Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2016: The Year of Epaphroditis

As I ponder the events of 2015 and look forward to 2016 I give thanks to God for each one of you.  Thank you for your faithful service to the Lord Jesus and the many ways you sacrificially give of yourselves so that people might experience the love of God.  Thank you also for the many Advent, birthday and Christmas greetings I have received and for your prayers and support.

As we anticipate another year of life and service to God I call you to consider making 2016 the “Year of Epaphroditis.”  During December I have been studying the letter of Paul to the Philippians, and no matter how many times I have read it there is always something new and fresh in the Word that informs our present time. 

Epaphroditis was sent by the Christians in Philippi to visit Paul, who was in prison for preaching the Gospel.  In those days a person in prison was not afforded daily rations of food.  The only sustenance came if someone from the outside brought in food and money. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

From Horror to Hope

Photo by Beats Advisor
There is a horror movie out this Christmas known as “Krampus.”  According to Wikipedia “Krampus has its roots in Austro-Bavarian, German-speaking alpine folklore.”  It is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who, during the Christmas season, brutally punishes children who have misbehaved. 

This movie is not on my holiday must-see list, as I don’t have the stomach for horror movies in general, nor one about an evil side to Christmas in particular. 

Christmas is about love from God that came down to earth with the intent to not punish but save us from our misbehaving.  I prefer a depiction of the baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by adoring shepherds and mysterious international visitors from the East. That's a must-see story.

However, if you study both the Matthew and Luke Gospels Christmas does have a very unpleasant side, one that is as current as today's morning news.  The true facts of Christmas call us to respond to the Christ’s nativity in ways that go beyond seasonal giving to the poor, special worship in our churches and festive gatherings with friends and family.

Jesus was born into an oppressed people.  The Jews were under the occupation of the Romans. His birth in Bethlehem (and not back home in Nazareth) had a lot to do with the Roman government wanting to ascertain just how much the Jews could be taxed through a mandatory census.  Still today, many of the world’s wealthy use their power and influence to oppress the poor and the powerless.  As I reflect on the Global Climate Summit in France, I am concerned about the many vulnerable tiny islands that stand to lose everything if global warming continues to rise.  It is clear that rich nations are oppressing poor ones by abusing the earth’s natural resources and by valuing profits over human existence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Push Back, Lean Forward

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” the song tells us. At least that’s true on store shelves heavily stocked with Christmas gifts and decorations for sale. And beyond the look, there’s the dubious sound of Christmas for some: “Cha-ching, cha-ching.”

A continuous string of commercials over the next month will ring with the same message: “Buy, buy now, and buy more!”  The onslaught of ads that started long before Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber-Monday will continue long after, with hefty credit card bills arriving close behind.
But the church has a unique opportunity to show and share with people the true meaning of this season of Advent and Christmas and to model respectful, creative kinds of gift-giving and celebrating. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ (Romans 12:2)  

How will you have a Christ-filled Christmas this year?  You don’t have to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but you can instead push back against its “care-less” commercialism. Why not emulate the star that guided wise men, and set a shining example of a more excellent way for the world to follow?  Here are a few thoughts:

1. Observe a Holy Advent

Advent is the beginning of the church calendar and it begins four weeks before Christmas. During this time the church ponders the coming of Christ: past, present and future.   It is also a time to look within.  The best way to prepare for Christmas is to lean forward by exercising the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, study of the Scriptures, tithing, worship attendance, Holy Communion and devotional reading.  Ask God to reveal the things that you need to change in your life.  Get involved in a Bible Study at church or in your community.  Don’t miss a single Sunday of worship.  Faithfully give of your means to help the poor.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

An All Saints Prayer

We thank you Lord, for the lives of those who gave their lives to you. The world does not see them as wise. But you know that the wisdom of the world is foolishness.

Thank you for those who freely offered their lives to you. They offered their family, fortune and fame. They expended their lives as a gift in Jesus name.

We thank you Lord for your prophets and for their words of truth and love. Thank you for those who fought for justice for all. They stood up for human need even in the face of persecution and suffering. They teach us that in the end justice prevails.

Thank you for saints remembered, for those we never knew, and for your church and all its members.

Use our lives for transformation that we might bless the poor and lift the burden of oppression in this world. Help us be the saints you seek for today, serving you, saving lives and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

-- Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Praise of the Emmaus Walk Movement

In 1986 I attended my first Emmaus Walk as a pilgrim on Weekend #37 in the Northern Virginia Community.  That community gave birth to the Maryland Emmaus Community, and from that time on I was involved in the movement regularly as a team member, sign language interpreter and sponsor. 

