good things in the world that further the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Among the many things the general agencies are doing include the following apportionment-supported programs:

The General Board of Discipleship is developing a Discipleship University that will engage lay and clergy teams from local churches for renewal of existing congregations.  All five jurisdictions are now offering new church start planter schools.

The General Commission on Religion and Race is providing recourses to support clergy and lay person sin cross-racial appointments. 

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry awarded educational scholarships and loans for more than 2,500 students.  They have led training experiences of Annual Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry.

The General Commission on Archives and History has entered into a partnership with the African American Heritage Center to enable the center to move forward in acquiring materials and developing training opportunities for African American churches.

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women launched a survey of clergy spouses to learn the joys, concerns and needs of persons married to clergy and is planning a “Women’s Congress in 2011” that is targeting new women leadership.

The General Board of Church and Society works to help United Methodists join justice and mercy ministries in congregations and communities.  They also have a presence in the Philippines, Africa and Europe.

The General Commission on Communication maintains the church’s official website and has collaborated with a number of UM agencies in promoting the “Nothing but Nets” campaign (to help eliminate malaria)

The General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns worked this year to establish a full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and produced a resource known as “White Privilege”

The General Board of Global Ministries deploys missionaries around the globe in numerous church and community settings.

Our apportionment dollars also supports the Episcopal Fund.

Many thanks to our churches for the hard work and sacrifices made so that we paid our apportionments in full in 2008.   I pray that we can continue this in 2009 and into the future.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Speaking up for Justice

Recently I heard an interview on National Public Radio featuring Rev. Joseph Lowery who has been an important leader in the Civil Rights movement through the years.  Recently he was given the honor to pronounce the benediction at the inauguration service for President Barrack Obama.  In this interview he said that the election of the first African American president was something he always thought would happen but he never thought it would happen in his lifetime.  I believe that his advocacy work in our country for decades had much to do with this reality.   He was willing to courageously speak a word of truth to power, not only during the early years during the Civil Rights movement in this country but he also spoke out against Apartheid in South Africa and anywhere people are suffering still today.  During Coretta Scott King’s funeral in 2006 he spoke up  for the poor in this country: “Millions are without health insurance.  Poverty abounds.  For war there are billions more but no more for the poor.” 

Every day we see injustice in this world and if we would have the courage to speak up about it we could, like Lowery, live to see an injustice turned around in our very life time.  However, many times we are afraid to challenge powerful strongholds that keep people oppressed.  We fear their retribution and anger.  We tell ourselves we can’t make a difference.  With God’s help you can change things.  With God’s power you can speak the truth to people who need to hear it.    II Timothy 1:7 reminds us “God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.” 

While I served as the pastor of an all-deaf church in Baltimore I was confronted everyday with situations in which deaf people were mistreated or denied their rights because they simply could not hear.  Sometimes fighting for justice and making complaint calls got to be overwhelming.  Whenever the staff or I were tempted to give up we would encourage each other by saying:  “remember 456.”    That would spur us on to make the call and keep on advocating for justice. What is 456?  It is my favorite prayer printed in the United Methodist Hymnal (on page 456) that was written by Alan Paton of South Africa:

“O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries, open my heart so that they need not be without succor, let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen."

When we do that there is no telling what good we will be able to make happen today!

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inclusive Communion Bread

In many churches we are seeing something new during the sacrament of Holy Communion.  That is the inclusion of a gluten-free communion bread option. Bread is typically made from wheat which contains gluten.  For many with food sensitivities or digestive issues gluten can be a problem.   By offering a gluten-free wafer for those who cannot eat bread there is an opportunity for hospitality, caring and grace.  The sacrament of Holy Communion is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of Christ’s presence.  When we care about people with dietary issues we are showing kindness and  compassion that further reveals Christ’s presence.

Any time we widen the circle of concern and love for all of God’s children we are showing God’s love in visible way.   I hope you will consider this as a regular practice in your church.   May the inclusion of gluten-free wafers be just one of many ways that you show respect for people with a variety of physical  and spiritual needs.

Bishop Peggy Johnson

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Renew Your Membership Vows

January 1, 2009 the 2008 Book of Discipline became the guide book for the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church.  Much of the book is the same as in past years but there are some notable changes.  In the membership vows there is an important addition.  Previously members were asked to support the church by their “prayers, presences, gifts and service.”  The word “witness” was added to the list in our new Discipline.  A witness is someone who tells what they have seen and experienced.  When Jesus rose on Easter morning Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord.  We should tell people about the risen Lord in our life and how having a relationship with Christ has made a difference. People simply won’t know about Jesus until we who know him tell people.  But just as surely people won’t believe that Jesus is real in our lives unless we back up our talk with our actions.  A witness not only talks, they DO.   Our Christian witness can be seen in the way we treat people.  Do we show respect and honor to all people no matter who they are?  Our Christian witness can be seen in how we care for the earth and our stewardship of our precious natural resources.  Our Christian witness can be seen in how we spend our money, how we speak out on issues of social justice, and how we refuse to go along with the crowd when they are doing an expedient, wrong thing.  There are many ways to be a witness.

If you have not joined the United Methodist Church in the past month then your membership vows are  out of date.   Why not take the time to renew your membership vows before God at your church this Sunday?  Promise to uphold the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Another Step in the Fulfillment of a Dream

The Apostle Peter writes: “Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Have reverence for God. Honor your ruler.” (I Peter 2:17 The Voice) The Bible teaches us that God’s special anointing is upon the leadership of God’s people. They have a calling from god and carry a holy responsibility. I believe that God uses our human institutions as God seeks to bring blessings into the lives of all people. Our God does not work from a perspective of fear, but from a perspective of hope for the world.

When George Washington was inaugurated President, April 30, 1789, Bishop Francis Asbury presented a congratulatory address to the new president. Bishop Asbury wanted to assure the new president that the people called Methodist would be holding him in their prayers. They believe that God was doing a new thing in their lives and they had hope for this new land.

On January 20, 2009 President Barack Obama will take his oath of office. This historical event will follow the national celebration of the birthday of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and will be another step in the fulfillment of the dream of our nation, where we will not judge people by the color of their skin, but by the greatness of their character. This is a time of great hope at a time of great need. There will be no easy answers for the problems we must face in the days ahead and no president can solve our problems for us. As God’s beloved children we are going to need to work together to bring healing to this land.

There have been those who have expressed fears about the changes that have come to our nation. There are those who want us to be afraid of this new day. There have been those who have said unkind things about our new president. We need to put all fear and unkindness aside. We love this nation, and perfect love casts out all fear. As Americans, we have been blessed so we can be a blessing to the world. Not only has God enabled us to find solutions to our own problems but given us the opportunity to use what we discover to help so many others. Fear helps no one, not even ourselves. It is the hope that God places in our hearts that brings not only life, but also a life of true spiritual abundance.

As a people called United Methodists, once again we need to offer our prayers to our new President. It does not matter who you voted for or what political party you belong to, we all need God to use President Barack Obama to bring blessings to our world. We will all benefit if God will give him wisdom and surround his life with Godly advisors. We will all benefit if God can use his leadership in bringing peace in our world. As Christians we are called to show our new leader honor, in doing so we show respect tot eh God who called him to this office. Our God is doing a new thing. Let us join together and encourage the hope that comes with a new day. Let us pray for a new spirit of cooperation. Let us pray for a new creativity that will help us live healthier ways.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson