Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Call to Prayer

Grace and peace to you from The Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to you after hearing the terrible news about yet another mass shooting in which lives of many young people were lost.  It is impossible to imagine the trauma that this act of violence has caused.  I call all of you to a time of prayer for the people affected by this tragedy and for this world of ours that often turns to violence as a response to anger and pain.  May we be instruments of peace.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Will the World Come to an End on December 21st?

We have heard for some time now that the ancient Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012 and some have speculated that perhaps this is a prophesy that the world will come to an end on that day.  This would not be all that unfamiliar.  People have been predicting the “end of the world” for centuries.  I remember when the calendar turned to January 1, 2000 there was some thought that this would be the end.  A number of religious groups regularly give dates for the last day or the day of the Lord’s final coming.

The truth is we do not know when the world will come to an end.  The Bible is clear about this (Mark 13:21) but we do know that the scriptures say there will be a coming day when God will make all things right.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more pain or crying or war (Revelation 21:4).

During this week when we have experienced a terrible shooting incident at an elementary school and where globally wars are escalating and human suffering is great one can only hope for that day to come soon.  December 21st would be fine with me.  However, I suspect that God will give this world more time, more time to get it right, more time to win more souls for Christ, more time to make amends for our faults and failures, more time to do good.

With the time we have left in this world, let us resolve to follow the words of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you ever can.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hymn of Praise for Thanksgiving from Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

On this Thanksgiving week I give thanks to God for all of you and the amazing ministries that are happening here in the Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware Conference.  May you continue to draw strength from our amazing God, who provides us with all things needed for the work.  Here is a new hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (which can be sung to the tune of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The Text is Copyright 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  All rights reserved.  This is being used by permission.  For further use of this hymn you can e-mail  bcgillette@comcast.net)   For other hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette check out her website at www.carolynshymns.com.

All of life is filled with wonder, so we thank you, God of love
For the crash of evening thunder, clearing clouds, then stars above
For the night that turns to glowing as we feel the morning mist,
God, we praise and thank you, knowing every day we’re truly blessed.

For the joy of daily waking, for the gift of each new day,
For the smell of fresh bread baking, for the sound of children’s play,
For the ways we seek to serve you as we work and volunteer,
God we humbly praise and thank you for your presence with us here.

For the ways we’re blessed with plenty – love and laughter, neighbors, friends,
Nature’s wonders, seasons’ bounty, life in you that never ends.
For the ones who’ve gone before us, giving witness to your way
We rejoice in all you give us every moment, every day.

For your love in times of trouble, for your peace when things are tough,
For your help when hardships double, for your grace that is enough.
For a stranger’s gentle kindness, for a doctor’s healing skill
God, we thank you that you bless us and you bless your world as well.

For the baby in the manger, for the cross and empty tomb,
For each time a searching stranger finds at church a welcome home
For your kingdom’s great surprises - poor ones lifted, lost ones found
God, we thank you! Hope still rises, for your gifts of grace abound.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thank a Vet

On this Veteran’s Day weekend we pause to thank the veterans of our armed services for their sacrifices made for their country.  We remember the families of veterans who serve in their own way as they support their loved one in the service.  We also need to give thanks for countless people who gave their lives in defense of freedom.  Be sure to thank those veterans that you know and meet on the street.
Veteran’s Day was originally known as “Armistice Day” and was established as a day to remember the end of World War I (November 11, 1918).   It was changed to “Veteran’s Day” in 1954 and was broadened to remember all those who served their country in all conflicts.  The word “Armistice” means “a temporary cessation of fighting by mutual agreement or a truce.”  (“The Free Dictionary” by Farlex)  The word literally means “arms stand still.” I am struck by the “temporary cessation” part.  War seems to be inevitable on this earth.  At the end of WW I people thought that was the war to end all wars. Sadly that was not true.  Wars rage on the earth constantly on almost every continent.  For arms to “stand still” takes an act of agreement that in my opinion is harder to come by than by military means. 
United Methodists believe that war is “incompatible with the teachings and example of Jesus” (Social Principles, Paragraph 165.C) and as followers of Christ we are called to the work of “armistice” that is, putting down arms through the difficult work of peace-making.  The Social Principles “insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them.”  
So on this day we honor those who strove to do this as they served in our military forces and we also need to observe this day by personally making a commitment to the work of peace-making in this world.  As the song goes “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Election 2012

In just a few weeks we will be voting for a president in the general election.   We are bombarded with election coverage in the news media and on social networks.  The debates, the paid advertisements, the commentaries, the radio talk show drama, it all adds up to American politics.  What did John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement have to say about elections?  

Quoting from his journal on October 6, 1774:  “I met those of our society who were voting in the ensuing election and advised them:  1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy;  2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; And, 3. To take care that their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

What great advice!  Let it be so for the sons and daughters of John Wesley today.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

On October 7, 1972 I accepted Christ as my savior.  I had grown up in the church and participated fully in every aspect of Sunday School, choir and youth group.  I was baptized at the age of 4 months and confirmed at the age of 12 but I did not really know Jesus as my personal savior.  I knew him as the main character in many wonderful Bible stories.  I felt bad about the crucifixion as it seemed like a bad thing to have happened to a nice person like Jesus, but I did not connect the cross of Christ to the sins of my life and my need for Christ’s death as the way of salvation.

