Friday, December 20, 2013

The Duel

Unity in the midst of theological diversity is by far the most difficult task of the church. It is also the most deeply converting witness to the world when people DO get along with one another.  Why else did Jesus pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17) for unity for his followers on the night before his death?  He well knew the power of unity among believers and how humans struggle with it. This is very true at this moment in the United Methodist Church. 

A look at the early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, shows it does not take long for the church to be embroiled in interpersonal angst. It began with the issue of who gets served at the daily distribution of food (Acts 6).  Then Stephen is stoned to death for theological disagreements with the religious leaders of his time (Acts 7). Peter gets into a hot debate with his fellow Christians over Gentile conversions (Acts 11). Similarly, Paul and Barnabas are questioned about the acceptance of Gentiles in something resembling a session of General Conference in Acts 15.  It boils down to “who is IN and who is OUT.” 

The history of humanity is a continuous, unhappy saga of self-centeredness.  None of us are exempt from the sin of believing our people, our beliefs, our way, our spin on things is the right and only way.  Along with this attitude comes criticism of those on the “other” side. 

Now at this time in our denomination's history the practice of homosexuality, the ordination of lesbian and gay pastors and the performing of same-gender weddings are the issues that divide us most.  American society is turning increasingly toward open acceptance as more states issue same-gender marriage licenses, the armed forces have ended their don't ask, don't tell policy, and popular media depicts positive examples of LGTBQ people on a daily basis.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Response to the open letter addressed to me and read during a news conference at Arch Street UMC on December 16

I bid you grace and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ. I appreciate your passion for social justice for all people and your letter of concern specifically on behalf of all LGBT members in the church. I agree that we are in a time of turmoil over differences in opinion and theology with regard to human sexuality.

I ask you to:

  • Intentionally work to build relationships with those, who are Christians like yourself, who believe differently than you do theologically.
  • Acknowledge that there is pain and hurt on both sides of this house. 
  • Pray for God’s grace that we might build bridges of unity and conversation through the power ofthe Holy Spirit. 
  • Acknowledge that a good many statements in our Book of Discipline are positive and nondiscriminatory:  Paragraph 162J – Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.  Paragraph 162-III – We support the basic rights of all people to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious affiliation. Paragraph 161 F - All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. Paragraph 161 F (further states) We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ as loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
  • Acknowledge that the church trial created a great deal of public outcry against the UM position around this social issue. Much positive attention has been given to progressive position as a result of the trial and that some would like to continue to see more trials for that reason.
  • Acknowledge that I am bishop to all and am called to the unconditional love extended to the spectrum of theological perspectives.

Per your request I acknowledge that: 

  • Our LGBT sisters and brothers are of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation(Paragraph 161F) or gender identity.  
  • Several statements in our Book of Discipline are discriminatory (forbidding ordination of homosexual persons, forbidding the performing of same-gender marriages and considering the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching).   There appear to be contradictions between the many affirming statements (mentioned earlier) and these statements. This has led to confusion by many from the outside of the church wondering how we can talk out of two sides of our mouth. 
  • Church trials around the chargeable offenses that relate to the LGTB community are not helpful.
  • They use time, resources, and energy that could be better used for the ministry of the church. I will continue to try in every way, as far as it depends on me, to not have church trials.
  • I will commit to continuing to call the church to its main mission: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, making disciples and transforming the world through the power of the spirit.
Peggy A. Johnson, Bishop

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: Leading the Way to Forgiveness

Former South African President Nelson Mandela is remembered in death, as he was revered in life, for many good  reasons.  He was a bold, courageous leader who made a firm stand against injustice, calling not only his nation toward change and repentance but also the world.  Yet, he was also a wise, loving leader who taught us to forgive. 

“Resentment is like drinking poison," Mandela warned, "and then hoping it will kill our enemies.”  Rather than hold onto self-destructive resentment, he taught us, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner.” 

President Mandela knew from experience that he had to forgive for his own sake.  “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom," he realized, "I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  He observed in his own life, “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.” 

This man of uncommon vision saw how those who sought to harm him and others, instead of listening and showing mercy, failed in all they did.  He knew that to ultimately reach the beautiful future that we all dream of there is a way to get there. 

“Two roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”  Few of us travel those roads, even in the church.  We fail to do good for those who are crying out for justice and mercy; and we do not listen or respond to the cries of the needy. Then too often, we repeat the cycle of ugliness in the world, rather than forgive and show mercy and treat others with justice. 