There was hardly a season that I wasn’t heading off to New Windsor, Maryland, for another Emmaus Walk weekend.   Every weekend was unique.  God moved in powerful ways in the lives of the men and women who attended these retreats. 

Many, many members of the Deaf congregation I served went as pilgrims and later as team members.  We even had an entire Deaf Emmaus weekend when the entire leadership team was made up of totally of Deaf leaders. 

There are Emmaus Communities literally all over the world, including the Eastern PA and Pen-Del Conferences.
This retreat movement had its origins in the Roman Catholic Cursillo retreats in Spain.  Its intent was to form Catholic leaders.  The Emmaus Walk is a United Methodist version of this retreat with the purpose of forming Christian leaders and deepening the discipleship of Christians. There are separate weekends for women and men. 

On the first Easter night, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, Jesus walked with two disciples who were walking to the town of Emmaus.  They were downcast about the news of Jesus’ death and did not realize that the risen Jesus himself was walking with them on the road. 

The Emmaus Walk retreat is like a little walk with Jesus for three days.  Christians gather for talks, small group discussion, communion, singing and praying.  The team leading the event and the wider Emmaus community spend many hours preparing for these weekends, which they also cover with intensive prayer.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Being true 'Christ-bearers' in search of peace

When I was a child in elementary school we proudly sang, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” There were assemblies and plays and words of praise for Christopher Columbus, who we learned “discovered America.” While the claim of discovery is a dubious one, he was indeed a brave explorer. He sailed west across an ocean that many believed would send one off the edge of a world that everyone knew was flat.

His name “Christopher” means “Christ bearer,” and part of his goal was to bring Christ to the lands he hoped to explore. He was an entrepreneur who was able to get funding for his expedition from the Spanish crown. He made not only one voyage but four, and he faced enormous hardship, dangers and political intrigue.

Much later in my life I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a mission work team that taught Bible studies at a Deaf School in Santo Domingo. While visiting the island we took a tour of the history museum that spoke much about the history of the island. There we saw evidence of much cruelty and sadness.

The Taino people, who were living in Hispaniola at the time of Columbus’ arrival, were forced into slavery. Over 98 percent of the nearly 3 million native peoples died from the labor regime and war of this time period. (History of the Indies, New York: Harper and Row, 1971). Sadly this was the lot of many indigenous peoples at the hands of European explorers who traveled to the Americas in the years that followed.

Human rights violations abound on this planet we live on. It is hard to go anywhere and not notice the abusive way humans treat each other, especially those who are deemed “less than” or different. Humans abuse one another for wealth, power and sometimes even for the cause of religious superiority.

Jesus called for us to love one another and treat our brothers and sisters as we would like to be treated. It is that simple. It is that hard.

As some prepare to celebrate Columbus Day on October 12, let us all be educated about the whole picture of global exploration across vast canvas of the world's history. Let us learn and acknowledge with repentance grievous sins committed against indigenous peoples and also live in such a way that everyone can have respect and dignity in this world.

Let us call that second Monday of October “Indigenous Peoples Day” instead, and as true "Christ bearers," seek to live and move gently on this earth in loving peace with all of God’s people.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Visitor from the Vatican and his Words of Wisdom

The long awaited visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia is almost here. In my lifetime there has not been a more popular Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church. He has won the hearts of the world because of his emphasis on the poor, his reforms for the church and his humble way of walking in the world. I celebrate his arrival along with millions of others and pray for a successful and faith-filled “World Meeting of Families” that will be happening next week. How good of the pope to visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility during this visit! He sets the tone for his theme “Love is Our Mission” by reaching out to those on the margins of life.

Recently Pope Francis called all of the faithful throughout Europe to help refugees fleeing from “death from war and hunger.” According to CBS News, he announced that the Vatican’s two parishes were taking in two families of refugees as a role model. Pope Francis said it was not enough to simply say, “Have courage, hang in there.” He encouraged every parish and community to take in one family.

His words are for us too. We need to reach out with support. According to Rev. Jack Amick, from the International Disaster Response of UMCOR we have sent nearly $2 million in grants and the UM Board of Church and Society is circulating a petition calling for the Obama Administration to increase the number of refugees that the US will accept. Many of our sister churches in Europe are giving aid to this overwhelming crisis of human need.