I went off to Lebanon Valley College at the age of 17 and met a group of Christians there.  I could see that Jesus was the center of their life and that they actually had a living relationship with the Spirit of Christ that was in them.  I contrasted that to my life and it was clearly different for me.  Through my relationship with these campus Christians, my own peers, that I came to understand about Jesus’ death on the cross as the way forgiveness and that I was in need of that saving grace.  I accepted Christ and that was the point where I made the decision to live for Jesus.  Christianity means being a “little Christ” out in the world.  Exchanging your life for Christ is at the center of salvation.

Still today relationship is everything.  Our world is obsessed with cell phones, pagers, Facebook and e-mail.  We are starved as a culture for connections and relationship.  It is that relationship with Jesus that truly satisfies and puts all other relationships in context.

William Barclay once wrote: “Christianity does not mean knowing about Christ, it means knowing Christ and to do that requires not earthly wisdom, but heavenly grace.”   It is the “old, old story of Jesus and his love” that we need to continue to tell the world.  By our loving relationships with people we model Christ’s love.  That draws people to Christ.  We don’t talk people into salvation by head knowledge or skilled apologetics.  We build relationships that nurture people into an understanding of Jesus’ love through our witness.

Who does Christ want you to lead to him?  We do it one person at a time.  It comes by taking time to be with people in relationship and being sure that our witness is genuine and our lives are a model of Christian grace and patience.

**Learn more in our Evangelism and Faith Sharing Training event with Dr. Eddie Fox on Saturday, November 3 at Bethany UMC in Allentown:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dialogue on Homosexuality

Homosexual Dialogue – September 22nd:  Dialogue - not debate

On September 22nd  the first of three “Dialogues on Homosexuality” was held at Gretna Glen Camp.  During this event there was conversation about the paragraphs in the United Methodist Discipline that state that homosexuality is contrary to Christian teaching,  that self-avowed practicing homosexuals are banned from ordination, and that no pastor is allowed to perform same-sex holy unions.

About 80 people came to this gathering which was co-sponsored by the Reconciling Ministries of EPA and the Evangelical Connection of EPA.  Dr. Karin Walker, a District Superintendent from the Baltimore-Washington Conference was the facilitator.  Dr. Walker had led an initiative in the Baltimore-Washington Conference in the past that brought people together on this issue for conversation and learning.

The process involved an introduction to the idea of dialogue rather than debate and to have conversations where people can hear each other’s hearts.  A 60-minute video which was produced by the Reconciling and Evangelical committees was shown.  The video consisted of a  prepared  15-minute position talk and 3 five-minute testimonies of people who either were homosexual  in orientation or who had been and transitioned to a straight lifestyle.  The video was shown with each piece alternating from one perspective to the other.  A broad sweep of Biblical, social, interpersonal, and societal issues were covered in the video.  Some of the personal testimonies were tearful and all of them were compelling and well-prepared.

After the video and a short break the group broke into groups of about 8 people and the group shared their hearts around what they heard in the video and where there was common ground.  Following the small group discussion there was a wrap-up session.  The response to this event was overwhelmingly positive.  Everyone agreed that holy conferencing around difficult issues is possible when we listen to one another.

There will still be two other events: Saturday, October 6th (9 am – 1 pm at St. Matthews UMC in Valley Forge) and Saturday, November 17th (9 am – 1 pm at Solebury UMC in Newtown).  To register go to the EPA website: https://www.epaumc.org/news/stories/dialogues-on-homosexuality-sign-up.  Each event is identical and everyone is welcome.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

ID Laws that Prevent People from Voting in the November Election

The United Methodist Women are concerned about Pennsylvania and other states seeking to disenfranchise many voters by the new law that requires an identification card.  Gladys Hubbard, a member of Tioga United Methodist Church in Philadelphia and a part of the National United Methodist Women, gave a presentation at a meeting recently in Nashville and was able to obtain the full support of the UMW to mobilize and to help with this issue.
            In the United States we have a history of struggling over who has the right to vote.  Victories in the past have been won through intense mobilization. Yet today we are seeing a new push to disenfranchise many people through state laws that create multiple hurdles for registering and voting, as well as challenges to the Voting Rights Act itself!
            In this election the United Methodist Women believe it is urgent that we defend our democracy and help everyone have the chance to cast a ballot. This is a role that United Methodist Women have played for decades and their call to action is needed now more than ever.
            In a UMW Action Alert “Suppression of Voting Rights: A threat to Democracy” we are alerted:  “A new surge of state voter ID laws disproportionately impact seniors, students, and peoples of color.  About 11% of eligible Americans (21 million) do not have state-issued photo Ids, including 15% of low income voters, 18 % of young eligible voters, 18% of seniors and 25% of African Americans according to The Nation.  13 million adults do not have access to proof of citizenship, which will hinder their efforts to obtain a photo ID.”
            I ask you to get involved.  Be sure that you are registered and if you have moved recently be sure you have transferred your registration.  Join with others such as the NAACP and “Rock the Vote” to help register new voters.  Make sure you are still eligible to vote. New ID rules, purges of voting lists and other changes in some states may affect your ability to vote.  Do not wait until Election Day.  Make sure you have the required ID if necessary, and that your name is still on the rolls.  Find out if early voting laws have changed in your area.  If you are unable to get to the polls find someone who can assist you or apply early for an absentee ballot.
            Stay informed and stay connected.  Visit the UMW “Living the Charter for Racial Justice” online community for news and more information regarding Voting Rights 2012: http://racial-justice.umwonline.net. See the VOTE section on the UMW website home page (upper right corner):www.unitedmethodistwomen.org.  Join the UMW Facebook community:http://www.facebook.com/UMWomen.
        With less than 80 days left before the November election, there is no time to waste.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reassigned to the Philadelphia Area

Grace and peace to you from the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to tell you how happy I am that I have been reappointed to serve as the bishop of the Eastern PA Conference and the Peninsula-Delaware Conference for another four years.  This was decided last week (July 16-20) at the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference of the United Methodist Church that was held in Charleston, WV.  My thanks to the area delegates who faithfully attended this conference and represented us well.   Dr. Mary White, Rev. Jim Todd, Rev. Dr. Sandra Steiner Ball, Mr. Demetrio Beach were the heads of the delegations for our 2012 conference season.  Rev. Michele Wright Bartlow, Ms. Judy Ehninger, Rev. Derrick Porter and Mr. Kevin Goodwin represented us at the NEJ Episcopacy Committee, where the bishop assignments were made.  I have been blessed to serve this area with so many great servants of God!