Nelson Mandela was one of those rare persons who tried to walk on the roads of Goodness and Forgiveness.  He led his people through a time of healing with truth and reconciliation.  Healing is a long process, It was a lifelong struggle for Nelson Mandela, and it will be for us.  But it is a good struggle.

"I am not a saint," admitted the man affectionately known to his people as Madiba, "unless you consider a saint to be someone who fails but keeps on trying." Let us all strive to be saints by that definition, as we wage the good struggle and walk the two good roads where we find his footsteps leading the way.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keeping the Covenant

First I would like to express my thanks for all of those who have been faithful to what they believe, during this difficult time of the church trial.

Keeping the covenant is very important; and when we don’t it weakens the unity of the church. But the covenant is not always kept; and it causes pain to those who feel betrayed.  The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church says that every United Methodist Church shall have a chartered fellowship of United Methodist Men (Paragraph 256.6).  Some pastors and laypersons believe that they can break the covenant and not follow this part of the Discipline.  They feel strongly that they should be free to break the covenant for the sake of their understanding of their local church’s call to ministry.  This action weakens the work of the United Methodist Men and, some believe, also the future of the United Methodist Church.

We also break our covenant when we give lip service to open itinerancy, but then a church refuses to receive their next pastor, who happens to be a woman or someone from a different racial ethnicity or someone who speaks English as a second language.  We break the covenant when we don’t make accommodations for persons with disabilities, who need accessible accommodation in order to participate in the life of the church.  We United Methodists, through our General Conference, say that we are a church that will offer Holy Communion in our worship at least weekly, and every week a person seeking this means of grace should be able to find it at our worship service.  But too often local-church tradition trumps the desires of the General Conference. 

The Bible reminds us that the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. The course we are traveling where we pick and choose those parts of the Discipline we want to keep is problematic. People often get into trouble when they break church law. It is why Martin Luther was excommunicated, John Wesley was shut out of pulpits and Martin Boehm was dismissed from his church for shaking hands with Phillip William Otterbein.  Diversity of opinion is never easy, but no matter what we personally believe, and I hope you believe passionately in what God has revealed to you, we are called to behave like the children of God.  We should not call fire down from heaven on those with whom we disagree.  We are to love the people with whom we disagree because we are on the same journey and that journey is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

We are a divided church, but Christ calls us to unity.  It was his last prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and he knew the power of a united front as the church was born in the world.  We need to get quiet before our God and listen and learn how to love each other like Christians in the face of our diversity.  I am sorry that our United Methodist system of church trials forces us to harm each other and break one of the oldest tenets of our tradition: “Do no harm.”  May we find ways of solving our differences in peace.  May we keep the whole covenant, and the heart of that covenant is Love.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Find Your Own Sand Creek

At a recent meeting of the Northeast Jurisdictional Committee on Native American Ministries at Drew Seminary in Madison, NJ the president, Cynthia Kent charged the group to “find your own Sand Creek.”  Sand Creek was the site of a tragic massacre of Native people in Colorado on November 29,  1864 at the hands of a group of US soldiers, led by a Methodist preacher, Colonel Chivington. This atrocity was one of the events that was mentioned at the “Act of Repentance Toward Healing of Relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” that was an important highlight of the United Methodist General Conference in 2012 in Tampa, Florida.  Next year there will be more moments of remembrance and repentance as the 150th anniversary of this tragedy draws near.
When Cynthia called the people of the NEJ CONAM to “find your own Sand Creek” she was encouraging people to study their own local histories and discover things that happened that people need to remember for the purposes of reconciliation. Only as we revisit history, repent of the wrongs done and do the work of reconciliation can peace happen on this earth.  This is not only with Native American (American Indians, First Nation) people but all those who have suffered at the hands of majority culture people and experienced dehumanization, marginalization, rejection and even violence and death.
According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission there was a heinous crime committed against Native American people in Conestoga, PA in December of 1763.  A group of colonists known as the Paxton Boys (who came from the Harrisburg area) traveled to Conestoga and burned their homes and murdered six Indians.  Those who had not been killed sought refuge in Lancaster where the people of the city locked them in a workhouse, hoping they would be kept safe.  Two weeks later the Paxton Boys hunted them down, broke into the workhouse and murdered 14 more Indian men, women and children.  Early in 1764 this same band from Paxton traveled to Philadelphia in an attempt to kill even more Indians.  Historians tell us that Benjamin Franklin himself convinced the Paxton Boys to return home without any further violence.  This they did but none of them were ever arrested or tried for the evil deeds inflicted upon these innocent people. 
That is our “Sand Creek” and as December approaches we need to remember and ponder this and other acts of evil done to innocent people in this world.  As we prepare for the coming of Christ as Advent approaches we sing about the Prince of Peace who is coming into the world and wonder what part can we play in peacemaking in this world today.  Start by finding where there is hurt and take time to listen, to be present and to find ways to make peace and reconciliation. 