Please take a special offering for this at your churches so we might assist those who are providing such life-giving support. Funds can be sent to the conference treasurer and earmarked for “International Disaster Response Advance #982450. Let us honor the visit of the pope by being in ministry to the poor in Europe in a tangible way.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Healing Communities: A Journey into Prison Ministry

People ask me how I met my husband and the answer is simple: we met at Asbury Theological Seminary, in Wilmore, Kentucky, as incoming students in the fall of 1977. I was from Baltimore and he was from Texas, and we met at the new-students picnic.

What people don’t know is where Mike and I had our first date: it was at the men’s correctional institution in Lexington, Kentucky. What a romantic couple! We both volunteered to teach a Bible class at the prison, and since I had a car, I drove us.

Off we went to this forbidding-looking cement building with numerous layers of barbed wire fencing. I went with apprehension since I had never been in a prison before; but I agreed to do this because of the clear mandate of Matthew 25:36: “I was in prison and you came to me.” Going with this nice young man from Texas was an added bonus.

Deep emotional and spiritual pain

That night my eyes were opened to the vast need in this area of ministry.  The inmates were living in crowded conditions with limited services, and there was deep emotional and spiritual pain.  The visitation was as important as the Bible study class, because the inmates wanted so much to talk and have someone listen to them.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Life Abundant

United Methodists believe in life!  Our mission is to make disciples so that people might have a relationship with Jesus Christ and have abundant life and everlasting life.  Easter is our best day and every Sunday is a “little Easter” in which we celebrate the resurrection and our commitment to life.  That is why we as a denomination support life in all of its forms.

Abortion is an issue that the United Methodist Church speaks about in our Social Principles in the 2012 Book of Discipline. We are not silent about this. Paragraph 161(J) states:

“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 that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers. 
We support parental, guardian, or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can 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 it as a means of gender selection or eugenics. 
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. This procedure shall be performed only by certified medical providers. Before providing their services abortion providers should be required to offer women the option of anesthesia.”            
It goes on to say that United Methodists urge all Christians to a “prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause people to consider abortions in the first place.  We pledge to offer ministries that will reduce unintended pregnancies and to help women find feasible alternatives.”  

According to Susan Burton of the General Board of Church and Society, “As we work to end human trafficking, rape as a weapon of war, child marriage and domestic violence, we understand why United Methodists have said that women and girls need safe, legal access to abortion ... when violence has been perpetrated against them resulting in pregnancy, or (when) they have a health condition that necessitates immediate care treatment that would not be possible while pregnant (e.g. chemotherapy). We will continue to advocate for family planning, sexuality education and wellness care for women and girls, in addition to an end to sexual and gender-based violence in order to make abortions increasingly rare.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Please Celebrate Campus Ministry Sunday!

Episcopal Letter by Bishop Peggy Johnson for Campus Ministry Sunday

Please celebrate Campus Ministry Sunday on August 23 or before the end of September.  And please give generously to the special offering to support our outreach to college students in Eastern PA.

I have served on all sides of the equation that adds up to life-changing campus or collegiate ministry: as a student, a pastor, a campus minister and a supportive bishop.  And I can assure you that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  All of these roles together produce results that are indeed "Life-changing, Church-changing and World-changing."

My student experiences at Lebanon Valley College awakened me to my call to ministry and prepared me for discipleship and leadership in the church, as I sought to become a true change agent in service to Christ.  When I became the pastor of Christ UM Church of the Deaf in Baltimore, and campus minister at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and then a bishop in this wonderful church of ours, that preparation resonated in me each step of the way.

I saw first-hand how campus ministry at Gallaudet, a school primarily for the Deaf, was instrumental in developing principled leadership, one of the four mission foci of our church today.  And I saw how the fruit of that ministry benefitted not only students but also the church I served through their energetic, creative leadership.  That is why I am deeply committed to supporting campus ministry efforts and relationships in our conference and why I urge you to join me in that commitment.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dignity, Honor and Respect = Love

Chaplain John C. Wheatley, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and an Elder in the Eastern PA Conference, serves at the Dover (Del.) Air Force Base as a Family Support and Liaison Chaplain. He is part of the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Division at the base. Two Peninsula-Delaware Conference Cabinet members and I visited him recently, and we were greatly impressed with his extension ministry and the program there. 

Prior to this most recent deployment the Rev. Wheatley served as pastor of the Ono UM Church on the Northwest District. His current deployment at the Dover Air Force base will be a short-term venture, and we hope to have him back at Ono UMC to continue his ministry there soon.