We are thrilled and joyful over the election of Rev. Dr. Sandra Steiner Ball to the Episcopacy and pray for her and her family as she moves to the West Virginia Annual Conference on September 1, 2012. Her many gifts for ministry and her leadership skills will be a wonderful asset to the United Methodist Church there.

I am looking forward to serving this area for another 4 years and will strive to build on the relationships and the programs that have already been developed.  I have enjoyed getting to know you and visiting your wonderful ministries.  I have deep respect for the many faithful pastors and lay people who give sacrificially of their time and talent and treasure to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities.  I am encouraged by the growth in our diversity and spirituality.

I am happy to receive any suggestions for improvements and any other ideas you have for me as I begin a new quadrennium with you.  I see our work together as a partnership and I value your input and support.  My email address is bshpajohnson@aol.com and the office number is 610-666-1442 or 800-828-0933.

So what is my personal goal for this area for the next 4 years?  Body work!  I shared with the delegates and friends of the area who gathered in Charleston on Friday morning that I hope we will become more and more like magpies and less like robins in the years to come.  In the book:  The Power of Positive Deviance  by Pascale, Sternin and Sternin they describe the characteristics of these two birds. Robins are territorial, live in isolation and vocalize in order to maintain their territory.  Magpies, on the other hand work together, nesting in large groups on cold nights, teaming up to drive out predators, assisting young parent birds with the nestlings and using their collective strength to lift garbage can lids.  As a result these birds are able to make considerable progress in their ability to thrive and grow as a species.  Let’s be more like magpies in our conference life as we work together in unity with one another!

We as the Body of Christ can achieve great things this way.  The connectional system of our denomination has shown us again and again the power of collaboration.  New people are reached for Christ, the needs of the poor are met, killer diseases are alleviated, new churches and faith communities are developed.  It only works when we work as a unified body.  This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said: “Speak the truth in love and grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part if working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Finally I ask for your prayers and I covenant to continue to pray for you.  May God bless you richly in the years to come and thank you for the awesome privilege that my husband Michael and I have to be here among you.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Election and assignment of bishops at NEJ Conference

Grace and peace to you from the Lord Jesus Christ!  I hope that you are finding some time of rest during this summer season but in all things may you keep the lamp of the Good News of Christ burning for all to see.  Even in difficult times we are called to continue the work of our ministry and never give up.  People who do white-water rafting say that when the water gets roughest the most important thing you can do is to keep paddling.  If you stop paddling and hold on to the sides you will lose control of the raft and it will turn upside down.  Keep paddling when money is scarce, keep paddling when your best efforts result in less than enthusiastic results, keep paddling because God will use your ministry for good in this world; good that we may never see in this life.

I want to let you know that next week (July 16-20, 2012) the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference (www.nejumc.org) will be held in Charleston, WV.   Delegates from every United Methodist Conference will be gathering there for the holy work of worshiping God, electing bishops, electing officers, establishing the budget and carrying on the important structural and organizational work of the United Methodist Church.  I ask that you pray for this important meeting.  I especially ask that you pray for the three pastors from the Philadelphia Area who have been lifted up as possible candidates for the episcopacy:  Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto, Rev. Dr. Christopher  Kurien and Rev. Dr. Sandra Steiner-Ball.  Pray for our delegations as they conduct the interviews and discern God’s will for these elections.  There will be three new bishops elected and all bishops will be assigned to their episcopal areas at this meeting. Three bishops who are retiring will be honored as well: Bishop Ernest Lyght, Bishop Jane Middleton, and Bishop Peter Weaver.

One final word about bishops:  I give thanks for the life of Bishop Leontine T. C. Kelly, who passed away on June 28, 2012 at the age of 92.  Bishop Kelly was the first African American woman bishop in a major Christian denomination.  She was elected in 1984 and served in the Western Jurisdiction as the bishop of the California-Nevada Annual Conference.  She was a social and political activist as well as a spiritual leader.  Bishop Kelly has cast a bright light for many to follow in her footsteps and she “kept paddling” when the voices of racism and sexism tried to stop her from fulfilling her calling.  May our elections next week be informed by a desire to elect more bishops with her character and strength.  May all of us work to widen the circle of inclusion and giftedness as we serve Christ, lay and clergy alike.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I am Thankful

I am thankful for the many wonderful ministries that are happening in the Philadelphia Area. 

A surgery team just arrived home from the Congo.  This group of hearty people brought an eye surgeon with them and they were able to perform many cataract surgeries giving sight to people who otherwise would have no hope.  

One of our pastors was called by the police this week to help coax a man off of a bridge who was about to commit suicide.  The suicidal man asked for that pastor to come because he and his church were the only people who had ever reached out to him.  With this intervention many lives were saved.