Brands, H.W. The First American: The Life and times of Benjamin Franklin, Anchor Books, New York. 2000

Brubaker, Jack. Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paton Boys in Lancaster County (PA). The History Press. 2010

Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford University Press. 2009.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Covered with Silver

The Methodist Episcopal Church in American began in 1784 at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. This meeting was planned at Barratts Chapel in Frederica, Delaware. There is a star on the floor there that reminds us of the famous meeting of Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke.  A new organized denomination of the Methodist movement of John Wesley in England began from that small beginning.  In 1884 the Methodist Episcopal Church in America celebrated its 100th anniversary.  At that centennial celebration Bishop Matthew Simpson of Philadelphia was one of the leading bishops, though he was near death at the time. A coin was minted for the occasion that had the face of Francis Asbury on one side and Bishop Simpson on the other side.  These coins were souvenirs of this wonderful milestone in Methodist history.

One hundred years later I was a young United Methodist pastor serving a 4-point charge in Frederick, Maryland in 1984.  I had only been ordained for 3 years when American Methodism turned 200. My husband was serving a 3-point charge at the same time and we had two small children.  Life was busy and full.  The General Conference of the United Methodist Church would be held in Baltimore that year and we brought our church members down on school buses to see that great musical extravaganza in the Baltimore Civic Center.  There was a souvenir coin minted for the bicentennial as there was for the centennial.  We bought these heavy brass coins  and put them in our pockets and remembered the grand and glorious celebration of our church’s rich history.

What a surprise to receive a little box from my father  that year with a necklace inside.  Dad was an antique collector and had somehow run across an original souvenir coin of the 1884 centennial.  He realized how precious this was given the celebration we were having for the bicentennial.  He had the coin dipped in silver and made into a necklace with a long silver chain. I remember showing it to church historians at the time and everyone agreed it was the real thing and that it was indeed a collector’s item.  The silver did not make much sense to people but it made a lot of sense to me.

My father had a friend who he knew for many years who was a silversmith.  Ray covered things in silver and polished silver and made silver jewelry.  Dad always loved silver and when he would find some antique or unique thing he would have Ray dip it in silver.  It was shiny and beautiful and made something drab and plain become something rich and valuable.  He often would find items that were silver that had tarnished from years of not being polished and he would recognize it for what it was and get Ray to polish it up and it was transformed into a glittering prize.  That is the kind of person my Dad was.  He saw the good in everyone, even the tarnished souls of life and was always willing to give and help and give people a second chance. He saw silver in everyone even covering them with the silver of forgiveness and dignity when necessary.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ordinations online?

It has come to my attention that some of the people in our United Methodist family have gone on the internet and purchased ordination certificates from a number of websites.  Lay people as well as local pastors with limited sacramental privileges are getting these certificates.  Some have performed weddings and consecrated communion using the authority of these ordaining bodies.  Some have seen it as a way to qualify for tax exemptions. The process is very simple and it requires no seminary training, interviews or screening.  Literally anyone can become ordained and hold ministerial credentials using this method and some sites do not even charge for this service. 

This is not in any way condoned by the United Methodist Church, the Philadelphia Area, the bishop or the cabinets.  The process of ordination in the United Methodist Church is rigorous and intentionally thorough in order to protect the church and its people from those who could potentially do harm by a lack of training, theological grounding, experience and supervision.  The integrity of our process and Wesleyan heritage is diminished when people purchase ordinations for the sake of convenience.  I urge anyone holding such ordinations to go online and remove themselves from these organizations immediately.  I ask pastors and lay leaders to teach about the process of ministry and why our system, with its many requirements and standards, needs to be regarded as sacred, respected and non-negotiable.  It is an affront to those who have worked hard, studying many years in seminary, spending much money, making many personal sacrifices when others, maybe unknowingly, seek ordinations in an easy, anonymous way. 

