Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From House to House

On the morning that the e-mail notice came informing United Methodist bishops that Bishop Felton E. May* had been diagnosed with cancer, I immediately texted him with assurance of our prayers and support. Bishop May called me a few minutes later and we had a memorable conversation, one that I will never forget.

It was the last thing he ever told me. He said, “When I was a child growing up in Chicago some missionaries from a Baptist church came to my family home and brought in a flannel board and told us stories about Jesus.

“They came to the people telling the good news. It had a profound effect on my young life. Tell your pastors and churches to do that. Get out into the streets with this message.”

What good advice, what a timely word for us, because we live in an era of “personal-pan pizzas” and concerns for privacy. Likewise, the things of faith are so often kept quietly locked inside of church buildings.

People back then, and still today, do not all come flocking to the doors of our sanctuaries. We need to intentionally go out to peoples’ homes. Bishop May’s words need to be in all of our hearts, as we continue the ministry God has set before us.

As I met with the new ordination class for a time of reflection and prayer recently, we reviewed the Historic Questions of John Wesley that are asked of every person seeking full membership and ordination. Among them is this question: “Will you visit from house to house?”

The centuries between John Wesley’s time and ours perhaps make us pause about the practicality of this mandate. People are not always welcoming of visitors in their homes. Some people are often not even at home much of the time. And some pastors are not comfortable visiting peoples’ homes for a variety of reasons.

In his book Have you Faith in Christ? A Bishop’s insight into the Historic Questions asked of those seeking admission into full connection in the United Methodist Church, Bishop Ernest Lyght reminds us that “it is still appropriate for pastors to visit from house to house in today’s culture, with all of its limitations. There is no substitute for personal contact with one’s parishioners. However, one must understand local culture and govern oneself accordingly.” He gives this further advice:

“Visit from house to house in all the places where this is acceptable to your parishioners. Use the telephone to call people and let them know that you are thinking of them. Invite small groups to come to the parsonage for dessert and conversation.

“Have a breakfast meeting with a small group of people. Visit people at their work site by appointment. Go to the places where people gather in your community (post office, general store, volunteer firehouse, and so on). God to places where young people gather (sporting events, school plays, concerts). Make contact with the small groups that are a part of the church’s program. Participate in town meetings and community events. Cautiously use social media as a means of communication with people. Get involved personally in an ongoing community project. Join a civic club, or participate as a volunteer in a community organization.” (p. 61)

I urge you, along with the wisdom of Bishops May and Lyght, to “visit from house to house.” Clergy as well as our lay leadership will further the cause of Christ as we do. We never know whom we might visit that might later become a great leader in our churches and communities.

*NOTE:  Bishop Felton Edwin May passed away Feb. 27. A Memorial Service for him will be held on Saturday, April 1, at 11 AM, at Asbury United Methodist Church, 926 11th Street, NW, Washington, DC. The Washington Area Episcopal Office has secured rooms at a nearby hotel. For information contact Joyce King at

Read UM News Service’s obituary: Bishop May, ʽholy boldness advocate, dies at 81. Read our coverage of Bishop May’s passing

Monday, March 27, 2017

‘United Nations of the World’—Doing God’s work and ours

I am a Baby-Boomer, born of parents who experienced World War II. My father was a tail gunner in the Air Force on the island of Guam.  After the war, in 1948, the nations of the world decided to start the United Nations for the purpose of working for diplomacy that would prevent more world wars in the future. 

In elementary school I learned about this wondrous building in New York City, and I remember clearly the music teacher bringing her piano on wheels into our classroom and teaching us this song:

“United Nations of the World, United Nations flags unfurled.
When there is trouble brewing, don’t run for cover, Let nations get together and just talk it over!”

While in high school, in 1968, I went on an annual conference youth bus trip to New York City to visit the UN Building. Again, I was struck by the enormity of the task.  We learned about apartheid on that trip, and I wondered greatly about this process of diplomacy versus war.  It would be a long time from 1968 until the end of apartheid in South Africa, but it happened.