Another pastor went to the Hell’s Angels Biker convention recently and ministered one-on-one to bikers and shared about the love of Jesus.  He explained to them the Word of God in ways that they could understand. 

Another church is supporting a ministry in South Africa and they are purchasing a vehicle to enhance this life-giving ministry of hope.

Another church raised $6,000 for “Imagine No Malaria” in a “Beat the Bug” event. 

Every day I hear of good things that are happening in the name of Jesus Christ in the Philadelphia Area.  I thank God for every remembrance of you!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month.  Many of our church families are involved in the foster care system and it provides an important service to children and youth that promotes a healthy nation. In his Presidential Proclamation our nation’s leader, President Obama says “Half a million children and youth are in foster care in America, all entering the system through no fault of their own.  During National Foster Care Month we recognize the promise of children, and youth in foster care as well as former foster youth.  We also celebrate the professionals and foster parents who demonstrate the depth and kindness of the human heart.”

I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about it, to study further the possibility of becoming foster care providers.  The need is greater than ever, especially when it comes to foster care for special needs young people.  If you don’t have foster care in your life you can always be supportive of those who do.  Foster care can be especially stressful at times and moments of respite, appreciation and monetary support can mean the world to these families.

In a Biblical sense we are all in foster care, adopted by God when we were once far from home.  As I Peter 1:10 says “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”   God has received us into his family through grace that was provided by the blood of Jesus on the cross.  That grace calls us to receive others in like manner with hospitality and love.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thoughts about Guaranteed Appointment

Grace and peace to you from the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am sure that many of you have heard reports from General Conference that a vote was taken that would eliminate what is known as “guaranteed appointment” for elders, provisional elders and associate members.  Along with it there were two added paragraphs that monitor appointment-making.  One requires the bishops to establish a task force to develop a list of criteria to guide the cabinet and the bishop as they make missional appointments.  The other paragraph requires an annual reporting of all elders, provisional elders and associate members who have not received a full-time missional appointment with rationale, statistics and learnings that have been gleaned as appointment-making is carried out in a new way.  Also this information will become a part of the evaluation of the bishop by the Committee on Episcopacy at the conference and jurisdictional levels.  This tells me that careful monitoring and criteria are a part of this plan.

What has changed?  In some ways nothing has changed because effectiveness will always be an expectation for our clergy.  When there was a guaranteed appointment pastors were called to effectiveness and still effectiveness is our goal.  We want to make disciples for Jesus Christ and live our lives solely for the work of God’s kingdom.   God is on the journey with us and the Spirit empowers us for the ministry to which we have been called. 

General Conference is still in session and many issues are still to be decided. I plan to come to every district this fall to have further conversations about the changes that will be a part of the 2012 Book of Discipline.   The church is living into a new era and many of our changes will help us to grow and improve as a denomination.  My prayers are with you.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons at General Conference 2012

The Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons at General Conference 2012 was for me one of the highlights of the conference.  At the 2000 General Conference there was a similar service in recognition of the sins of the church against African American people.  This service, in like manner, shines a light on the inhumane, evil and destructive treatment of indigenous people, not only in the United States but around the world by primarily European white people.  People in power used their power to conquer, colonize, and in many cases exterminate people for profit and control.  The worst part about it for me was that the church, and the United Methodist Church and its predecessors even use the spreading of the gospel as a rationale for this behavior.  The language, culture and faith of the indigenous peoples were often rejected and destroyed in favor of a European-centered culture and religion that was far from the teachings of love and tolerance of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. George “Tink” Tinker preached at this service on April 27th and he recounted the numerous atrocities done against the Native Peoples of the earth by people of power.  The Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 was led by a Methodist minister, Colonel John Chivington. He and his soldiers murdered and mutilated over a hundred innocent men, women and children who had already agreed to a peace treaty with the US government.  Rev. Tinker reminded us that there needs to be reconciliation but it cannot come unless there is true repentance.  This is a long and slow process that began at this service at General Conference. The Council of Bishops made a formal apology to the indigenous people and worshipers were invited to come to the center aisle of the worship setting and take a stone from the floor.  The stone is to be taken back as a reminder of our promise to begin to live in better ways with indigenous people and with all people who are different from us.  Only as we show the fruits of repentance can reconciliation happen.  True repentance means a change in lifestyle.

A Statement from the Council of Bishops as
We Embark on a Journey Toward
Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples

Today, as the Council of Bishops on behalf of The United Methodist Church, we stop to listen to our own hearts and our own voices. History is not only a body of information stored in archives for reference and study waiting to be mined by scholars and researchers. It is a living, breathing phenomenon that resides in us and among us framing our understanding of ourselves and each other. The history we recall in this moment continues to weigh upon all of us. Together we grieve the history which still weighs upon indigenous people around the world and Native Americans in the United States.

This is not a romance of discovery and the struggle of pioneer life, settlement and tragedy. This is about the violent history of peoples whose families, communities and sovereign nations were destroyed by aggressive powers lusting for their lands, riches and seeking domination at the expense of their own existence. This is a story about the church’s role in cooperating with and entering into collusive relationships with political forces resulting in the killing of Native women, children and men, the removal of Native nations from their homes, forcing them to march long death-defying distances to live on lands unsuitable for habitation, destroying peaceful villages, massacring helpless innocents, stealing tribal lands and resources, breaking sacred treaty agreements, removing children from their homes to imprison them in schools that would steal their heritage to make them “civilized,” and in tragic intentional and inadvertent ways, sharing in and implementing the goals of Native extermination resulting in genocidal policies, programs and actions designed to vanquish, forever, whole Native and indigenous nations and peoples, communities and families from the earth.