Furthermore, anyone who has an ordination certificate has joined another denomination and is no longer a member of the United Methodist Church.   The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2012) reads as follows:   “If a pastor is informed that a member has without notice united with a church of another denomination, the pastor shall make diligent inquiry and , if the report is confirmed, shall enter “Withdrawn” after the person’s name on the membership roll and shall report the same to the next charge conference.” Paragraph 241.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for the continuing journey of faith we have in which we hold one another accountable in love.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Whose Side is God On?

With humanity comes “sides.”  They include political, theological, ethnicity, gender, etc. etc.  There are as many ways to be divided into opposing camps as there are issues and diversities on the planet earth.  We like to think that we are right and that God is on our side.   As United Methodists who discern our beliefs based on Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, we have Bible verses that support our “side.”  But does that necessarily mean that God is with us and not with the people with whom we disagree?  In our heart of hearts we know that God is bigger than this but somehow it is much easier to make God into our own image than to grapple with the God-presence in the “other.”
The Book of Jonah in the Old Testament is about the most outrageous four chapters in the Bible.  It proclaims, it screams, it sets off neon-colored fireworks in the sky that say “God is on everyone’s side!!!” and God goes to great lengths to embrace all in the circle of divine love.  In chapter one of Jonah we see the prophet fleeing from God because he does not want to preach repentance to the evil city of Nineveh. Jonah would prefer that they get what they deserve for their sins and be destroyed.  God would prefer that they get a second chance and be forgiven. God extends that same grace to Jonah by saving him in the ocean using a great fish as a life boat and to the good-natured sailors on the boat by calming the sea.  God is on everyone’s side working for salvation and the good of all. 

What would it look like if we, God’s children, took a page out of the Book of Jonah and worked toward the acceptance and good of all?  Do our partisan camps accomplish the work of the salvation of the world or does it create more division and strife among us?  Do you really want to look like Jonah, who at the end of the book (chapter 4), is pouting on the hill under a tree because God did not kill the Ninevites?  Can we instead rejoice that God wants everyone to be saved and join in that cause, putting aside our need to be right, our need to be God’s favorite, our need to see the other “side” lose?  God’s love is outrageously inclusive and sometimes offensive when we try to put God in a box and insist that we own God exclusively.  Who on the other “side” can you embrace this day with prayer, forgiveness and good will?   What sword and shield of self-righteousness can you lay down for the cause of God’s purpose of inclusive salvation?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Call to Prayer and Action

Grace and peace to you from The Lord Jesus Christ!  Our hearts are heavy once again at the news of another shooting in our nation.  This time at the Navy Yards in the Washington, DC area.  The flags are flying at half mast and so are our hearts as we grieve the death of the hard-working people who perished. Please pray for the families and the workers there but also pray for the family of the perpetrator.  Pray for the day when people who have troubled hearts can get the help they need before things like this happens.  Reach out to people who you perceive need help.

In addition our nation watches with horror as the people in Colorado have been devastated by flood waters.  We remember that from previous hurricanes and people helped us.  May we take special offerings in our churches for flood relief efforts. One hundred percent of our gifts to United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) goes to help the cause.*  Monies collected can be sent to our conference office.

The conference cabinets, lay leaders, staff, and I call all of you to prayer and action.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

*Download the UMCOR mobile app for up to the minute news on your phone or go to

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Telling Someone You Believe in Something

When my husband and I arrived at our first student appointment in southern Indiana in the fall of 1978 this church had just been rebuilt after a devastating tornado that had destroyed many homes and businesses. The new church was something of a "pre-fab" but it was adequate for the small congregation of people who lived on this hill and it was totally new. But Ray, a church member, was not at all satisfied until he got the bell back. When the tornado hit on that fateful day in April the church bell that hung in the church steeple for over a hundred years went flying across the countryside and landed in a field. After the tornado was over the church bell was recovered and brought back to the church. The new church did not have a steeple that could hold that heavy brass bell and Ray wanted the bell to be rung again. He collected money for several years and the church built a stand-alone bell tower next to the new church so that once again the bell could be heard on Sunday morning. By the time we left that appointment the bell tower was built and dedicated. It was Ray's happiest day since the tornado. For Ray it was more than a bell calling people to church. He said "when you ring a bell you are telling people that you believe in something."