Last week I attended the Spring meeting of the General Board of Church and Society.  I serve on this board along with five other bishops and many lay and clergy from around our connection.  The Rev. Megan Shitama Weston, of the Peninsula Delaware Conference, is one of the clergy from our episcopal area serving on this board with me. 

So much has changed since 1948 and 1968. But the theme is still the same. Talk things over. Come together around common goals for the planet. Have respect for all people.  This is none other than God’s work!

In 2015 the United Nations established the “Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to Transform Our World by 2030.”  They are as follows:
  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and wellbeing
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. ndustry, innovation and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for the goals
Many in The United Methodist Church and the Church universal believe and work toward these goals. There is something that each one of us can personally do.  We can engage in diplomacy in our local settings to promote equality and peace. We can share our means to help eradicate hunger and inequalities.  We can advocate and vote for laws that protect our environment and promote health care for all. 

The leaders of the General Board of Church and Society are asking us to ask our U.S. Ambassador to the UN, a United Methodist herself, to promote these development goals.  Please write to her at:

H.E. Nikki R. Haley

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Permanent Representative

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY  10017

In this way, your voice can be heard to promote peace in this world.  It is the responsibility of all of us.

The ending of the song that I learned in elementary school goes like this:
“UN, we know that you’ll build peace and understanding. 
We know the toughness of the job that we’re demanding. 
So let all our flags be every unfurled!
The United Nations of the World.” 

This is the world that God made and loves and wants to redeem. It is slow work.  It is our work.

Photo by Levi Bautista, GBCS.
Read more and see photos about the General Board of Church and Society’s recent visit to the UN in the UM News Service story, “Active legacy: United Methodists at the UN.” Learn about the Church Center for the United Nations, the United Methodist-owned building where the board’s directors met and where ideas are crafted and taken to the UN conference rooms and assembly halls across the street.

The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of Church and Society, recalled her first visit to the United Nations in 1967 as a 16-year-old. “Seeing King Hussein of Jordan walk into the U.N. immediately following the Six-Day War (in the Middle East) changed my world view,” she said during a report to directors. “The church gave to me the vision of what a global Christian and citizen might look like.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Persevering Prayer

Jesus told a parable about a man who was in need of bread to serve some unexpected guests. The man went to the home of a neighbor and continually knocked on the door until the tired, reluctant neighbor got up and gave him the bread he needed. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9).

Does this mean that if we ask enough times we will get the answer we want?  Does this mean that God is a sleepy, reluctant neighbor who will not respond to our needs until we nag him to the point of annoyance?  Or does this mean that everything we ask for will be granted sooner or later, like a celestial mail-order house?

The answer to all of these questions is “No.”  God loves us too much to allow our prayers to be answered in any way but the best way. It is difficult to watch a tragedy and question why God does not intervene. But the meaning of prayer has more to do with the “sifting of wheat” in our souls during the process of prayer than merely “getting” the answer we seek.

It takes time to pray. Prayer is slow work, as is the molding and shaping of our wills to God’s will. It takes time to pray; and as we do, our prayers can come into alignment with God’s will so that we are praying in the Spirit of God, rather than our own human desires. It means that soulful prayer—like many human conversations—needs to be a lot more listening and a lot less talking.

I often find myself on conference calls using a toll-free number to connect various callers onto one conversation. One of the rules of conference calls is to use the “mute” button when you are not talking so your background noise does not interfere with the conversation. When the “mute” button is pressed your voice cannot be heard but you can listen.

As we pray we need to put the “mute” button on and listen to what God is saying about the things we are praying about. God’s perfect will sometimes is for us to wait; and sometimes it is a different goal or plan altogether. Sometimes the answer is “no.”

In the act of persevering prayer we do hear back from God. As we do, we can often find that our disappointment is actually an appointment to a better plan given to us by the loving hand of God. We can trust that God cares enough to give us the very best answer, often one more blessed than we could have imagined.