For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

“Therefore I will judge you Oh house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezekiel 18:30-31)

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:13-14)

Native Quotes
When one sits in the Hoop of the People, one must be responsible because all of creation is related. And the hurt of one is the hurt of all. And the honor of one is the honor of all. And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.
(Modern version from the Lakota White Buffalo Calf Woman)
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.

And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell, and I understood more than I was, for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”                                                               (Black Elk, Lakota)
“There are many things to be shared with the Four Colors of humanity in our common destiny as one with our Mother the Earth. It is this sharing that must be considered with great care by the Elders and the medicine people who carry the Sacred Trusts, so that no harm may come to people through ignorance and misuse of these powerful forces.”
(Resolution of the Fifth Annual Meetings of the Traditional Elders Circle, 1980)
“How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.”
(Black Hawk, Sauk)

“I live in sorrow imprisoned, You are my Light, Your glory, my support. Behold not with malevolence the sins of man but forgive and cleanse; and so, O Lord, protect us beneath Your wings and let peace be out portion now and forever more. Amen.”
                                              (Queen Lili’uokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii,
                                                  composed as a prayer, March 22, 1895, while she was under
                                                  house arrest in her palace in Honolulu.)

Statement of Repentance
As the Council of Bishops, we are here to repent and express remorse for the church’s past conduct in its relationships with Native and indigenous peoples in all the places where we have extended the mission of the church for over two hundred years. We are here to commit ourselves to addressing the wrong and asking for the forgiveness of those who have been wronged by failing them so profoundly. We confess to God, acknowledging our guilt, resolving to cease the harm, pledging ourselves to live differently, reversing the damage that has been done through our participation in violence, maltreatment and neglect of Native and indigenous peoples so that we may bring about healing and restoration to all.

It is time to free captive Native and indigenous peoples from institutional church oppression and learn from them spiritual values that will see us through our own current spiritual emergencies, save our embattled earth and enable humankind to live as one with creation and all living creatures within it—including ourselves. The question is whether the church is strong enough to bring about change in the United States and around the world where indigenous peoples have been decimated, assimilated, abused, and left victims of dominant Western economies and the imposition of oppressive materialistic cultural values. Our work in healing broken relationships must be specific, actionable and accountable. Morally, it must be part of our denomination’s discourse, programming and policies.

To our Native and indigenous brothers and sisters we say:  We have destroyed your way of life, dehumanized your people and degraded your cultures, along with your dreams, your peace and your great love for the land. We acknowledge the pain of your nation peoples and our sinful behavior in these events. We know that past history has been filled with violence against you. We have confiscated your land. We have recklessly destroyed your cultures. Today we acknowledge that all this is not in the past. Assaults continue on your cultures, continuing the historic patterns of abuse, the demeaning of your spirituality, the questioning of your leadership, the neglecting of the critical issues of hunger, health, employment, and sovereignty. We must not yield to historical amnesia. We pray to God to give us a new heart and a new spirit through Jesus Christ, who breaks down the dividing walls of hostility, so that  we may truly repent of our grave sins, petition for forgiveness, and work towards healing.

The Future
The Council of Bishops will:
            • Affirm commitment to empowering the presence of Native and indigenous people in the life
   of the denomination.
            • Support Native American Ministries Sunday in U.S. annual conferences.
            • Strengthen Committees on Native American Ministries (CONAM) in the U.S. and Native
   ministries in the central conferences.
            • Support General Advances and church-wide funding for Native ministries.
            • Commit ourselves to the development of new Native and indigenous ministries and
   strengthen our support for existing community entities.
            • Create a theological statement that demonstrates a respect for the diversity of theology and
   ecclesiology that is found in the context of Native and Indigenous ministries.
            • Commit to host Acts of Repentance in annual conferences.
            • Commit to developing relationships of mutuality with Native peoples in local contexts.
            • Initiate programs of education for non-Native people about why the Act of Repentance
   is important.
In partnership with Native ministry leaders and resource people throughout the Connection, the Council of Bishops will support:
            • Developing new Native and indigenous leaders across the Connection including an
   increased number of people nurtured for service in congregational, annual conference,
   jurisdictional and central conference, and general church ministries, including
   the episcopacy.
            • Intiating a plan of advocacy related to land and treaty rights, support for tribal sovereignty
   and cultural preservation; better health care and education for Native people and the safety
   of Native and indigenous women.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Week Prayers

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to say that I am holding our churches, pastors, and laity in prayer as we enter Holy Week.  May God use you to do the work of reconciliation and peace-making in this divided world.  Christ gave his life to reconcile us to God and he calls us to a ministry of reconciliation.  Join me in prayer for healing where people are divided.  In Jesus’ last prayer to us he said:  “I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me.  I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me.  I also want them to be one with us.” (John17:20-21)  May we strive to be one with Christ and those in the household of God.  It is truly a sign of the Resurrection power of God when we live in unity.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Racism is Alive and Well

On February 26th a 17 year old African American young person was shot and killed in Florida by a Neighborhood Crime Watch community worker in what appeared to be an unprovoked encounter.  The assailant, Mr. Zimmerman said it was an act of self-defense in accord with the Florida state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.  This law gives people the right to kill others who they perceive are threatening them.  The circumstances around this incident, the lack of police reporting, the tapes of the 911 call just before the shooting, the time lapse before this received national attention all indicate to me that racial profiling and a serious breach of justice has occurred.  The investigation continues and the man who killed the honor student high school junior has not been arrested.  Truly the world needs to study the ramifications of this law and how it can result in the death of innocent people.  There is no peace until there is justice.
How do we respond to such a horrific crime?  We look at our laws and see where they are permissive in ways that give people dangerous rights.  We study our communities and see where there are racial tensions among people and begin dialogues and conversations.  We need to examine our hearts and see where we are in our journey of racial inclusivity. What attitudes do we need to change and how can we personally speak out against injustice?