Truly our churches believe in something!  We believe in The Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  We ring our bells calling people to worship and we call people to faith in Christ because we believe in this great truth and we serve God in the strength of that faith.

This week we as a nation are called to ring bells on Wednesday, August 28th at 3 pm.  Why? To remember 50 years since the March on Washington during the Civil Rights movement when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his great "I Have a Dream" sermon that he delivered to thousands of people at 3 pm.  He believed in something.  Dr. King believed that equal rights for all people in the United States could become a reality.  In the 50 years since that day many important strides have been made toward this dream of equality.  So we should ring our bells to celebrate this great movement in our society.  But we should also ring a bell tomorrow to tell people that we believe in something else: that the work is not yet done and that there are still more barriers to equal rights that are yet to be overcome in our country and in this world.  Ring a bell to say that you believe in Dr. King's dream and that you will work to see his dream come to full fruition wherever it is that you live and work and worship.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fanatic for Christ

by Bishop Peggy Johnson

The Apostle Paul writes to the church of Corinth that he is a “fool for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10).  He describes his foolish behavior as one who willingly submits to poverty, disrespect and fatigue.  Other “foolish” activities includes blessing those who insulted him, enduring persecution, and speaking kindly to people who lied about him.  It is foolish by the world’s standards because in the world we want to win, be wealthy, comfortable, respected, honored, and treated kindly.  As followers of Christ we are signing on to be treated as Christ was treated.  This is truly counter-cultural and appears to be, fanatical.

The annual United Methodist Day at the Phillies happened once again .  On August 17th over 1,200 United Methodists from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference under the capable leadership of United Methodist Men’s conference president, Ross Brightwell, came to cheer on the home team.  A mass choir led by the choir of Camphor UMC and six other Eastern PA Church choirs,sang the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful” before the game began.  We were greeted by a well-known personality: the Phillies Phanatic.  He is the green fury mascot for the Philadelphia’s major league baseball team and his claim to fame is that he is a super-enthusiastic  fan of the team. With his crazy antics and dramatic body language it is clear that he is a fool for baseball.  He is willing to look silly, fall on the ground, run around in circle and expend enormous amounts of energy in what must be a very hot costume on a summer night. Why?  Out of love for the Phillies!!

How can we be a little more fanatical about our faith?  When was the last time you were a “fool for Christ”?  When did you show someone without faith what your faith in Christ means to you?  Was joy and exuberance on your face?  When did you allow someone else to have your money, your time, your place of honor out of love for Christ?  When did you face persecution and criticism because you followed the way of Christ?   If you do then you stand in line with many of the saints who have gone before you and you surely are light and salt in this world.

John Wesley was a “fool for Christ” when he wrote the Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but Thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let I be ratified in heaven. Amen.

(The United Methodist Hymnal #607)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


In the Gospel of John when the disciple Philip finds Nathanael to tell him about Jesus, Nathanael retorts with “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1:46) This was first-century profiling and for sure it was around long before that.  Profiling goes back to perhaps the Garden of Eden.  Sin entered the world when self-will challenged God’s will and when “me, myself and I” are on the throne someone who is “other” is less-than and in comes all the evils of bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.

Profiling is a word we have heard quite a bit since the George Zimmerman trial began.  He was on trial for the murder of a 17-year old African American young man, Trayvon Martin, who was on his way home from a trip to a convenience store.  The verdict has been a cause of stinging pain around our country and there needs to be soul-searching and some action if we truly believe this is wrong and it has to stop.  To do that we have to all own up to our profiling ways.

I am guilty of profiling. I attended a class reunion and saw some folks who I did not know that well during high school but who had done well for themselves.   I asked one of them where he grew up.  Since we attended a consolidated high-school that housed students from many strata of neighborhoods, people were pigeon-holed into their “class” based on the neighborhood.  This classmate had done well in life and when he told me he was from the poorest part of the county I immediately felt that profiling “ping” go off in my head.  Can anything good come from that neighborhood?  Apparently so.  He is one of the most successful graduates that ever came from that school.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth….just the Son of God….just the place where God chose to call home.  Archeologists say that in Jesus’ day Nazareth could not have had more than 500 people in the town.  It was 80 miles north of Jerusalem in the area of Galilee. There were no major roads, no trade routes, no waterways to bring commerce and culture.  Yet that is exactly where God tends to dwell and do his “power-made-perfect-in-weakness” debut.   God primarily works there because that is where people let God in more often.  It is harder when people have too much stuff.  They start thinking they don’t need God.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Call for Prayer

Grace and peace to the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences.  