The Casualty and Mortuary Affairs program opened in April 2009. It was designed to bring families to the base to help receive their loved ones who were killed while serving their country in any capacity. Since then there have been 1,900 dignified transfers, and the program has ministered to 9,275 families.

There are buildings that house family members who come from all over the country. And there is 24- hour assistance for them as they grieve the loss of their loved ones. A family meets the plane that is carrying the body of its loved one; and if the family requests, the transfer moments are recorded on video as a keepsake. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Happy 25th Birthday, Americans with Disabilities Act!

I was appointed to serve Christ UMC of the Deaf in Baltimore in 1988.  This was two years before the Americans with Disabilities Act became U.S. law.  Prior to the ADA law telecommunication for Deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans was difficult.  One of the most important parts of the law was equal access to communication. 

Deaf people have long had telephone devices that they used to type words into the phone, with the cradle of one of those old fashioned phones laying at the top of the device.  Through the wonders of technology back then two people with TTY’s (“teletype” as they were called) could communicate with English words back and forth using this device.  However not everyone had a TTY or a phone line and Deaf people could not talk to just anyone, like hearing people can.  That is where I got a lot of requests for “favors” from my members. I had a TTY, of course and this is how it went:

“Please call my dentist.  I have to be seen as soon as possible.”  So I would call the dentist and say “Hello, I am calling for Jane Doe and she is Deaf and needs to be seen soon.”  The dentist’s secretary would give me a date and time the next day.  I would call the Deaf person back and they would say “I can’t wait that long.  Please, I must be seen today.”  I would call back and negotiate a better time and it went on and on.  About 25 minutes and four phone calls later the Deaf person had a dental appointment. 

In 1990 when the ADA bill was signed into law a relay system was devised so that a Deaf person wanting to talk to a hearing person who did not have a TTY could call a special number, and a hearing operator with access to two phone lines would type for the Deaf person and speak for the hearing person. A process that used to take 25 minutes now took two minutes. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pressing on in the race to end malaria

“I press on toward the goal," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, "for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 3:14) 

Indeed, the Christian life is like a race. The opportunity to do greater and greater works for God is ever before us. And we strive toward the goal of Christian perfection, fueled by our faith in Christ's promise.

The Imagine No Malaria (INM) campaign is pressing on toward a goal as well.  As United Methodists we have pledged to raise $75 million dollars to fund efforts that should effectively wipe out the disease of malaria in our lifetime! The Eastern PA Conference has given much toward this effort in the last 8 years.

In fact, you may recall that the original Nothing But Nets campaign that launched in early 2007 was inspired by the efforts of then-6-year-old Katherine Commale of Hopewell UMC.  Aided by her mother, her church and her community, she initially eventually raised more than $135,000 to purchase and donate insecticide-treated bed nets to protect children and adults in Africa from mosquitoes that spread malaria. Our conference responded by raising more than $250,000. 

United Methodists have not yet achieved our goal, but we are pressing on. So far we have raised $66 million. We are getting close. And it seems only right that we here in the Eastern PA Conference should finish what we started.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Where We Need to Witness

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied “it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:6-8

Jesus told the disciples that they were to be witnesses about the good news of salvation. The duty of a witness is to tell what they have experienced and seen.  In a court of law, on TV commercials and in our churches we look to witnesses to tell us their personal story in order to make a decision. We want a faithful witness that we can trust.  
When I am buying a car I always ask my mechanic, who day in and day out works on cars, what he has experienced in the repair shop with various brands of cars.  His experience is the key to his credibility.  Jesus’ disciples were credible witnesses because they had first-hand proof of the resurrection.  Jesus called on his disciples to simply tell what they had seen and heard.

Jesus wants us to do the same.  Christians, you have experienced the power of Jesus’ forgiveness and his Spirit that dwells in you for victorious living. That is what we need to share with people!  So where are we to witness?  Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth!

The disciples happened to be in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ Ascension and prior to the day of Pentecost. This was strategic because soon many visitors from other countries would be coming to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration of the Jews.  The disciples themselves were from Galilee. Some interpret the use of “Jerusalem” to mean to witness at home first.  Galilee is not mentioned.  Jerusalem is where the most work can be done for evangelism.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Wall

American poet Robert Frost once wrote:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast...
(“Mending Wall” excerpt)

Recently I visited Germany for the meeting of the Council of Bishops. The words of that poem were ringing in my head, along with the many cathedral bells we heard clamoring on every corner. 

