Imagine No Malaria

Unlike many other diseases that are awaiting a cure, malaria was eliminated in the U.S. in the 1950s. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria continues to kill a person every 60 seconds. But there is hope! Imagine No Malaria is part of a global partnership and together with our partners, our generation can beat malaria once and for all. Jewel Lake Parish will receive an offering for Imagine No Malaria during our worship gathering on May 10.

See also: last year’s appeal from Bishop Grant Hagiya.

More information about malaria and pointers to other projects combatting it is available from the Gates Foundation.

Congregations Dying and Rising

In his own blog, Bishop Grant recently brought my attention to a blog post entitled “A Growing Church is a Dying Church.”

I liked what the blog post said about the role of the pastor:

What then can your pastor do? She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study. She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary. She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns. She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music. She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion. …

and:

What can she do to grow your church? Nothing. There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.

But the greater point was that churches often look for numerical growth and a prolonged lifespan, which isn’t very Christian. More bodies, sometimes, is precisely what God refuses to provide. And as for length of days: we of all people should not be afraid of death like those who have no hope. Resurrection can’t happen until there’s been a death.

My only quibble with the article — not, I think, with its main thrust, but with its wording — was that it conflated two ideas: transformation and resurrection. Resurrection includes transformation, but not all transformation is resurrection. (Consider the transfigured Jesus and the risen Lord. Consider the Peter of Luke 5 and the Peter of Acts 4. He’s been transformed, but neither one is the Peter we will know in the age to come. Or the Paul of Acts 7–8 and Acts 21. He’s been transformed, but not yet resurrected.)

In the case of a local congregation, what the pastor is trying to orchestrate (midwife?) is transformation, not resurrection. The congregation may resist that transformation. It may prefer to die with dignity than to contextualize the gospel for neighbors who don’t look or sound or behave like the people who paid for the organ or put in that stained glass.

What happens when a congregation dies? Sometimes, our church buildings are recycled as restaurants, or even homes and condos. But sometimes they are resurrected for new worshipping communities, like when the small foreign-language Pentecostal congregation buys the old First Mainline Protestant church downtown. May God bless them and give them a fruitful ministry.

I can’t criticize those few survivors hanging on in First Mainline. They’re tired and dizzied by the way the culture has changed under their feet and overwhelmed by the new demographics of their community. I can understand why they might be ready to go home to be with the Lord, just like Paul.

But life is a gift from God, and we are called to make good use of the time we have been given. Paul himself says it: “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”

So let’s let God take care of resurrection, and in the meantime, apply ourselves to the work — and it is work — of being transformed so we can be agents of transformation.

(This article is cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Same-Sex Unions

As you may have heard, at its 221st General Assembly last week, the PC(USA) approved same-sex marriage both by authoritative interpretation and by a proposed change to the constitution. Here’s an article from the Religion News Service, and a blog entry from More Light Presbyterians (pro) and a pastoral letter from Presbyterians for Renewal (con).*

I — Pastor Luke — am studying these measures to understand the logic behind them, but my initial impression is that the authoritative interpretation is gimmickry designed to work around the clear words of the constitution, as evidenced by the proposed changes to the constitution which accompany it.

Sadly, the PC(USA) is not alone in misusing church processes to achieve extra-constitutional ends. The UMC has reinstated Frank Schaefer after previously defrocking him for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding. I previously posted about the UMC situation here.

As a citizen of the U.S., I believe that civil rights should be recognized equally for both straights and LGBTs. Indeed, that is (for me) a bare minimum, and I go well beyond it, as I have posted before.

The case for calling same-sex unions marriage in the theological sense is weak, however, and the Church, however, is not free to make things up.


* I won’t sport with you by pointing you to the PC(USA) website for information. There’s an article there, but it can’t be linked, only downloaded. (Seriously! in 2014!)

Vital Congregations

I received the conference books from the Alaska Methodist annual conference earlier this year. I wasn’t able to participate this year, so I didn’t know as much about the conference as I did last year. For example, the conference theme this year was “Disciple is a Verb.”