Monday, March 5, 2012

United Methodist Position on Birth Control and Abortion

With regards to birth control The United Methodist Church in the Book of Resolutions  (Resolution 2026) states:

“Each couple has the right and duty prayerfully and responsively to control conception according to their circumstances.  They are, in our view free to use those means of birth control considered medically safe.  As developing technologies have moved conception and reproduction more and more out of the category of a chance happening and more closely to the realm of responsible choice, the decision whether or not to give birth to children must include acceptance of the responsibility to provide for their mental, physical and spiritual growth as well as consideration of the possible effect on quality of life for family and society. 

We therefore encourage our churches and common society to make information and materials available so all can exercise responsible choice in the area of conception controls.  We support the free flow of information about reputable, effective and safe non-prescription contraceptive techniques through educational programs and through periodicals, radio, television and other advertising media.  We support adequate public funding and increased participation in family planning services by public and private agencies, including church-related institutions, with the goal of making such services accessible to all, regardless of economic status or geographic location.”

Our position on abortion can be found in our “Social Principles” in the Book of Discipline (paragraph 161j).

“The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence.  While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born.  Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.
We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life what may justify abortion and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.  We support parental, guardian or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions are be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood.  We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control and we unconditionally reject is as a means of gender selection.
We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.  Before providing their services, abortion providers should be required to offer women the option of anesthesia. 
We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause them to consider abortion. The church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies.  We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy and to those who give birth.

We particularly encourage the Church, the government and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption.  We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.
Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved with medical, family, pastoral and other appropriate counsel.”

These statements represent a balanced and prayerful response to issues that divide people in many ways, not only in the church but in society at large.  The over-arching theme is prayer and careful discernment.  I believe it is important for our churches to regularly study our church’s stand on our many social issues and prayerfully discuss God’s plan for us as we are a witness to the world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Greatest Love

The sudden and sad passing of singer Whitney Houston reminded me of her first hit song in 1985 “The Greatest Love.”  The point of the song was “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”   The song was about self-esteem that carries us through hard times in life.  On this Valentine’s Day 2012 I would suggest that learning to love yourself is often a challenge for us.  The Bible teaches that we are to love our neighbor as our self.  That almost assumes that love of self is unquestionable.  But, is it?  Many people spend their lives feeling unworthy, not-good-enough, or unlovable.
The source of true love is God.  God is our creator and giver of every good gift.  As we experience the unconditional love of God we are able to truly love ourselves and others too.  We can help people love themselves by demonstrating the love of God in big and small ways.  We become mirrors of God’s image in every act of kindness and justice.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thanks to Bishop Lyght

I am very appreciative of the ministry of Bishop Lyght as a bishop of the Northeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.  In December of this past year he chose to retire early for health reasons. His formal retirement will be celebrated at the NEJ meeting in July 2012 in Charleston, WV, where he has served as the bishop for the past 8 years.  He is doing well and residing in New Jersey along with his wife, Eleanor.  The Peninsula Delaware Conference is proud that he grew up in Princess Anne where his father was the pastor.  Many in both Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences have had associations with him through the years of his distinguished leadership among us.  He also was the bishop of the New York Annual Conference for 8 years and gave important leadership to the nation during the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Bishop Lyght was the bishop who presided over my consecration as a bishop in July of 2008 just after my election.  I felt that his prayers for me were especially meaningful as I launched out on this new ministry.  Please take the time to view the YouTube presentation that is included in this blog that expresses in his own words Bishop Lyght’s insights on ministry and mission in the United Methodist Church.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPNT7rkwJ4o&feature=youtu.be

Follow his good advice and we will truly be doing ministry that reflects the heart of Christ.
Thank God for Bishop Lyght.  He has and will continue to be a light for us all.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Black History Month 2012

During Black History month we pause to remember the great impact of African American leaders in this country.  In December I received a Christmas card from Kenyon and Betty Camper who are members of the Ezion-Mt. Carmel UMC in Wilmington.  The Christmas greeting was a picture of a statue of Louis L. Redding and the inscription read: “Pioneer in the struggle for equality and tireless advocate in civil rights cases of national significance.”  This was indeed a unique Christmas greeting and an appropriate one as Christ came to earth to bring equality to all people and as his followers we strive to walk in that path always, not only at Christmas time.
I did a little research (“Diamonds of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore: Seven Black Men of Distinction” by James E. Newton and Harmon Carey) and found that Louis Redding spent most of his life in Wilmington, DE.  He graduated from Howard High School, Brown University and Harvard Law School.  He was not only the first African American lawyer in the State of Delaware, he was a respected civil rights leader for the entire nation.  He was part of the NAACP legal team that challenged the school segregation policies in the Brown vs. the Board of Education case that was heard in the U. S. Supreme Court.  Prior to that, “Lawyer Redding” (as he was called), brought a case before the Chancery Court against the University of Delaware, which did not allow black students (Parker vs. the University of Delaware).  He won the case and the University of Delaware became the first state-funded undergraduate institution in the country to desegregate by court order.  He also successfully challenged other discrimination cases that involved housing, employment and public accommodations. 
The United Methodist Church celebrates two kinds of holiness: personal and social.  Social holiness is concerned with the rights and dignity of all people.  May we take a page out of the book of the life of Louis L Redding and work for the rights of people where we live, work and worship.  In that way we truly celebrate Black History Month with integrity.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