We gathered in the city of Berlin, where we visited many of the historical sites of this diverse city during our break times.  Most notable to me was viewing the remains of the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 and torn down in 1989.  It separated the east (communist) and west (democratic) people of the same country.  The governmental control that was established in the aftermath of World War II gave Russia control of East Berlin and the United States, England and France control of the West.

During the era of the Berlin Wall there was much sadness and separation.  Whole families were unable to be together.  Many attempted to climb over the wall but were felled by fatal gunfire.  Tragically, even children were killed.  Hearing stories of daring escapes and the digging of ingenious tunnel systems were part of the tour of the Berlin Wall that we experienced. 

As the German tour guide led us past the many memorial sites of the wall on that sunny spring day I was struck by two contrasting sensations.  There was the stark horror of this wall’s dark history, but also the pleasant idyllic scene of the grassy lawn where we witnessed children playing and vendors selling souvenirs.  The wall made all the difference.  When there was a wall life was bitter with alienation and death.  When the wall came down life and community sprang forth. But not totally so.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Five Most Hopeful Words in the Bible

I once read that the five most hopeful words in the Bible are this: “And it came to pass.”  What does that mean?  It means that “It came” (whatever it is in life that comes your way) and it “passes” (or goes away).

This winter was full of many snowy and frigid cold days.  The rhododendron plants  in the front of my house were shriveled in the cold.  They looked like brown frozen sticks for weeks on end, and sometimes they were coated with ice and snow.  But it “came to pass!”  This morning in the springtime sun they have perked up and there even are buds of those beautiful pink flowers that will be blooming in a month or two.  Winter has passed, and new life has returned.
During this Holy Week when we journey along with Christ on the road to the cross we already know that death was not the last word.  After Good Friday comes Easter! The sorrow of the cross “came to pass” and death became resurrection.  
You may be experiencing difficulty or problems that seem to drag on like those cold weeks of winter. But look up: “It came to pass.”  Bad times will ultimately pass.  God will see you through!  
Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And Jesus is with you always whatever life may bring.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Maria Solares

During our evening prayers each night my husband and I have been studying the lives of women saints. We use a resource that tells the story of a female saint for every day of the year (Women Saints: 365 Daily Readings, by Madonna Sophia Compton).  This book includes the lives of famous and not so famous women in history who have made a difference in this world. 

Recently we read about Maria Solares, who was born in 1842 in southern California.  Both of her parents were Native Americans from different tribes.  She was raised in a Catholic mission school but always cherished the language and culture of her people. 

Maria assisted an anthropologist, John P. Harrington, in recording much of the language and customs of the Samala Chumash people.   She was able to get training in the field of medicine, and she spent her life working tirelessly for her people, who were pushed off of their land and suffered from great poverty. 

When she died in 1923 she was remembered as “Maria of the Refugees.”   Thanks to the early language work she did with Dr. Harrington and other scholars, the language of the Chumash people is being taught once again to the descendants of this tribe.  Maria’s legacy lives on linguistically and her language of love will endure forever.

I celebrate this un-sung hero during Women’s History Month. What women of history do you celebrate, especially during this month of tribute?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Violence Challenges Our Prophetic Voice

The prophet Habakkuk wrote long ago: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?  Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

These words could have been written yesterday.  As we look around there is so much violence:
  •  sexual violence against women as seen in our media and in the lives of professional sports figures;
  • violence on the streets of Wilmington, Del., to the point where people are calling the city “Kill-mington”;
  • violence between Ukrainians and Russian-backed separatists
  • brutal beheadings of Coptic Christians and many other innocent captives at the hands of ISIS;
  • the murder of three young Muslims in North Carolina;
  • violence against people of color and violence against the LGBT community.  
Violence seems to be the operating system in our world for solving our social problems and also obtaining wealth and power. We know violence does not produce the works of God and violence cannot be eliminated  by heaping more bombs on the heads of the perpetrators.