That reminded me of the United Methodist “Vital Congregations” initiative. Rather than imposing a directive from the top down, Vital Congregations attempts to describe vital congregations in sufficient detail that less vital congregations would have something to emulate, if they are looking for help. That means there is a lot of depressing information about how few congregations are truly vital, but it’s not just numbers. Here are the “big three” takeaways. Vital congregations are:

  • Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that welcome all people (Gal.3:28)
  • Places where Disciples of Jesus Christ are made through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:18-20)
  • Communities that serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries. (Micah 6:8, Luke 4:17-21)

But the Vital Congregations initiative also describes what discipleship looks like (which is what got me started on this train of thought). According to Vital Congregations, disciples:

  • worship regularly
  • make disciples of Jesus Christ
  • grow in their faith
  • engage in mission
  • give to mission

That’s kind of vague, so I prefer Michael Foss‘ “six marks of discipleship,” which says disciples:

  • pray daily
  • worship weekly
  • read the Bible
  • serve at and beyond their local congregation
  • be in relationship to encourage spiritual growth in others
  • give of their time, talents, and resources

Vital Churches

Being Presbyterian myself, I don’t always keep up with Methodist initiatives as well as I ought. I was interested to learn about the UMC Vital Churches initiative, which appears to align well with the work our Council has been doing lately.

Vital congregations are:

  • Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that welcome all people (Galatians 3: 28)
  • Places where Disciples of Jesus Christ are made through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
  • Communities that serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries. (Micah 6:8, Luke 4:17-21)

A Vital Congregation has:

  • Inviting & Inspiring Worship
  • Engaged Disciples in mission & outreach
  • Gifted, Empowered & Equipped Lay Leadership
  • Effective, Equipped & Inspired Clergy Leadership
  • Small Group Ministries
  • Strong Children’s & Youth Ministry

(See this list of 16 drivers of vitality.)

The congregations include disciples (Matthew 22:36-40) who:

  • worship regularly
  • help make new disciples
  • are engaged in growing in their faith
  • are engaged in mission
  • share by giving in mission

Methodist Appointment Security Upheld

From the UMC Connections blog:

The top court of The United Methodist Church has upheld church rules that ensure security of appointment for elders and associate clergy members, striking down legislation passed by the denomination’s lawmaking assembly last spring.

Since I’m a Presbyterian, I won’t comment except to say it seems fitting for a decision like this to come down before Reformation Day.

Connectionalism When It Suits Us

I confess I’m puzzled about the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” recently issued by the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction (basically the mountain time zone and parts west).

From the news report, the statement emphasizes that the UMC is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.” I think I understand that. I probably disagree. I mean, I probably agree with the UMC as a whole and not with the Western Jurisdiction. Probably. I need to become more familiar with the UMC’s doctrine to see what they mean by “incompatible.” (Jesus demonstrated how being paralyzed or blind and even robbery and adultery are compatible with Christian teaching.)

What I don’t understand is this part:

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was asked to oversee a Western Jurisdiction grassroots movement that challenges bishops, clergy, laity and local churches and ministry settings to operate as if the statement printed in the denomination’s law book—Paragraph 161F—“does not exist.”

That’s the part I don’t get. I understand freedom of conscience. But that freedom should mean the freedom to disagree and leave. Or to disagree but advocate for change and only leave when you despair of succeeding — but obeying in the meantime.

The problem with connectionalism is that too many people use it as a club to tell churches how to behave, but they aren’t willing to let the same club be used on them. Sauce for the goose.

Sigh. It’s probably for the best. I think post-Christendom means post-denominational as well.

(Notice the response of the Western Jurisdiction is to come out in favor of “Extravagant Hospitality.” It’s outmoded thinking: all about getting people to come (back) to church. It would be a lot more effective to think about the problem missionally: how to get the church to go out where the people are.)

Anyway, as denominations wind down in North America, the only “connectionalism” will be looser associations of truly like-minded churches in flexible networks. (And no, I don’t have a clue how churches with an episcopal ecclesiology will survive that.)

Homosexuality and Preachers

Last week the United Methodist General Conference rejected two motions that would have relaxed the church’s teaching about homosexuality. One of the results was a decision not to vote on related motions. From the Washington Post:

The UMC’s policy remains that ministers cannot marry same-sex couples and churches cannot host same-sex weddings. Clergy in same-sex relationships are likewise banned. … About 1,200 United Methodists clergy have agreed to break church rules and marry same-sex couples, surveys show young Christians favor expanding gay rights and other mainline Protestant denominations have adopted gay-friendly policies in recent years.

But what’s with that last part?

Can clergy disobey the teaching of the church?

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