Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ministry of Lay Speakers and Christ Servant Ministers: Leading, Caring, Communicating

This past weekend the Philadelphia Area hosted the annual meeting of the United Methodist Association of Conference Directors of Lay Speaking (and in Eastern PA: Christ Servant Ministers). A lively group of 80 people gathered at the Ramada Inn in Philadelphia for three days of inspiration, business meetings and encouragement. The Christ Servant Ministers of EPA served as the hosts and did an excellent job preparing for the event, arranging for historic tours and offering superb hospitality.

Lay leadership in the United Methodist Church is as old as Methodism itself. The church has always relied greatly on its lay leaders for conducting worship and sharing the love of Christ in the world. During the circuit-riding days of the early Methodist movement in America, the pastors would only be able to come to each church a few times a year to administer the sacraments and assist with the organization of the church. The lay people did all the work in between the visits of these pastors on horseback.

Still today the ministry of the laity is vitally important. Lay Speakers in the United Methodist Church are more than speakers. Here are some of their ministries: visitation, crisis ministry, pastoral care, leading volunteer mission teams, teaching Bible study, work with youth groups, assisting with church administration, prison ministry - and the list could go on for pages.

Lay Speaking ministries strives to help disciples become aware of their gifts for ministry by offering educational events to enhance and develop skills for fruitful service. To learn more about lay speaking, read about it in the Book of Discipline Paragraph 267, 268 and 269. Check out the website:

Mr. George Hollich, Jr. is the director of Christ Servant Ministers in EPA and Ms. Luray McClung is the Director of Lay Speaking for PDC. They can tell you about training events in their respective conferences.

I encourage pastors to use your Lay Speakers/Christ Servant Ministers as much as you can to extend the ministry of the church. In the church of Jesus Christ there is truly a “priesthood” of all believers.

The ministry of the laity motto proclaims:

All God’s people in

All places,

And in

All times,

Are called to love

And serve.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Haitian United Methodist Church

As a cold winter rain was falling in Salisbury, Maryland, the members of First Haitian United Methodist Church came to worship. It was their normal Sunday morning worship service but since the earthquake of January 12, nothing was ever going to be normal again. Many of the members have lost family and friends who live in Haiti and many more have been waiting to hear from people whom they have lost contact with in their mother country. Their part-time supply pastor happened to be in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and members were greatly comforted to learn that he had finally been in touch with his family and was safe. The service was being led by the lay leaders of the church. About 100 people gathered in a small building that the members purchased from a printing company 10 years earlier and remodeled it into a place of worship.

I arrived at the church expecting a scene of grief and devastation but was heartened to find a group of people who had hope; hope in the Lord for comfort and strength. The entire congregation speaks French and Creole. Some are also fluent in English, however the worship service was conducted entirely in French. The singing was loud and joyful. I asked one of the English-speaking members what they were singing: “We have no troubles for God is here” she whispered. These words were fulfilled as they were being sung.

When I was introduced to the congregation by the lay leader, Faubert Baptiste, he spoke one sentence in English for my benefit and then a sentence in French for the congregants. “We have never had a bishop here,” he said “we are glad you have come.” With Faubert’s help, I offered words of consolation and support. When I announced that I would be reading from the Psalm 46, everyone immediately took out their Bibles and rose to their feet.

“God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea….the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Following my comments another lay member, Lucien Jendy, came forward to bring the sermon for the day. He read from Matthew 24: “As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the building of the temple. Then he asked them ‘you see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.’”

He explained that every word of the Bible is true and that our earthly buildings and our lives are temporary. He stressed that in life we will have suffering but those who endure to the end will be saved. “We must not lose faith but have hope in God,” said Jendy. His sermon was met with many “Amens.” The service ended with a spirited prayer and the passing of the peace.

I shook hands with the congregants after the worship service, including no small number of children and teenagers, all dressed in their Sunday best. Warmth and respect flowed from their hands to mine. They expressed the desire to go Haiti to help it rebuild and to search for people who are lost. One of the most difficult aspects of this ordeal is not knowing the fate of many who are missing. A faith-filled and determined people are making plans now to visit Haiti as soon as they are allowed to come. They will also be raising money for the UMCOR relief efforts and offering the most valuable resource of all: prayer.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legacy of freedom and equality that he brought to the world. One of the most important things to remember is that the civil rights movement was born in the church. Rev. King’s non-violent campaign to end segregation landed him in jail many times. From a jail in Birmingham, Alabama he wrote to the clergy: “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning.”

Still today his words ring true as the struggle for human rights and equality continues. Wherever I go, the churches who are thriving and making a difference in this world have that spirit of sacrifice and service that gives it authenticity. Only when we choose to suffer for righteousness sake we can change the wrongs in this world.

May Martin Luther King Day be a day “on” and not a day “off” in service in your community. May you speak out for justice when you see someone being treated unfairly. May you use your means, your influence, your heart, your soul, your strength to work for peace where there is discord. As you go, have hope and don’t be discouraged when the work is difficult.

Rev. King said in his “I Have a Dream” sermon: “Go back (home) knowing this situation can and will be changed. Don’t wallow in the valley of despair.”

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You Did It Unto Me (Re: Earthquake in Haiti)

Matthew 25 reminds us as we give to those in need it is the same as giving to Jesus. We have an important opportunity to bless Jesus this week. The earthquake in Haiti has just made the poorest nation in the world more poor and the suffering is unbelievable. Please take an offering this Sunday at your churches and places of ministry for the Haiti Relief (Advance #418325 – Checks can be sent through the conference offices). May God use this crisis to make a blessing happen on the island. When the eyes of the world are on them may the resources begin to flow in new and better ways. Most importantly PRAY for all those who are affected by this crisis and for the many emergency workers.

Bishop Peggy A Johnson

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do Whatever He Tells You

In the gospels there is not much that we know about the Virgin Mary by what she says apart from the passages in Luke that speak about the birth of Christ. In the Gospel of John is a tiny passage about a wedding in which an older and wiser Mary appears. Here we find her encouraging her young adult son, Jesus to intervene when the wine runs out at the wedding reception. Jesus appears to give some push back at the request “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But almost as if she does not hear a word he says she turns to the servants and says “Do whatever he tells you.” I love that about Mary. Jesus is God but she is still his mother. We all know the rest of the story is the marvelous miracle of the water that becomes wine.

This new year may we do just that “whatever Jesus tells you.” God speaks to us every day in quiet and not-so-quiet ways. We do a fair share of push-back, especially when the request means a sacrifice or an impossibility. Can you imagine what the servants thought when Jesus told them to “draw some out and take it to the chief steward.” They had just filled 6 stone jars full of water. But they did it anyway. Was their obedience and the miracle in some way connected? I believe it was and it will always be that God works miracles through the likes of us when we are obedient. This is especially true when we obey God’s call when we think it is preposterous, an inconvenience, and we cry out “Lord, send someone else.”

Do whatever he tells you this year and see what God will be able to do through you.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson