Monday, September 27, 2010

Mental Illness Awareness Week

Few things are sadder than mental illness. With it comes a stigma that results in alienation, rejection, misunderstanding and despair. It is more common than people think, with one in five Americans suffering from some form of mental illness. Most churches are ill prepared to welcome people with mental illness and some are outright unfriendly and fearful. Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 3-9 with the National Day of Prayer for Mental illness, Recovery and Understanding on October 5th. There are some excellent resources available on line at

Check out this website and learn how you can become a caring congregation through education, commitment, intentional welcoming and support. It also has a self administered test that helps you determine if you or a family member is suffering from depression. Resources for ministries with veterans are on this website as well. As Veteran’s Day nears (November 11) we need to remember the many veterans who are suffering as a result of service to our country.

How can your church be a more welcoming place and promote mental health for all?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Help for Military Families

The idea of re-thinking church has a lot to do with the church going out into the world and doing acts of mercy and justice. The church does not just gather on Sundays for worship, fellowship and nurture. It is a “verb” that does the works of Christ where people need help the most. The re-thought church keeps a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand to be quick to see where people in the world are hurting and in need of Christ’s love and compassion.

Recently many soldiers left Iraq as this military effort has come to an end there. I thank God that we are ending this conflict. When our soldiers come home there are many needs. There are also many soldiers still deployed around the world with families left at home. Our military families are in need of support systems (housing, child care, food, community, counseling, etc.)

A Wesley Foundation near the Ft. Campbell Army Post saw this need and developed the “Lazarus Project”. This program provides for the many needs of our military families using students from Austin Peay State University students. The National Guard in Delaware has a similar program and it matches military families with churches that have indicated an interest in helping. What can you do to help people in the military…either here or abroad? Our area stretches across three states and each area is unique. I challenge you to find out what is happening in your area and reach out to these families. It is all about is all about love.

Order your copy of Care for Returning Veterans, a DVD produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. According to Rev. Tom Carter, director of endorsement and pastoral care for the General Board of Higer Education and Ministry's United Methodist Endorsing Agency, "Many resources have been developed and provided for churches, but this DVD is the best that I have seen." To learn more, visit:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

School’s Back in Session

Fall is in the air and school buses are once again making their rounds through the neighborhoods of our towns and cities. For many parents this is a welcome time as summer was getting “old” and children were running out of things to do. But for some it is a difficult time because finances are tight and the cost of school clothes and supplies has been overwhelming. For some students school is a troubled place to be. The classes might be difficult. They may speak English as a second language and it is hard to follow the rapid flow of speech. For others there may be the pressures of gangs, bullies, overcrowded classes, and maybe even physical danger. Recently a school administrator from the Philadelphia School system reported to me that the graduation rate for high school seniors is only at 50%. The funds for school improvements, books, equipment and additional staff are hard to find.

The conditions of our schools should be a priority for all Christians. The future is cast in our schools. The quality of education can determine a person’s future success in life. I hope that all of our churches will consider adopting a school in their area. There is a great need for volunteer help at schools and although talking about God is not allowed in the schools we can model the love of God by our words and actions, which is about the best sermon around.

Your church can volunteer in the classrooms but also offer after-school and before school programs, assist with back pack feeding programs (where backpacks are filled with food for the weekend for students from low income families), provide tutoring, parties, summer enrichment programs, winter holiday Vacation Bible School, and help families purchase school uniforms.

As we “Re-think” church, think about getting out of the church building and into the world, where Christ would have us be, and make school more tolerable for young people in our neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Congo Partnership Visit

From July 28th until August 12th I visited the Central Congo Area of the United Methodist Church with a team of people from both the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences. On this team were: Rev. Jonathan Baker, Rev. David Ryan, Rev. Michael Johnson, Ms. Jackie Onwu, Mr. Bill Innes, and Ms. Karen Morgan. Much credit is due to Rev. Jonathan Baker, who organized the trip and handled an enormous amount of administration. Ms. Jackie Onwu, a former GBGM missionary in the Congo also was an invaluable help to the team as she served as our French and cultural interpreter throughout our visit.

The purpose of the trip was to visit the mission sites, attend sessions of Annual Conference with Bishop David Yemba, and explore new ways of partnering with this amazing area. The Central Congo Area consists of 6 annual conferences, all of which meet for one week when they have annual conference. Many of the participants walked for weeks to attend conference and many slept out in the open air with no conveniences. Their dedication, spiritual fire and dependence on God for daily survival was a humbling and awesome thing to experience. They provided comfortable hospitality for us in the midst of their poverty as a sign of God’s love. As I participated in the ordination service of these fine pastors I asked myself if I would be willing to serve as a pastor in a land where there was either no or very little compensation and survival literally depended on having a garden in the back yard.

When we arrived at the annual conference session in the city of Kananga we were greeted by a large crowd of United Methodist people who sang joyfully and played drums that were shaped like a thin, bowed suitcase with holes on either side. The drum was similar to a steel drum that made a variety of tones as well as percussive sounds. We attended a special ceremony in which Bishop Yemba was honored and we guests were officially recognized and welcomed. Each district presented the bishop with a gift and each gift had symbolism that speaks to the heart of the meaning of Christian leadership.

Eagle Claw I was a bit shocked to see them hand to the bishop a large, severed claw of a dead eagle. The presenter said that the eagle was a symbol of a king, as the eagle was the king of all birds. Leadership involves power, speed and the ability to rise above and see the big picture.

Bird This was a carved wooden bird and not a real bird, the first of many fine and intricate carvings we saw during our trip. The presenter explained that the bird was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is the source of power for the work of ministry and the direction for all of life.

Civet This was an animal, about the size of a house cat, that I had never seen before. A civet looks like a cross between a miniature leopard and a weasel. This creature was stuffed but appeared very life-like with shiny eyes and whiskers. The presenter explained that the civet is a tenacious creature that always finds a way to overcome obstacles by climbing over top of them. Leadership involves moving forward in the midst of adversity.

Machete The presenter of the machete explained that leaders need to cut away what is superfluous in ministry in order to keep the main thing, the main thing. The ability to prioritize and eliminate the less-important agendas is a vitally important skill for effective leaders.

Chairs The bishop received two chairs that look much like the American plastic lawn chairs that Walmart sells. These plastic chairs were everywhere in the Congo and usually were blue and had French words embedded on the back. They typically said things like “God bless you” or “I love you.” The presenter explained that a leader must have the gift of hospitality in order to bless people and show the welcome of God to all.

In those short minutes of presentation I received an insightful lesson on leadership that applies not only to bishops but to pastors and lay people alike. As you begin this fall season with all of its newness and agenda seek to be the leaders of the church! How do we do this? By depending on the Spirit of God for power and direction, by keeping an eye on the big picture of ministry and not just the day to day tasks, by overcoming obstacles and never giving up, by keenly prioritizing ministries and by exemplifying the welcoming heart of Christ’s hospitality.

It is also my prayer that we will continue to support this partnership in both conferences and find ways to resource our sisters and brothers in the Congo for years to come. Check it out on the website