I have just heard about the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.  He was the Florida man on trial for the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African American youth who was shot last February.  I ask that we pray for all of the people involved at this time.  This has surely been a deeply disturbing verdict for many and others are in agreement with the verdict  When the community is strongly divided there is cause for deep concern and serious prayer.  When a young person is dies and there is violence in our land we are all hurt.  Please lift this matter up in prayer and have times of conversation and discernment about steps forward toward how we can heal as a nation.

Reflections on the United Methodist Ministers with Disabilities after the July 10-12th Meeting

Bishop Peggy Johnson attended the Ministers with Disabilities meeting, July 10-12, with EPA representatives, Rev.Dave Goss (left) and Rev. Paul Crikelair (right).

by Bishop Peggy Johnson

How wonderful they are….these sturdy, spirit-filled souls called by God.  They are often looked down upon by the able-bodied part of the Body.  Many are working hard at minimum salary churches, or asked to take disability benefits or early retirement.  Next to many of them are faithful spouses and sometimes faithful golden retrievers.  They are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low vision, have mental health or mobility challenges.  They are young, mature, Caucasian, people of color, from all over the Connection and theologically diverse.

They are powerful beyond belief: insightful, spirit-filled, and familiar with life on the margins and have the unique heart that it brings.  Many are serving on Disability Committees in their annual conferences but rarely are asked to do other kinds of things.  Their identities are so much more than being the “disabled one.”  The church needs to wake up to their giftedness.
Bishop Johnson at the Ministers with Disabilities meeting with Peninsula-Delaware representatives, Rev. Bill Downing and Rev. Ruthann Simpson.

Pastors with disabilities work twice as hard as any other, endure countless careless comments, face skeptical personnel and review boards, and find that the accessible accommodations needed are often sadly lacking when they arrive at a meeting.  They are often gracious and forgiving.  Nonetheless, they are always pushing and encouraging the church to do better, often at their own expense so that the doors of the church can open wider, so that the one that follows them can have an easier road.

Pastors with Disabilities: you are a sign of God’s presence. The incarnated Christ’s nail-prints did not disappear at the resurrection and our bodily human frailty is still a paradoxical, God-inspired sign of the “power-made-perfect-in weakness” reality of how things really get done in the world.  All people, no matter our physical, mental or emotional state, are vulnerable to this mystery and dance between ability and disability, strength and weakness on an hourly basis.  May the church see that we are all a part of the disability community in Christ, who is our wounded, yet victorious Savior and comforter and power-giver.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Please support relief for Congo malaria epidemic

Dr. Pierre Diamba Manya, M.D., a missionary with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, recently talked with children at Hopeland UMC in the EPA Conference during his recent visit to the US.

An epidemic of malaria in the villages of Wembo Nyama, Minga and Lodja in the central part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has prompted an emergency response from Bishop Peggy Johnson and the Peninsula-Delaware Conference and the Eastern PA Congo Partnership teams.

Bishop Johnson learned of the malaria outbreak through Dr. Pierre Diamba Manya, M.D., a missionary with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries who is currently serving as coordinator of health and medical services of the Central Congo Episcopal Area. Dr. Manya arrived in the USA from the Congo a week ago, and is currently itinerating in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Episcopal Area has been in touch with Dr. Manya and has indicated that there are no funds available to purchase and transport the medication that is crucial to treating those who have contracted malaria and vital to containing the epidemic.

The Congo Partnership Team, knowing of this concern, has agreed to advance $4,000 to the Congo to purchase the necessary medication and transport it to these villages. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, three times the size of Texas, has less than a thousand miles of paved road. Jacques Umembudi, an UMCOR missionary who has worked extensively with the Congo Partnership Team, will fly the lifesaving medication to these three remote villages where medical care is extremely limited.