On the contrary, retaliatory violence creates an endless cycle of more and more destruction. Having more guns, more sophisticated weapons, more “stuff” to fight back with does not make us safer. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thou Art the Potter, I am the Clay

Many of us have sung the old hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”  It reminds us of the text from Jeremiah 18:1-4 that proclaims God as the grand potter of life and we are merely the clay in God’s hands.  The words to this famous hymn were written by Adelaide Pollard, a native of Bloomfield, Iowa.  According to “Women of Chrstianity.com” Ms. Pollard wrote this song as a response to a disappointment in her life.  She was trying to raise money for a mission trip to Africa and she was unable to find the needed funds.  During a prayer meeting one evening at her home church she overheard an elderly church member pray “It really doesn’t matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives.”  Touched by the faith of this saint Adelaide went home and wrote the entire hymn that night.

Ms. Pollard had an extensive ministry as a teacher at the Missionary Training School at Nyack-on-the Hudson and as an itinerant Bible teacher.  She worked with a number of evangelists who held revivals and healing services.  Interestingly enough, she finally had the opportunity to visit Africa later in her life fulfilling her greatest dream. 

All of us can identify with the experience of disappointment and unfulfilled wishes.  It helps to remember that God’s molding of us is always for our own good in order to “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy (Romans 9:22).  God’s timing is never our timing and God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Ms. Pollard finally visited Africa but only after God used her for other purposes and in the end she was more prepared for her trip when the time came.

During this season of Lent pray aloud the words of Ms. Pollard’s hymn and renew your resolve to accept God’s will for your life, whatever that might look like.  Fear and disappointment can turn to trust and praise as we experience the good that God has planned for us.

                  “Have Thine Own way, Lord, have Thine own way!
                  Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
                  Mold me and make me after Thy will,
                  While I am waiting, yielded and still.

                  Have Thine own way Lord! Have Thine own way
                  Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
                  Fill with Thy Spirit ‘till all shall see
                  Christ only, always, living in me                  

Monday, February 2, 2015


The first African American Methodist churches in the early 1800s were controlled by white senior pastors and trustees.  Chafing under oppression, the churches sought but were denied the dignity of self-determination by four consecutive General Conferences.  But in 1864, as the end of America's Civil War and slavery was imminent, their petition was approved, and the Delaware Annual Conference became the first African American annual conference to be formed in Methodism. 
Delaware Annual Conference Cabinet, 1918

A century later the 1964 General Conference mandated that all racially segregated conferences in the United States be disbanded.  Four years later, the segregated Central Jurisdiction, to which they all belonged, was abolished as well.

The sprawling Delaware Conference was the first to take on the challenging task of merging with predominantly white conferences in the six geographical areas where their respective churches resided.  Those conferences included: the Philadelphia (now Eastern Pennsylvania) Conference, the Peninsula (now Peninsula-Delaware) Conference, the Virginia Conference, the New York Conference and the North and South New Jersey conferences. 

The last formal conference session of the Old Delaware Conference was held on April 27-28, 1965, with Bishop John Wesley Lord presiding.  The bishop said, according to the Rev. Edwin L. Ellis, a District Superintendent who wrote about this event later, “We are restoring that which is broken.  This is a return to the way the Methodist Church began.  It was our sin which brought division… Surely now, we have much to share with all of Christ’s Church and this great dream will be now pouring out into the life of the new conferences that are being organized.”  (Commemorative Booklet: Delaware Annual Conference, page 101)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Bearing Gifts with Loving Hearts

During the season of Epiphany, of revelation, we ponder the story of the Magi who came from the East to visit the Christ child. There are so many levels in which this account recorded in the Gospel of Matthew captures our attention and reveals much practical truth for us:
  • “Wise men still seek Him.”
  • Christ came for all people, in all cultures and communities.
  • God guides us to Jesus.
  • Evil cannot overcome God’s plans, etc.

These are some of the sermons I have preached over the years from this text, found in Matthew’s second chapter. Also, we never tire of considering the gifts of the Wise Men: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  What Christmas pageant is complete without three children dressed in ornate bathrobes and tin foil crowns bearing three boxes of precious gifts? Surely once again, during this season of Epiphany, we are called to honor Christ with our gifts.

I witnessed virtual gifts of the Magi during my recent trip to India with youth on the Northeastern Jurisdiction (NEJ) Mission of Peace and with fellow bishops participating in a continuing education event led by Bishop Suda Devadhar of the New England Conference.  We began our journey just after Christmas, and it continued into the New Year and the season of Epiphany. 

India was well-decorated for the Christmas season, even though only about 2.5 percent of the population is professed Christian.  Everywhere our group of 35 participants traveled we saw crèches with figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds and the Wise Men bearing symbolic precious gifts. I also saw real gifts of real value being offered to Christ by faithful—and yes, wise—men and women throughout India.