This week I attended an interfaith women’s conference in Philadelphia where I was asked to talk about God’s creation.  In my talk I related a personal experience with a disability.  I was asked to post my testimony:
It was the summer of 1976.  The elders laid hands on me, there were at least ten of them, all praying fervently and asking God to heal me.   It was a hot, humid mid-summer night and swamp frogs outside were making croaking noises that seemed to mix with the many prayers in a peculiar chorus.  After a very long prayer they slowly lifted their many hands from my head and I was still blind in my left eye.  I came into this healing tent during this weekend camp revival with some friends and we asked to be healed. 
We were in our early twenties. There were six of us, newly graduated from college, full of life and full of our faith in the power of God.  We were part of the same Bible Study group that met on Friday evenings at a United Methodist Church.  We heard about this camp meeting in Western Pennsylvania on the Christian radio station and it seemed like a wonderful event. Christians camping together on a large farm out in the middle of nowhere! It would be like a sanctified version of Woodstock, the infamous hippie rock festival of the late sixties.  A makeshift stage featured daily worship services, Christian rock concerts and heart-warming testimonies about the miraculous works of God.  Former drug addicts and members of motor cycle gangs spoke of their evil lives that had been transformed by God's amazing grace.  There was a pond on this farm where new believers could be baptized by immersion and there was a healing tent where the elders prayed for people to be healed of every kind of infirmity.
Three of us from this group of six had physical handicaps.  My friend Stu was extremely myopic and wore glasses that looked like the bottom of a coke bottle.  My friend Arlene had polio as a child and she still wore a back brace.  I was born with an under-developed left eye and since the age of two I wore a prosthetic eye.  It was a plastic shell that covered the blind eye so that I looked reasonably normal.  The three of us decided to go to the healing tent for prayer.
The elders in the tent told everyone who wanted to be healed to come forward and to surrender those things that they depended upon for mobility or assistance as a sign of faith.  On the altar were crutches that a man no longer needed because his legs had been healed.  There was also a hearing aid left by a woman who was now able to hear.   My friend Stu went forward and clunked down his heavy horn-rimmed glasses on the altar and asked to be healed of his near-sightedness. Arlene put her back brace on the altar and said she wanted to be free of back pain.  But there were audible gasps when I went forward and plucked out my plastic eye and laid it on the altar. "I would like to see in my left eye" I said. The elders seemed a bit shaken and they went into the back room to prepare for this healing service.
When they came back in they prayed for Stu, Arlene and me individually but they prayed the longest and the hardest for me.  When the service was ended none of us were physically healed. One of the elders said that it was because we did not have enough faith.  "Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word" he said, quoting the Apostle Paul from Romans 10.  He encouraged us to read our Bibles more.  I wondered greatly at that line of reasoning.  Another elder said that God may yet heal us and that we should leave our things on the altar and that would be a sign of our faith that we would yet be healed. 
"Now they were going over the line," I thought.  I ventured a glance over at Arlene and Stu but they were shaking their heads "yes" to the elder who had made the suggestion. I was not buying into this. Maybe it was vanity, maybe it was a lack of faith, maybe it was a moment of common sense, but I marched up to that altar, took my little plastic eye and popped it back in. Every real eye was on me as I walked down the center aisle and proceeded out of the tent. I drew a deep breath of relief as I escaped into the dark, dark country night with the smell of grass and hay and a canopy of a thousand bright stars over my head.  The stars looked all the brighter because we were so far from any city lights.
I wondered "Why didn't God heal me?"  I stared at the glittery light show for a long time.  I got no answer. 
The Christian camping festival ended with a closing worship service on the hill later that night.  Everyone was given a small white candle and we lit them by passing the light to one another.  The speaker on the makeshift stage encouraged us to shine the light of Jesus in the world.  "Surely," I thought, "there must be a reason why I was born with one eye."
The next morning the six of us packed up our tent and duffle bags and prepared to drive home.  As we worked no one talked very much. No one wanted to talk about the topic that was on everyone's mind: the healing service the night before. To talk about it would mean one of two things: we unhealed ones did not have enough faith or God was not able or worse, unwilling to heal us. And then there was the other theological issue about leaving the things on the altar.  Stu left his thick glasses and Arlene left her back brace as a sign of faith. Was I the faithless one because I took back my plastic eye?  And there was the practical issue about the 5 hour drive home to Baltimore.  Stu, without his glasses was legally blind.  Arlene, without her back brace could not sit up.  Since there were two cars it fell to me, in my old Dodge Dart, to be the sole driver with Arlene and Stu in my car.  It was a very quiet ride through the Pennsylvania turnpike and home to Baltimore.
Fast forward three years and I began to sense a call that God wanted me to become a pastor, to shine that light of Jesus by shepherding a flock of people and leading the life and ministry of a local church.  But the call was even more specific than that. God called me to work with deaf people, people who could not hear and used sign language for communication, people who the world often marginalized, people, who sadly the church, for the most part, did not understand.  I began to realize that being half blind was a part of my call into this work.  I could identify with being born not quite right.  I met deaf people for the first time at a conference where there was a Deaf choir signing.  It was love at first sight.  I knew this was what I was supposed to do with my life.  It took ten years, many sign language classes, a seminary degree, two ordinations and a lot of hard knocks but I eventually found myself pastoring a Deaf congregation in Baltimore.              