Bishop Johnson is inviting local churches to join the Congo Partnership Teams of PDC and Eastern PA in helping to provide this critical relief to our Congolese brothers and sisters.  To participate, churches may send a check through their local treasurer to the Eastern PA Annual Conference (PO Box 820, Valley Forge, PA 19482) Checks should be made payable to the  Eastern PA Conference  with Congo Partnership/Malaria written in the memo line.

Congo Partnership Teams
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

50 Years Later

During the summer of 1963 the United States was in the midst of the Civil Rights movement.  Many important things happened during that time.  President John F. Kennedy sent the National Guard to the University of Alabama on June 10th to help black students enroll there despite the objections by the governor at that time, George Wallace.  Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP was shot to death at his home on June 12, 1963.  Later that summer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the historic march on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. 

Were you alive in 1963?  Do you remember how things were back then in your neighborhoods, in your churches?  Have things changed?

In many ways the Civil Rights movement has made great strides in the United States.  But in many ways we still have a long way to go.  Prejudice, discrimination, and racist attitudes are still a big part of our world and even among the Body of Christ.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) 

Spend some time this summer pondering what that means for you and your life.  Take time to read about the life of the courageous people who led the Civil Rights movement.  How can you continue what has been started in your life and in your church?

Monday, June 3, 2013


The United Methodist Social Principles state (BOD 162L) “We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love for persons.”

With regards to the sale of alcohol it says: “We support the strict administration of laws regulating the sale and distribution of alcohol and controlled substances.”

Historically, the Methodist movement has been opposed to the use of alcohol and the United Methodist building located near the United States Capital was built years ago as a place where Methodists lobbied Congress for the cause of Prohibition due to the problems caused by alcohol use.  In the past potential candidates for ministry in the Methodist Church were asked if they drank alcohol and those that said they did were not ordained.  Today, we still believe that abstinence is a faithful witness despite the fact that we do not typically ask potential pastors about their use of alcohol.

Here are some important facts about alcohol abuse:

It is implicated in the incarceration of over half (56.6 percent) of all inmates in the America (Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population, CASA Report, 2010)
Underage drinking in Pennsylvania costs $2.2 billion dollars annually, in Delaware $200 million dollars and in the state of Maryland it costs $1.3 billion dollars.  The costs include needless homicides, suicides, traumatic injuries and accidents, burns, violence, property crime, high risk sex, fetal alcohol syndrome, lost wages, poisoning and treatments, prevention and social welfare.    (

The total estimated economic cost of alcohol and other drug abuse in the US is more than $240 billion dollars annually. (The Lewin Group, a health policy research and management consulting firm)

This is a serious problem in our country today and also alcohol problems are found among our church members and our clergy.  I have worked with a number of clergy in our area who are alcoholics and it has done great harm to their families and churches. 

I urge laity and clergy not drink alcohol as a part of your witness.  It is not healthy for your body, it is expensive, it can interfere with relationships and could possibly ruin your life if it becomes an addiction.  Regularly teach the potential dangers of drinking to young people at your church. Teach by your example of abstinence.  Invite them to take a pledge not to ever drink or use drugs.  Allow Alcoholic and Narcotic Anonymous Groups to meet at your churches. Finally in the State of Pennsylvania there is a debate about privatization of liquor stores as a part of the budget consideration.  If you live in Pennsylvania contact your legislator and urge them not to pass this bill.  It will expand the number of outlets for the purchase of alcohol and no doubt cause more use and more misery in this world.  As Christians we are called to be lights for the world.  Expose the problems that alcohol often brings so that needless pain can be avoided.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Daffodils in the Snow

An early spring snow reminds us that winter has decided not to leave quite yet.  This week there was snow on the daffodils and the contrast was striking.  Winter and spring were colliding but the next day, when the snow had moved on, the daffodil was looking as chipper as ever. Winter can’t stop spring from coming.  Death cannot overcome life ultimately.  That is the promise of Easter: life aftear death.  And not just life that will eventually die in the fall, but life everlasting that goes on forever.  While we live here on earth we face death every day: death of relationships, death in the form of brokenness and sadness, sickness, and evil.   It is not going to last.  Life is going to win in the end.  We got the word from Jesus as he rose on Easter Sunday and it is a sure thing!

So spread life around wherever you see death.  Brush the snow off the daffodils, help people who need to some encouragement and sustenance.   We have exchanged our life for Christ so be “little Christs” out in the world bringing resurrection to places of despair and loss.  It is in our power to do something, even something small every day.