Everyone knew sign language there and no one wanted to be healed.  They had their healing.  Their sign language was their marvelous and very sufficient access to knowledge and life.  Their community was their place of sweet relief from a world that gave them little intimacy and acceptance.  Sadly the hearing world's church was often a place where Deaf people found rejection and misunderstanding.  That was because of this issue of healing.
As surely as the sun, God heals people from many sicknesses.  Just as surely I believe God allows, even ordains some people to be deaf or blind or whatever for a reason only known to God. A disability can be a holy gift, as unique as a fingerprint, as much of a gift as traditional skills that we value such as intellect, imagination, or athletic ability. 
With the disability comes a sensitivity to one's humanity and a sympathetic heart for those who walk the same road.  Tenacity and resourcefulness is developed when one has faced obstacles and rejections. People with disabilities often know the real meaning of our inter-connectedness on this planet and how to truly trust one another for survival.  Being physically and mentally able, being bright and talented is a blessing. Being disabled has gifts that are just as blessed, yet the majority of people in the world don’t realize this.  People with disabilities are overlooked and undervalued much of the time.  Instead of seeking the gift in our infirmity we often hurry to doctors and medicines and healing services and although that can be the right thing to do, it might be right to accept a disability and use it as an ability in a new and wondrous way.
Healing can come when people seek accommodations such as sign language for communication or elevators or ramps for mobility or Braille in place of written text.  Where physical barriers are removed by accessibility then where is the disability?  It is gone.  Harder to accommodate are hearts and attitudes that won't provide the access or fear of the different ones.  When accessible hearts are present there are always funds for ramps and interpreters and large print books. 
Healing can come when community gathers and supports one another in love and caring.  Healing can come when a mother will learn sign language in order to communicate with her deaf child.  Healing can come when a baby born with one eye grows up and finds a calling in disability ministry.  

Monday, January 16, 2012


On this  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2012 I read once again his speech “I Have a Dream.”  It will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of people around the world.   Dr. King’s talk included all areas of social justice, not only racial equality.  On that immortal day at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 King called for a day when “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able of join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro Spiritual ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’” This is what Jesus was trying to teach us as well.

The Sunday after Dr. King was assassinated he was to deliver a sermon entitled “Why America May Go to Hell.”   The main point of his sermon was “if America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.”    He was working on this sermon just before he was killed.
Dr. King calls us still today to work for racial, cultural, inter-religious, gender and economic equality for all people.  It is so simple, but we make it so hard.  We humans can’t seem to live it because there is this tendency in our hearts toward bigotry, selfishness, and ethnocentricity.  It is easier to hate than to love. 
One of my all-time favorite pop songs is “Hands” by Jewel.   The first line of this song goes like this:  “If I could tell the world just one thing it would be, we’re all OK.”  That would be my dream on this cold winter day.  I dream that everyone would accept everyone who is different and tell them they are “OK.”   I pray we can find ways to build bridges of understanding, forgiveness and collaboration.  Then we will be free at last.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two Years Ago: The Haiti Earthquake

Two years ago today (January 12, 2010) the terrible news came about the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  

Three United Methodist staff from the General Board of Global Ministries were there at the time: Clint Rabb, Sam Dixon and Jim Gulley.  Sadly Clint and Sam died from injuries incurred during the destruction of the earthquake.  Jim Gulley has dedicated much of his ministry to relief work in Haiti ever since.

I am proud to say that the United Methodist Committee on Relief is still working hard in Haiti two years later.  At first they provided emergency relief supplies and recovery efforts.  Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the UMCOR Deputy General Secretary reports that our UM dollars have been providing housing, educational opportunities, community-based health care, employment, and rebuilding capacity for development. The work is far from finished and the UMC will stay there as long as they are needed.

I will be taking some cabinet members from both the Pen Del and the EPA Annual Conferences in September to aid in the construction work that UMCOR has organized.  Teams are needed to work there every week.  Perhaps you and your church might consider sending a team for a week or send funds to help support teams that are working there. 

Two years from now it is my prayer that Haiti will be closer to full restoration and that God’s love can be expressed through our ministry.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Red and Yellow Balloons

Recently the news reported that Iowa City has had an unusually large number of crows flocking to the down-town outdoor mall shopping area.  They seem to be attracted to the warmer city area as the weather gets colder.  The birds are leaving a good bit of waste around and the city has a plan to scare them away.  They put up hundreds of red and yellow balloons around the shopping area with black dots in the middle of the balloons.  This appears to the crows as the eyes of an owl, the natural predator of crows.  So far it has been working and many crows are staying away because of their fear of the deadly owls.  We know, of course that they are just balloons and perhaps if a wise crow would bother to get close enough to one of those balloons they would figure out the same thing.  But the fear factor is enough to keep the birds away and farmers have been doing this for years in their fields with “scarecrows.”
Fear is a big part of our life.  No, we are not easily scared by balloons that look like owls and some of our fears are real and troublesome.  Jesus in fact acknowledged the troubles of the world: “In life you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33).  Many of the things we fear are not ever going to happen.  Many of them appear to be terrible but they can be blessings in disguise or simply red and yellow balloons that we think will harm us.  Worry and fear does not make it better or add a single day to your lifespan. (Matthew 6: 27). 
We have a friend in Jesus.  We can bring all of our fears and worries to Him.  He is with us during all of our trials and will never forsake us.  He says “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and you can too as you trust in Him. 
May your new year be free of fear and may you have the discernment of spirit to see fear for what it is: a bunch of red and yellow balloons designed to take your eyes off of Jesus.